In the signature play of a championship season, a third-string catcher, relying on a knee that had been torn to shreds, made an unlikely dash for the plate.
Defining the spirit of a Cardinals club that used aggressiveness to overcome a lack of power, Glenn Brummer stole home, giving the Cardinals an improbable walkoff win in the heat of a pennant race.
The play occurred 40 years ago, on Aug. 22, 1982, in the 12th inning of a game against the Giants at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.
Surprising everyone, including his manager, Brummer made his move at the unlikeliest time _ with the bases loaded, two outs and two strikes on the batter.
Under any circumstance, it was a wonderfully nutty act of derring-do. Then, consider this: Three years earlier, Brummer suffered a knee injury so damaging that he wondered whether he’d be able to walk, much less run, normally again.
Getting a chance
Brummer was at junior college in Mattoon, Ill., when the Cardinals signed him in May 1974. He had a strong, accurate arm. Pitchers liked how he called a game and how he blocked low pitches.
“Brummer would block a bowling ball if it was coming at him 100 miles an hour,” minor-league pitcher Dave Otten told the Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register. “He’s tough.”
The problem was he lacked power and didn’t hit for average.
In 1979, Brummer, in his sixth season in the Cardinals’ system, was catching for the Springfield (Ill.) Redbirds. On July 16, a Wichita Aeros base runner, Kurt Seibert, tried to score from second on a single to right. As Brummer gloved the throw, Seibert crashed into him. Brummer’s left knee took the brunt of the blow.
“When he hit me, I saw my knee go in from six to eight inches,” Brummer told the Springfield newspaper.
After being carried off the field by teammates, Brummer was examined by doctors, who determined he suffered complete tears of five ligaments in his left knee and a partial tear of a sixth ligament.
“That was the most pain I ever felt in my life,” Brummer told the Springfield newspaper.
Cardinals team physician Dr. Stan London performed surgery and told Brummer it was one of the worst knee injuries he had seen.
The prognosis for Brummer was “not good at all,” Cardinals director of player development Jim Bayens told the Mattoon (Ill.) Journal Gazette.
Brummer said to the Springfield newspaper, “I wondered if my career might be over. I knew I had a bad injury. I wondered if I would be able to walk right.”
Three months later, in October 1979, the Cardinals sent Brummer to their training facility in St. Petersburg, Fla. “I was a cripple, really,” Brummer told United Press International. “My left leg was about one and a half inches thinner than my right.”
Crediting his wife Shelly _ “She wouldn’t let me slack off” _ Brummer slowly progressed. “I started walking at first and building up my strength,” he told the Springfield newspaper. “After a while, I did a lot of walking, from eight to 10 miles a day. I also hit the weights. Then I started jogging and, finally, running.”
Quite a comeback
Remarkably, when the 1980 season began, Brummer was Springfield’s starting catcher.
Asked in July by Springfield sports editor Larry Harnly to name the most valuable Springfield player, Evansville Triplets manager Jim Leyland replied, “It’s Glenn Brummer, hands down. He catches every day, he runs a good game, and he throws well. Plus, he is a tough out when it means something. I respect him a lot, even though he might not have the overall talent some of the others have.”
Brummer played in 110 games for Springfield in 1980. He returned there in 1981 for an eighth season in the minors.
His perseverance was rewarded on May 24, 1981, when he got called up to the Cardinals to fill the third-string catcher role, behind Gene Tenace and Orlando Sanchez, after Darrell Porter went on the disabled list.
Unsure how long he would be with the big-league club, Brummer maintained his residence in Springfield and made the two-hour drive before and after every home game in St. Louis, according to the Cardinals’ media guide.
The Cardinals kept him on the team the rest of the strike-interrupted season.
Getting it done
With Tenace sidelined because of a broken thumb, Brummer began the 1982 season as the Cardinals’ third-string catcher behind Porter and Sanchez. He got into two games before being sent to the Louisville farm team.
A month later, Porter broke a finger and Tenace broke a hand, and the Cardinals called back Brummer.
From May 20 through June 7, Brummer started 12 games for the Cardinals. In his first start, against the Padres, he contributed two doubles, scored a run and drove in another. Boxscore
Brummer also drove in two runs against the Dodgers on May 21 Boxscore and two more versus the Giants on May 25. Boxscore On June 4, he stole third base against the Dodgers battery of Terry Forster and Mike Scioscia. Boxscore
The best, though, was yet to come.
Surprise of the season
Brummer rarely got into a game for the 1982 Cardinals after Porter and Tenace returned in mid-June.
On a steamy Sunday afternoon, Aug. 22, in St. Louis, Tenace was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth and Brummer replaced him as the catcher.
The score was tied at 4-4 in the 12th when Brummer singled (his first hit in a month) with one out against Gary Lavelle. After Willie McGee singled and Julio Gonzalez popped out, Ozzie Smith’s infield hit loaded the bases for David Green.
A left-hander, Lavelle got ahead in the count, 1-and-2, to Green. Brummer noticed Lavelle wasn’t watching him, and determined he could steal.
“I was thinking about it all the time, but I didn’t want to tip it off,” Brummer said to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I noticed there was a lot of high leg kick in his stretch. If he has a high leg kick, he’s taking some time to get rid of the ball.
“I just kept edging, edging. Slowly, slowly.”
Then he broke for the plate.
“Nobody knew he was coming,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog told Hummel.
Brummer reached the plate at about the same time as Lavelle’s pitch did. Sliding head-first, Brummer eluded the tag of catcher Milt May and was called safe by umpire Dave Pallone, giving the Cardinals a 5-4 triumph.
If Pallone, who had moved out from behind the plate to get a view of the play, had called the pitch strike three, the run wouldn’t have counted. “I called it a ball,” Pallone told Hummel.
Giants manager Frank Robinson vehemently disagreed. “He didn’t call anything,” Robinson told the Post-Dispatch. “He’s a liar.”
Herzog told Hummel the pitch looked like a strike to him. Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez suggested Pallone “had a vapor lock. He was just as surprised as anybody in the ballpark.”
In a 2012 interview with Cardinals Magazine, Herzog said, “There’s no way you should steal home with two outs and two strikes on the hitter.” He called Brummer’s dash “one of the dumbest plays in baseball.”
“It’s still an amazing thing,” Herzog said. “It’s a classic case of good things that need to happen in order to win a championship.”
In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog described Brummer as “slower than I am,” but he admired the overachiever.
Two days after Brummer’s steal, pitcher Jim Kaat presented him with a home plate autographed by his teammates.
The Cardinals went on to win the World Series championship in 1982. Brummer got into one World Series game but didn’t have a plate appearance.
Released in March 1985, he spent a final season in the majors with the Rangers.
In five big-league seasons, Brummer had more stolen bases (four) than home runs (one)