January 25, 1979: Cardinals acquire John Stuper in trade with the Pirates

A little less than four years before John Stuper won Game 6 of the 1982 World Series, the Cardinals obtained him in a minor-league trade that wasn’t even mentioned in either the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In the deal, the Cardinals sent infielder Tommy Sandt to the Pirates in exchange for Stuper, a 1978 18th-round draft pick who had grown up as a Pirates fan in Pennsylvania. Stuper had attended Butler Community College in Butler, Pennsylvania, then went 9-0 in his final season at Point Park State College.

“The rap on me in high school and later in college was that I labored too much and didn’t have a smooth enough delivery,” Stuper said.[1]

The Pirates assigned Stuper to the Charleston Pirates of the Class A Western Carolinas League for his first professional season. There, he went just 4-8 with a 5.33 ERA in 76 innings, walking 62 batters while striking out just 36.

On January 25, 1979, Stuper received a call from Murry Cook, the Pirates scout who had signed him to a $2,500 bonus. Cook told him he was headed to St. Louis.[2]

The Cardinals sent the 22-year-old right-hander to their Class A St. Petersburg affiliate, where he was used primarily as a reliever. In 93 innings, Stuper’s ERA dropped to 2.71. After throwing 39 more innings with St. Petersburg in 1980, Stuper was promoted to Double-A Arkansas, where he went 7-2 with a 2.86 ERA. After starting just one game in St. Petersburg, he made eight Double-A starts that season.

“When we got him, he was a strong, well-conditioned kid but was throwing down from the side and being used in relief,” Cardinals pitching coach Hub Kittle said. “Gradually we changed his mechanics, and when he came over the top, the ball began to jump.”[3]

That winter, Stuper threw 110 innings in the Mexican League. That extra work paid off in spring training, as he impressed the Cardinals’ coaching staff. Though he was sent down to Triple-A Springfield to continue his development, he was earmarked for a spot in the major-league rotation if someone went down with an injury.

Unfortunately, Stuper’s success didn’t carry over against Triple-A hitters. He went just 6-14 with a 4.92 ERA in 1981.

“When I got to spring training I was in midseason form,” Stuper said in 1982, “but in the long run, pitching in the winter hurt me. My arm was very fatigued all season. One of my goals this season has been to prove that was the reason I had a bad year. You can say all you want that you had a tired arm, but nobody will believe it until you come back with a good season.”[4]

Despite his struggles in 1981, the Cardinals continued to believe in Stuper’s potential, particularly Kittle.

“I got down and started thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t have as much potential as the organization thinks,’ but the organization stayed behind me,” Stuper said. “Hub Kittle has been a big influence on me. Ever since I’ve been in Double-A ball he’s been telling me that I’ll make it to the big leagues.”[5]

Stuper also credited fellow pitcher Dave LaPoint and his wife Kathy.

“God put some good people in front of me,” Stuper said. “There were times I thought about giving it up and getting a real job, but people like Dave and Kathy LaPoint would always seem to be there. They lived below me when we were pitching in Springfield, and they’d lie to me and tell me I’d pitched well when I hadn’t. I don’t know if I would’ve  made it without them.”[6]

Stuper did exactly that in 1982. Though he started the season back in Triple-A, Stuper was called up on May 25 and made his major-league debut on June 1, pitching eight innings in a no-decision against the Giants. Stuper went on to win four of his first five decisions, and after winning three consecutive starts in September, he entered the postseason with a 9-7 record and a 3.36 ERA.

Stuper made three starts that postseason. In Game 2 of the NLCS against the Braves, he allowed three runs over six innings. The Cardinals trailed 3-2 when he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the sixth, but Ken Oberkfell won the game with an RBI single that scored David Green in the bottom of the ninth.

Stuper made two starts in that year’s Fall Classic against the Brewers. In Game 2, he only lasted into the fifth inning before an RBI single by Cecil Cooper gave Milwaukee a 4-2 lead. Once again, however, the Cardinals rallied to win as Doug Bair and Bruce Sutter combined for five innings of scoreless relief and Steve Braun drew a bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning to score the game-winning run in a 5-4 Cardinals victory.

Despite a pair of rain delays, Stuper didn’t need any relief help in Game 6. With the Cardinals trailing three games to two in the series, St. Louis needed a good outing from the rookie. They got exactly that in a complete-game effort in which he allowed one run on just four hits and two walks.

“I was throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters – that’s the name of the game – and in the third or fourth inning I started to get in the groove,” Stuper said.[7]

Stuper pitched the entire game despite a sixth-inning rain delay that lasted two hours and 13 minutes.

“For him to pitch nine innings was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen under the circumstances,” said fellow Cardinals pitcher Jim Kaat.[8]

During one stretch between the third and eighth innings, Stuper retired 15 consecutive Brewers.

“You have to tip your cap to Stuper for a great clutch performance,” said Keith Hernandez. “Here’s a rookie, 25 years old, who undoubtedly has never faced nearly this much pressure in any previous game. Our backs were to the wall. This was it.

“John is a diamond in the rough who has a fastball and sometimes lacks command of other pitches. If he gets past the fourth inning, he usually pitches great. He had to get his rhythm, and he’d found it when we had the first rain delay.”[9]

Sports Illustrated listed Stuper’s performance as one of the 10 best by a rookie pitcher in the history of postseason play.[10]

The following day, the Cardinals won 6-3 to capture their first world championship since 1967.

In 1983, Stuper went 12-11 with a 3.68 ERA over 198 innings, but in spring training 1984 he suffered a shoulder injury and opened the season in Triple-A. When he returned to the majors, he started 10 games for the Cardinals, posting a 3-5 record and 5.28 ERA. Stuper was optioned to the minors on June 30 and later was lent to the Brewers’ farm club in Vancouver.

In September, the Cardinals announced that Stuper was headed to the Reds as the player to be named later in the Cardinals’ trade for outfielder Paul Householder. In 99 innings in 1985, Stuper went 8-5 for the Reds with a 4.55 ERA. After the season, he was traded to the Expos but never played for Montreal.

After his playing days ended, Stuper became the head coach at Butler County Community College, then returned to the Cardinals in 1991 as a minor-league pitching instructor. He has been Yale University’s manager since 1993 and is the winningest coach in school history with 535 wins as of 2021.[11]

Interestingly enough, Sandt, the player the Cardinals dealt to acquire Stuper from the Pirates, also went into coaching. Sandt, whose only major-league appearances came with the A’s in 1975 and 1976, became a minor-league manager for the Pirates from 1982 through 1986. In 1987, he joined Jim Leyland’s staff with the major-league club and remained with Leyland for the next 13 years. Together, they won the 1997 World Series with the Marlins. In 2000, Sandt returned to Pittsburgh as a coach under Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon.


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[1] Neal Russo, “Cards Rookie Puts Phillies In A Stupor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 23, 1982.

[2] Neal Russo, “Cards Rookie Puts Phillies In A Stupor,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 23, 1982.

[3] Kevin Horrigan, “Stupendous: Rookie Puts Cards In Game 7,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 20, 1982.

[4] Neal Russo, “‘Can’t Miss’ Stuper Arrives Year Late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 30, 1982.

[5] Neal Russo, “‘Can’t Miss’ Stuper Arrives Year Late,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 30, 1982.

[6] Mike Smith, “Stuper Faces Game With Smile,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 19, 1982.

[7] Arnold Irish, “Stuper’s Effort Was Show-Stopper,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 20, 1982.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Cards On Brink Of World Title,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 20, 1982.

[9] Arnold Irish, “Stuper’s Effort Was Show-Stopper,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 20, 1982.

[10] John Stuper, YaleBulldogs.com, https://yalebulldogs.com/sports/baseball/roster/coaches/john-stuper/14.

[11] John Stuper, YaleBulldogs.com, https://yalebulldogs.com/sports/baseball/roster/coaches/john-stuper/14.

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