A Blast from Baseball's Past: The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers - One of the Best Teams You've Never Heard Of
Chances are you've never heard of the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers. The franchise has never won a World Series, and while the 80s were an overall good time to be a Brewers fan, it only culminated in two playoff appearances. That being said, this was still long before the expansion of the MLB playoffs, and each league had just two divisions. Meaning, only two teams from each league made the postseason. With only 4 spots total available in the playoffs, winning a division title and actually making the postseason was a much taller task than it is now. With that in mind, I'm thrilled to present one of the greatest team's you've never heard of: the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers.
The 1981 Brewers had managed to win their first division title during the split schedule caused by a mid-season player's strike. Milwaukee finished 62-47, but went on to lose in the ALDS (because of the two halves of the season, there was a 'first half' division champion, and a 'second half' division champion and thus an extra round of the playoffs) to the New York Yankees. Coming off that finish, the expectations were high in Milwaukee for the 1982 campaign. However, a slow start to the season threatened to derail the Brewers' chances of building off of that success.
After starting just 23-24, the club decided a change was needed and brought on Harvey Kuenn to manage the team the rest of the way. Kuenn had served as the club's interim manager during the 1975 season, and he quickly turned the struggling Brewers around. They went a sparkling 72-43 the rest of the way, and finished the season at 95-67, squeaking out the division by a single game over the Baltimore Orioles, who had been a juggernaut during the 1970s. They enjoyed 18 consecutive winning seasons from 1968-1985 and were no easy foe to overcome for the 82' AL East title.
The biggest factor for the Brewers' turnaround and success during the 82' campaign, was their ability to hit the long-ball. The team became known as "Harvey's Wallbangers" thanks to a penchant to 'bang' home runs, and rely on the long-ball. They went on to lead the Majors in most offensive categories, especially the power numbers, including at-bats (5733), runs scored (891), Home Runs (216), runs batted in (843), slugging % (.455), on-base plus slugging % (OPS) (.789), total bases (2606), and extra base-hits (534).
When looking at what the individuals on this club accomplished during that 82' season, it's easy to see how they got that nickname. In all, 7 different players hit double-digit home runs, with five players hitting between 23 and 39 long-balls on the season. Led by CF Gorman Thomas, (who tied for the league lead in HRs with 39), the BrewCrew became a powerful offensive force. Thomas hit just .245 for the season, but his job was clearing the bases, not necessarily getting on-base, and he had an exceptional season overall, adding 112 RBI. Fellow OF Ben Oglivie is actually over-looked, thanks to the seasons turned in by future Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor, and Robin Yount. Oglivie made the 82' All-Star team, and had stellar power numbers himself, hitting 34 HRs & driving in 102. 1B Cecil Cooper took home a Silver Slugger Award, and was named an All-Star starter, finishing with a .313 average, 32 HRs, and 121 RBI.
That trio would alone put up enough numbers to cause plenty of concern for opposing pitchers, but it was the contributions of Paul Molitor and Robin Yount that pushed this club over the top. Molitor scored 136 runs on the season, tops in all of baseball, and the highest single-season mark since 1949. Yount, meanwhile was already an outstanding young defensive shortstop, and what he did from the plate in the 82' season was one of the finest seasons ever turned in by a SS in MLB history.
Yount led the league in slugging % (.578), hits (210), doubles (46), and total bases (367). His .578 slugging % was especially impressive, considering he became the first shortstop to lead the league in that category. In addition, Yount hit .331, with 29 HRs, and 114 RBI, huge numbers for a SS - especially during this time in baseball (well ahead of the power surge of the 'steroid era' of the mid 1990s-mid 2000s). It all added up to him running away with the AL MVP award. Yount would add a second MVP award 7 years later in 1989, and would go on to reach the 3,000 hit plateau during his Hall of Fame career.
In addition, the club got major contributions from fan-favorite catcher Ted Simmons (.269, 23 HRs, 97 RBI), 2B Jim Gantner (.295 average) & exceptional defense, and reserve Don Money, who hit .284 with 16 HRs and 55 RBI in 275 at-bats. It wasn't just the bats, however, that made this club so dangerous. The BrewCrew had plenty of quality arms at their disposal as well.
Reliever Rollie Fingers had come over the year prior from the Athletics and won not only the AL Cy Young, but became the first reliever in history to win the AL MVP award as well. He seemingly picked up where he left off in 1982, and turned in another stellar season, being named to the 82' All-Star team while appearing in 50 games, going 5-6 on the season, while racking up 29 saves, and 71 K's. The future Hall of Famer was a key contributor, but the starting rotation was just as important.
Mike Caldwell led the way with 35 starts, and produced a 17-13 record over 258 innings pitched, with a 3.91 ERA. While Caldwell made the most starts for the Crew, Pete Vuckovich proved to be biggest weapon on the staff. Vuckovich took home the 1982 AL Cy Young, after going 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA over 223 2/3 innings pitched. Vuckovich would later go on to portray fictional Yankees slugger Clu Haywood in the popular movie, 'Major League'. He finished his career with a record of 93-69 over an eleven year career, with 1982 being his finest campaign. In addition to the Cy Young winner, the Brewers also sported Moose Haas, who finished the season at 11-8, Bob McClure (12-7, 4.22 ERA), and Don Sutton, who they acquired at the very end of August in a trade with the Astros. Sutton went 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA over the last month of the season, and was a key contributor in the club's ability to grind out the division title over the Orioles.
After such a stellar regular season, the club was expected to reach the World Series, but suffered defeats in games 1 & 2 of the ALCS to the California Angels in Anaheim (at the time, the playoff format was games 1 & 2 at the home of the team with the lesser record & games 3-5 at the home of the team with the better record). With both Caldwell & Vuckovich taking the losses, the Brewers turned to Sutton for game 3. He turned in a stellar outing, and got the W, leading them to a 5-3 season-saving victory.
Moose Haas led them to victory in game 4, and then it was Cecil Cooper providing the decisive game-winning hit in game 5 with a 2-run single in the bottom of the 7th to rally the Brewers to a 4-3 series-clinching victory. For the first time (and only time to date) in their history, the Milwaukee Brewers were headed to the World Series.
Waiting for them was a team with an illustrious history, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals had won 8 World Series to that point in their history, and had won 12 NL Pennants. They are second only to the Yankees in total World Series victories to date with 11. The Cardinals have become a very familiar foe for the Brewers over the past 20+ seasons, as Milwaukee switched leagues in 1998 from the AL to the NL and have been in the National League Central Division, the same division as the Cardinals ever since.
In 1982, the Cardinals finished with a NL-best record of 92-70, and went on to sweep the Atlanta Braves, 3-0 in the NLCS. The World Series got off to an ideal start for the Brewers as they went into Busch Stadium in St. Louis and put a 10-0 thumping on the Cardinals in Game 1. Catcher Ted Simmons homered off his former team, and Mike Caldwell pitched a 3-hit gem. Game 2 was looking like another Milwaukee victory for most of the game, after the BrewCrew jumped out to a 4-2 lead through 5 innings, with Simmons again homering. However, the Cardinals rallied with a pair of runs in the bottom of the 6th, and then the game-winner in the bottom of the 8th, to steal game 2, a 5-4 victory.
Paul Molitor set a World Series record with 5 hits in Game 1, and Robin Yount produced a 4-hit game. Yount would go on to set a World Series record himself, with (2) 4-hit games in the Series. Game 3 shifted to County Stadium in Milwaukee, but the Brewers struggled both offensively and defensively as they produced just 2 runs and committed 3 errors in a 6-2 defeat.
Game 4 was looking like another long evening for the Brewers as they trailed 5-1 heading into the bottom of the 7th. A 6-run 7th, however, propelled the Crew to a 7-5 victory and evened the series back up at 2 games apiece. Robin Yount collected 4 hits in the win. Mike Caldwell went on to win his second game of the Series and led Milwaukee to a game 5 victory, leaving them just 1 win shy of the city's first World Series Championship.
The WS shifted back to St. Louis for the final two games, and the Cardinals came ready to play, dominating the Brewers in Game 6, behind 13 runs. The Brewers' defense once-again struggled as they committed 4 errors in the game. The lackluster effort set up a winner-take-all Game 7. Bob McClure got the start for Milwaukee, and thanks to a Ben Oglivie Home Run, the Brewers led 3-1 heading into the bottom of the 6th. The Brewers' bullpen, however, could not hold the lead, and the Cardinals responded with 3 runs in the bottom of the 6th, and then tacked-on two more insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th, to take the game & the series. In the end, the 6th inning proved to be Milwaukee's achilles heel, as they outscored in that inning alone, 12-4 for the entire series. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Fingers was dealing with right elbow soreness throughout September and it caused him to miss the World Series. Without their biggest weapon out of the bullpen, the BrewCrew blew leads late in games 2 & 7, and one could certainly make an argument that his absence made the difference in the Brewers coming up a tad short versus taking home the Championship.
While they came up just short in the end, the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers remain one of the more dominant power teams of all-time. The club was extremely talented, and featured a roster of All-Time Greats. Catcher Ted Simmons is still considered to be one of the greatest hitting catchers of all-time, and finished his career as an 8x All-Star. Jim Gantner rarely hit Home Runs in his career, but went on to enjoy a 17-year career all with the Brewers, where he developed a reputation for his ability to turn double-plays. Pitchers Mike Caldwell (137-130) & Moose Haas (100-83) both went on to win 100 + games in their careers.
In the end, the 1982 Brewers featured a total of 10 players who appeared in at least 1 All-Star game, (even reserve Don Money had been a 4x All-Star before joining the club). They owned the AL MVP & Cy Young Award Winners in Yount & Vuckovich, respectively, and also had a Silver Slugger Award winner in Cooper, and the Manager of the Year in Kuenn.
Four players from that 82' squad went on to be enshrined in Cooperstown in the Hall of Fame - Molitor hit .306 for his 21-year career, piling up over 3,300 hits in the process, and was named the 1993 World Series MVP. He was a 7x All-Star and 1st Ballot Hall of Famer. Yount hit .285 over a 20-year career - all with Milwaukee - and won 2 MVP Awards, and finished his career with over 3,100 hits. He was a 3x All-Star and also a 1st Ballot Hall of Famer. Fingers and Sutton both went on to the Hall of Fame as well, with Sutton winning over 300 games for his career, and Fingers considered to not only have one of the most epic mustaches of all-time, but finished his career as one of the greatest relief pitchers in the history of the game.
The team was never able to quite replicate the incredible 82' campaign, and it would be 26 years later before they reached the postseason again - as a wildcard in 2008. While the 2011 Division-winning club & last season's that took the Dodgers to Game 7 of the NLCS were some of the franchise's best of all-time, the 1982 squad still stands out as the finest in Milwaukee Brewers' history, and the only one to reach the World Series. Chances are you've never heard of them, but "Harvey's Wallbangers" were a fun bunch that played hard every night, and had a penchant for crushing balls high into the old County Stadium's outfield bleachers.