Tag Archive | "Bruce Sutter"

Flopps: The 8 Bit Baseball Card

I am a sucker for this stuff, I admit.

Flopps

Craig Robinson is the author behind one of the best infographic style books I have ever read, Flip Flop Fly Ball.  Where the book left off, the website took over.

Craig continues his great work over at his site keeping track of what hat he wears everyday and all kinds of graphically represented statistical anomalies.  We’ve featured some of that work here on i70 before, bring you galleries of his Lego Baseball Players and his infographic on Albert Pujols.  Just last week we brought you other 8-bit baseball players from another site.

Today we bring you a sampling of Craig’s newest creation, Flopps.  The Flip Flop Fly Ball baseball cards dedicated to all things baseball.  Browse the images in the slideshow below and then head on over to the site to see the entire collection.  (Don’t miss the Steve Bartman card below)

Use the “next” and “previous” buttons below the slides to browse through all the images.

Albert Pujols

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Albert Pujols is one of the greatest hitters in recent memory. Perhaps he will forever be remembered as he is depicted here, in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

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Time Capsule: Cardinals Videos From The 1980s

Spring Training games are in full effect with all 30 teams,  including the St. Louis Cardinals, took to the field to start getting ready for the season.  Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has opened the vaults and given the world access to video clips that were previously locked away.

The Cardinals were a powerhouse team in the National League in the 1980’s.  Three appearances in the World Series, including winning the championship in 1982, as well as some key moments throughout the decade had many people watching the team very closely.

Today, i70baseball brings you nine classic moments from the Cardinals in the 1980’s, courtesy of Major League Baseball.

Use the navigation controls below to take a look at each of the videos.  Leave us some comments and tell us the moments you most remember from the 1980’s in St. Louis.

<b>Bruce Sutter Closes Out 1982 World Series</b>

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Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Jason Motte and Cardinals Reach Agreement

Motte I70

ST. LOUIS, Mo, January 22, 2013 – The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have agreed to terms with pitcher Jason Motte on a two-year contract for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, avoiding salary arbitration.

Motte, 30, tied for the National League lead with a career high 42 saves in 2012 and became the first Cardinal in franchise history to record every save during the season. The right-hander ranked 9th among N.L. relievers last season with a career high 86 strikeouts, 8th with a .191 opponent’s batting average and T11th in innings pitched (72.0). He also ranked second in the league with 58 games finished.

“We are excited to be able to have Jason under control for the next two years,” said team Sr. Vice President & General Manager, John Mozeliak. “We wanted to recognize what Jason has accomplished for the Cardinals and the role he has played in our bullpen. He exemplifies the type of player on and off the field we want in our organization, and we’re looking forward to having him part of the team for the next two seasons.”

Motte made his Major League debut with the Cardinals in 2008 and since that time has a 17-13 career record with 54 saves. His 54 saves rank 11th all-time among Cardinals relievers, and his 42 saves last season marked the 6th-highest total in a single season, becoming just the fourth Cardinal in franchise history to reach the 40-save plateau (Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Jason Isringhausen).

From MLBTradeRumors.com – The agreement buys out Motte’s two final years of arbitration, but won’t delay his path to free agency. He still projects to hit the open market following the 2014 season. Motte had filed for a $5.5MM salary for 2013 and the Cardinals had countered with $4.5MM, as MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker shows. The 30-year-old set himself up for a raise from his 2012 salary of $1.95MM by posting a 2.75 ERA with 10.8 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and an NL-best 42 saves this past season.

The deal is worth $12MM and includes performance bonuses, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (on Twitter).

Motte’s signing leaves two arbitration eligible players left unsigned: third baseman David Freese and left handed pitcher Marc Rzepczynski.

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World Series In St. Louis: What You Need To Know

I-70 Baseball received a press release from the club today with notes about all the upcoming games in St. Louis as well as some notes on the franchise history in the fall classic.

Some highlights from the release:

  • First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden will be in attendance for Game One as a part of MLB’s participation in the Welcome Back Veterans and Joining Forces
  • A Pre-Game Rally will be held in Ballpark Village from 3:00 – 5:45 p.m before each game
  • Gates will open at 4:00 p.m. for Game One only and open at 5:00 p.m. for all other games
  • Cardinal pitchers who were on the mound for the final out of the last four World Championships will throw out the first pitch before game one (Bob Gibson – 1964 and 1967, Bruce Sutter – 1982, Adam Wainwright – 2006)
  • The Roberto Clemente Award,recognizing a Major League Baseball player who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions, including sportsmanship and community involvement, on and off the field; will be presented before the start of Game Two.
  • American Idol Scotty McCreery and country music star Trace Adkins will perform the National Anthem before games one and two, respectively
  • Should games six or seven be needed, Mike Matheny and Jack Clark will be posing with the World Championship trophies from 1982 and 2006 and taking pictures with fans
  • The team store will be expanding the hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the post-season and is will offer exclusive Rally Squirrel merchandise as well as National League Champion merchandise.
  • The Cardinals are playing in their 18th World Series
  • Surprisingly, the Cardinals have a losing record (52-53) in World Series games including a 27-25 record at home

To read the entire release, including Busch Stadium Policies, Franchise Facts, and much more, download the official PDF by clicking here.

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August 22, 1982 – Grand Theft Brummer

There is an old adage in baseball: it doesn’t take speed to steal a base, just the courage to run combined with the wisdom of when not to. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of luck.

The 1982 season was somewhat of a mirror image of 1964. It was the Cardinals, under new manager and general manager, Whitey Herzog, that jumped out to an early lead, and the Phillies playing catch up. Catch up they did, and Herzog’s retooled Redbirds spent some time looking up at Philadelphia in the standings. Since the end of June, these two teams had played cat and mouse, with neither getting a substantial lead over the other.

That brings us to August 22, and the finale of a three game series with the San Francisco Giants. The teams had split the previous two. The Cardinals had gotten out to a big lead in the opener, but a huge 7 run inning by the Giants turned things around very quickly. Five different pitchers were used in the inning, and none of them were effective, including Bruce Sutter, who would eventually take the loss. The second game would be much like the first, with the Cardinals running out to another early lead, and hanging on by a thread in the late innings. This time Sutter was good, and the Cardinals squeaked out a win.

The finale would feature two of the best young pitchers in the game, Joaquin Andujar for the Cardinals and Atlee Hammaker for the Giants.

Joaquin Andujar in the Powder Blues

For the third time in the series, the Cardinals would jump out to an early lead. Back to back doubles by George Hendrick and Gene Tenace in the second inning lead to the first Cardinals run. Silent George would be part of the next scoring opportunity when he singled ahead of a Willie McGee 2 run homer.

Meanwhile Andujar was crusing, and heading into the sixth inning. On his way to the mound, he must have picked up the wrong ball, stepped on a base line or violated some other pitching taboo, because he was just shelled. It came out of nowhere, totally unexpected. For the third time in the series, Whitey Herzog had to make an early call to his bullpen. John Martin managed to get out of trouble, but the damage had been done. What was once a 3-0 lead had been turned into a 4-3 deficit. Not again.

Both Martin and Doug Bair were great in relief of Andujar, and kept the score at 4-3, hoping for a late inning comeback. Before we get to that, there was one play in the 8th inning that on any other night would have gone by without notice. Steve Braun, pinch hitting for Gene Tenace, delivers a 2 out single. Herzog decides to pinch run for Braun, and uses a backup catcher by the name of Glenn Brummer.

Yes, you know what’s coming, don’t you ? Patience. We’re not there yet.

Obie

Facing the Giants closer in the ninth inning and trailing by a run, Ozzie Smith starts things off by striking out. Greg Minton then hits David Green with a pitch. That would turn out to be a big mistake because Green was one of the fastest men on the Cardinals roster. Don’t let that giant frame fool you – Green could fly. And he did, stealing second base and putting the tying run in scoring position. Tommy Herr would fail to drive in Green.

That brought the pitcher’s spot up to the plate. Whitey Herzog goes to his bench for Ken Oberkfell, and Obie comes through big. He rips a line drive that splits the outfielders and the ball goes all the way to the wall. Green scores easily, and Oberkfell ends up at second base with a double. He was stranded there, but now his team had another chance.

Extra innings – free baseball.

Jim Kaat takes over in the tenth inning, and struggles. The huge crowd all exhale in unison when Kaat induces an inning ending double play, stranding a runner in scoring position. That was close! The veteran lefty looks better in the eleventh inning when he gets two quick outs, but a double by Milt May causes Herzog to go to his bullpen again, this time for the hard throwing Jeff Lahti. Lahti is shaky at first, but gets out of trouble, preventing May from scoring. That too was close. Too close.

Meanwhile the Cardinals are getting absolutely nowhere with the new Giants reliever, Gary Lavelle. Guys would get on base, steal their way into scoring position, but nobody was able to get that key hit.

All of this comes into play as the Cardinals head into the bottom of the 12th inning. It is a brutally hot August afternoon, and Jeff Lahti is now spent. Not only that, the Redbirds bullpen looks terribly empty. It is now or never.

The Man of the Hour

With one out, Glenn Brummer singles. Willie McGee follows that with a single. Brummer stops at second base on the play. Julio Gonzalez pops out for the second out of the inning. That brings Ozzie Smith to the plate. If this were 1987, we might expect a big hit from the Wizard, but this is still 1982 and Ozzie was not much of a threat. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be productive, and he is. He hits a slow roller and there is no play on the speeding Smith.

The bases are loaded, but there are two outs.

David Green is the next batter, but he’s not the focus of our story. Glenn Brummer, now standing on third base is. He notices something about Lavelle, something only a catcher might see. When working from the stretch, Lavelle has a very high leg kick, and that slows down his delivery to the plate. He’s also a left hander, which means a runner on third base can take a huge lead. Brummer tells Chuck Hiller, the Cardinals third base coach, of his plan. Those were the only two people on the planet that knew what was coming, and neither man tipped their hand.

Brummer waits until an 0-2 delivery. Being a catcher, he knew the pitch would would be something away, probably off-speed. A waste pitch. That increased his odds of success. A straight steal of home plate in that situation would be the last thing anybody would expect. With a giant lead, Brummer breaks when Lavelle goes into the stretch. Thanks to that high leg kick, and a ton of luck, Brummer beats the pitch and slides safely into home with the game winner. Brummer is lucky David Green caught him out of the corner of his eye because the big man stepped aside just as Brummer hit the batters box in his slide.

The huge crowd erupts, and shouting can be heard in houses throughout the Gateway City. The Cardinals win, 5-4 on a walk-off straight steal of home plate. Even now, 29 years later, we still look back at that Sunday afternoon game and smile as if we are listening to it on the radio for the first time.

But let’s not forget the importance of that game. Philadelphia had already won their game, and the Cardinals needed this win badly to stay two ahead of the Phillies. This was not a fluke, or one off entertaining win. Brummer knew that they needed to win, that his reliever was on fumes, and there was little help left in the bullpen. It was a heady play, and we would see many such plays throughout the tenure of Whitey Herzog. We would not see Brummer steal many more bases, and certainly none as exciting or as important as this one.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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Is Fernando Salas A Closer ?

Entering the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, Fernando Salas was called on to protect a slim one run lead. He had been successful on 22 of 25 chances so far, and the Cardinals really needed him to convert number 23. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Salas gave up a solo home run for his fourth blown save of the year. Ironically, the Cardinals would lose the game two innings later when newly acquired Arthur Rhodes also gave up a solo home run.

Now trailing the Milwaukee Brewers by 7 games with just 39 left to play, it is only natural to start asking questions about how this can happen. When you do, one statistic screams for attention – this game was the 21st blown save of the year for the Cardinals bullpen. If the Cardinals had converted just half of those into wins, they would have a 1 1/2 game lead over the Brewers, rather than the 7 game deficit they now face.

Lets take a closer look at these blown saves, and see what we can learn.

Pitcher Chances Saves Blown
Ryan Franklin 5 4
Mitchell Boggs 8 4
Fernando Salas 26 4
Jason Motte 3 3
Trever Miller 3 2
Eduardo Sanchez 7 2
Miguel Batista 1 1
Lance Lynn 2 1

When you look at how the blown saves are distributed, Fernando Salas is suddenly looking like a pretty reliable closer. Throw in the fact that he is also 3 for 3 in holds, and we might need to look elsewhere for those extra 10 wins.

So, how does Fernando Salas stack up to other closers in Cardinals history – and what about all those blown saves ?

Whitey Herzog (1982-1989)

Looking at bullpen save data too much before the Whitey Herzog era doesn’t make a lot of sense. Relief pitchers were used much differently than they are today. Even in the early parts of Herzog’s time, closers were routinely called on for multiple inning saves. Bruce Sutter averaged nearly 2 innings per appearance for much of his time in St. Louis. By the time Todd Worrell had taken over, that number was closer to 1 1/2 innings per appearance.

Let’s take a look at the bullpen efficiency during Whitey Herzog’s time as manager.

Year Chances Saves Blown Saves Leader Saves Blown Save Pct
1982 62 15 Bruce Sutter 36 9 80%
1983 45 18 Bruce Sutter 21 9 70%
1984 65 14 Bruce Sutter 45 8 85%
1985 56 12 Jeff Lahti 19 1 95%
1986 58 12 Todd Worrell 36 10 78%
1987 71 23 Todd Worrell 33 10 77%
1988 62 20 Todd Worrell 32 9 78%
1989 60 17 Todd Worrell 20 3 87%

The first thing to notice is that successful teams (1982, 1985, 1987) sure seem to have a lot of save opportunities. More than that, they also convert a high percentage of them into wins. That doesn’t bode terribly well for the 2011 group, does it ?

Another interesting item are the number of blown saves from Bruce Sutter and Todd Worrell, two of the most highly regarded relievers in Cardinals history. Even in good years, you could still expect for each of them to fail to convert around 10 saves. Fernando Salas’ 22 out of 26 save opportunities (85%) this year is looking better all the time.

Joe Torre (1990-1995)

The Joe Torre era, including the transitional year when Whitey Herzog resigned, is among some of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. One look at the bullpen save rates will tell you all you need to know about them, and why they were so frustrating.

Year Chances Saves Blown Saves Leader Saves Blown Save Pct
1990 56 17 Lee Smith 27 5 84%
1991 68 17 Lee Smith 47 6 89%
1992 70 23 Lee Smith 43 8 84%
1993 78 24 Lee Smith 43 7 86%
1994* 40 11 Mike Perez 12 2 86%
1995 51 13 Tom Henke 36 2 95%

* strike shortented season

Lee Smith

Oh, the save opportunities were there, in abundance. And how good was Lee Smith ?

If it wasn’t Lee Smith, what were the problems during the Torre years ? The games that Lee Smith didn’t get in. It’s as simple as that.

By the time of the Big Man, the closer was a single inning reliever, and used nearly every time there was a save opportunity. And Smith was a machine, converting at a rate that often approached 90%. If you subtract his appearances from the totals, the other relievers were about 50/50 when taking the ball in the late innings.

But even that doesn’t account for the dismal performance in the era. It was those other games that were not save opportunties. Maybe if Torre had a more productive offense, or didn’t leave pitchers like Jose DeLeon in one inning too long, he might have had some greater success than he did.
Tony La Russa (1996-present)

16 years of the Tony La Russa era are hard to distill down into a single metric, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

 

Year Chances Saves Blown Saves Leader Saves Blown Save Pct
1996 67 24 Dennis Eckersley 30 4 88%
1997 58 19 Dennis Eckersley 36 7 84%
1998 75 31 Juan Acevedo 15 1 94%
1999 62 24 Ricky Bottalico 20 8 71%
2000 59 22 Dave Veres 29 7 81%
2001 56 18 Dave Veres 15 4 79%
2002 64 22 Jason Isringhausen 32 5 86%
2003 72 31 Jason Isringhausen 22 3 88%
2004 73 16 Jason Isringhausen 47 7 87%
2005 66 17 Jason Isringhausen 39 4 91%
2006 57 19 Jason Isringhausen 33 10 77%
2007 45 11 Jason Isringhausen 32 2 94%
2008 73 31 Ryan Franklin 17 8 68%
2009 57 14 Ryan Franklin 38 5 88%
2010 42 10 Ryan Franklin 27 2 93%
2011 56 21 Fernando Salas 22 4 85%

The two best seasons under La Russa (2004-2005) have some of the highest save chances combined with the fewest failures. That would seem to be a good recipe for a championship club. One of those teams went to the World Series, and the other got as far as a legendary Albert Pujols home run off Brad Lidge before falling just short of another trip to the fall classic.

We can thank Jason Isringhausen for a lot of that success, but at the same time we should also praise his supporting cast. When other relievers were called on to make saves, they didn’t disappoint. Even in 2006, when the bullpen efficiency was beginning to trend the wrong direction, they were good enough to win it all.

But there is some bad news in the numbers as well. You can find quite a few seasons with 30 or more blown saves – far too many to have any success. And this brings us back to Fernando Salas because the 2011 team was on a pace to dwarf all of those teams with a new dubious record, all to their own. That is until Salas took over, perhaps aided by an untimely injury to Eduardo Sanchez. The kid that we saw saving games with an almost robotic consistency in Memphis is learning how to do the same thing in the big leagues.

Is Fernando Salas a closer ? Absolutely.

Fernando Salas is not the problem with the 2011 Cardinals. The problem is the young man not getting enough save chances. And a big part of that was the manager being too slow to turn the late innings over to the young reliever. If Salas had been the closer on opening day, and assuming his save percentage would remain the same, the Cardinals might have 13 more wins than they do right now, and the Brewers fans would be the ones heading for the ledge.

One last observation, before it gets forgotten. Until Ryan Franklin’s struggles in 2011, he had been an extremely effective closer. Like Salas in 2011, he wasn’t the problem for the 2009-2010 Cardinals. It was too few opportunities because the team had fallen behind and failed to rally late in games. Ryan Franklin had been a very good closer on a team that should have played better than it did.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at On the Outside Corner. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

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Where Does Soria Go From Here?

Joakim Soria has been the Royals lone, rock-solid, star presence over the past three seasons, and no one had any doubt he would continue dominating from the mound in save situations this season. The closer role was about the only thing on this year’s Royals team that did not have a question mark by it. Unfortunately, Soria has been downright awful through the first third of the season, and has lost the closer role to Aaron Crow for the time being. Now the crucial question becomes if this is a temporary slump or injury that Soria will come back from, or if he is done as an elite reliever. In the hopes of shedding some light on the answer, I will take a look at other closers in history who have racked up a large amount of saves at a young age. The following list shows all 11 players with over 100 saves before their age 27 season (which Soria is in now):

Rk Player SV From To Age G IP ERA+
1 Francisco Rodriguez 208 2002 2008 20-26 408 451.2 190
2 Gregg Olson 160 1988 1993 21-26 320 350.1 176
3 Huston Street 149 2005 2010 21-26 355 378.0 148
4 Bobby Thigpen 148 1986 1990 22-26 277 382.1 148
5 Joakim Soria 132 2007 2010 23-26 238 255.0 219
6 Chad Cordero 128 2003 2008 21-26 305 320.2 155
7 Rod Beck 127 1991 1995 22-26 280 331.0 134
8 Mitch Williams 114 1986 1991 21-26 436 511.0 123
9 Ugueth Urbina 110 1995 2000 21-26 251 360.0 127
10 Matt Capps 109 2005 2010 21-26 345 344.2 127
11 Bruce Sutter 105 1976 1979 23-26 240 390.2 177

photo by Minda Haas

Rodriguez, Street and Capps are all still young and active, so the second part of their careers are still unfolding just like Soria’s is. I will take a brief look at the careers of the remaining seven pitchers from the list to see how some closers who racked up saves at an early age fared from age 27 on. The first number after their name is number of saves before age 27 season, and the second number is saves from age 27 to the end of their career.

Gregg Olson: 160 • 57
Olson suffered a torn elbow ligament at the age of 26 and was never the same. He bounced around in 10 transactions between 1994-2000, including two stops with the Royals. He managed one more big year as a closer after the injury, racking up 30 saves for Arizona in 1998.
Bobby Thigpen: 148 • 53
Thigpen started battling injuries at 26 also. After recording 30 and 22 saves at ages 27 and 28, he only posted one more save and was out of the majors at 30.
Chad Cordero: 128 • 0
Here is the worst case. Cordero posted all of his career saves before his age 26 season, then suffered a labrum tear. He has had a couple of failed comeback attempts but has been unable to stick in the majors since.
Rod Beck: 127 • 159
Here is a better looking career path. Beck continued to be a dominant closer at 28 and 29, and had a one year renaissance at age 34 when he converted all 20 of his save opportunities.
Mitch Williams: 114 • 78
Wild Thing stayed fantastic at 27 and 28 but was done after that, throwing less than 40 innings the rest of his career (including 6.2 with the 1997 Royals).
Ugueth Urbina: 110 • 127
Urbina remained fantastically effective until his career ended at age 31 with an arrest (and subsequent conviction and 14 year prison sentence) for a machete attack/gasoline dousing incident. Hopefully Soria can avoid that.
Bruce Sutter: 105 • 195
This I suppose would be the best case scenario, particularly with that Hall of Fame induction capping things off.

So we have four pitchers who recorded fewer saves after age 26 and three pitchers who piled up a greater number after that age. It is almost like we cannot predict the future. But this graph of the average number of saves the above pitchers posted by age does show how difficult it is to continue the level of performance Soria has held up in the last three years:

That looks pretty dramatic, but that is not surprising since I cherry picked guys who all were fantastic before turning 27. Some of them are going to flame out and tank the averages. In Beck, Urbina and Sutter, there are precedents for Soria carrying on as an elite closer. Only one of the above examples completely disappeared after turning 27 (Cordero). With a little time and luck, hopefully the Royals can fix whatever is ailing Soria, and he can get back to locking down Royals wins again soon.

Aaron Stilley also writes about Kansas City baseball at his blog here and on the tweeties.

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Opening Day 1998

This is one of my favorite stories ever.

There is NO tradition quite like Opening Day in St. Louis. None. If you’ve never been in the ballpark for this St. Louis holiday, it’s like missing the orange pie from your trivial pursuit gamepiece–you simply can’t have the complete “Cardinals fan” experience without it. Opening Day is my Christmas…I’m like a kid that just can-not-fall-asleep on Christmas Eve, overtaken with excitement for what I know is in store the next day–the begining of a new baseball season!

I’ve been to several throughout the years, including memorable ones like the opening of new (current) Busch stadium in 2006. Pujols received his MVP award, Carpenter received his Cy Young award, and they both throw out ceremonial first pitches to Bob Gibson & Bruce Sutter to christen the brand new ballpark. The Cardinals won behind Mark Mulder, and I’m there with my brother to open what would be a World Championship season–it really doesn’t get much better than that.

But, perhaps my most memorable Opening Day of all time was 1998. And by “most memorable” I mean that many of the details are fuzzy now, but the important things are crystal clear. The weather was beautiful, especially for the rare March Home Opener, and my buddy Mike had 4 tickets to opening day, section 254-ish, in hand. It was Mike, his brother Steve, myself and one other guy. The fourth guy, who I always mis-remember as Stu, had to work that morning, and didn’t get off work until 1:00. The plan was for Mike, Steve & I to head downtown, and drop Steve off. He was going to meet up with a couple other guys, be there when the gates opened…etc. Meanwhile, Mike & I were supposed to meet “Stu” at a gas station roughly halfway between the ballpark and Stu’s house at 1:30. Stu was going to leave his car there, and ride with Mike & I to the game. Afterwards all four of us would ride home together, drop Stu off at his car, and go on about our day.

The first part of the plan went fine. I drove to Mike & Steve’s house, we grabbed the envelope with the tickets in it, hopped in the car, and off we went. Any radio station in St. Louis worth its salt was doing a live remote from Kiener plaza, broadcasting the pre-game Opening Day festivities, and we listened in the whole way there. Finally, we turned down 7th street, and stopped at the ballpark to let Steve out. He grabbed his ticket from the envelope, and then quickly faded into the sea of red surrounding the stadium. Without so much as putting the car in “park”, Mike & I turned down a couple of one-way streets, crossed a bridge, and were headed to meet Stu at the gas station.

So, we’re driving along our merry way, on IL route 3 at about 65 mph, in the best of moods, as a new season was less than two hours from starting! As I mentioned, it was a beautiful day, probably near 60 degrees. The sun was shining, and amidst the radio scanning, we’d come across Fogerty’s classic, Centerfield. Naturally, the radio went up, the windows went down, and with all that newfound breeze in the car, the envelope with the tickets went right out the window! But if you think that’s unbelievable, let me break down the next 6 seconds or so in slow motion…

As we’re driving along, without warning and with ninja-like quickness, Mike’s left arm goes flying out the window, reaching behind him, in the direction of the gas tank. This totally caught me by surprise, and I had no idea what would posses him to just throw his arm out the window while speeding down the road. I look over, and as he slowly brings his hand back toward the front of the vehicle, I see what’s in his hand: the envelope that (at least at one point in the day) had the tickets in it. From the passenger seat, I can see only his thumb on the near side of the envelope. What I know for sure is that his four fingers are on the other side of that envelope. What neither one of us know is: the location of the 3 tickets we’re supposed to have. He turns his hand over, and reveals (to us both) his four fingers, and half as many tickets…on the OUTSIDE of the envelope. I kid you not. While driving 65 mph down the road with the radio up & the windows down, the tickets (along with the envelope that formerly housed them) flew out the window, but Mike reached out & caught the envelope and two of the three tickets.

I swear to you, that happened.

As soon as possible, we pulled over and searched the entire car for the third ticket…which, we didn’t find–it was gone. So, here we are, a few miles from the gas station, where Stu is expecting to meet us in five or ten minutes so he can get his ticket and head to Opening Day with us. Two problems now exist: First (and most obvious), we only have two tickets. By the way, I think it’s worth noting at this point in the story that I reached into my wallet and paid Mike for my ticket right there on the spot. I then asked him if Stu had paid him for his ticket yet–mama didn’t raise no fool! Second: There is NO WAY we can tell Stu the truth in this situation. “Yeah, Stu. We were driving down the road with the windows down when the tickets flew out the window. Fortunately, Mike was able to reach out the window and catch two of the three tickets. Sorry ‘bout your luck, man.”

Let me just say two quick things about my buddy Mike. Luck like this is really par for his course. This guy could fall out of a 12-story window, land in a pile of horse manuer, and not only escape uninjured and smelling like a rose–he’d find a hundred dollar bill in the pile. That’s just how this guy’s luck is. And yes, he regularly makes a few (profitable) trips to Vegas each year. The other thing about Mike is that he’s very, um, creative. If you’re in need of a good story, he’s your man. I’ll leave it at that.

Bear in mind, this was 1998. More people had pagers than cellphones, and few had either. We couldn’t just text Stu, “Something came up, no tix 4 U. Will explain more L8r-Sorry, kthxbai”, we had to meet him. A few minutes later, we pulled in to the gas station where Stu was already waiting for us. I sunk down into the passenger seat, pulled my cap down low over my eyes & face, and let Mike walk over to Stu’s truck & break the news. To this day, I still have no idea what was said. All I know is that Mike came back to the car, we headed downtown and met up with Steve, and even got back in time to get our schedule magnets for the fridge.

The only thing I remember from the actual game is that McGwire came to bat in the home half of the 5th with the bases juiced (as well as other things), and hit a grand slam. I know it was a grand slam because of the sound of the ball coming off the bat, and the fireworks & the 4 on the scoreboard later. The ball went up & I was smothered in a bro hug until Mac rounded 3rd base in his first of 70 HR that season…I never saw it land.

So while Opening Day always bring about thoughts of what’s in store for the Cardinals that year, and hopeful optimism as I look towards the future, I always take a few minutes to remember the past. Happy Opening Day everyone…and to all a good night!

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McGwire Is Better Off Without The Hall

When people ask for my opinion about Mark McGwire, his record-breaking season, and his steroid use, I simply put it this way:

“Watching Mark McGwire was like believing in Santa Claus as a kid. That moment I found out that everything I thought was real actually wasn’t was tough and changed my perspective on things. But it doesn’t change how I felt on Christmas morning.”

It took me almost a decade to come to settle on that analysis. To be honest, I was not one of the many who “knew” he was on something and turned a blind-eye to the issue. I was aware he was taking “Andro,” and accepted the explanation from McGwire and the media that it did nothing other than help him get a more efficient workout — the effect of a Gatorade, if you will. I honestly did not know any better.

When the steroid allegations came out, and McGwire made his infamous “I’m not here to talk about the past” statement, I felt sick. For years, I was a major McGwire hater, just sick to my stomach that I stood up for this guy who cheated the game and lied to fans everywhere, both young and old. But I’ve found my peace with the issue now and hopefully you have, too.

I don’t want to talk about whether or not McGwire “deserves” to get into the Hall of Fame. By now, you’ve probably made up your own mind. The numbers haven’t changed over the past 5 years. The supporters will cite his 583 homeruns, 70 HR season, gold glove award and his contributions to saving baseball. Detractors will cite his .263 career average, his failure to win an MVP award, and his steroid use.

The bottom line is: McGwire is better off without the Hall of Fame.

Think about it. How many casual fans across the country have heard of the likes of Josh Gibson, Joe Kelley, Rollie Fingers, Leon Day, and even Bruce Sutter? Those are all Hall of Famers. I’d say far more have heard of, say, Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Mark McGwire. They might as well be the chairmen of the “We don’t need no stinkin’ Hall of Fame” club.

As someone who didn’t watch the playing careers of Pete Rose or Shoeless Joe, I can tell you this much: I know more about those 2 players than 99% of the players in the Hall of Fame. It works in other areas of the game, too. For instance, there have been 20 pitchers to throw a perfect game in baseball history, including 2 just this year. I remembered Roy Halladay threw one, but had to look up that Dallas Braden threw the other.

But I did NOT have to look up Armando Gallaraga’s name. He was the pitcher who will go down in history as the one we all know had a perfect game, got robbed by a bad call, and handled the situation marvelously.

And let’s face it; the 1985 Cardinals still get tons of love from sports fans around the countries who know the team got robbed of a championship by a blown call. Had they won, they’d probably be a forgotten team on a long list of past champions. Instead, it’s “oh my gosh, those ’85 Cardinals, they got ROBBED!” The same will be said for Gallaraga, Rose, and perhaps McGwire for decades, if not centuries, to come.

Obviously it’s not a bad thing to be on a list of champions, Hall of Famers, or perfect pitchers. But in the long run, it’s not so bad to be on the short list of “should’ve been.”

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October 20, 1982 – The Other Other Game 7

Last week, Michael Metzger took us back to Game 7 of the 1987 World Series with his article, The Other Game 7. It was truly an amazing game that had more plot twists than a Dan Brown novel. With the 25th anniversary coverage of the 1985 World Series last month, that leaves just one more Game 7 for the Cardinals in the Whitey Herzog era. That would be October 20, 1982: The Other Other Game 7.

Getting There

Even though they had the best record in the National League East in the strike shortened 1981 season, not everybody was convinced that the St. Louis Cardinals had the pieces in place to win the division in 1982. Cardinals fans were still upset over the sequence of events that brought Darrell Porter to St. Louis and sent long time favorite Ted Simmons to Milwaukee. There were also questions about where the production lost in the Garry Templeton for Ozzie Smith trade was going to come from. We did have Bruce Sutter, Bob Forsch and Joaquin Andujar, but Steve Mura, John Stuper and Dave LaPoint didn’t seem like the back end of a championship rotation. To make things more interesting, nobody on the Cardinals roster had career years, although Bruce Sutter, George Hendrick and Keith Hernandez were certainly very productive.

If there was a surprise, it was Lonnie Smith. He was just what manager Whitey Herzog needed at the top of the order – a good hitter with speed. A catalyst – the archetype of a Whitey Ball player. He would not be enough though, as the final piece fell into place when David Green, recently obtained in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, went down with an injury. A young speedster named Willie McGee was called up to fill in for Green. As Brock had done in June 1964, McGee turbocharged this lineup and transformation to Herzog’s “running rabbits” was complete.

A huge winning streak at the start of the season gave the Cardinals some separation from their chief competition, the Philadelphia Phillies. The two teams would battle all summer for the NL East championship. Another well timed winning streak in September proved to be too much for the Phils, and the Cardinals cruised to their first division title since the league adopted the format in 1969. Step one complete.

There was another roadblock to the date with Game 7 – the Atlanta Braves. The Braves, behind NL MVP Dale Murphy, won the NL West division on the last game of the season. This would be their second trip to the playoffs and were the slight underdog to Herzog’s Cardinals. But in a short series, anything can happen. And it did.

The original Game 1 was interrupted by rain at a most fortunate time for the Cardinals. Trailing 1-0, the game was just a few outs from being an official game before umpires called it. A do-over. In the second Game 1, Bob Forsch cruised to an easy win, throwing a complete game 3 hit shutout in the 7-0 victory. Game 2 was a nail biter and would go down to the wire. Newcomer Darrell Porter proved to be the hero with an important RBI double in the middle of the game, followed by scoring the tying run a few innings later. Ken Oberkfell would send the huge St. Louis crowd home delirious with a walk off single after some well executed small-ball. The series would briefly move to Atlanta as the Cardinals jumped out to an early lead in the clincher and never looked back. A sweep of the NL West Champs sent the Cardinals to the World Series.

Meet the Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers were the exact opposite of the St. Louis Cardinals. Where the Cardinals were like a military band marching in precision, the Brewers looked like they just rolled out of a bar at closing time. The Cardinals ran, the Brewers slugged. The Cardinals played excellent defense all around the field. The Brewers slugged. What the two teams had in common were their closers – Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter, but Fingers would not be available for the World Series due to an injury. It was hoped that he would be able to return some time in the series, but that never happened, and the Brewers played with one less pitcher on their roster.

Herzog’s Cardinals were just supposed to be a speed bump on the Brewers path to immortality. When the Brewers opened the series with a 17 hit 10 run attack, it looked like that might be the way the series would go. Mike Caldwell did to the Cardinals what Bob Forsch had just done to the Braves – a demoralizing 3 hit shutout.

The Brewers jumped out to a quick lead in Game 2, but the intrepid Cardinals kept clawing their way back. An 8th inning run proved to be the difference in the game as the Cards tied the series.

Now, off to Milwaukee.

Thanks Ted

Game 3 was the coming out party for Willie McGee. He was a one man assault on the Brew Crew. Not only did he hit 2 home runs on the day, but he robbed Gorman Thomas of one with a Jim Edmonds like catch well above the center field fence. If that wasn’t enough, he made one of the most amazing diving catches, saving another run and preventing a possible rally. As good as McGee was, Andujar was better. He was throwing darts at the Brewers bats, and other than a couple of McGee gems, they weren’t hitting him. Until ex-Cardinal Ted Simmons comes to the plate in the 7th inning and lines the ball off Andujar’s right leg. Andujar had to be helped off the field and by all reports, was done for the series. The Cardinals held on for the win, but the heart and soul of the team just died. Or so we thought.

The next two games would reinforce that belief. The Brewers would get to Bob Forsch and Dave LaPoint in the next two games and take a 3-2 lead in the series.

Stuperman

Game 6 – the first elimination game. It was a cold and rainy night in St. Louis. The temperatures would quickly drop into the 30s – it was just a brutal night for baseball. Whitey Herzog gave the ball to rookie John Stuper, but all hands were on deck in case there was trouble. Through two long rain delays, Stuper was magnificent. He took a 1 hitter into the 9th inning while his teammates chewed up the Brewers bullpen to the tune of a 13-1 laugher. The young rookie right-hander may have just saved the World World Series.

The Other Other Game 7

To everybody’s surprise, Joaquin Andujar was announced as the Cardinals starting pitcher. Just a few days earlier, he had to be helped off the field. We’d last seen him standing on crutches with a huge bandage wrapping his knee. Now he’s standing in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium in the biggest game of the season. His opponent would be former Cardinal, Pete Vukovich, who looked like he had slept in his uniform. Andujar was elegant, Vukovich unkempt. Andujar threw fastballs. Vukovich threw junk. The differences between these two couldn’t be greater.

Watching Andujar warm up, it was pretty obvious that he wasn’t right. He was landing gently, unable to put all of his weight on his right leg. He would throw across his body awkwardly. None of that seemed to matter though as Andujar, pitching on pure adrenaline, retired the first 9 men he faced. On the other side of the diamond, Vukovich was in trouble all night, throwing high pressure pitch after high pressure pitch. One of these two were about to crumble – we just didn’t know which one.

At first it looked to be Andujar. The second time through the order, the Brewers started a rally. Paul Molitor led off the fourth inning with a sharp single to right field. Robin Yount followed that with a slow ground ball to Ken Oberkfell at third base. Molitor was forced at second, but Yount easily beat the throw at first. Andujar was really struggling at this point in the inning. Cecil Cooper then dribbled a single to right field.

The Turning Point

What happens next will determine the winner of the 1982 World Series. On the Cooper single, the speedy Yount tried to take third base. George Hendrick, a vastly underrated defensive player, comes up firing and throws a strike to Ken Oberkfell. Oberkfell does his part by blocking off third base. The throw beats Yount and Oberfell makes the easy tag for the second out of the inning. If you know anything about Joaquin Andujar, you can guess what happens next. That is exactly the kind of play that can get Andujar back into the game, and it does just that. He throws two more pitches in the inning as Ted Simmons pops out. Brewers rally finished – momentum swing in the Cardinals direction.

As if scripted, the Cardinals would finally break through in the bottom of the fourth inning. Just moments after the run saving throw from Hendrick, the bottom of the order gets to Vukovich. A single by Lonnie Smith gives the Cardinals a 1-0 lead, and the hometown crowd is ecstatic. They fail to extend the inning though as Vukovich toughens.

Ben Oglivie would tie the game in the fifth inning with a long long long leadoff home run. Gorman Thomas nearly left the park with a long fly to the warning track that gave Lonnie Smith all sorts of trouble. Two ground balls end the inning without any further damage. Vukovich follows that with his best inning of the game so far, retiring the Cardinals with very little drama.

Andujar would get himself into a world of trouble in the sixth inning. A leadoff double sets up a disastrous sacrifice bunt that Andujar throws away. That allows Jim Gantner to score easily, plus put Paul Molitor into scoring position. A single and sacrifice fly would give the Brewers a 3-1 lead. It would also get the Cardinals bullpen busy. Andujar would close out the inning without any more trouble. There are now just 12 outs remaining and the Cards had a 2 run deficit.

Vukovich’s flirting with danger would finally get the best of him in the bottom of the inning. A one out single by Ozzie Smith followed by a double by Lonnie Smith set up the Cardinals best scoring opportunity of the game. Lefty Bob McClure replaces Vukovich and gets into trouble of his own. He walks pinch hitter Gene Tenace to load the bases. Mike Ramsey then runs for Tenace, putting good speed on the bases. On his 29th birthday, Keith Hernandez singles, scoring the 2 Smith’s. Silent George Hendrick follows that with a single, scoring Ramsey with what would turn out to be the game winning RBI.

With a slim 4-3 lead, Herzog stays with Andujar for the seventh inning, hoping he can get one more inning out of the right-hander. If so, he can turn the game over to Sutter – the best closer in baseball. Doug Bair and Jim Kaat are warming up, just in case. Andujar strikes out the dangerous Gorman Thomas, but the next batter silences the huge crowd. Roy Howell hits a towering shot to left field that totally fools Lonnie Smith. He breaks the wrong direction, turns the wrong way on the warning track, but somehow leaps at the very last second to catch the ball. Smith did absolutely everything wrong in the making that play, except he made the catch. 50,000+ fans in St. Louis exhaled in unison. A single by Charlie Moore sets up the Brewers last chance. Jim Gantner lines an Andujar pitch up the middle, but the “One Mean Dominican” snags it for a brilliant defensive play. He throws a 90 mile per hour strike to Keith Hernandez for the last out in the inning. Andujar knew he was done for the night, and being Andujar, wanted to go out with a flourish. Gantner takes exception to the showmanship and pleasantries were exchanged. Each of the players indicated that the other was #1 in their heart too, or something like that. Home plate umpire Lee Weyer quickly got in between the two players to prevent any unnecessary escalation.

That was the last we would hear out of the Brewers in the 1982 season. The Cards would tack on two insurance runs later in the 8th inning, but it was now Sutter’s game and he did not disappoint. The bearded one would face just six batters and retire them all with nothing leaving the infield. The only Brewer that put up a fight was Gorman Thomas, the last man Sutter would face. He worked the count full and then fouled off a number of pitches. That’s when Sutter would get the big man to swing at an outside fastball and miss.

The sight of Darrell Porter jumping up, throwing away his catchers mask and running out to hug Bruce Sutter is one of the greatest images in Cardinals history. Game 7 of the 1982 World Series was really one for the ages. An unexpected pitching performance from Joaquin Andujar, who was not even supposed to be available. George Hendrick’s run saving throw, and then a couple of innings later, driving in the winning run. And Bruce Sutter being Bruce Sutter.

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