The slash-and-burn approach the St. Louis Cardinals employed during their magical march to the 1987 World Series has gone out of style.
But members of the team from 30 summers ago remain convinced it would work in an era when big blasts, station-to-station baserunning and sabermetrics are preferred over bunts, hit-and-runs and stolen bases.
“It’s a different game,” said Tom Herr, 61, who starred at second base from 1979-88. “My opinion is if you would assemble a team that played that way, they could still be successful in today’s game. Good teams can play at any time, any era. We feel like we may not look like today’s teams, but we could certainly play with them.”
Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, 62, who won 13 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, said the “whole culture” of baseball has changed significantly since 1987.
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“We knew how to put pressure on a defense just by putting the ball in play,” Smith said. “It was very, very important for all of us not to strike out. Nowadays, it’s OK to strike out 200 times. We weren’t a power-hitting team, and if you’re not a power-hitting team, you better not strike out a lot. That’s really what breeded our success.
“It doesn’t take sabermetrics to understand if I’m hitting .310 and I strike out 200 times, if I cut that in half, that .310 becomes .330, .340. It’s not that complicated. It’s not Chinese arithmetic. It’s very simple. Put the ball in play, and you’ve got a chance of something happening.”
Good teams can play at any time, any era. We feel like we may not look like today’s teams, but we could certainly play with them.
Former Cardinals second baseman Tom Herr
Several members of the 1987 team, which went 95-67 in the regular season, were honored Saturday before the game against the Atlanta Braves.
Busch Stadium II was cavernous, and it had AstroTurf, so manager Whitey Herzog knew defense and speed was the only way the Cardinals could win.
The Cardinals hit just 94 home runs in 1987, which ranked last in what was then a 12-team National League. But they led the league with 248 bases and were second in runs with 798. Defensively, the Cardinals tied the Atlanta Braves for the best fielding percentage (.982) and ranked second in assists (1,870) and double plays (172).
“That style of baseball really electrified the fans,” said reliever Ken Dayley, 58. “It was an exciting way to play the game. I would watch our speed against an opponent’s pitcher. You would watch the wheels come off — them worrying about if this guy gets on, and if he does get on, now he’s going to steal second and go to third. ... You could see them thinking, and they would just fall apart.
“So many things went on. The fans enjoyed that kind of exciting baseball.”
Jack Clark accounted for more than one-third of the Cardinals’ homers with 35, despite a sprained ankle suffered Sept. 9 that never healed. Terry Pendleton ranked second with 12 homers and Willie McGee had 11.
“We scored a lot of runs. We just did it in an unconventional way,” said the switch-hitting Herr, who had just two homers but drove in 83 runs. “Virtually everybody in the lineup could steal a base, except for Jack. He wasn’t a runner. Our thing was to get guys on base and move them along.
“Of course, we played very good defense. We had great infield defense and great speed in the outfield — in a big ballpark. We had a lot of things going for us that we took advantage of.”
McGee, humble as ever at age 58, didn’t have anything negative to say about Jeffrey Leonard of the San Francisco Giants who walloped four homer runs in the NL Championship Series and rankled fans with his “one flap down” style as he rounded the bases.
McGee, however, said he was delighted to defeat the Giants, who were so confident of victory that they already had their bags packed during Game 6 in St. Louis.
The Cardinals and John Tudor won that game 1-0 to tie the series at three games apiece, then won 6-0 in Game 7 behind Freeburg resident Danny Cox.
“I thought they needed humbling so I was at my locker saying, ‘God, if you don’t ever let us win another game, let us win this game.’ Seriously. I’ll never forget that,” McGee said. “A lot of times, God comes through. We won it and they got humbled.
“They had their bags packed. The visiting clubhouse told us. They were already ready to go.”
It was a good, solid, fundamental baseball team. We won 95 games that year and took it to Game 7 in the World Series. There’s a lot to be proud of.
Former Cardinals pitcher Danny Cox on the 1987 team
When he thinks of the ‘87 Cardinals, one word comes to Cox’s mind.
“Team,” Cox said. “People talk about (how) you win and lose as a team. There’s a lot of times within a team that’s pretty good where you’ve got a lot of individuals that are having great years and you may not be a team. But ‘87 was a team where everybody pulled for one another.
“It was a good, solid, fundamental baseball team. We won 95 games that year and took it to Game 7 in the World Series. There’s a lot to be proud of.”
The Cardinals fell 4-3 to Minnesota in the World Series. The home team won each game.
Cox, who suffered the Game 7 loss in relief of Joe Magrane, said he will never forget the volume inside the Metrodome.
“It was really loud in that dome,” Cox said. “It was like going to a Ted Nugent rock concert. My ears rang for three days after that.
“The only thing I guess I really didn’t like about was you played so hard, you worked so hard and you’re sitting down on the bench and you want to talk to your teammate right next to you and you couldn’t hear him. You couldn’t hear anything.”
For outfielders, it was difficult to see and hear.
“The roof in the Metrodome was the color of an egg,” McGee said. “The ball’s hit up and you can’t (hardly) see it. If the ball’s hit between you and another outfielder and you’re running 100 percent, you can’t take your eye off of it. Also, with the noise level in that dome, you couldn’t hear anybody call the ball. It was a train wreck waiting to happen. That was one of the scariest situations I’ve ever been in as a player.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm