Herzog's blockbuster trades reshape Cardinals, Brewers
Whitey Herzog was determined to remake the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster – and quickly – at the 1980 Winter Meetings in Dallas.
Along the way, Herzog, serving in a dual role as both general manager and manager, altered the destiny of another town famous for its brewing history.
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On Dec. 12, 1980, Herzog completed a deal with the Milwaukee Brewers that sent Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich to the Brewers in exchange for a package that included David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano and Lary Sorensen. The trade marked the end of a four-day stay in St. Louis for Fingers, who Herzog acquired from San Diego on Dec. 8 in an 11-player deal.
“I’m going to be amazing down there!” Herzog told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch prior to the Winter Meetings. “Then, maybe again, I’ll find that I’m not so amazing.”
The acquisition of Fingers was thought to stabilize the Cardinals’ bullpen. But at the same time, Herzog was negotiating a trade that would bring Bruce Sutter to the Cardinals from the Cubs. And when Fingers and the Cardinals couldn’t come to terms on a long-term deal to replace Fingers’ contract that expired following the 1981 season, Herzog went back into action.
On Dec. 9, Herzog acquired Sutter from the Cubs in exchange for Leon Durham, Ken Reitz and Ty Waller.
Suddenly, the Cardinals had two future Hall of Fame closers in their bullpen.
“Having another guy in the bullpen makes a heckuva difference,” said Fingers after being traded to the Cardinals, as the Sutter rumors swirled around the Cardinals and Herzog. “If one goes bad, the other one has got to be all right.”
But reports quickly surfaced that Herzog was not done dealing – especially when Simmons balked when he was asked to move from catcher to first base for the 1981 season.
The Dec. 12 trade alleviated the Cardinals’ bullpen logjam and sent Simmons to the Brewers, where he would remain at catcher.
At the same time, it turned Milwaukee into an American League powerhouse.
Brewers general manager Harry Dalton told the Associated Press the trade gave his team “the best balance we’ve had in the three years I’ve been here.”
Fingers would win the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards in 1981 while leading Milwaukee to the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Vuckovich tied for the big league lead in wins that year with 14 in a season interrupted by a work stoppage.
The next season, Vuckovich won the AL Cy Young Award and Simmons drove in 97 runs to lead Milwaukee to the World Series. But waiting there for the Brewers were the Cardinals, who posted a National League East-best .578 winning percentage in 1981 but failed to win the division in either the first or second half to make the playoffs.
In 1982, however, the Cardinals won the East and then eliminated Atlanta in the National League Championship Series.
And in the World Series, the Cardinals had a healthy Sutter at the back of their bullpen. Fingers, battling a right forearm injury, was unavailable to the Brewers.
The result: A seven-game victory for the Cardinals, who got key performances from both Green and LaPoint.
Fingers, Herzog, Simmons and Sutter would later be reunited in Cooperstown, with Fingers earning election in 1992, Sutter in 2006, Herzog in 2010 and Simmons in 2020.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum