Former Cards greats flock to Busch

Former Cards greats flock to Busch

ST. LOUIS -- Twenty-three years removed from his World Series-winning strikeout of Gorman Thomas in the 1982 World Series, Bruce Sutter still wears his trademark beard.

Though it is still grown out like a mushroom cloud, it has lost its youthful color. Gone are the multi-shades of brown. They've been replaced with varying shades of gray and white.

Much like Sutter's beard, Busch Stadium has gone through its changes over the last 40 years, from a grassy playing field to astroturf and back to grass again, from a pitcher's park to a hitter's park.

But with change comes rebirth, and life starts anew.

"I'm just retired, starting all over with T-ball, with my grandson," said Sutter, who retired in 1988 and on Saturday was selected to the All-Busch Stadium team as a relief pitcher. "I can still pitch to him. I can get him out, but when he gets a little older I'll have problems."

As for the old stadium, its time has come to retire as well. The St. Louis Cardinals will christen a new Busch Stadium in 2006.

Over 40 seasons, the stadium has birthed many legends that have created memorable moments, and those legends have begat more legends and more memorable moments.

"This is the place that gave birth to me and the chance to be the player I was," said Vince Coleman, who played for the Cardinals from 1985-1990. "There are no greater fans in the world. I [played] other places, but that was a mistake leaving St Louis. I wish I could turn back the clock and never leave, but it's always just fond memories. [It's] times like these that I appreciate it, being back with all my teammates from '85."

To honor the many moments that have made Busch Stadium such an unforgettable place, Cardinals alumni who played in the stadium -- which opened in 1966 -- were invited back for the final weekend. For some it was hard to cope with the thought of their home being demolished.

"This is home for a lot of us," said Willie McGee, who was honored with teammates from the 1985 National League championship team. "But it's not about us anymore. They feel like it's time to move on, so we're moving on."

Others recognized the need for new beginnings.

"I'm a fan of what's happening," said Whitey "The Rat" Herzog, who was selected as the manager of the All-Busch Stadium team. As the manager from 1980-1990, he won 822 games and took the Cardinals to the World Series twice, winning it all in 1982. "I'm happy. It's progress."

"It will be sad to see it go, but when you see the stadium it is picturesque, especially on a day like today," said current Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris, who started the final regular-season game at Busch Stadium. "But I'm sure change will be good and the new stadium will be well-equipped with things to do for everybody."

Picturesque as it might look, the stadium was never without its quirks. Just ask Coleman. During the '85 playoffs he got stuck in the Busch Stadium tarp used to prevent the rain from damaging the astroturf. The tarp rolled up electronically and the grounds crew that rolled the tarp up did not see Coleman. The tarp -- rolled up into a cylinder -- ran over his left knee and up his leg, bruising his leg and chipping a bone in his knee.

Coleman missed the final three games of the NLCS and was forced to sit out the World Series because of the injuries. Many believe the Cardinals would have beaten the cross-state rival Kansas City Royals had Coleman been healthy.

"I take it as a compliment," Coleman said. "I think if I was in the lineup, it would be a lot different by me setting the tone. I play golf with [former Royals stars] George Brett, Bud Black and Bret Saberhagen all the time and they know if I was in the lineup, it would be a different story."

For years, Busch Stadium was a pitcher's park, and built for teams that used speed on offense and defense. In 1996, the power alleys were shortened by 11 feet to make the park more hitter-friendly. Perhaps the old park served its purpose. Hall of Famer Lou Brock -- who broke the all-time stolen base record while playing with the Cardinals -- said he used to hit more home runs before coming to St. Louis. Had Brock been more of a power hitter, he might not have set so many stolen base records.

"As a hitter it was hard, it changed my style. I used to hit more home runs early, but this stadium took that notion away," Brock said. "I became more of a slap hitter in this park because the ballpark sort of dictated it."

Former Cardinals second baseman Tom Herr -- also selected to the All-Busch Stadium team -- was the catalyst of a moment that might never happen again in sports history. In 1987, Herr hit a walk-off grand slam against the New York Mets in the 10th inning on seat cushion night at Busch Stadium.

"At every opportunity, [fans] were throwing [seat cushions] on the field, the game had to be stopped at a couple of occasions," Herr recalled. "Then the game went to the [10th inning], so whoever still had their seat cushion threw them on the field after the home run. I don't think they had another seat cushion night after that.

It was a moment Cardinals fans never let him forget.

"I don't have one, but I have signed a bunch of them," Herr said.

While the memories made in the current Busch Stadium were told in droves all weekend, it is not the stadium, but the legends housed in the stadium that create the moments that last.

Sutter is already doing his part to invest in the future by trying to teach his grandson how to throw that split-finger fastball that helped him save 300 games in his career.

"We are working on it," Sutter said. "We've got the ball taped between his fingers at night."

Stephen A. Norris is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.