It’s not the first time Cecil Cooper has been part of a 40th anniversary celebration for a team that fell short in the World Series. In 2015, Cooper was back with the Red Sox, commemorating a milestone for the 1975 World Series runner-up.
“That’s the only time I’ve been back to Boston since,” Cooper said Friday, surrounded by teammates from the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, the only squad in franchise history to reach a World Series – and a squad that reconvenes regularly for anniversary celebrations at American Family Field.
The 1975 World Series is most remembered for Carlton Fisk’s dramatic Game 6 walk-off homer, gesturing wildly for the ball to stay fair and force Game 7 against the Cincinnati Reds. Seven years later, ‘Coop’ delivered the signature moment of the 1982 Brewers postseason with his go-ahead single against the California Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS, gesturing this time for the ball to “get down.”
“I think that’s what kind of made me do that,” Cooper said, referring to the legendary Fisk arm-waves. “Back of my head, probably.
“I’m just surprised and happy that I see so many guys,” Cooper added. “There’s still quite a few guys that are still around. A lot of these guys were still in baseball up until the last few years.”
Cooper is among them, most recently the Houston Astros manager until 2009. Prior to that, his coaching résumé included a stint as Brewers bench coach.
Among the returnees on hand Friday were other former Brewers organization coaches, including pitcher Mike Caldwell, Hall of Famers Ted Simmons and Robin Yount, second baseman Jim Gantner and backup catcher Ned Yost, whose career includes an unforgettable home run of his own in Boston during the home stretch of the 1982 season and a managerial stint that ended in 2008 – the year the Brewers went back to the postseason for the first time since that 1982 season.
Cooper and Caldwell both participated, along with Charlie Moore and franchise all-time wins leader Jim Slaton, in a “Tap Takeover,” serving drinks to American Family Field patrons before Friday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. All attending members of the 1982 team rode in classic cars along the warning track and then gathered behind home plate in a presentation emceed by TV announcer Brian Anderson and radio legend Bob Uecker.
The team’s four living Hall of Famers – Yount, Simmons, Molitor and Rollie Fingers – threw ceremonial first pitches.
“I think we celebrate this team still not only for what happened in 1982 but the people who were on the team, the personalities and the bond they created with the city,” said Brewers current manager Craig Counsell, the 12-year-old son of a Brewers employee who remembers finding “lucky spots” around County Stadium in his quest to conjure Brewers runs during the ALCS against the Angels.
“They’re just a unique bunch of guys, as a fan you form a bond with one of them, they’re your favorite … that’s what makes it last. They were a great baseball team, too, for a number of years.”
Former all-star outfielder Ben Oglivie said players keep in touch, but he hopes the gathering inspires even more communication.
“We need to do a better job, talking, communicating, instead of waiting for now,” he said. “That’s a lot of years, five years (when the Brewers might next honor the team). We might not get a chance to come back again, so it’s better to make a call. The ball’s in my corner too, not them, me , I have to initiate a call.”
Oglivie fondly recalled his legendary sliding catch in Baltimore in the final game of the 1982 regular season, when Baltimore and the Brewers went into the season finale tied for the American League East lead.
Not unlike the current Brewers, who have seen a three-game lead in the division disappear in as many days, the Brewers went to Baltimore needing one win in four tries to clinch a trip to the ALCS. The first three, as most remember, went to Baltimore in convincing fashion.
Nursing a 5-2 lead in the eighth with two runners on, Joe Nolan’s shot to the left-field corner disappeared into the glove of a sliding Oglivie.
“That was just an instinctive catch,” he recalled. “I would be afraid to see what would happen if that ball hit the ground. It would have been ugly. In that last game, you saw a lot of brooms (in the stands), and it plays in your head a little bit. “
Milwaukee rallied for five runs in the top of the ninth and eventually won convincingly, 10-2, followed by a thrilling five-game win over the Angels and a seven-game loss to St. Louis. Oglivie homered and tripled among his six World Series hits.
“I thought we were the better team,” Oglivie said. “But you can’t just have the better team.”
JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.