Tom Herr Tom Brunansky

Why the Cardinals traded Tom Herr for Tom Brunansky

Tom Herr knew that the Cardinals needed to shake things up after winning just four of their first 15 games in 1988.

Still, he was just as shocked as Cardinals fans when he entered the clubhouse following a 4-0 loss to the Mets and was informed that he had been traded to Minnesota for power-hitting outfielder Tom Brunansky.

“I could see the writing on the wall,” he said, “but I didn’t think it would happen this soon.”[1]

The 32-year-old second baseman had been with the Cardinals’ franchise since August 22, 1974, when he signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent. In 1979, Herr earned his first taste of major-league action, making 12 plate appearances in 14 games as a second baseman and pinch hitter. His first game came the same night that Lou Brock earned the 3,000th hit of his career.

In 1980, Herr appeared in 76 games. Desperate to get the prospect into the lineup, interim manager Red Schoendienst, who was overseeing the major-league club while Whitey Herzog analyzed the Cardinals’ farm system, used Herr in 14 games at shortstop to get a better look at the rookie.

“I called (Herzog) one night and said I’d like to play this kid, Tommy Herr, at shortstop if it was all right with Whitey,” Schoendienst wrote in his 1998 autobiography. “I told Whitey I knew he was not a shortstop and was a second baseman, but this way I could get him some playing time and see what he could do. Whitey was all in favor of the idea. I told Tommy the next day about my plan. I told him, ‘I know you’re not a shortstop, but this will give you some playing time.’ He said that was OK with him and he went out and played hard and did a good job. The next year he was our second baseman and one piece of the puzzle was in place.”[2]

Herr was the starting second baseman for the Cardinals’ 1982 world championship team and the National League champion 1985 and 1987 teams. The 1985 season was Herr’s best, as he batted .302 with career highs in homers (8), RBIs (110), and stolen bases (31). That season, he made the only all-star game of his career and placed fifth in the National League MVP voting.

“The most amazing hitter I had in those years might have been Tommy Herr,” Herzog wrote in 1999. “I can’t think of a better example of how having a plan, a sense of the situation you’re in, can help you succeed.

“If there was one guy I managed that I would want hitting for me in the stretch drive, in August and September, it’d be hard to pick between George Brett and Tommy. He didn’t have much power, but he’d rope it to all fields, torch the lines, bleed it up the middle, even hit one out of the ballpark when you needed it. I don’t know how he did that, but if he’d hit you 10 homers a year, eight counted for something.”[3]

One of those homers came almost exactly one year prior to the trade. On April 18, 1987, Herr hit a 10th-inning grand slam off the Mets’ Jesse Orosco to secure a 12-8 victory. The win happened to come on Seat Cushion Night at Busch Stadium, and joyous Cardinals fans celebrated by tossing hundreds of seat cushions onto the field. In fact, fans threw so many that stadium personnel were still removing cushions from the field when players showed up for the next day’s game.[4]

The 1988 season marked the final year of Herr’s contract.

“I came into this year knowing it was a pivotal year for me and the organization had to make a decision on me,” Herr said. “I prefer to look at it from a positive standpoint. There’s a ballclub out there that wants me – a real enthusiastic club, a fun-loving club.

“I certainly loved my time here as a Cardinal. I’m a winner, and the organization provided me a chance to play on a winner. It’s really hard to say goodbye. I wanted to play my whole career here and that dream is out the window.”[5]

Even as the Cardinals struggled in the opening weeks of the 1988 season, Herr was batting .260 with a .393 on-base percentage. Nonetheless, with Jack Clark playing in Yankee pinstripes on a rich free-agent contract, the Cardinals desperately needed a power hitter for the middle of the lineup.

Enter the 27-year-old Brunansky.

The 6-foot-4 right fielder from Covina, California, made his only all-star appearance in 1985, when he clubbed 27 homers and drove in 90 RBIs. In 1987, he helped the Twins capture the world championship, hitting 32 homers and driving in 85 runs. In the American League Championship Series against Detroit, he hit .412 with two homers and nine RBIs. Against the Cardinals in the World Series, he went just 2-for-25 with two RBIs and a stolen base.

The Twins, like the Cardinals, were off to a slow start to 1988. With their 11-6 loss to the Indians that night, they had fallen to 4-10 on the season.

“I’ve been going through this situation for the last couple of years,” Brunansky said. “It had to happen. The team hasn’t been playing well. Just by the way things were going, you felt they had to make a change. It’s part of the business. There’s not much you can say.”[6]

Twins manager Tom Kelly had plenty to say about Brunansky.

“He played his heart out,” Kelly said. “He was part of a championship team. You get close to players and it’s tough to tell a guy he’s been traded to another team. It’s not easy to do.”[7]

The day he made the trade, on April 22, 1988, Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said the Cardinals hoped Brunansky could provide 20 homers per year in the more spacious Busch Stadium confines.[8] It proved to be an uncannily accurate prediction.

Through the remainder of the 1988 season, Brunansky hit 22 homers, more than twice as many as any other player on the roster (Tony Pena ranked second on the team with 10). Brunansky also drove in 79 RBIs and stole 16 bases. The following year, Brunansky again led the team in home runs, this time hitting exactly 20 to go along with 85 RBIs.

Despite Brunansky’s power production, the Cardinals won just 76 games in 1988 and 86 in 1989, when they finished third in the National League East. Brunansky played just 19 games in 1990 before the Cardinals sent him to the Red Sox for closer Lee Smith. In 320 games with the Cardinals, he hit .238/.327/.411 with 43 home runs and 166 RBIs.

He finished his 14-year major-league career with 271 home runs and 919 RBIs. Following his playing career, he served as a hitting coach in the Twins’ development system, then was promoted to serve as the major league hitting coach from 2013 through 2016. He currently serves as hitting coach at the University of St. Katherine in San Marcos, California.

Herr played the remainder of the 1988 season in Minnesota. It proved a difficult season, as he strained his left quadriceps and required two trips to the disabled list. In 86 games, he hit .263 with two homers, 24 RBIs, and 13 stolen bases.

“The shock of the trade bothered me more than anything. … It really hit me out of the blue,” Herr said. “I can remember getting on the plane to fly to Minneapolis and crying like a baby. It was hard to go through. Looking back on it, I didn’t handle it very well. I kept looking back instead of forward. I was looking at it more that the Cardinals didn’t want me than that the Twins wanted me. If I had put a more positive spin on it, I would have reacted better.”[9]

Knowing that Herr had no intention of re-signing with them, the Twins sent Herr, Eric Bullock, and Tom Nieto to the Phillies in a rare October trade for Shane Rawley and $125,000. Following the deal, Herr signed a free-agent deal with the Phillies.

In 1990, the Phillies sent him to the Mets at the trade deadline for Nikco Riesgo and Rocky Elli. After the Mets released him in August 1991, he signed with the Giants and played the remainder of the season in San Francisco.

He finished his 13-season major-league career with a .271 batting average, 1,450 hits, and 188 stolen bases.

In 2005 and 2006, and again in 2009 and 2010, Herr managed his hometown Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers in the Atlantic League, leading the team to the 2006 league championship. In 2007, he managed the Washington Nationals’ Class A affiliate in Hagerstown, Maryland.[10]

In 2020, fans elected Herr to the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

“I always feel the love whenever I go back out there (to St. Louis),” Herr said. “This just puts an exclamation mark on that. It’s overwhelming, really.”[11]

Enjoy this post? Sign up below and get Cardinals history delivered directly to your inbox!

[1] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Head Spinning After Trade,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 23, 1988.

[2] Red Schoendienst with Rob Rains (1998), “Red: A Baseball Life,” Sports Publishing, Champaign, Ill., 177.

[3] Whitey Herzog and Jonathan Pitts (1999), “You’re Missin’ a Great Game: From Casey to Ozzie, the Magic of Baseball and How to Get It Back,” Berkley Books, New York, 130.

[4] Rick Hummel, “What a wild ride the Cards took in ’87,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 13, 2007: Page B5.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Head Spinning After Trade,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 23, 1988.

[6] Steve Aschburner, “Twins find goodbyes difficult,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 23, 1988.

[7] Steve Aschburner, “Twins find goodbyes difficult,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, April 23, 1988.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Head Spinning After Trade,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 23, 1988.

[9] Rob Rains and Alvin A. Reid (2002), “Whitey’s Boys: A Celebration of the ’82 Cards World Championship,” Triumph Books, Chicago, 45.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Grand Slam Sent Cushions Flying,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 22, 2020.

[11] Rick Hummel, “New Hall Class,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 23, 2020.

3 thoughts on “Why the Cardinals traded Tom Herr for Tom Brunansky”

  1. Pingback: May 4, 1990: Cardinals trade Tom Brunansky to Boston for Lee Smith –

  2. Pingback: Cardinals trade for the "Secret Weapon" Jose Oquendo -

  3. Pingback: Cardinals trade Tom Brunansky to Boston for Lee Smith

Leave a Comment