The St. Louis Cardinals were propelled to the 1982 World Series by three off-season trades. Without trading for Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, and Lonnie Smith, the Cardinals would not have won the 1982 World Series.
First Willie McGee came in October, then Lonnie Smith came in November, and finally, Ozzie Smith came in December. St. Louis Cardinals fans didn’t know it then, but the final pieces of the table had been set for the 1982 World Series Championship.
When Whitey Herzog was hired as the St. Louis Cardinals General Manager/Field Manager in 1980, the emphasis of the organization turned to speed and defense. Herzog immediately started turning the roster to reflect this new organizational philosophy.
With this turnover, some familiar faces to Cardinal fans departed in 1981. Some of the departures were fan favorites such as Ted Simmons and Ken Reitz. Arriving in St. Louis included new names such as Darrell Porter and Bruce Sutter.
However as active as Herzog was in 1981 in making trades and signing fee agents, the following off-season was even more important in developing a World Series contender. Here’s a look at the three trades that turned the 1982 St Louis Cardinals into World Champions.
The trade that bought Willie McGee to the St. Louis Cardinals was hardly noticed by Cardinal fans in October, 1981. The unheralded Bob Sykes was a sometime-starter and bullpen piece during his career with the Cardinals. When he was traded for Willie McGee, he was hardly missed and McGee’s arrival was barely mentioned by the St. Louis media in 1981.
Willie McGee was drafted in the first round of the 1977 amateur draft by the New York Yankees. The Yankees, often not an organization who appreciates prospects, kept McGee stashed away in their minor league system and he never rose higher than the AA level. Seemly forgotten, McGee was traded for Sykes on October, 21, 1981.
The switch-hitting outfielder was originally assigned to the AAA Louisville Redbirds before being called up early in the 1982 season to replace an injured David Green. The rest is Cardinal history.
McGee took over center field and proceed to hit a slash line of .296/.318/.391 with 58 RBI and 24 stolen bases in 123 games.
In game three of the 1982 World Series, the 23-year-old had one of the most remarkable games in world series history. McGee connected for two home runs and made an outstanding catch in center field by leaping to rob the Brewers’ Gorman Thomas of a 9th-inning home run. The catch secured a Cardinal 6-2 victory.
The St. Louis Cardinals went on to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers in seven games in the 1982 World Series. McGee continued with a career that included the 1985 National League MVP, three gold gloves, four all-star appearances, and a silver slugger award.
Lonnie “Skates” Smith
Lonnie Smith maybe the forgotten Cardinal of 1982. But his importance to the 1982 team shouldn’t be diminished, much less forgotten.
Lonnie Smith came to the Cardinals in a three team trade in November, 1981. The trade for Smith drew more attention by the fans and media than the trade for Willie McGee. After all, he had a four-year slash line with the Philadelphia Phillies of .321/.389/.437 with 60 stolen bases.
The 27-year-old outfielder, never known for his defense (thus the nickname ‘Skates’), proceeded to have possibly his best year during the 1982 season. Smith hit a slash line of .307/.381/.434 with 69 RBI and 68 stolen bases while batting primarily lead off for the Cardinals.
The right-handed hitter batted .321 during the 1982 World Series, placed second in the NL MVP voting to the Atlanta Braves Dale Murphy, and earned an all-star appearance. Smith would stay with the Cardinals until 1985, when he was traded during the season to the Kansas City Royals.
Surprisingly enough, the trade for Ozzie Smith was met with some reservations when it occurred on December 10, 1981. The key piece the Cardinals sent to the San Diego Padres was shortstop Garry Templeton. The switch hitting shortstop was the first player in MLB history to have 100 hits from both sides of the plate (1979), and led the league in triples for three consecutive years.
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However, by 1981, Templeton had worn out his welcome in St Louis with Herzog and fans due to his behavior on the field. His making an obscene gesture to fans during a home game was the final straw and his fate was sealed in St. Louis.
Ozzie Smith came to St. Louis already with two gold gloves, but was considered to be lacking in offensive acumen. The 27-year-old had a four-year slash line with the Padres of .231/.295/.278.
Arriving in St. Louis, Herzog challenged Smith to hit more balls on the ground and use his speed to get on base. Accepting the challenge, the switch hitter improved his slash line in 1982 to .248/.339/.315 and stole 25 bases while hitting in the eight hole for the Cardinals.
Ozzie continued to play superior defense, earning another gold glove in 1982.
During the 1982 NCLS vs the Atlanta Braves, Smith hit .556, and during the World Series had five hits with three runs scored. The ‘Wizard’ also did not commit an error during the Cardinals’ post season run in 1982.
Of course, the back flipping Ozzie Smith became an icon in St. Louis and the rest of the baseball world until he retired after the 1996 season.
Ozzie Smith, Lonnie Smith, and Willie McGee weren’t the only reasons the St. Louis Cardinals won the 1982 World Championship. There were other names important during that unforgettable season. Keith Hernandez, George Hendrick, Tommy Herr, Ken Oberkfell, Bob Forsch, and Joaquin Adujar to name a few. And who can forget Darrel Porter’s incredible post season, that earned him the MVP award of the NCLS and the World Series.
Nevertheless, Ozzie, Lonnie, and Willie all fit into the Whiteyball philosophy the Cardinals embraced during the 1982 season. Without these three players, the Cardinals don’t win the World Series, or even win their division.
Remembering the 1982, the Cardinals didn’t clutch the division until the last series of the season. The Philadelphia Phillies finished a mere three games behind the Cardinals in the NL East. It was close and without Ozzie, Lonnie, and Willie, I don’t believe the Cardinals make it to the post season.
These are my thoughts and memories about 1982, what are yours? Let us know and finally…GO CARDS!