Groundhog Day: Cooper sees alternate finish for '82 Series
Rollie Fingers' late-season injury changed makeup of Brewers' bullpen
MILWAUKEE -- Groundhog Day is a day for do-overs. When Cecil Cooper was asked recently what event in Brewers history he'd like the opportunity to replay, he didn't hesitate. After all, players of this era in Milwaukee baseball history have been kicking around this hypothetical for years.
"If Rollie [Fingers] had been healthy in 1982," Cooper said wistfully, "the Brew Crew [would have been] world champions."
Nothing gnaws at the earlier generation of Brewers players more than the arm injury that kept relief ace Fingers off the mound for the final four weeks of the 1982 regular season and all of the postseason. Fingers was at the height of his powers, the American League's MVP and Cy Young Award winner in '81, with 29 more saves through the end of August '82.
But on Sept. 2, he tore a muscle in his forearm and was lost for the season. The Brewers held off the Orioles to win the AL East, beat the Angels in the AL Championship Series, but fell to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series, during which Fingers might have played a pivotal role.
"When he went down," said Jerry Augustine, a left-hander in the '82 bullpen, "it changed how we used everybody. With Rollie in the bullpen, healthy, I think we would have had a chance to bring a World Series [trophy] back to Milwaukee."
After a blowout victory in Game 1 of the Series, reliever Pete Ladd walked home what proved to be the Cardinals' winning run in Game 2, denying the Brewers a 2-0 Series lead heading back home to County Stadium. Fingers' absence was felt most in Game 7, when the Brewers led, 3-1, after seven innings, only to see St. Louis rally for three runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth for a 6-3, championship-clinching victory.
"That was the toughest part, just sitting around and not being able to do anything, not being able to help when we needed it," Fingers told the New York Times the following spring. "Before the first game of the World Series, I threw some batting practice. But the next day, I couldn't do anything, every muscle was sore."
According to the Times, Fingers told manager Harvey Kuenn prior to Game 7 that he was a no-go.
"Up until that last day, he thought he could pitch," Kuenn said at the time. "But if I had used him even once, that would've been it. I was trying to save him for the right spot, but I never had the spot. When we had the 3-1 lead in that seventh game in St. Louis, that would've been the spot. But he told me before the game that he just couldn't throw."
How often does Cooper ponder what might have been, had Fingers been healthy?
"Quite often," he said. "I know we were short-armed, didn't have all of our guys -- and he was the biggest component of all. It hurt him, but Rollie was Rollie. He was always typically bitter, kind of crazy, grumpy, but a good team guy. He knew the situation, and it was killing him not to be there."