Thirty years after winning the National League Championship, the memories and special feelings are still fresh with the ’87 St. Louis Cardinals. Gathered for a reunion this weekend by the team, the bond was still evident as the former teammates visited and got reacquainted.
“I think the way we did not want to fail each other,” said Terry Pendleton. “We wanted to go out every night and perform to the best of our abilities, no matter who it was and what we were doing and we didn’t want to let each other down. I think that helped us all perform to the best of our abilities.”
In some ways, the 1987 may be overlooked for just how good they were. While everybody enjoyed the “Celebration” of ’82 and “The Heat Is On” in ’85, there wasn’t that type of theme for the ’87 crew.
“The bottom line with us was we pitched well, we played very good defense, we didn’t beat ourselves and that’s why we were National League champs,” said Pendleton.
“People don’t realize, we won 95 games that year,” reminds Danny Cox. “It’s almost like ’87 is kind of a forgotten team, if you think about it. They’re not talked about as much. That was one year, I think when you hear the word team and you talk about the word team, that ’87 club was a team.”
But there is also a tendency to group the ’85 and ’87 teams together as much the same core was intact for both teams.
“Yeah, that’s true,” said Tommy Herr. “Often times in my memories of that era, I have a hard time distinguishing highlights that happened in ’85 and ones that happened in ’87. A lot of it is that both years were similar in so many ways. Both years, we had to conquer the Mets, who were great. In ’85 they were a year away from a World Championship and in ’87 they were coming off that Championship and everyone kind of conceded they were going to be the team of the decade. That’s the thing that stands out to me, we really–just to get to the National League Championship we had to beat a very good Mets team. And that rivalry was so intense. It’s a lot of fun to look back on it.
“I don’t really know that there will ever be a team that had five switch-hitters in it that played every day, that ran the way we did, that could defend the way we did,” said Tommy Herr. It was truly a unique team and a special team.”
Herr and Pendelton had big home runs against the Mets, but there were also big home runs in ’87 from the likes of Tom Lawless and Jose Oquendo–players stepping in when needed.
“That’s what happens with good teams,” said Ozzie Smith. “When you have your front line guys go down, to be able to have weapons like that to come off the bench–it opens the door for a lot of guys, an opportunity. And we had a lot of guys who took advantage of the opportunity. You can feel sorry for yourself or go out there and prove that you deserve to be here. We had a bunch of guys who knew that they should be here and took advantage of it.”
“Every 25 guys on that roster contributed to it and it was a really unique experience for a player to see a guy that doesn’t play much, somebody would get hurt and he’d come in and just pick up,” echoed Cox. “He didn’t go through any struggling. He was ready–bam, bam, bam. That was the way our whole season was, when one guy got down, another guy picked it up. There were no highs and lows, it was just everybody doing it all together.”
John Tudor’s broken leg and Jack Clark’s ankle injury were two of the injuries later in the season, but Cox dealt with some ankle issues earlier in the year–which in part led to him missing out on his third consecutive season of throwing at least 200 innings, finishing at 199.1.
“I was disappointed I didn’t get to the 200,” shared Cox. “I remember they had talked about Orel Herscheiser and Ron Darling were the only two pitchers that pitched the last three years 200 innings and I had the 199.1 and I was like gosh, dang it–can you give me an honorable mention? But I never really thought about it. It was just pitching, pitching, pitching and they accumulate. Sure, I wanted to do more because I thought I could, but I had less starts that year because I tweaked something.”
MORE ON THE ’87 NLCS
–Similar to what Danny Cox shared about Bob Forsch hitting Jeffery Leonard after his one-flap down home run trots, Terry Pendleton also remembered the impact of the veteran right-hander’s response.
“I think it was special,” said Pendleton. “Bob walked in that morning Frisco and said listen, he threw the newspaper on the table and said you ought to read what these guys are saying about you guys. I knew from that point we might have a little different attitude about the way went about the game.
“And then it just so happened that Whitey had put Bobby in the pen and he brought him in at the perfect time to face Jeffrey Leonard and Bobby did what he needed to do in order to get his message across about who we were. He did that. He hit Jeffrey Leonard and actually went down towards home plate–hoping something else was said about it because he wanted to be sure everything was straight. After that, Jeffrey Leonard was never heard from again in that series. So, I think Bobby got the point across and we did what we were supposed to do in that series.”
Willie McGee also remembers Jeffrey Leonard’s antics, but was more upset about something else the Giants did.
“Guys like Forschie and Danny Cox, that’s more personal to them because they’re pitching to these guys and these guys are stepping out and doing one-flap down,” said McGee. “Great hitters, but we were taught you hit a home run, you go around the base. The pitchers didn’t take too kindly to it. So yeah, it’s disrespectful.
“Also, we understood that they had their bags packed that game here. I know I prayed, because I thought they needed humbling. So I’m like by my locker, God if you don’t ever let us win another game let us win this game. Seriously. I’ll never forget that. Just to humble them because there were things said–cow town, this and that you know. I’ll never forget that. And a lot of times, God comes through. We won it and they were humbled. But they had their bags packed. The visiting club house told us, they were already ready to go.”
photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports