When a team loses a close playoff series, there are always forgotten heroes from the losing side. Few people remember the great play of people when they are not on the winning side and the chance to be an immortal for a fan base can slip away.
Mike Caldwell, seen here wearing the old “M” Brewers hat, is a classic example of a forgotten hero.
Throughout the 1970’s, Caldwell was a decent if not spectacular pitcher for the Padres and Giants. The North Carolina State grad was involved in the deal that sent future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey from San Francisco to San Diego and did his best to make the deal look good for the Giants with a solid 14-5 season in 1974, posting a 2.95 ERA.
After a bad 1976, he was dealt from San Francisco to St. Louis. He never played a game for the Cardinals as he was sent packing to the two time defending World Champion Cincinnati Reds before the start of the 1977 season. The Reds were doing a makeover, one that included the departure of Tony Perez, the break up of their bullpen and the arrival of Tom Seaver.
Before Seaver’s arrival, Caldwell was sent packing once again, this time to Milwaukee for a pair of minor leaguers who never played in the majors.
The deal was a great one for the Brewers. Caldwell finished as the runner up to Ron Guidry in the 1978 Cy Young race, leading the league with 23 complete games, winning 22 and posting a 2.36 ERA for a rising Brewers team.
As Milwaukee evolved into a contender, Caldwell was a reliable arm. He no longer was a Cy Young contender but he posted 200+ year in and year out and winning more than he lost.
When the Brewers finally won the pennant in 1982, beating a star studded Angels team in the ALCS they faced St. Louis in the World Series. (Remember, the Brewers played in the American League then.)
An exhausted Brewers staff limped into St. Louis, unable to start their ace Pete Vuckovich and they had Rollie Fingers on the disabled list.
Caldwell got the call for Game 1, facing Cardinal star Bob Forsch. Paul Molitor, Robin Yount and friends pounded Forsch and Caldwell made sure the Cardinals could not counter rally.
Caldwell finished with a complete game 3 hit shutout, giving the worn down and short handed bullpen the night off in the 10-0 final.
The Brewers and Cardinals exchanged wins and Caldwell got the ball again for Game 5 with the series knotted at two games a piece. Robin Yount got 4 hits including a homer to spark Milwaukee’s attack.
Caldwell did not dominate like he did in Game 1, but worked his way out of jams. In the 9th inning, with manager Harvey Kuenn gunshy about going to his bullpen, Caldwell took the mound with a 6-2 lead.
He got friend of the Sully Baseball Daily Podcast Lonnie Smith out but then ran out of gas. David Green and Keith Hernandez hit back to back doubles and George Hendrick singled to make bring the Cardinals to within 2. Bob McClure came in to relieve Caldwell and he worked around another single to get the save.
Caldwell would go 2-0 in the World Series, needing the bullpen for only a pair of outs and put the Brewers in position to win the 1982 title. They would go back to St. Louis with future Hall of Famer Don Sutton throwing Game 6 and eventual Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich available for Game 7 if necessary.
The Brewers would lose both games as Sutton got pounded and the bullpen blew Game 7. Caldwell came out of the bullpen to finish the 8th inning of Game 7. Had the Brewers rallied to win, he would have won 3 games in the Series.
Instead his 2-0 performance over 17 2/3 innings and a 2.04 ERA has gone largely forgotten. Molitor and Yount’s torrid World Series hitting helped their Hall of Fame candidacy, but Caldwell has faded into obscurity.
Perhaps Yount’s .414 average and 1.072 OPS would have clinched the World Series MVP had Milwaukee took the title. But Caldwell would have received a lot of consideration and there is no doubt he would have cemented a legacy of being a beloved hero in Milwaukee.
Alas the cruel fate for those who excel on the losing side.
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