The Greatest Week in St. Louis Cardinals History
34 years ago this week, the nucleus of the Whiteyball era teams came together.
Cardinals manager and general manager Whitey Herzog was busy during the 1980 winter meetings in Dallas. A quick check of Baseball Reference.com verified the dates. The activity was a welcome distraction as finals week loomed for me at Bradley..
The first move came on December 7th with the signing of catcher Darrell Porter as a free agent. As a guy who also follows the Kansas City Royals, I was pleased by this. But it did raise some interesting questions that were soon answered.
Move number two came the next day when the Cardinals sent catchers Terry Kennedy and Steve Swisher, infielder Mike Phillips and pitchers John Littlefield, Kim Seaman and John Urrea to San Diego for reliever Rollie Fingers, catcher Gene Tenace and pitcher Bob Shirley. Adding Fingers was a great move. I spent the summer of 1980 running the board at a Cardinal radio affiliate. I heard the Cards cough up a lot of leads late in the game because the bullpen was terrible. Anyone would be an upgrade and Fingers was already regarded as an all time great reliever. I heard about this trade on the way over to see Quincy College play basketball at Illinois Wesleyan. I liked that a lot better than the news on the return trip to Peoria that John Lennon had been killed.
Move three was the big one. Reliever Bruce Sutter went to the Cardinals from the Cubs in exchange for Leon Durham and Ken Reitz. Prospect Ty Waller was sent on to the Cubs later in the month to complete the deal.
The Cardinals were loaded and there were now logjams to deal with at a couple positions. Two top shelf relievers. Bullpens were used differently in those days and Sutter and Fingers was beyond what was needed—especially with other questions. There were two high quality relievers. Yes, bullpens were used very differently then, but there was no room for two guys. Someone has to go. Who catches? Porter? Simmons? Who plays first base? Hernandez? Simmons? Who plays left field? The spot was open. Until the last move on December 12….
Move four cleared the log jam. Ted Simmons, Fingers and Pete Vuckovich went to Milwaukee. The Cards get David Green. He was an elite, won’t miss outfield prospect at the time. Also in the deal were pitchers Dave LaPoint and Lary Sorenson and outfielder Sixto Lezcano. Sorenson was later traded in the deal that brought Lonnie Smith to the Cardinals. Lezcano was part of the trade a year later that brought Ozzie Smith to the Cardinals. That trade did much to establish the pairing for the 1982 World Series. It’s a textbook example of a great trade for both teams.
Some other trades followed in the next year or so, but it was this week in 1980 where the great Cardinal teams of the 1980’s started to come together.