Tuesday, July 3, 2012

1982 World Series: Budweiser vs. Miller

The Teams
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (92-70) - 13th World Series (won in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967)
American League: Milwaukee Brewers (95-67) - First World Series

What Happened
It was power against speed. Harvey's Wallbangers against Whiteyball. The Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals certainly took different approaches to winning in 1982. The Brewers were offense at its finest, with 8 players reaching double figures in home runs and 6 getting to 20. The Cardinals, meanwhile, did it with speed, finishing last in the National League in home runs but stealing a league-high 200 bases and hitting almost as many triples as home runs.

One thing they had in common was a Hall of Fame closer, but while Bruce Sutter was ready and able to close games out for the Cardinals, Rollie Fingers was not able to answer the bell for the Brewers. After getting injured in September of that year, Fingers was unavailable for the entire playoffs, and a team that desperately needed veteran postseason leadership would have to find it elsewhere.

I had a longtime Brewer fan tell me once that Milwaukee would have won the 1982 World Series if Fingers had been healthy. Not knowing any better, I took his word for it at the time, but now I'm not so sure. No closers were needed in Game 1 - a 10-0 Brewers win - or Game 6 - a 13-1 win for the Cardinals. But what about the others?

The two best bets for games where Fingers would have made a difference were Games 2 and 7. First, Game 2. With the Brewers up 4-2, St. Louis catcher Darrell Porter hit a 2-run double in the sixth inning to tie the game. The Cardinals then got two runners on against starter-turned-reliever Bob McClure in the 7th before McClure got out of it, then got two more on in the 8th before manager Harvey Kuenn pulled the plug. In came de facto closer Pete Ladd, who walked the next two hitters to force home the eventual winning run. Brewer fans might say Fingers would have made a difference there, but would he have even been in the game? Before getting hurt, he only entered the game 10 times when the Brewers didn't have the lead in 1982, and while he was asked to pitch multiple innings many times in his time with the Athletics, Fingers was rarely asked to do so with the Brewers in 1982, especially late in the season. It's much more likely that, since it was a road game, he would have been saved with the hope the Brewers took the lead. And even if he came in to clean up McClure's mess in the 8th and succeeded, there's no guarantee the Brewers would have scored off Sutter to get the win.

So then to look at Game 7. Again, the Brewers lead in the late innings, taking a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the 6th. Then, starter Pete Vuckovich gave up two straight one out hits before giving way to McClure, who promptly walked his first batter before giving up a devastating - and, as it turned out, series-turning - bases-loaded single to Keith Hernandez. George Hendrick followed with a go-ahead single, and the Cardinals held on from there. So would Fingers had made a difference? Again, it's unlikely he would have been in the game so early. At no point during the season did Fingers enter a game before the 7th inning, and while Kuenn would have been well within his right to bring in his Hall of Famer at that point, he would have been playing with fire by asking his 35-year-old closer to get 11 outs in a Game 7.

There's no doubt Fingers would have pitched better than the relievers Milwaukee threw out there in the 1982 World Series, but there's a lot of doubt that he would have been able to have much influence in the outcomes of the games. Milwaukee didn't lose the 1982 World Series because Fingers was hurt. They lost because they didn't have enough quality pitchers to go with their sterling offensive players.

Defining Game
Sometimes, all a team needs is the smallest opening, and they burst through. One small misstep, one little mistake, and you pay for it big time. That happened to St. Louis in Game 4, and it almost cost them the series. The Cardinals were up 5-1 in the 8th inning, five outs away from a 3-games-to-1 series lead. Then Ben Ogilvie hit a grounder to Hernandez at first, and Hernandez flipped it towards Cardinals starter Dave LaPoint, and LaPoint dropped the ball. It was a small opening, and Milwaukee took full advantage. After four hits, two walks, and a wild pitch, Milwaukee had scored six unearned runs. They retied the series, and it took the Cardinals two games to recover.

Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter won the award under the always possible "somebody's gotta win it" theory. Sure, he had a fine series, with 8 hits and 5 runs batted in, none bigger than his sixth inning two-out, two-strike, two-run double to tie Game 2. But it's not the type of resume that jumps out at you. Joaquin Andujar probably should have won the award, since he won both his starts, including Game 7. But the fact that it was only two starts might have hurt him. In truth, the best player in the series was Milwaukee's Robin Yount, who had 12 hits for a .414 average, but nobody's going to vote for someone from the losing team any more.   

Scores(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Milwaukee 10427 613
St. Louis 0565 4136

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

47. 1982 - St. Louis (N) def. Milwaukee (A) 4-3
48. 1923 - New York (A) def. New York (N) 4-2
49. 1944 - St. Louis (N) def. St. Louis (A) 4-2
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York 0
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis 4, Philadelphia 2
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0 
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0 

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