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When baseball became Whiteyball

ticket2The way Whitey Herzog remembers it, predictions had him being the first manager to be fired in 1985.

“All the writers were saying that,” Herzog recalled recently.

The reason had to do with Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter leaving St. Louis. Sutter was the game’s top relief pitcher. He was wooed away from St. Louis by Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner in December 1984.

Losing his relief ace, Herzog said: “I just got 45 games dumber.”

But it didn’t turn out that way. The Cardinals won 101 games and lost just 61 during the season. They finished in first place in the National League East by three games over the New York Mets. A win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the championship series brought about the famous call by Jack Buck, telling Cardinals fans to “Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!”

That series triumph sent the Cardinals to the I-70 World Series that was won by the Kansas City Royals. Of course, that series long will be remembered by an infamous missed call at first base in Game 6 by umpire Don Denkinger, who ruled Jorge Orta was safe. But that’s another story.

Playing ‘Whiteyball’

This season the Cardinals will honor the 1985 team – a team Herzog remembers fondly.

While his 1982 team won the World Series, Herzog believes the 1985 team was his best. The team was loaded with talent. Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Jack Clark, Darrell Porter, Terry Pendleton, Joaquin Andujar, John Tudor, Danny Cox and Andy Van Slyke were all big contributors in 1985.

After a slow start, St. Louis finished 81-41. McGee hit .353 to win the batting title and MVP honors. Coleman stole 110 bases and won the Rookie of the Year award. McGee and Smith won Gold Gloves. The team had a pair of 21-game winners in Tudor and Andujar and 18 wins in Cox. That trio of starters and a handful of relievers helped the team reach triple figures in wins in unconventional fashion: Third-place hitter Tommy Herr had just eight home runs but 110 RBIs, and Herzog’s greyhounds had an eye-popping 314 stolen bases but only 87 home runs.

It was called Whiteyball. That meant defense and running. The 1985 Cardinals had five players with 31 stolen bases or more: Coleman (110), McGee (56), Andy Van Slyke (34) and Smith and Tommy Herr (31 apiece).

“With a bunch of guys, he (Herzog) didn’t have a steal sign; they were on their own,” Van Slyke said, recalling the run-at-any-risk ‘85 Redbirds. “He said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ You don’t keep a greyhound on a choke chain. He knew unless we ran, we couldn’t win.

“I remember one time when we scored two runs without hitting a ball out of the infield. It was a track meet. It was crazy. The way we played was more exciting than hitting home runs.”

The team’s theme song that year was Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On.” Certainly, the running Redbirds put the heat on their opponents.

ticket1Coleman was sensational, but he had a singular objective.

“All I wanted to do was make my mom proud and not embarrass myself,” Coleman said. “I was drafted in the 10th round and I always used that as a chip on my shoulder. I stole 125 bases in 1983 in Macon, Georgia. That was in 112 games.

“I was prepared to play in the big leagues. I knew I could do it. I came up to the big leagues and (general manager) Dal Maxvill said I’d only be here four days. I said I wasn’t going back.”

Go crazy, folks!

The one thing the 1985 Cards lacked was power. They hit just 87 homers, led by Clark’s 22.

“Andujar and Clark were the only power hitters we had – that’s what Joaquin said,” Herzog said with a chuckle.

However, for a club not noted for power, the 1985 Cardinals had two of the most famous home runs in team history: Smith’s game-winner at Busch Stadium against Los Angeles’ Tom Niedenfuer in Game 5 of the NLCS that October, and Clark’s pennant-winner against the same pitcher in Game 6 two days later in Los Angeles.

“Smith corks one into right, down the line! It may go!” Buck, the Hall of Fame Cardinals broadcaster told his KMOX listeners during game five. “Go crazy, folks! Go crazy! It’s a home run, and the Cardinals have won the game, by the score of 3 to 2, on a home run by the Wizard! Go crazy!”

Then just 48 hours later, in Game 6, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda elected to pitch to Clark with a base open and a one-run lead in the ninth inning. Clark turned on another ill-fated Niedenfuer pitch, and by the time Dodgers left fielder Pedro Guerrero’s glove hit the ground with Clark’s homer sailing over his head, the Cardinals were on their way to the fateful I-70 Series against Kansas City.

Despite losing the World Series, the 1985 club lives on in Cardinal lore, with many of the same players making it back to the 1987 Series under Herzog.

Smith explains what fans have always known: Cardinals baseball is just plain fun.

“Teams hated coming in here playing on those hot summer days,” Smith said. “(But with) Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Tommy Herr (and) Whitey managing us – it was a great time.”

And a great memory.

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