Fingers trades reshaped two franchises

Written by: Matt Kramer

Rollie Fingers made the closer role in baseball famous after finishing tight games for the three-time World Series Champions Oakland Athletics of the early 1970’s.

However, a series of historic deals in late 1980 sent the future Hall of Famer from San Diego to St. Louis to Milwaukee all within a four-day span and changed the destiny of a franchise.

Another future Hall of Famer, Cardinals manager and general manager Whitey Herzog, was looking for someone to take over his closer role and had been making strong efforts to bring over either Fingers or a young Bruce Sutter from the Chicago Cubs.

Fingers had been at the top of the relief pitching game collecting a career saves total of 244 in 13 years with the Athletics and Padres. Although he was aging, he was still every bit as effective as the 27-year-old Sutter, collecting 11 wins and 23 saves for San Diego in 1980.

On Dec. 8, 1980, the San Diego Padres dealt Fingers to the St. Louis Cardinals in an 11-player trade engineered by Herzog – featuring catcher Terry Kennedy as the main piece heading back to the Padres. Once Fingers had been acquired, Herzog was up front in saying that the Cardinals organization was not stopping their efforts to acquire Bruce Sutter from Chicago.

One day later, Sutter was traded to St. Louis from Chicago – almost immediately causing trade rumors to spread about the 34-year-old Fingers once again.

The trade rumors came to fruition when Fingers was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich just four days after being dealt to St. Louis, with David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen heading to the Cardinals.

Rather excited at the chance to play for World Series contender St. Louis, Fingers did not show any anguish in the move to Milwaukee.

“I wanted to go to a contender.” he said in an interview. “St. Louis was a contender. Milwaukee is a contender. I wouldn’t have complained about going anywhere as long as I’m with a winning ball club.”

In the next season with the Milwaukee Brewers, Fingers had a career year in which he earned American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player honors with 28 saves and a 1.04 ERA.

The following season in 1982, Vuckovich, who was also involved in the trade to the Brewers along with Fingers from the Cardinals, won the AL Cy Young posting a 18-6 record with a 3.34 ERA.

The Brewers went on to win the American League Championship Series that year behind the pitching of Vuckovich and Fingers (29 saves in 1982) and faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Unable to pitch in the World Series due to a torn arm muscle, Fingers and the Milwaukee Brewers lost the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games behind the leadership of Redbirds manager Whitey Herzog.

Fingers was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992, and Sutter joined him in Cooperstown in 2006. Herzog was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

Matt Kramer was a public relations intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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