Dan O’Neill’s “Celebration: The Magic of the Cardinals in the 1980s” from Reedy Press is a lavishly-illustrated coffee table book that lovingly recalls a pivotal time in Cardinals history.
O’Neill presents the story of the 1980s Cardinals chronologically, year by year, in some cases even game by game, with vignettes about individual players, notable plays, and changes in the roster. The narrative is bookended by two events – the hiring of Whitey Herzog in June of 1980 and Herzog’s resignation in July of 1990.
During this eventful decade, the Cardinals won the World Series in 1982 and won the National League pennant in 1985 and 1987. But when Herzog first joined the team, the Cardinals were getting a reputation for underachievement and minimal effort.
Through a combination of personnel changes and leadership, Herzog infused the team with more energy and focus. The Cardinals new style of play (nicknamed “Whiteyball”) relied on pitching, speed, and defense. Herzog declared that he didn’t want to sit around and wait for home runs. Instead, he encouraged his players to hit, run, and steal bases.
Perhaps this book will be most enjoyed by those who remember the excitement of this era in Cardinals history. But the story of the turnaround and success of the team is entertaining even for the uninitiated.
The book is overflowing with data about trades, player contracts, specific games, and injuries. But the text is not all names and statistics. O’Neill includes sidebars throughout the book with quotes from players and management. These quotes provide a more personal insight into the relationships between the players, the moves from team to team, and the memorable plays.
O’Neill also adds some humor to the story with his descriptions of players and their nicknames. Third baseman Ken Reitz was known as the “Zamboni Machine” because he was notoriously slow. Pitcher Dave LaPoint earned two nicknames. His teammates called him “Wimpy” for the hamburger-loving character from Popeye, and Herzog simply called him “snacks.” Keith Hernandez is described as having “one of the most recognizable mustaches in baseball.”
In addition to photographs of players, the illustrations include images of buttons, tickets, signed baseballs, bats and jerseys. “Celebration” is an affectionate time capsule for a beloved St. Louis institution.