The names may not be as familiar as those of other recent years, but for potential drama and excitement the 1982 World Series opening here tonight between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers looks hard to beat.
First it's the classic contrast of speed vs. power. The Cardinals, a team built to take advantage of spacious Busch Stadium and its artificial turf, specialized in running their foes into submission both on the basepaths and in the field, while the Brewers slugged their way to the top with a lineup that led both major leagues in home runs and runs scored.
The routes they took were different too. Milwaukee survived a late slump by winning a dramatic regular season finale at Baltimore for the American League East title, then made baseball history by beating California to become the first team ever to overcome an 0-2 deficit in a league championship series. St. Louis had a much quieter time of it, wrapping up the National League East crown with about a week to go, then dispatching Atlanta in three straight playoff games, only one of which was close.
It is also a clash between a team with one of the game's proudest traditions and a relative newcomer making its World Series debut. The Cardinals have been the NL's pride and joy in these fall classics - from the famous Gashouse Gang team of Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, and Ducky Medwick in the 1920s and '30s, through the Stan Musial-Enos Slaughter-Red Schoendienst powerhouses of the 1940s , and on to the Lou Brock-Curt Flood-Bob Gibson clubs of the 1960s. Over the years, they've appeared in 12 World Series and won eight - the latter figure easily the best in their league and second only to the New York Yankees overall. The Brewers, meanwhile, are a 14-year-old expansion team that began as the Seattle Pilots in 1969, moved to Milwaukee the following year, and is just now savoring its first taste of real glory.
Along with the contrasts, however, there are some similarities - starting with the many outstanding players on each team who have been somewhat overlooked compared with such media favorites as Reggie Jackson, Steve Garvey, and Pete Rose. But if most St. Louis and Milwaukee heroes aren't household names yet, some of them surely will be by the time this best-of-seven series is over.
Milwaukee has such an awesome array of sluggers that one hardly knows where to begin. Centerfielder Gorman Thomas tied for the major league lead with 39 home runs and drove in 112 runs. But the team's best all-around hitter is undoubtedly first baseman Cecil Cooper, who has batted over .300 six years in a row, has a lifetime .307 average, and hit .313 this season with 32 homers and 121 RBIs. And that's just the beginning!
Left fielder Ben Oglivie has power statistics that would lead most teams (34 homers, 103 RBIs), while catcher Ted Simmons (23 and 96) and third baseman Paul Molitor (.302 average, 19 home runs) also have some big numbers. And still we haven't even mentioned shortstop Robin Yount, almost everybody's MVP choice on the basis of his outstanding play both in the field and at the plate, where he just missed the league batting title at .331 and had 29 home runs and 114 RBIs.
Milwaukee's once-questionable pitching looks better now thanks to the late-season acquisiton of Don Sutton, who won the regular season finale against Baltimore and beat California in the game that turned the playoffs around. With Sutton to go along with Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell, the starting rotation suddenly doesn't look too bad. And even if ace reliever Rollie Fingers still hasn't recovered from the arm injury that kept him out of playoff action, Manager Harvey Kuenn can look to the bullpen with confidence anyway on the basis of the fine jobs done by Bob McClure and Peter Ladd in the playoffs.
Against this array, St. Louis fields a team that has even fewer well-known players - but that, too, could change in a hurry.
If awesome is the word to describe Milwaukee's power, it fits equally well in terms of St. Louis's speed. The Cardinals have four outfielders who can really put it in high gear in Lonnie Smith (one of the game's most exciting offensive players), flashy rookie Willie McGee, George Hendrick, and backup man David Green. Then there's the infield, where Ozzie Smith, considered by many the game's premier defensive shortstop, anchors a group that also utilizes its speed both offensively and defensively.
The Cardinals' running game offsets the fact that the team has so little power (its 67 home runs were the fewest in the majors, and the only big RBI men are Hendrick and first baseman Keith Hernandez). And with 15-game winners Joaquin Andujar and Bob Forsch leading a pitching staff which includes super reliever Bruce Sutter, the Cardinals can reasonably expect to hold the opposition's power in check most of the time.
That was certainly the case in the playoff sweep over Atlanta, which led the National League in homers and runs scored but could manage only five runs, 15 hits, and no home runs in the three games. These figures have to worry Milwaukee a bit, too, for despite pulling out their regular season and playoff victories with some key hits, the Brewers have not really been hitting with their accustomed authority in the last few weeks.
Obviously these are two outstanding teams which have been on the rise and were considered strong possibilities to be right where they are. The Brewers almost made it to the playoffs last year, while the Cardinals had the best record in their division in 1981 only to lose out in the strange split-season format that was used because of the player strike.
If their stars aren't quite as famous as those on some other teams, it is strictly a case of the media's infatuation with teams and players in New York, Los Angeles, and other major TV markets, and the fact that such teams have indeed dominated the postseason scene for many years. This is the first time since the St. Louis-Detroit series of 1968, in fact, that at least one team in the fall classic hasn't come from either the East or West Coast. And before that, you have to go all the way back to the World War II years of 1945 (Detroit-Chicago) and 1944 (the Cardinals vs. the old St. Louis Browns) to find any others.
The new look should provide an interesting Series, too - and one with many fascinating sidelines. Among the latter is the big trade which the teams made two years ago which sent Simmons, Vuckovich, and Fingers to Milwaukee. For the Cardinals, that deal was part of a series, so it's a bit complicated to trace directly, but in one way or another it helped them toward the acquisition of some of their own key operatives, including outfielders Green and Lonnie Smith.
Anyway, it all unfolds beginning tonight, with Game 2 also here Wednesday night, Games 3, 4, and (if necessary) 5 in Milwaukee over the weekend, and, if the series is still going on, Games 6 and 7 back here next week.