PMP 2023: Memorable Cardinals Teams

PMP 2023: Memorable Cardinals Teams

Please keep in mind that this is a fundraiser. Please keep in mind that as part of this fundraiser I allowed people to Pick My Post. Please keep in mind that I grew up 29 miles from Busch Stadium. So before you get all Cub-y and complain about Cardinals content on an Illini blog… Ken donated $100 to have me write about the Cardinals, so write about the Cardinals I will.

Please write about the memorable Cardinal teams in your lifetime. They've won 13 NL pennants and 6 World Series championships in mine, and I can talk happily about them all, but none more memorable than my freshman year at UIUC when they KO'd the hated Yankees.
~Ken Blan

My memories don't go back as far as yours, obviously, but I do have a ton of Cardinals memories from childhood. My first game was either 1979 or 1980. Jim Kaat was on the hill for the Cards. Jim Kaat was born in… 1938.

This question asks about memorable Cardinals teams, and, obviously, as a sports-loving kid who was 9 years old in the fall of 1982, the '82 team is everything to me. I even kept a scrapbook. In fact, I bet I can find that scrapbook right now. Let me go dig through a closet.

FOUND IT. If you were to ever question my description of myself as a "sports-loving kid", I present to you a page from a scrapbook I kept where I cut out bios of Gene Tenace and Mike Ramsey from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that my dad had delivered every morning:

Man, this stuff preserved nicely under that self-adhesive photo album film. That's a newspaper clipping from 41 years ago!

Now I need to look up that game to see which game from 1982 I saved the stubs from. Those stubs could be an entire post:

  • The Cardinals lost to the Expos that night, 5-3. Joaquin Andujar was on the mound (which is probably why I saved the ticket stubs - I got to see Joaquin Andujar pitch). Steve Rodgers got the win for the 'Spos. Jeff Reardon got the save.
  • The two stubs I saved were row 6 seat 9 and row 5 seat 10. My dad loved to go back-to-back when he got four tickets, so I guarantee you he bought row 5 seats 9&10 (my mom and my sister) and row 6 seats 9&10 (me and him, with me throwing peanut shells in my sister's hair).
  • On the back of the ticket - an ad for Ozark Airlines! How 1982 is that?
  • $7.50. Take the whole family to a Friday night game in the middle of a pennant race for $30. Taxes included!

I remember so much about that autumn. I was starting 4th grade, so we moved across the playground to the building attached to the back of the junior high that we called "4-5-6" because, get this, it housed 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade. The 4-5-6 gym teacher - I can't remember her last name but her first name was Jody - put up the Cardinals magic number on the door to the gym. So every day, when we walked to the cafeteria for lunch, we walked past the Cardinals magic number. After the Cardinals clinched, I believe she put up a countdown of how many wins the Cardinals needed to win the World Series.

I'm not sure how many of my memories from the World Series run are accurate and how many have been twisted in my mind over the last 41 years but I'll do another list of things I remember from the playoffs that year:

+ In the first game of the NLCS, the Cardinals are losing to the Braves but there are thunderstorms looming. I remember my dad telling some story about how Gussie Busch (Cards owner at the time) was frantically waving his arms at the umpires to get them to call the game as soon as the rain started to fall because the game was something like 2 outs away from becoming official (with the Braves winning big). The game was called, the Braves lead was wiped, the Braves ace (Phil Niekro I think?) was wasted, the Cardinals won "game 1" the next day, and the Redbirds won the NLCS in a breeze.

+ In game 2 of the World Series, my entire family gathered to watch it in our basement. I remember hugging my Aunt Jill after Willie McGee's second home run. And McGee going over the wall to rob a home run (from Gorman Thomas I believe?) is one of my favorite extended family memories.

+ In game 4 (or was it game 5?), the Cardinals had the game won up in Milwaukee (the Brewers were in the AL at the time, kids) when a simple flip from Keith Hernandez to Dave LaPoint (pitcher covering first on a ground ball to 1B) bounced off the heel of LaPoint's glove, allowing the Brewers to keep the inning alive (and eventually take the lead, scoring the winning run that inning). It was the second time I cried after a sporting event. The first was when Steve freaking Zungel and the New York… Arrows (?) beat the St. Louis Steamers in the Major Indoor Soccer League championship.

+ In game 6, with the Cardinals needing to win the last two at home to win the Series, Keith Hernandez hit a towering home run that (at least the way I remember it) made Mike Shannon (RIP) say "he must have poked a hole in the clouds because it's starting to rain". There was a rain delay, but they resumed and the Cards won big.

+ That set up the biggest game of my young life: 1982, two months before my 10th birthday, a chance for my team to win a world title. I remember two big moments from the game. Silent George Hendrick getting a big hit to give the Cards the lead and Dane Iorg providing two insurance runs in the 8th to make the 9th inning with Bruce Sutter (RIP) much more relaxing. Sutter delivers, Gorman Thomas swings and misses, Daryl Porter shoves his glove in the air, Jack Buck says "that's a winner - a World Series winner for the Cardinals" and my childhood heart was full.

It's the only title I got to celebrate with my dad. Our teams only got close three more times before he died in 1993: the Cardinals lost to the Royals in 1985 (and the Twins in 1987) and then the Illini lost to Michigan in the Final Four in 1989. The Cards would not win again until 2006 and the Blues wouldn't win (at all) until 2019. Steamers never won either. Freaking Steve Zungel.

The question here is "memorable Cardinals teams of my lifetime", so I'll close with my top-5. And I'm going to leave the 2011 Cardinals out of this even though that might be the most "memorable" Cardinals team of all time with that crazy World Series run. By 2011, I had already started the blog and my focus shifted heavily towards Illinois football and basketball. I still loved that World Series (especially my middle son and I waking up my wife when Freese hit the home run), but I was "unattached" from Cardinals baseball at that point. 12 years later? You don't even want to know how unattached I am. I'm guessing I could probably name more players on the 1982 Cardinals than the 2023 Cardinals. I'm 99.7% Illini at this point in my life.

Actually, since I already talked about 1982 and I just dismissed 2011, I'll make this "five most memorable Cardinals seasons, World Series winners excluded". So no 1982, 2006, or 2011. Here we go.

5. 1996

I think the only time I ever skipped class and drove down to St. Louis to go to a Cardinals game was spring of 1996. I had full-on senioritis and a buddy had two tickets to opening day (or maybe the game after opening day)? Anyway, I have fond memories of that season, even though the Cardinals blew a 3-1 lead in the NLCS. The Cardinals had fallen off after 1987, and then there was the strike, so if felt like 1996 was the season where baseball was repaired again.

4. 1987

I still remember the discussion around the breakfast table with my family the morning of Game 7 against the Twins. I was 14 at the time, and it was the first time I had a real grasp on "I'll either be happy all winter or sad all winter based on the outcome of this game." I was sad all winter.

3. 2000

A sports thing I can claim: I was there, in Busch Stadium, during the 2000 NLCS against the Mets when Rick Ankiel lost his release point. It's as uncomfortable as I've ever been at a sporting event. You didn't know if it was going to hit the batter, hit the backstop, or be grooved right down the middle for a strike. (Still loved that team all the way to the NLCS.)

2. 2005

2004 was the super team (and I was at the NLCS game in 2004 when the Cardinals clinched the World Series berth). But I have more fond memories of 2005 for some reason. It's probably tied in with Illini basketball. And getting married. And getting to take the boys to their first playoff game after marrying their mom/adopting them. Still wish that Pujols home run off Brad Lidge would have meant more than "extended the series one additional game."

1. 1985

Even though the Don Denkinger (RIP) call still hurts, I have great memories of 1985. I'll tell three stories and then I'll get out of here.

+ Cesar Cedeno September. Oh man it was something else. The Cardinals needed 1B/OF help so they acquired Cesar Cedeno from the Reds at the end of August. Cedeno hit, like, .500 in the month of September. Now I need to look this up.

Cedeno was hitting .241 with the Reds when the Cardinals acquired him on August 29th. He then hit .434 with 6 home runs and 19 RBI in September. AND, he was part of maybe the single biggest regular season Cardinals win I can remember.

Cards are a game behind the Mets in the NL East (yes, the East) in September. Playing at Shea Stadium. Doc Gooden vs. John Tudor. Game goes 0-0 into the 10th because nobody can hit either pitcher. The Mets pull Gooden in the 10th and put in Jesse Orozco who… gives up a home run to Cesar Cedeno. Cards win 1-0 and tie the Mets for the NL East lead.

There's never been a more confused baseball fan than a Reds fan who, having watched Cedeno hit .241 with 3 home runs in five months in Cincinnati, had to watch him hit .434 with 6 home runs in September with the Cardinals.

Sprinkle that pixie dust, baby.

+ I have a very unique memory of Ozzie Smith's NLCS home run off Tom Niedenfuer. I believe it was a Monday afternoon (maybe Columbus Day?) and my family had taken a weekend trip. We were driving back to Illinois from Missouri on I-270 across the Chain Of Rocks Bridge when we heard Jack Buck call the home run on the radio. And my dad pointed down the river 20 miles to downtown St. Louis and we could see the fireworks over Busch Stadium.

His only left-handed home run… ever, right?

+ I also have very fond memories of the Jack Clark home run off Tom Niedenfuer in the very next game. It was a school day, we were trying to get updates at school from a teacher with a radio, and I watched the ninth inning in the basement of my house with some friends. I still claim that the highest I've ever jumped was when Jack Clark hit that home run.

The 1985 World Series? Never happened. Kansas City imagined the whole thing.

As did Don Denkinger.