Remembering the Cards' magical '82 title

January 7th, 2022

The celebration was premature.

Out and upward from beyond the right-field stands at Milwaukee’s old County Stadium, yellow and blue balloons erupted after the Brewers secured the final out of Game 5 of the 1982 World Series. The jubilation was meant to mark their championship victory over the Cardinals, the first in franchise history.

There was one small problem, though. The series wasn’t over. And in a few days' time, it would be a season to celebrate. Just not for the Brewers.

That’s because the 1982 Cardinals -- the fleet-footed, sharp-gloved 1982 Cardinals were down, but not out. They’d return to St. Louis and take Games 6 and 7, capping the thrilling, back-and-forth “Suds Series” between rival beer-making cities to cement their place in baseball history.

The ’82 Cardinals weren’t brawn and brash. They excelled at a brand of baseball nearly extinct today. They hit 67 home runs -- as a team -- thriving instead with exceptional pitching, defense and speed. That style became known as "Whiteyball," coined after manager Whitey Herzog, who went on to win two more National League pennants during his Hall of Fame career. Led by Lonnie Smith’s 68 steals (only 15 teams stole as many in 2021), the ’82 Cardinals swiped 200 bases as a team: Only 18 clubs have eclipsed that number in a single season since.

"It changed the whole concept of the way [we tried] to play baseball, because we couldn't hit a home run and we could neutralize the power of the other team in our ballpark,” Herzog told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2010. “So I kind of just went with speed, which is the one thing in baseball you can use on both sides of the ball."

The Cardinals were equipped to win this way because of their pitcher-friendly home park, and a roster constructed with this style in mind. The star of the team was Ozzie Smith, who captained an air-tight infield of third baseman Ken Oberkfell, second baseman Tom Herr and first baseman Keith Hernandez. Hernandez and Smith retired with 24 combined Gold Glove Awards.

“I don’t think people talk about it as much as it should be talked about,” Ozzie Smith told KMOX-AM in December. “But that was probably -- certainly, for me -- one of the best infields ever assembled.”

Ozzie Smith and Hernandez captured gold in ’82, and future Gold Glove Award-winner Willie McGee emerged in center field to back a Cardinals pitching staff anchored by a tremendous bullpen. They also benefited from an All-Star season from Lonnie Smith, revelatory ace Joaquín Andujar and a great bench.

But first, more about that bullpen. Two years prior, the Cardinals sent third baseman Leon Durham to the Cubs to acquire future Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter in an attempt to shore up their issues in the late innings. By ’82, St. Louis had added setup men Doug Bair, Jeff Lahti and 2022 Hall of Fame electee Jim Kaat to complement Sutter, who led the NL in saves for a fourth consecutive season. Armed with his signature split-finger fastball, Sutter amassed 36 saves -- 13 of two innings or more -- while pitching to a 2.90 ERA across 102 1/3 frames. St. Louis finished 74-9 when leading after seven innings that season.

“To be very honest,” Herzog later told the Post-Dispatch, “Bruce Sutter is the guy who turned this thing around.”

Pitching, defense, speed and Sutter: The formula started the Cardinals off fast. They reeled off a 12-game winning streak in April to take the NL East lead, jockeying with the Phillies for the division’s top spot until mid-September. Third-string catcher Glenn Brummer’s game-winning steal of home on Aug. 22 against the Giants provided a lasting highlight from those summer months, but an early September skid dropped the Cards one game back of Philadelphia by Sept. 13. The next night against the Phillies in Philadelphia, Sutter defused a bases-loaded, one-out situation en route to an eight-out save to prop the Cardinals back into first.

They never looked back. Sutter saved six games down the stretch, including the division-clinching win over Montreal on Sept. 27. It was a sign of things to come.

“Whiteyball was nothing more than playing good, sound, fundamental baseball -- baseball the way baseball was supposed to be played,” Ozzie Smith said in 2010. “You knew that if you kept the game close, with your overall team speed and being able to put the ball in play, you could keep pressure on a defense that probably was not as effective as yours. It's real simple. It's not any mathematical equation. It's just about pitching, catching, timely hitting and keeping pressure on the opposition."

Would it translate to the postseason? St. Louis' first playoff opponent, the Braves, took four of six from the Cardinals at Busch Stadium II during the regular season and sported a fearsome lineup anchored by eventual NL MVP Dale Murphy. But it was the Cardinals who brought the lumber, outscoring Atlanta, 17-5, during a three-game sweep and their first NL pennant in 14 years. That set up a date with future Hall of Famers Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and the American League champion Brewers in the Fall Classic.

It was a matchup of contrasting styles of play. Nicknamed “Harvey’s Wallbangers” after manager Harvey Kuenn and their prodigious power, the Brewers led baseball with 216 regular-season homers. Their two biggest sluggers -- Gorman Thomas (39 home runs) and Ben Oglivie (34) -- alone out-homered the Cardinals’ entire team. Milwaukee also had a veteran rotation anchored by ’82 NL Cy Young Award-winner Pete Vuckovich and Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers. That Fingers missed the series with injury provided the Cardinals a big bullpen advantage.

“The quick Cardinals were a team of movement, tension, opportunism, and defense,” Hall of Fame baseball writer Roger Angell wrote in The New Yorker. “… and the ticking, intimidating Brewers … were always willing to wait, patiently and dangerously, to beat you with their bats.”

After suffering a blowout loss in Game 1, the Cardinals rallied behind playoff hero Darrell Porter and a seven-out save from Sutter to even the series with a 5-4 win in Game 2. Porter was far from finished: The 4-time All-Star batted .351 with six extra-base hits and six RBIs that October to claim both NLCS and World Series MVP honors.

“It was the most fun I’ve had playing baseball in my whole career,” Porter would say. “No question about it, it was a great feeling.”

Game 3, though, was the McGee show: He homered twice off Vuckovich and made an acrobatic catch at the left-center-field wall to rob Thomas in the ninth, sealing St. Louis’ 6-2 win. McGee grew into a star in the years to come, winning two batting titles and the 1985 NL MVP Award during his 18-year career, 13 of which he spent in St. Louis. Now a member of the club’s big league coaching staff, he remains beloved in the city in no small part due to those ’82 heroics.

But McGee's feats were the last the Cardinals would come by in Milwaukee that series. Uncharacteristically shaky bullpen work allowed the Brewers to square the series in Game 4, and Milwaukee put on a St. Louis-like defensive clinic to take Game 5, prompting County Stadium’s premature celebration.

But down three games to two upon returning to Busch Stadium, the Cardinals had some magic left. Porter and Hernandez homered in Game 6 behind rookie John Stuper, who pitched through two rain delays in a complete-game 13-1 thrashing. The series even, the title now came down to a winner-take-all Game 7.

“I’m glad I did it and if I had to do it over again, I’d do it over again,” Stuper told the Post-Dispatch in 2012. “They probably would have to pull the ball out of my hands, and there might have been a fight in the dugout.”

The stage was set for Game 7, with the ace Andujar taking the ball and Sutter available at all costs. The Whiteyball formula, again, worked. Andujar out-pitched Vuckovich over seven innings, St. Louis stormed back with a three-run sixth and handed Sutter the ball in the eighth. True to form, Sutter retired the six batters he faced in order to seal the 6-3 victory, whiffing Thomas with a high fastball for the final out.

Then the real celebration began. Sutter hopped into Porter’s outstretched arms in front of the mound, the ensuing dogpile prompting this famous call from legendary Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck: “A swing and a miss, and that’s a winner! That’s a winner! A World Series winner for the Cardinals!”

This party featured more than mere balloons. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “150 officers, 20 dogs and 12 horses couldn’t keep St. Louis fans from storming the field.” It was a celebration of Whiteyball, and it was in St. Louis to stay.