COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Known for his thick, curly mustache, 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, it was this week 30 years ago that a series of historic deals sent the future Hall of Famer from San Diego to St. Louis to Milwaukee all within a four-day span.
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 master of the split-fingered fastball, 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 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. 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 later.
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, “Mr. Mustache” 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 Whitey Herzog.
Matt Kramer was the 2010 public relations fall intern at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum