The 1985 team had magic. Go crazy, indeed.

The Greatest Teams: 1985

I wince when Cardinals fans speak proudly of the 2006 World Series Championship team. The 2006 Cardinals were an embarrassment, stumbling backwards over their own feet into the playoffs and finding enough fortune in the misfortune of their opposition to squeeze out a championship. That 2006 team played so badly in the Series that Detroit could’ve won the whole thing simply by being able to make a couple of key throws across the diamond.

My hatred for that 2006 championship arises from the fact that I’ve lived long enough to see some real Cardinals teams in all of their true glory. And that’s the purpose of this new series, which highlights some of the truly remarkable Cardinals teams that embodied the spirit of the franchise and made it one of the most respected organizations in sports.

While many younger Cardinals fans consider the 2004 Cardinals a great team – and they certainly were according to team wins and offensive numbers - the greatest Cardinals team of the last 55 years came together in 1985. Probably no team in the history of baseball deserved to win the World Series more than that ’85 club, but we all know that painful story far too well. Despite that final failure, the 1985 Cardinals remain one of the most potent machines ever built for its particular style of play.

Jack "The Ripper" Clark provided the muscle behind the running attack of the '85 Cardinals. (source: Associated Press)

At the start of the ’85 season, the Cardinals were picked to finish dead last in the National League East. Their fabled closer, Bruce Sutter, had abandoned the team to take a huge payday in Atlanta, leaving the bullpen in seeming disarray. Question marks surrounded offseason aquisitions like John Tudor and Jack Clark. Nobody really knew what to expect from the first full season of Terry Pendleton at third. Left fielder Lonnie Smith was still battling a drug problem. The team was, in a word, a mess.

But the baseball pundits couldn’t see the chemistry shift in the team that manager Whitey Herzog and GM Dal Maxville constructed around speed and athleticism. This chemical reaction exploded when Lonnie Smith was traded in May to make room for rookie Vince Coleman, who energized the leadoff spot in a way that has never been replicated since. Coleman lit up the basepaths every time he managed to make it to first base, his cocky base-stealing swagger filtering through to the rest of the club. He also gave the outfield additional defense with a sure hand and a strong arm. Just watch this magnificent play from midseason:


(NOTE: Imagine Holliday and Schumaker making that same play. It will never happen in a thousand lifetimes because Holliday and Schumaker are simply not athletic and aggressive enough to do it. That, to me, is the difference between this team and the LaRussa teams.)

One of the most potent leadoffs in baseball history (source: AP)

With Coleman leading off and stealing 110 bases that year, the rest of the lineup gelled behind him. Willie McGee, batting second, went on to hit .353 and won the MVP award. Second baseman Tommy Herr gorged himself on RBI’s with Coleman and McGee running the bases, and he hit .300 with 110 RBI’s. The everyday lineup was fast, athletic, cocky, and enthusiastic, rooting for each other and erupting out of the dugout after every exciting moment.

The 1985 Cardinals might have been one of the more aggressive teams in the history of modern baseball. Just look at this example from a game in San Diego when the Cards came from behind against Goose Gossage with five runs in the ninth:

Unlike the 2004 Cardinals, the 1985 team was more than a truckload of huge bats. The team had two 20 game winners in Joaquin Andujar and John Tudor, and Danny Cox added another 18 in his second full season. But it was Tudor’s ’85 performance that really cast the spell for the team. Cardinals fans were wailing in agony as Tudor began the season with one win against seven losses. Then he received a call from an old catcher about a mechanical flaw in his delivery. Once corrected, Tudor went on a tear across the National League, going 20-1 the rest of the way and collecting 10 shutouts (TEN SHUTOUTS!!) in one of the most dominating displays of pitching prowess in decades.

Here is Tudor finishing off his tenth shutout:

Really, Tudor would’ve won the Cy Young that year had it not been for the stunning debut of Dwight Gooden and his 24 wins. But Tudor’s ’85 season will never be forgotten, and has deservedly become part of Cardinals legend. Any Cardinals fan alive in late September of 1985 remembers Tudor’s masterful 11-inning shutout of the Mets as the two teams battled at the top of the division. His ’85 performance is the greatest single-season pitching accomplishment since Bob Gibson walked off the mound for the last time. Truly spectacular, dominating stuff.

But the starting pitching was only the start of the story. Replacing Sutter and his 40 saves was the “Bullpen By Committee” Herzog instituted to save games. He settled on a left/right combination of hard throwers Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley to navigate the late innings, and they responded with sub-.300 ERA’s. The two relievers led Herzog to implement one of his crazier managerial maneuvers, as he would send Worrell into the outfield to let Dayley handle a lefty before bringing Worrell back in to pitch. These kinds of stunts in ’85 cemented Herzog’s fame in St. Louis and throughout baseball.

From the biggest to the smallest, the '85 Cards defined the word team.

The ’85 Cardinals defined the word “team” in its truest sense. Even though the team had a few stellar performances, contributions came from all quarters on a daily basis. For instance, when Clark went down in September, the Cards acquired Cesar Cedeno to cover the thump Clark provided in the lineup. He responded with a crucial September performance, ripping 6 home runs and driving in 19 with a .434 batting average. Throughout the clubhouse there was a sense of purpose and camaraderie, from the biggest star to the least important bench player.

After winning 101 games against a tough Mets team (98 wins for them), the Cardinals confidently strode into the playoffs and promptly crushed the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games by running all over the place and getting some key destructive power from Clark and a left-handed Ozzie Smith in one of the most memorable playoffs in the history of the franchise:

Entering the World Series, this powerful Cardinals team was picked to win it all. However, a seemingly  minor thing happened during the playoffs – Vince Coleman had his leg crushed by the automatic tarp machine at Busch Stadium and left him unable to play through the Series. Without his dynamic leadoff abilities, the rest of the lineup struggled to generate runs. Still, even without Coleman, the team managed to come within two outs of winning the Series in the sixth game. It was that second-to-last out, when the infamous Don Denkinger blew a crucial call, that opened the door for the Kansas City Royals to snatch the Series away from a more-deserving Cardinals team.

One of the reasons I find the teams managed by Tony LaRussa so troubling is that they don’t play with the spirit and energy I once loved from teams like the 1985 Cardinals. LaRussa prefers veterans, thumpers, and a stoic, “professional” clubhouse that lacks the swagger and aggressiveness that marked Herzog’s best teams. The ’85 club would’ve wiped the floor with any of the teams ever managed by LaRussa. The 1985 Cardinals did not sit on their hands out of respect for the other team when someone on their club did something amazing; they crowded around the plate, stomped and cheered and rubbed the opposition’s face in it. I have never seen gutsy, cock-sure baseball like that from any LaRussa team.

LaRussa has made an argument that the style of baseball featured by the ’85 Cardinals – slap hitting, speed, aggressive baserunning – cannot succeed in today’s baseball. I disagree. A ball slapped over the shortstop’s head is a hit in any decade in the game’s history. Having four or five guys who can do that in succession leads to multiple runs every time. A lineup that features fast runners like Coleman, McGee, Smith, and Andy Van Slyke will always score runs by causing havoc on the bases and mistakes in the opposition. The 1985 team was not just a bunch of jackrabbits, though; they could hit, run, and play unbelievable defense. There was an athleticism on that team that has been mostly missing from LaRussa teams. It’s the reason why Jim Edmonds was so popular in St Louis – he reminded fans of the arrogant and athletic stars of the ’85 team who brought magic with them to the ball park every day.

And if the ’85 team teaches one lesson, it’s this: a baseball team is not a collection of stats or a pursuit of personal glory. The members of the ’85 squad genuinely cared about winning and each other. They fought hard and confronted their opposition with a confidence and aggression rarely matched in baseball history. The ’85 team played the kind of Hard Nine baseball that LaRussa’s teams preach but rarely deliver. It is that kind of dogged determination to win – not home runs, not stats – that truly define the 1985 Cardinals as one of the greatest teams in St. Louis sports history.

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Tags: 1985 Andy Van Slyke Base Running Base Stealing Blown Call Cardinals Danny Cox Don Denkinger Dwight Gooden Folks Go Crazy Home Run Jack Clark Joaquin Andujar John Tudor Kansas City Royals Los Angeles Mets Ozzie Smith Playoffs St. Louis Stolen Base Terry Pendleton Todd Worrell Tommy Herr Vince Coleman Whitey Herzog Willie McGee World Series

  • Ryan

    I was born in ’84 and can’t say I remember too much about the 1985 team. I can’t put up any sort of argument against that team, but I hate to hear Cardinals fans such as yourself gripe and complain about the 2006 World Series team. Sure, it wasn’t the prettiest of home stretches and we won a pretty week division to even make it into the playoffs that year. But to say that it’s an “embarrassment” when the team you root for day in and day out wins the World Series is what gives Cards fans a bad name. I don’t know that any team is worthy of saying that winning a World Series is an embarrassment. Saying things like that just makes Cards fans look like arrogant A-holes.

    And to say that Holliday and Schumaker aren’t athletic enough to coordinate on a play in left field is simply ridiculous. I think most, if not everyone, can agree on that.

  • Ray DeRousse

    @ Ryan – I think the 2006 championship really demonstrates how flawed it is to have two league championship series prior to the World Series. All it does is make the playoffs more of a crap shoot, rather than a way to determine the best team. Too many weak teams have stumbled through the extended playoffs and managed to win undeserved Series trophies.

    The 2006 team didn’t play well for most of the season. There was a lot of bickering and bad blood in the clubhouse. Hell, they may not have even gotten into the Series had it not been for Wainwright’s curveball.

    And I stand by my statement about Holliday and Schumaker. Look at that play again. There is no way on Earth that the Holliday/Schumaker combo makes a play like that even if God himself is guiding the ball. Defensively, the ’85 team was superior to the current team at every position except catcher and first base.

  • Dave Bolger

    I have to side with Ryne on this. We, as fans, shouldn’t apologize for–and certainly not be angry about–a championship. Who cares how they got into the playoffs. They got in. And when they got in, they played well. All people remember about 2006 is this:
    -they backed into the playoffs
    -they were saved by a wainwright curveball
    -they got lucky that the tigers threw the ball all over the place.

    Let’s remember that they beat a very good Mets team that won 97 games. They got two fantastic, gutsy performances from Jeff Suppan. That was an amazing series that no fan should feel bad about.

    And for someone that laments the small ball days of yore, why do you hate the 2006 World Series? LaRussa’s thumpers hit two home runs in the series (both in game one).

    I remember that team relying heavily on squeezes and the hit and run more so than the HR.

    I grew up on the Runnin Redbirds. I cried my eyes out in 85 and 87 when they lost. I loved those teams. I agree that they were a fun bunch and great to watch.

    But why does that mean you have to hate on what really has been a golden age for this franchise?

    That team won one WS (and you could argue that 82 wasn’t even THAT team). This era has won. Both have given us lots to cheer for.

    Can’t we just enjoy it?

  • Dave Bolger

    By the way…loved the videos…thanks for the trip down memory lane. The most striking thing to me…a big playoff game played entirely in day light. Imagine that!

  • Ray DeRousse

    @ Dave Bolger – I’m not sure what Series you watched, but the one I saw featured a Detroit team committing seven errors that led to runs in the games we won. The Series I saw featured a Cardinals team that set a record for worst season record for a team that reached the World Series. The Series I saw had Rolen and LaRussa bickering publicly like a bunch of menstruating women.

    Yeah, an embarrassment.

    • Dave Bolger

      I was saying the NLCS was amazing. Great seven game series win against a very good team.

      Not saying the World Series was amazing. Yes, the Tigers put on a what-not-to-do-in-PFP clinic. But I can’t understand a fan that gets angry by their team winning a World Series.

      You’re embarrassed by a manager and a player having issues? They won. Who cares?

      Whitey Herzog never had issues with players? Pretty sure that physical altercation with Gary Templeton in the dugout suggested otherwise. Herzog is the manager that once said, “I’m not buddy-buddy with players. If they want a buddy, let them buy a dog.” Fairly certain he had issues with players during his time. Did that embarrass you?

      You’re embarrassed that they played poorly in 2006 but won the World Series. How embarrassed were you then when they coughed up a two game lead in 1985? You talk about the great defense from that team. A missed foul pop and a passed ball in the 9th inning of Game 6 didn’t help things. Did that embarrass you?

      • Ray DeRousse

        Whitey had a problem with Templeton because Templeton flipped off St. Louis fans. He had a problem with Hernandez and Lonnie Smith because they were snorting coke. LaRussa has problems with players because they’re (a) young, (b) a product of a farm system he despises, or (c) because of a whim.

        Sure, the ’85 team was rattled after losing that call and they came apart. No excuse. And yeah, I thought the way Andujar and Tudor and Herzog acted during that seventh game was embarrassing.

        But please do not try to favorably compare the 2006 team to 1985. The 2006 team had two losing streaks of eight games and one of seven in the final three months of the season (in other words, it wasn’t just the final month that sucked). As I said, that team holds the distinction of having the worst record ever for a Series-winning team. Pretty lame.

        Look, I drunkenly jumped up and down when they won it in 2006. It was fun. But after the dust settles and you really look at it, the team just wasn’t all that great for almost all of the season and in the Series. If a LaRussa Cardinals team should win the Series, it should’ve been the 2004 team. Of course, that year they ran into a team that deserved it even more.

        • Dave Bolger

          I agree with you. I wouldn’t compare ’06 to ’85. But I would compare the 80s teams overall to the 2000s. Both eras generated lots of winning seasons and good, fun baseball.

          The 2006 team wasn’t the best Cardinals team ever. It wasn’t the best of the 2000s. I say, so what? It still had Pujols, a somewhat rejuvenated Edmonds, a healthy Carp (I wonder what difference he would have made in the ’04 postseason), a rookie Wainwright, and Rolen (albeit hurt and disgruntled…more on him in a minute).

          Maybe its because I’m a NYer. Maybe its because i went to all four games in NY. But that 2006 NLCS win was as good as any of the 85/87 series wins. Game 7 was truly memorable. I don’t care how many wins they had. I don’t care how many errors the Tigers made. They won the World Series. That’s the goal every year and they accomplished it.

          As for LaRussa and his having an issue with Rolen based on, as you say, a whim…well, Rolen was never known for being a saint. Ask Philadelphia. Ask Larry Bowa. Let me caveat this by saying there isn’t a bigger Scott Rolen fan than me. I was crushed when they dealt him. I felt like a kid who’s parents were fighting when that mess was going on.

          It was the playoffs, he was struggling and he wasn’t forthcoming about his health.

          So he got benched in Game 4 of the NLDS after going 1-for-11 in the series and looking bad in the process.

          Then he got benched in Game 2 of the NLCS after going 0-for-3 (making him 1-for-14 in the postseason)in Game 1. That move seemed to work well for the evil Tony LaRussa. Scott Spiezio knocked in three runs in Rolen’s place.

          Rolen was angered that he was being benched. LaRussa was angered that his moves were being questioned. And the rest is an unhappy history.

          I have a hard time pinning this one on LaRussa. He was trying to win a championship. No time for worrying about Rolen’s ego. Rolen wasn’t healthy and he wasn’t producing. Doesn’t seem like much of a whim.

  • JColemanSF

    Anyone that really knows baseball can’t compare the teams from ’85 and ’06. The game has changed way too much in that twenty years. I was about ten years old in 1985, and I remember being crushed when they didn’t win. I couldn’t really why my father was so upset about the loss until I was older and grasped the full concept of what happened. I simply look at 2006 as Karma finally coming full circle for ’85, ’87 and ’04. In all three of those years, Cards were the better team, but had some hard luck or bad timing and lost to inferior teams. That Tiger team in ’06 was WAY better than STL but the gods of the diamond saw fit to cut us a break.

    • Ray DeRousse

      Interesting idea about karma. Of course, I don’t believe it, but it’s fun to imagine that way. I guess what I’d really like would be for the BEST team to win the World Series. I mean, that’s the whole idea, right? Generally speaking, anyway. But it seems that, more often than not, the inferior team wins on a fluke.

  • bondsblues

    Butg that’s why they have playoffs. Otherwise why not just hand the championship to the team with the most wins in the regular season. How many times does a team with a lesser record make it to the playoffs, have most of the world betting against them, only to come together when it really counts and beat every team that is put up against them. It happens in all sports. I don’t buy the whole crap of they didn’t deserve to win. BS! They came together when it counted and most certainly deserved to win. I am very proud of each and every Cardinal Championship because I am a true Cardinal fan. I’d rather have 10 2006-style Championships than 10 alsorans who made the playoffs but couldn’t finish the job. Not saying the ’85 club was bad, but just like JColemanSF said, you really can’t compare the 2 teams on an equal basis. The game has changed so much in that time. Let go of the angry stick Ray.