Cardinals' 1982 title was product of different era
Herzog's team of speedsters, glovemen took advantage of spacious Busch, AstroTurf
A little more than a week ago, after the Cardinals hit a home run in each of the first five innings against the Cubs, first baseman Lance Berkman made an honest assessment of the powerful capabilities St. Louis' offense has this season.
"We're not the '82 Cardinals," Berkman said.
On their way to winning St. Louis' ninth World Series title, the 1982 Cardinals' 67 home runs were the fewest hit in the Majors that year. This season, the Cardinals have five players who already collectively exceed that total. St. Louis entered Tuesday tied for 12th in the Majors with 119 long balls.
However, the '82 club, which was reunited at Busch Stadium this past weekend to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its title, didn't need home run threats to win. That team relied on speed, sound defense and solid pitching -- the fundamentals of "Whiteyball," an aggressive style of play implemented by eventual Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog.
"We made things happen," said Ken Oberkfell, the club's third baseman. "If we hit it to the gap, we were always thinking triple, and we put a lot of pressure on the opposing team with our aggressiveness. We didn't try to hit home runs and if we did, they were probably by accident. We did the right things as far as putting the ball in play, moving the runners, sacrificing, getting guys in from third. It was a fun team to watch if you appreciated the game of baseball."
Herzog, hired by the Cardinals to be their manager and general manager in 1980, hand-picked players with speed and base-stealing ability for the top of his lineup.
The result? The Cards swiped a National League-high 200 bags in 1982. Four players stole at least 24 bases, led by a single-season career-high 62 by left fielder Lonnie Smith.
"It was hard to pitch to us," said closer Bruce Sutter. "Very frustrating because you'd give up a walk and the next two pitches, he's standing on third. Ground ball to second base scores a run, and you didn't give up a hit yet. Just to watch what it did to opposing pitchers was a lot of fun."
Whiteyball was developed not only around the personnel, but on the club's surroundings. Herzog arrived in St. Louis, saw the deep outfield walls of Busch Stadium and felt the hard, fast AstroTurf surface beneath his feet.
Herzog, who previously managed the Royals, a somewhat similar team that played in a similar environment, envisioned ground balls zipping through the infield and rolling around for days deep in the outfield as his runners circled the bases and ran free on any given pitch.
"It was good for hitting, [but] a little hard on the body," Oberkfell said of the AstroTurf. "We used it to our advantage."
Defensively, the club would be fundamentally sound and make all the routine plays. As Herzog had hoped, St. Louis tied Philadelphia in 1982 for the NL's best fielding percentage, and its 3.37 team ERA was third-best in the Majors.
"You just needed to throw strikes, keep the ball in the ballpark and go from there," Sutter said. "[Whitey] could have fell flat on his face, but he didn't. He had the right players with the right ideas and got the players to do what he wanted to do."
The Cardinals swept the Braves in the '82 National League Championship Series and met the Brewers in the World Series. Milwaukee hit 216 homers in 1982, pitting the club with the most homers against the team with the least.
St. Louis won a 13-1 blowout in Game 6, in which both catcher Darrell Porter and first baseman Keith Hernandez homered, to force a Game 7. Behind a strong outing by Joaquin Andujar and five RBI singles, Whiteyball prevailed and the Cards captured their first title since 1967.
"It was a great time in St. Louis," Herzog said. "It was a blue-collar team that worked in a blue-collar city and the people started loving them."
Many of the 1982 Cardinals agree; their style of play was unique to their era and their talents. While fundamental defense will always be valued in St. Louis, it's difficult to compare any other era of Cardinal baseball to the '82 team, Oberkfell said.
As shortstop Ozzie Smith noted, most parks aren't as large as the old Busch Stadium, and nowadays more clubs seek out power hitters to stock their lineups so homers can be hit over those shorter distances.
"I don't think it would work," Smith said. "I don't think people subscribe to it as much."
For taking a chance on a group of speedy, line-drive hitters and relying on a staff to keep the team in games, the 1982 Cardinals have Herzog and Whiteyball to thank for their title.
"Whitey let us play. He let us play the game," Oberkfell said. "He wanted us to play hard and play fundamental baseball and we did that as a team.
"That's what Whitey wanted. He wanted us to be fundamentally sound, and I give him all the credit in the world."
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.