1982 Streaking Engagement

In a year of of rollercoaster pennant races, series comebacks and nail-biting finishes, the St. Louis Cardinals get the last say in a seven-game World Series against the high-powered Milwaukee Brewers.

Like a wild Ozzie Smith backflip, the momentum of numerous baseball contenders went up, down and all around in 1982; in the end, Smith’s St. Louis Cardinals would be the last team standing.

They were everywhere in 1982, from start to finish. They set the tone and ruined the rhythm. They created pennant races and ended others. Some were long enough to set records, others short but no less pivotal.

Streaks, both of the winning and losing variety, were in abundant supply throughout the 1982 baseball season. Few teams were spared, ascending like contenders one moment, descending like pretenders the next—their fortunes careening about with all the elasticity of an out-of-control yo-yo.

No team experienced the ups and downs to such extremes as did the Atlanta Braves.

Though eventually self-promoted as “America’s Team,” the Braves entered 1982 as nobody’s team. On the field, they had done nothing for well over a decade, turned Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium into a ghost town with miniscule attendance, fielded a 43-year-old knuckleballer as their ace—and were, for the first time, being piloted by Joe Torre, whose naturally grim façade provided an accurate reflection of his previous five years managing the horrendous New York Mets.

All the ingredients for a potentially disastrous recipe would instead cook themselves into the pièce de résistance to start the major league season.

Blindsiding the baseball world, the Braves began the year by winning their first 13 games—breaking the all-time recordThe Oakland A’s held the old record with 11—set just the year before. for out-of-the-gate perfection. Then, like a dose of cold water, they lost five straight. Yet the Braves’ 13-0 start telegraphed to the National League’s Western Division that they were for real, while televising the message into homes and bars across the country via the emerging cable landscape—with every Braves game broadcast coast-to-coast on Atlanta “superstation” WTBS, owned by eccentric Braves lord Ted Turner.

At first it seemed difficult to figure out the Braves’ success. There was good talent on the club, but it was virtually the same cast that had produced mediocrity in recent years. Yet one budding superstar fully flowered in 1982: Catcher-turned-outfielder Dale Murphy, a kindly, devout Mormon, stopped pulling the ball and started smacking it to all fields, with results (.281 average, 36 home runs, 109 runs batted in) which wounded opposing pitchers. On the mound, middle-aged knuckler Phil Niekro—who during the late 1970s tirelessly embraced working every fourth (sometimes third) day—was preserved within a rotation that was often set at five pitchers and produced one of his most efficient performances, winning 17 of 21 decisions.

The Braves settled into first place for the balance of the spring and were rediscovered by Atlanta sports fans—a group of folks notorious for flocking to see a winner while staying away en masse from losers. To make room, Turner told team mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa to pack up his teepee—which took up 250 seats’ worth of space behind the left field fence—and take his act elsewhere. The Chief apparently used the temporary platform to perform one last “paindance” upon Turner and his team.

The Braves immediately lost 11 straight.

Aggravating Atlanta’s losing streak were the subsequent winning streaks of divisional rivals in the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers (eight straight wins) and the upstart San Francisco Giants (ten straight). Superstitious Braves fans pled with Turner to give the Chief his land back—Turner obliged—but by then the damage was done. The Braves had lost 19 of 21, and went from nine games up to four back behind the Dodgers.

Standing out of the crowd to no one’s surprise, Atlanta owner Ted Turner leads the cheers for a Braves team that bolted out to a 13-0 start, giving them a critical boost toward its first postseason appearance in 13 years.

From that sudden shakeup in August, the NL West would continue to violently teeter-totter toward season’s end. The Braves rebounded by winning six straight. The Giants lost six straight. The Dodgers stormed into September winning seven straight. Then they lost eight in a row. The Giants fired back up with two five-game win streaks. It became dizzying to keep track of the division, which began the season’s final week with only a game separating the Braves, Dodgers and Giants.

Atlanta started that last week with two crucial wins at San Francisco; the Dodgers then came to Candlestick Park and eliminated the Giants with two victories of their own. But as the Dodgers entered the last day a game behind Atlanta, the Giants weren’t done. Future Hall of Famer Joe MorganMorgan, who had not batted over .250 since 1977, had a renaissance campaign at San Francisco with a .289 average, 14 homers, 61 RBIs and 24 steals., who at 39 was playing his second and last year at San Francisco, became a Giants hero for all time when his seventh-inning, three-run home run killed the Dodgers’ hopes, 5-3. For the Giants, it was sweet revenge against their archrival. For the Braves, it was their first NL West title in 13 years.

The NL’s Eastern Division was also not immune to streak-itis. For the St. Louis Cardinals, that would be a good thing.

Afflicted only with winning streaks, the Cardinals won 12 in a row in April to jump out to the early lead, and eight straight in early September to pull away from the competition for good. Their longest losing streak of the year, at four, came harmlessly after they clinched the division.

The architect of the 1982 Cardinals—a unit completely overhauled in less than two years—was Whitey Herzog, a blunt, no-nonsense character previously known for helping tool together the 1969 Miracle Mets, and for managing the Kansas City Royals to three straight divisional titles in the 1970s. Doubling as both manager and general manager at St. Louis, Herzog studied the fast and vast artificial expanses of Busch Stadium and knew he needed a roster that was speedy, agile and not full of individualism. Home runs would be considered a bonus.

Stepping down from the front office before Opening Day to concentrate on managing what he had assembled, Herzog fulfilled his vision; the Cardinals finished last in the NL in home runs, first in steals, and conquered the NL East.

Two first-year Cardinals named Smith fully confirmed the team’s dashing new style. Lonnie Smith, traded from the Philadelphia Phillies—a team strangely unable or unwillingFrom 1980-81, the often-benched Smith played the equivalent of one full season for the Phillies—batting .333 with 109 runs and 54 steals. to utilize his talents—showed what he could do as a full-timer by hitting .307 with 68 steals and a league-high 120 runs scored—numbers good enough to make him runner-up for NL Most Valuable Player honors. From San Diego came the other Smith: Ozzie. Highly sought after by Herzog, Smith was weak at the plate—hitting a powerless .248 in 1982—but at shortstop, he was nothing short of sensational, electrifying the Cardinals faithful with one acrobatic play after another. The fans fell in loveSmith created a far more pleasant state of affairs than his predecessor, Garry Templeton—who showed his love for St. Louis fans by flipping them off after being booed for his lackadaisical play. with Ozzie and vice versa, beginning a wonderful relationship that would last through Smith’s retirement in 1996.

The Cardinals were a tough enough opponent for the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, but the weather also dealt the Braves a nasty hand. Heavy rains turned Game One into Game None at St. Louis, with just two outs standing between Atlanta starter Phil Niekro, leading 1-0, and the end of the fifth inning to make the game official. Having used their only formidable starter in a wasted effort, the called-off first game took the wind out of the Braves’ sails. Weather allowed the next three games to be played uninterrupted—and the Cardinals won them all, thanks mainly to stingy St. Louis pitching started by Bob Forsch (a three-hit shutout in the official Game One), continued with temperamental Dominican Joaquin Andujar (the Game Three winner) and closed by Bruce Sutter, who won Game Two in relief and saved the clincher.

Whitey Herzog had helped build one pennant winner in St. Louis. He inadvertently helped create another with his World Series opponent, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Born as the Seattle Pilots in 1969, the Brewers had impressively evolved through the late 1970s to become a potent, power-hitting threat good enough to field the American League East’s best record in the 1981 strike-shredded season. Two pitchers dealt away from the Cardinals had contributed: Starter Pete Vuckovich, with an AL-high 14 wins; and closer Rollie Fingers, earning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award with a stunning 1.04 earned run average.

But the Brewers began 1982 in a tense funk, and after a 23-24 start manager Buck Rodgers became the fall guy as players complained of his overly uptight attitude. In came Harvey Kuenn—the perennial .300 hitter and All-Star at Detroit during the 1950s, and Milwaukee’s batting coach since 1971—who discarded the tension with three simple words: “Let’s have fun.” Loosened up, the Brewers bombed away. They won 30 of their next 41 games thanks to a formidable offense with a voracious appetite for extra-base hits that quickly earned them the nickname, “Harvey’s Wallbangers.”

For the year, Milwaukee would rout an AL-high 216 balls over the fence, with a quintet of players each hitting at least 20—including catcher Ted Simmons, the other ex-CardinalThose traded from St. Louis for Vuckovich, Fingers and Simmons included Sixto Lezcano, dealt to San Diego; David Green, who lost his job in 1982 to rookie Willie McGee; and pitcher Dave LaPoint, who gave the Cardinals a few decent years.. Others leading Milwaukee’s hit parade included big boomer Gorman Thomas, with 39 homers; first baseman Cecil Cooper (.313 average, 32 homers, 121 RBIs), one of the game’s most unheralded hitters; third baseman Paul Molitor (.302, 19, 71), leading the AL with 136 runs; and shortstop Robin Yount, a starter at Milwaukee since age 18—and who now, eight years later, had strengthened himself from just another lightweight infielder to a multi-purpose power threat. Yount’s 1982 numbers—a .331 average, 46 doubles, 12 triples, 29 homers and 114 RBIs—would easily earn him the AL MVP.

Before Harvey Kuenn took over as manager of the Brewers on June 2, the team’s hitting punch was modest at best. But the bats awoke and stayed hot all summer once Kuenn stepped up, translating to more wins—and an AL pennant.

On the mound, Vuckovich and Fingers continued to keep opponents from catching up. It was Vuckovich’s turn to earn the Cy with an 18-6 record and 3.34 ERA; Fingers saved 29 more games before an arm injury ended his season in early September.

Leading the AL East by four games with five to play—the last four at second-place Baltimore—the Brewers picked a fine time to get a case of the streaks; they lost four straightThe Brewers didn’t just lose, they got clobbered—outscored in the four losses by a total of 35-11. to set up a winner-take-all affair against the Orioles on the regular season’s final day. The odds didn’t favor Milwaukee; the Orioles had won 9 of 13 on the year against the Brewers, fielded the division’s best home record, and were ready to start Jim Palmer—winner of 13 of his past 14 decisions after a tumultuous start that first landed him in manager Earl Weaver’s doghouse, then the bullpen, then briefly on the trading block. Add to all this the emotional intangible of the tempestuous Weaver, who announced early in the year that he’d screamed enough at umpires and would retire at season’s end.

Apparently reminded with Kuenn’s thinking, the Brewers—and particularly Yount—unwound and had fun. They overpowered the Orioles, 10-2, taking their first-ever AL East title with Yount smashing two homers and a triple in triumph.

Streaks did not play a big factor in the AL West, where the high-powered, high-priced California Angels outlasted the Kansas City RoyalsThe Royals’ pitching staff collapsed in the final month to seriously weaken their chances against the Angels. by three games. That was just fine with veteran Angels manager Gene Mauch, whose previous brush with famous streaks—losing ten straight as manager of the 1964 Phillies to give away the NL pennant—made for some unpleasant memories.

Unfortunately for Mauch, more were on the way for the postseason.

A veteran team featuring ten players with World Series experience—including Mr. October himself, Reggie JacksonLet go by the Yankees after hitting .237 in 1981, the 36-year-old Jackson slammed 39 home runs for the Angels to tie Gorman Thomas for the AL lead., freed after five years with George Steinbrenner—the Angels put themselves in great shape at the ALCS by winning the first two games against Milwaukee. The Angels had three games to win one, but Mauch blew it again, in much the same way he blew it in 1964; by repeatedly using his best pitchers on short rest. Tommy John and Bruce Kison had gone the distance to win Games One and Two, respectively, but now they were asked to start Games Four and Five—if necessary—on three days rest. Both games were necessary, and they would both be lost; John was shelled in Game Four, and Kison only lasted five innings in the finale, replaced by a bullpen that couldn’t hold a slim 3-2 lead. The Brewers, despite hitting just .219 and committing eight errors against the Angels, moved upward.

The St. Louis Cardinals got a brutal taste of Harvey’s Wallbangers to start the World Series by being blown out at home, 10-0Paul Molitor’s five hits in Game One, all singles, was the first such accomplishment in World Series history.. Whitey Herzog’s gang recovered to take the next two games, and then it was Milwaukee’s turn, taking Games Four and Five to reclaim the series lead. That brought the Series back to St. Louis, where Herzog needed the final two games to win it all. In this crazy year of titanic streaks and mood swings among baseball teams, how easy could it be to win two measly games in a row?

For the Cardinals, it was easy enough. They clobbered Milwaukee in Game Six, 13-1, then took the clincher when they bounced back from a two-run deficit in the sixth inning to topple the Brewers, 6-3.

Whitey Herzog would not be haunted by the three guys he’d sent out of St. Louis to flourish in Milwaukee. An injured Fingers never suited up, and without him the Brewers’ bullpen suffered with a 5.54 ERA in the World Series. Ted Simmons hit a few frivolous solo homers but overall batted just .174. Pete Vuckovich, who hadn’t won in a month since throwing 163 pitches in an extra-inning game, failed to win either of his two Series starts.

While the Brewers peaked with their 1982 performance—they would gradually settle into a mediocrity blamed on being a small-market team, if you listened to Milwaukee owner and future commissioner Bud Selig—the St. Louis triumph would trigger a comeback for one of baseball’s more historically respected organizations, following up one decade of rare forgettable play with a far more successful one.

1983 baseball historyForward to 1983: The Good, the Old and the Ugly The Baltimore Orioles (good) fight off unlikely foes in the Philadelphia Phillies (old) and the Chicago White Sox (ugly).

1981 baseball historyBack to 1981: No Ball, One Strike A criplling midseason player strike plays havoc with the schedule and the integrity of playoff eligibility.

1980s baseball historyThe 1980s Page: Corporate Makeover Baseball enjoys a healthy boom on several fronts, with increased attendance, corporate sponsorship and memorabilia sales; players also continue to enjoy skyrocketing salaries, but some abuse their newfound riches by delving into illegal drugs.

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They Were There: Stefan Wever
Stefan WeverStefan Wever recalls his major league career that held tremendous promise—but ended up lasting one game.

1982 Standings

National League East
St. Louis Cardinals
Philadelphia Phillies
Montreal Expos
Pittsburgh Pirates
Chicago Cubs
New York Mets
National League West
Atlanta Braves
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
Houston Astros
Cincinnati Reds
American League East
Milwaukee Brewers
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
Detroit Tigers
New York Yankees
Cleveland Indians
Toronto Blue Jays
American League West
California Angels
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
Seattle Mariners
Oakland A's
Texas Rangers
Minnesota Twins

1982 Postseason Results
NLCS St. Louis defeated Atlanta, 3-0.
ALCS Milwaukee defeated California, 3-2.
World Series St. Louis (NL) defeated Milwaukee (AL), 4-3.

It Happened in 1982

Ripken’s Believe It or Not, Games 1-117
Baltimore rookie Cal Ripken Jr., still shaking off an abhorrent batting slump to begin his major league career, is asked to sit out the second game of a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s May 29, 1982; the next time Ripken sits and watches an entire Orioles game from the dugout, it will be September 20, 1998—a record 2,632 games later.

Run, Rickey, Run!
Two years after breaking the American League season record for stolen bases, Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A’s shatters the all-time mark with 130 thefts. The 23-year-old speedster passes Lou Brock’s record from 1974 at Milwaukee on August 27, a night in which he swipes four bags during a 5-4 loss to the Brewers. Henderson’s 172 attempts also set a record; he’ll never surpass his own mark and will reach triple digits only once more—the following year, in 1983—during his long and productive career.

Running Against Type
Another stolen base record gets little attention among Henderson’s headlines. John Wathan pilfers 36 bases for the Kansas City Royals, the most ever by a catcher. He finishes one stolen base behind club leader Willie Wilson.

Congratulated…and Punished
Gaylord Perry, now pitching for the Seattle Mariners, becomes the first pitcher since Early Wynn in 1963 to win 300 games when he pitches his way to a 7-3 victory over the New York Yankees on May 6 at the Kingdome. The oldest player in the majors at 43—and pitching for his fifth team in four years—Perry is as active and mobile as ever. He’s also sneaky as ever, but after years of spitball accusations, Perry is later caught using “illegal substances” on the ball for the very first time in his 21-year career, during a 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on August 23. For that he is given a ten-game suspension.

Sixteen and Out
It’s a rough year for the 60-102 Minnesota Twins, but no one feels the sting of defeat more completely than 24-year-old pitcher Terry Felton—who goes 0-13 on the year. Add to that three losses from 1980 and Felton, who will never play in the majors again, finishes his career with a 0-16 mark—the most career losses by a pitcher without a win. On the bright side, he does record three saves for the Twins in 1982.

Thrice Done Twice
Doug DeCinces of the California Angels hits three home runs and knocks in all four runs in a 5-4 loss to the Twins on August 3. Just five days later, he’ll belt three more in a 9-5 win at Seattle. DeCinces is the only other major leaguer (after Johnny Mize in 1938) to have multiple three-homers performances within a week.

From Slump to Slam
After eight productive years in Montreal, Larry Parrish switches leagues—but he’s looking like a disaster playing for the Texas Rangers, batting .186 with a single home run through the season’s first three months. Starting on the Fourth of July, however, Parrish suddenly seems to get it. On that day he hits a grand slam along with another three-run shot at Oakland; connects for another slam three days later against Boston; and, three more days later, strokes his third grand slam of the week versus Detroit. He is the fourth major leaguer ever to hit three grand slams in the space of a week.

Two a Daze
Joel Youngblood gets two hits on August 4—one each for a different team. After hitting a two-run single early at Chicago for the New York Mets, Youngblood is taken out of the game—and told he’s been traded to the Expos. He catches a plane and arrives in time to pinch-hit and connect on another single at Philadelphia against the Phillies. What makes Youngblood’s feat more noteworthy is that both hits come off of future Hall of Famers, Ferguson Jenkins and Steve Carlton. He is the first player to play for two different teams in two different cities on the same day.

Baseball Appears to Have Passed the Audition in Southern California
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Anaheim-based Angels both set attendance records in their respective leagues. The Dodgers draw 3.6 million while the Angels bring in 2.8 million. That adds up to an eye-opening 6.4 million tickets sold for Major League Baseball in the Los Angeles Basin. Both records will be surpassed in later years in different cities.

We’ll Catch Up Later
In the second round of the free agent draft, the San Francisco Giants select…Barry Bonds. Known for the moment as the son of Bobby Bonds, the younger Barry decides to say no to the majors for now and heads for Arizona State University. The Pittsburgh Pirates will redraft Bonds in 1985, but he’ll eventually hook back up with the Giants as a $43 million free agent in 1993.

Finally Reaching to the Moon Man
San Francisco reliever Greg Minton allows a two-run home run to the Mets’ John Stearns on May 2; it’s the first round tripper allowed by Minton since the end of the 1978 season, a stretch covering 269 1/3 innings over 178 appearances. It’s the most consecutive innings pitched without allowing a home run since the deadball era. Minton still earns the save in a 4-2 win at Candlestick Park.

Wiggins Out
Alan Wiggins, a speedy and talented rookie for the San Diego Padres, is given a one-month suspension by baseball after he is charged with possession of cocaine. For Wiggins, it’s the beginning of a rough career, to say nothing of the rest of his life; he’ll be out of baseball before he’s 30, and he’ll die of complications from AIDS in 1991.

The Dodger Rookie Parade Continues
Steve Sax, a good enough player to help break up the long-standing Los Angeles infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey by replacing the traded Lopes at second base, becomes the fourth Dodger in a row to win the NL’s Rookie of the Year award. He follows pitchers Rick Sutcliffe (1979), Steve Howe (1980) and Fernando Valenzuela (1981).

Just Thought You’d Like to Know
For the first time since 1959, the majors go through a season without a no-hitter.

New Ballparks

The Metrodome, Minneapolis The Minnesota Twins move downtown and indoors to this unique—and vilified—facility, which appears like a giant marshmallow from afar with its teflon fabric roof held aloft by massive air vents inside. The Metrodome has acquired many names; the Homerdome for its relatively short field dimensions, the Gladbagdome for the massive black plastic covering the wall behind right field—and most everything profane from most everyone, complaining of its lousy artificial turf and general ugliness. Billy Martin once protested a game there because of the unnatural, bouncy hops the ball was taking. Dave Kingman, for whom no enclosed baseball venue was too large, once hit a ball that reached the roof—and never came down.

Designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill—the folks who gave Chicago the Sears Tower—the Metrodome did dispense of cold weather at Twins games, and in its heyday became the first AL facility to attract three million in home attendance. Realizing how out-of-fashion the Metrodome had become in later years, the Twins in 2003 actually painted the turf with checkerboard patterns to make it look like it had been mowed. The Twins left for Target Field after 2009, and not a moment too soon; the roof collapsed under the weight of heavy snow a year later. It would be patched backed up for the NFL Vikings, who remained at the facility through 2013 before it was torn down.

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