A few months ago, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. Through purchasing an experience in a silent auction, my dad, brother, and I got to eat dinner and talk with Ken Oberkfell for a few hours. In honor of ’80s week, I thought I’d share my experience with the former St. Louis Cardinals second baseman.
Ken Oberkfell played for the St. Louis Cardinals for parts of eight years, including a World Series Championship in ’82. Ken was a .292/.364/.381 hitter during his Cardinals career, a very productive slash line that is perfectly in-tune with Whitey Ball.
To get the conversation going, my brother (Kyle) asked Ken who his favorite pitcher to face was. The answer certainly surprised me: Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. There certainly aren’t many players who were keen on facing baseball legends, but Kenny certainly enjoyed the challenge.
His least favorite pitcher made a bit more sense. Ken couldn’t buy a hit off of J.R. Richards of the Astros. One story he told took place during a game at the Astrodome. Keith Hernandez had just taken his at-bat and struck out on three pitches.
Ken was up to bat next. As Hernandez was walking towards the dugout, Ken asked him, “What’s he throwing?” To which Hernandez responded “Hell if I know. Good luck!” He then went and struck out on the next three pitches. Both guys were hitting over .300 at the time.
Ken also touched on the clubhouse culture, what it was like to be a St. Louis Cardinal. He talked about Red Schoendienst and his role as a coach. He said, “Every coach had his role, right? And the certain group they worked with. Well, Red was the Executive Coach. He was just kind around, helping out here and there while having some fun.”
Red’s lightheartedness came out in the ’82 World Series. The team was getting prepared for a monumental game in the locker room, and the mood was serious, to say the least. Red walked in and said, “What are you guys worried about? It’s just a game!” To which the general response was, “Are you crazy? It’s Game 7!” Red said, “And? How many other games have you played? It’s just another game.”
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That little blurb of randomness helped the club loosen up for their eventual win. For Game 7, Joaquin Andujar got the start for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was really fiery and energetic, telling the team that they only needed to score one run and he’d take care of the rest. Well, in the bottom of the 4th, they scored a run.
Joaquin was over the moon, saying he had it in the bag. He went out to start the 5th, threw one pitch to Ben Oglivie, who hit it out of the stadium for a solo home run. Ken goes to talk to Joaquin after the inning and asks, “What happened to one run?” And Andujar replied, “Well, I guess we need two!” And everyone in the dugout laughed until they hurt.
Ken talked wistfully about the Series, saying that the ability to laugh in the dugout is probably why they won. They’d all taken Red’s advice and loosened up and had fun with the game. It isn’t every day that you get to talk to a former Major League player. Ken made this a wonderful experience for me and my family.
In honor of ’80s week, I thought I would share my experience with all of you. This is the side of baseball that we don’t usually see as members of the public. These memories and these stories will stay with me for a very long time. What a wonderful time, thank you Ken Oberkfell.