1982 NLCS: Searching for a Rained-Out Game that Didn’t Count

1982 NLCS

(Editor’s Note: This piece is different from others that LWOS publishes. It is a personal narrative showing how the research process works. Evan is the author of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs. Volume I, which details the pre-divisional playoffs through 1976, came out in October. Evan is currently working on Volume II, which details 1977-84. The following story regards the search for information about the first attempt at Game One of the 1982 NLCS, a game that was rained out before it was official and subsequently wiped from the record books.)

(Author’s Note: Special thanks to Colorado Rockies beat writer Thomas Harding for suggesting that I publish this saga.)

1982 NLCS: In Search of a Rained-Out Game that Didn’t Count

Since the end of the 2021 baseball season, I have been hard at work researching the ALCS and NLCS from 1977-84 as well as the Divisional Round in the strike-shortened — and split — 1981 season. While formatting the box scores of each of the 84 games featured in this volume, I reached the 1982 NLCS between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. As I was about to start working on Game One, which ended in a 7–0 Cardinals victory, I remembered that this game was “Take Two.” The first attempt at Game One was rained out, two outs short of being official. Braves ace and future Hall of Famer Phil Niekro held a 1–0 lead over Cardinals ace Joaquin Andújar.

“If this is to truly be a complete history,” I thought to myself, “I must include the rained-out Game That Wasn’t.” Every game of every series that is included in this entire multi-volume work has a detailed, batter-by-batter account of every inning. My goal is to put the reader in the grandstand as these games are unfolding. The older the game, the more challenging (especially if there’s no film of the game and everyone involved in it is now dead), but I’ve done what I can. I was not going to treat this rained-out 1982 NLCS Game That Wasn’t any differently. While true that the game ultimately didn’t count, its impact on the pitching rotations did. Niekro and Andújar couldn’t “unpitch” the game. The toll on their arms made them unavailable until Game Three unless they were used on short rest. (Author’s Note: It would have been Game Four, but Game Two was also rained out. The league learned its lesson from Game One, calling Game Two before it even started.)

The Initial Hunt for the 1982 NLCS Game that Wasn’t

My quest began with contemporary newspaper articles. The local publications of the two teams involved — the ­St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Atlanta Journal-Constitution — gave some basic summaries. From the two, I gathered that the score was 1–0 Braves in the bottom of the fifth with one out. Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith made the last out before the plate umpire had the grounds crew cover the infield. The Braves gained the lead in the top of the first. Right fielder Claudell Washington led off the game with a double, reached third on a sacrifice, and scored on a single by first baseman Chris Chambliss. I did not know who sacrificed Washington to third, nor did I know what the batting order was beyond Washington.

I also found that Cardinals second baseman Tom Herr led off the bottom of the third with a single. He tried unsuccessfully to steal second. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog was livid with the umpiring crew on that play, claiming that they did not make Niekro stop before going home. Pitching without stopping first is a balk, which would have put Herr on second with nobody out. Instead, the Cardinals had the bases empty with one out.

The Search Deepens

This was a good start, but it wasn’t enough. I checked online for video of the rained-out game, but there isn’t any. It was not a dead end, however, because 1982 is recent enough that most parties involved in the game are still alive. In fact, one of the writers covering the game for the Post-Dispatch is still working there — the great Rick Hummel. I emailed him on the outside chance that he still had his scorecard from the game. Rick responded within a few hours. He was “almost certain” that he did not have his scorebook from the game anymore, but he remembered that the game was called with the bases empty and Niekro on the mound. I thanked him and made note of that.

Barry M. Bloom suggested that I contact the Cardinals directly to see if they still had the official scorecard in their archives. I did not want to get into an email exchange where it takes six messages just to find out who their contact person is, so I asked the trusty Mark Langill if he knew whom to contact. Mark — the team historian for the Los Angeles Dodgers — emailed me back within eight minutes. He gave me the contact info for Amy Berra, chief curator of the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum.

Contacting the Cardinals

The next morning, I emailed Amy, telling her what I was working on. I asked if she knew where I could get my hands on video of the game and/or a scorecard of the game. About three hours later, I got her response. The only scorecard the museum had of that game was blank, and the Cardinals media department’s records do not go back that far. She reached out to her counterparts with the Braves and with the National Baseball Hall of Fame to see if they had the info I was looking for.

I thanked her and continued with my research. When I finished the box scores, I began formatting the season statistic tables for each of the teams in this volume. Above each of the batting statistic tables, I include the name of the manager and every member of the coaching staff. For each coach, I indicate his position; for example, “Pitching Coach: Ron Perranoski.” Everything went smoothly until I reached a team where I had the manager’s name, who the pitching coach was, and then five other guys whose only titles were “Coach.” Take a wild guess which team that was. Yep. The 1982 Cardinals.

I emailed Amy again to ask if she had this info. She responded upon her return from the Thanksgiving holiday that she did not. However, she was meeting with Whitey on Wednesday (this was Sunday night), and she would ask him then. Thursday morning, she passed on what he told her. Oddly enough, one of the coaches listed — Joe Cunningham — was not even on the staff, causing Whitey to wonder why Baseball Reference listed him. (Cunningham was working in the PR office that season.)

Paydirt

Amy ended the email by telling me that she still hadn’t heard from her counterpart with the Braves, so she would follow up. I thanked her for all the help she had given me and continued with my work.

This was Thursday. The following Tuesday, while I was preparing to referee a high school soccer match, I saw an email on my phone from Amy. The subject was HERE IT IS!!! My eyes grew big as I opened it. Sam Wallace — Manager of Ballpark Tours, Braves Heritage & Hall of Fame — knows a collector who has a scorecard of the Game That Wasn’t. Attached to the email was a Word document that included the lineups, batting orders, umpiring crew and positions, and a play-by-play! My search had paid off! I made a box score of the game and sent the final copy to Amy for inclusion in the museum. Historians help each other out, after all. This was a major find and personal victory. I was high-fiving myself all night after the soccer matches ended.

But wait, there’s more! The next day, I passed this story — which I now found to be incredible — on to Jayson Stark of The Athletic. He got a kick out of it, then asked if I’d be interested in talking to Braves legend Dale Murphy. Jayson was certain Dale would have some things to say about how it felt to have that game called with Niekro on the mound, pitching as well as he was. I said yes. Within minutes, I had Dale Murphy’s contact info. We spoke the following Monday for nearly an hour. Dale was an open book of information and was extremely helpful. In addition, I found that, yes, he’s the nicest human being on the planet.

Murph’s Reaction

Dale said that his initial reaction when the game was called was, “DANG it!!!!” He went on to say that he knew that the Braves would have to “steal one” in St. Louis to have a chance in that series. Since the Cardinals had more pitching depth than the Braves, Niekro was their best chance to do so. With Niekro’s start being wiped out, that gave the Braves even more of an uphill climb. The Cardinals went on to sweep the Braves, three games to none, en route to the 1982 World Series title. (Author’s Note: The LCS was a best-of-five series from 1969–84. In 1985, it became the best-of-seven series that it is today.)

Even More Info on the 1982 NLCS Game That Wasn’t

This story was satisfying enough to me as it was. However, it became a gift that kept on giving. The Wednesday before Christmas, Amy and I both received the same email from Tom Shieber, Senior Curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He is also on the board of Retrosheet.org. The email said that he was “happy to send along the attached scorecards from the first attempt at Game One of the 1982 NLCS that ultimately was rained out. There are two scorecards from Atlanta and one from St. Louis.” They came courtesy of Retrosheet. Attached were pdfs of the original scorecards!

Through all of this, I not only made some connections to wonderful people, but I also learned to never give up in a search for historical information. Baseball is proud of its history and takes it seriously. There are no other sports that keep such detailed information about every one of its games. Only baseball has records from seemingly meaningless games in August between two last-place teams that are so detailed that someone could reconstruct, play by play, what happened in the game. And only baseball could, 40 years later, have detailed enough records to reconstruct each play of a game that ultimately didn’t count on a rain-soaked afternoon in a stadium that is no longer standing.

This story was also an illustration of how life can give twists and turns that aren’t even imaginable at first. I never would have imagined on November 9 that, a month later, I would be conducting a phone interview with Dale Murphy.

And to think this all started with me looking for info about a playoff game that didn’t even count.

Main Photo:

Embed from Getty Images

Players/coaches/managers mentioned:

Phil Niekro, Joaquin Andújar, Ozzie SmithClaudell Washington, Chris Chambliss, Tom Herr, Whitey Herzog, Ron Perranoski, Joe Cunningham, Dale Murphy


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