Midwest talent showcased in '82 Series
St. Louis — Moving back and forth between the Mississippi River flavor of St. Louis and the Old World ''Gemutlichkeit'' of Milwaukee, this year's World Series offered a refreshing change from all those coast-to-coast classics of other recent Octobers.
The first such ''Middle America'' classic in 14 years also focused the national spotlight on many fine players who seldom have received the recognition they deserved.
A perfect example is Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper. He's well known to baseball fans, of course, but not really a household name like Pete Rose or Steve Garvey, to cite a couple of his more famous fellow first basemen. Yet his record says that he should be.
Cooper has a lifetime .307 average, and is surely one of the most devastating hitters in the game. He hit .352 in 1980, but it was sort of a secret because that was the year George Brett picked to flirt with .400. He also regularly hits a lot of home runs and drives in over 100 runs a year, so his fine 1982 performance (.313, 32 homers, 121 RBIs) was really pretty much a typical one.
Those are superstar statistics, but Cecil hasn't yet achieved that sort of recognition.
''I realize it's because I play for a team in the Midwest, and one that wasn't in contention until recently,'' he said. ''It doesn't bother me. I know what kind of player I am, and so do the guys I play with and against. If you have your priorities straight in life, you don't need all that other stuff.
''It's a good thing, though, when something like this happens. It's nice to see the players get noticed, and it's good for the organization.''
Cooper, of course, has accomplished enough to be up there higher in the recognition derby than many of this year's other participants. He even played in another World Series with Boston in 1975, though that's one he'd just as soon forget after going 1 for 19 in the Red Sox's loss to Cincinnati.
''I was upset that I didn't play well in that Series,'' he said. ''But I was just a 25-year-old kid then, and I think I matured at a later age than most people. Sure I've thought about it. I certainly wanted to do well this time.''
Cecil realized that goal, too, hitting a home run in Game 3, coming up with several other key hits, and repeatedly demonstrating the spectacular, Gold Glove fielding that has also been one of his trademarks.
Cooper's opposite number on the Cardinals, Keith Hernandez, is another whose fame has certainly not kept up with his performance. Keith was both a co-MVP and batting champion (.344) in 1979, also regularly hits over .300, and has won four Gold Gloves. But you don't see him on too many TV commercials or magazine covers either.
World Series exposure can help change that, though not necessarily the kind Hernandez was having in the beginning when he went 0 for 15 through the first four games. He broke out of it with a vengeance, though, hitting two doubles and a single in Game 5, then driving in four runs with a home run and a single in the 13- 1 St. Louis victory Tuesday night that evened the best-of-seven Series at three games apiece.
''I wasn't too worried,'' he said of his early slump. ''I knew I was hitting the ball well, especially in Game 4, but I just wasn't having any luck. Finally they started falling in.''
Probably the most visible player on either team heading into the Series was Milwaukee shortstop Robin Yount, who has been the talk of baseball all year and is a certain American League MVP selection after hitting .331 with 29 homers and 114 RBIs, and playing brilliantly in the field.
He too, however, had had few previous opportunities to showcase his talent in the national spotlight - but he made up for that in a hurry, getting a near-record 11 hits in the first five games alone.
Each team has some other names with varying degrees of familiarity, of course , either via previous World Series participation with other clubs (Lonnie Smith, Darrell Porter, Don Sutton, etc.) or for their regular season feats (perennial relief ace Bruce Sutter, slugger Gorman Thomas, frequent all-star Ted Simmons). But for the most part, the actors who have taken center stage from day to day in this drama have been ones more accustomed to playing supporting roles.
Right at the start, for instance, there was Paul Molitor. The Milwaukee leadoff man is a fine all-around player - a good hitter and speedy base runner who has demonstrated his versatility by playing four different positions in five seasons. But none of this ever got him a tiny fraction of the attention he received in Game 1 when he became the first player ever to get five hits in one World Series game.
Another case in point is Ozzie Smith. For five years his acrobatic play has electrified National League fans, but it wasn't until now that the public at large got a chance to see why the Cardinal shortstop is so justly nicknamed ''the Wizard of Oz.''
There are rookies like the Cardinals' exciting centerfielder Willie McGee and pitcher John Stuper, who tossed a four-hitter to win the vital sixth game. There are plenty of veterans, too, such as the brilliant St. Louis right-hander Joaquin Andujar; Milwaukee left-hander Mike Caldwell, who won two games; and Brewer reliever Bob McClure, who filled in so capably for the injured Rollie Fingers.
And the list goes on - Milwaukee outfielder Charlie Moore and second baseman Jim Gantner; Cardinal third baseman Ken Oberkfell and outfielder George Hendrick; and their even more obscure teammate Dane Iorg, who was reprieved from a benchwarming role by the use of the designated hitter rule in this Series, and who responded by batting .500 in the first six games.
Not everyone can do well in a short series, of course. That's the nature of the game. So there have been disappointing performances too. But for many of these ''role players,'' it's been a welcome week in the national spotlight, and a chance to become something more than just a name in the box score to the casual fan.