August 26, 1981: Garry Templeton’s confrontation with fans leads to the Cardinals’ trade for Ozzie Smith

Heading into the 1981 season, if someone suggested that the Cardinals would have the greatest shortstop of the decade, fans everywhere would assume they were referring to Garry Templeton, one of the most talented infielders in the National League.

But a heated confrontation with Cardinals fans on August 26, 1981, led to a franchise-altering trade that offseason that sent Templeton back to his home state of California and brought future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith to St. Louis.

Since debuting with the Cardinals as a 20-year-old in 1976, Templeton had flashed unparalleled potential and athleticism. In his first full major-league season in 1977, the switch-hitting Templeton hit .322 and led the majors with 18 triples to go along with eight homers, 79 RBIs, and 28 stolen bases. That summer, he was named to the National League all-star team.

Templeton led the National League in triples again in 1978 before a historic 1979 season in which he became the first player in major-league history to collect 100 hits apiece batting left-handed and right-handed. That year, he opted not to participate in the all-star game after Larry Bowa was named the National League starter instead of him. At that point, public sentiment began to turn on the Cardinals’ star shortstop.

In 1980, Templeton hit .319 with four homers, 43 RBIs, and 31 stolen bases to earn the first Silver Slugger Award of his career. The 1981 season, however, was a trial for the 25-year-old. When the players went on strike in June, Templeton was batting just .265. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog had removed him from the leadoff spot, a move that prompted Templeton to request a trade. At other times, Templeton complained about his salary and indicated that he was too injured or tired to play.[1]

Matters came to a head in the finale of a three-game series against the Giants. After the game was briefly delayed by rain, Joaquin Andujar opened the contest with a scoreless first inning. Templeton, returned to his leadoff position, stepped to the plate to face Giants pitcher Gary Lavelle.

Lavelle made short work of Templeton, striking him out on a curveball in the dirt. After a few steps down the first-base line, Templeton began walking back to the dugout as Giants catcher Milt May easily threw him out at first. When the fans began to boo, Templeton responded with a raised middle finger.[2]

“That’s when he should have been taken out of the game,” Giants second baseman Joe Morgan said. “That’s where the mistake was made. It was Templeton’s fault for making the gesture, but it was also Herzog’s fault for letting him go further.”[3]

The boos continued as Templeton ran onto the field for the top of the second inning, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that some fans were “making obscene gestures toward Templeton.”[4] In the bottom of the third, after Andujar struck out, Templeton and the fans resumed their heated interaction. In a 2018 interview with Nick Waddell for the Society for American Baseball Research, Templeton described the confrontation:

“I was turning to go to the dugout when three guys came down behind the on-deck circle and called me names, like the n-word. So I grabbed my crotch and told them what they could do.”[5]

In Brad Balukjian’s 2020 book, The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife, Templeton offered a similar description during an interview in his home:

“I was in the on-deck circle and three white boys came down and started me all kinds of racial names, and that’s when I grabbed my crotch. I told them … ‘Suck my d—.’ And Whitey was right there on the top rail listening to them. He couldn’t have been no more from there to the door from them,” he says, gesturing forcefully, his voice rising with frustration.

“So he knew what was being said,” I say.

“He knew what was being said,” he repeats, slowing his cadence by a third to emphasize each word.

“Do you remember what they were calling you?”

“Yeah, but I ain’t gonna repeat it,” he says firmly.

“That bad?”

“Yeah.” He takes a beat and exhales, his shoulders lowering by half an inch. When he speaks again, his voice has lost its ferocity, replaced by a steady calm.

“There were some players that heard it too, but they weren’t players that had my back, so they ain’t never gonna say nuthin. But there are guys that saw everything that happened, ya know?”[6]

Home plate umpire Bruce Froemming, who already had warned Templeton, ejected him from the game.

“In the first inning, I noticed what I thought to be the tail end of a gesture to the fans,” Froemming said. “I didn’t want to embarrass him. At the end of the second inning, he told me that the fans were on him, and he didn’t think it was right. I told him either knock it off or I was going to throw him out. This was as bad as I’ve seen.”[7]

Herzog famously pulled Templeton down the dugout steps to get him off the field, an image captured by Post-Dispatch photographer Scott Dine.

“Get out of here. I don’t want you on the road,” Herzog yelled, referring to the Cardinals’ upcoming road trip to San Diego. “I don’t want you around my players. I don’t want to see you. You make $690,000 and you go out and make an ass out of yourself. I don’t need that and my boys don’t need that.”[8]

In the Giants dugout, San Francisco manager Frank Robinson was dismayed by the scene.

“I’ve never seen it happen and I hope I never do again,” Robinson said. “There’s no place for it.”[9]

After Templeton left, the Cardinals scored once in the fourth and rallied for eight runs in the fifth to claim the 9-4 victory. Templeton’s replacement at shortstop, Mike Ramsey, went 1-for-4 with an RBI single, a run scored, and a stolen base. No matter what he did the rest of the day, Cardinals fans cheered Ramsey’s every move.[10]

After the game ended, Herzog announced that Templeton had been fined $5,000 and was indefinitely suspended. Before Templeton could return to the team, Herzog said, he would have to apologize to the fans and his teammates.[11]

“There’s no ballplayer big enough to show up the fans and make the gestures he was making,” Herzog said. “When he grows up to be a man and publicly apologizes to our fans and to his teammates, he can come back and play. It’s up to him.”[12]

Templeton left the stadium shortly after he was ejected and was unavailable for comment after the game.[13] Most of his Cardinals teammates had little to say about the incident, but backup catcher/first baseman Gene Tenace was clearly upset.

“I don’t think Templeton has the guts to apologize to the rest of us,” Tenace said. “He’s a loser. We’re better off without him. I don’t think he’ll even be playing two or three years from now. If Templeton does come back and he gives 100%, I’ll never say anything to him, but the first time he messes up, I’ll be all over him. He’ll have to deal with me, and it won’t be pleasant for him. I can’t speak for the other 23 guys on the team, but I know the consensus is that they are all busting their guts and he’s been a disruptive influence. Sure, we can win this thing without him. Mike Ramsey can do a great job in his place. He gives 100% and has been playing extremely well.”[14]

Tenace added, “We have the talent to win it all. We’ve got plenty of offense, and we can win without Templeton. The consensus on the club is that the players could care less if Templeton comes back. In a way, I’m glad it happened. It was like sitting on a time bomb. Now we can start playing baseball again.”[15]

Cardinals outfielder Sixto Lezcano expressed hope that Templeton and Herzog might come to an understanding.

“That was not good, what went on out there,” he said. “They should get together and talk things out.”[16]

Herzog, though clearly frustrated, didn’t immediately rule out Templeton returning to the club, as long as he met the team’s conditions. When asked whether he would trade Templeton, Herzog said, “I don’t have to trade him. I’d like for him to come back and play to the best of his ability. In all my years in baseball, I’ve never seen a player with so much talent – who can run well, switch-hit, and play great in the field. I don’t think I’ve ever managed a ballplayer that’s got as much overall ability as he has.”[17]

Nonetheless, public sentiment in St. Louis had clearly turned against Templeton. Longtime Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg moved past the question of whether Templeton had a future in St. Louis and questioned whether he had a future in the sport.

“Potentially the greatest player ever to wear a Cardinals uniform,” Broeg wrote, “Templeton has become a bitter memory here and, if he can’t find peace of mind and consistency of effort elsewhere, he might wind up a victim of the worst self-destruction possible.[18]

The following day, Templeton met with Cardinals team physician Dr. Stan London, who recommended that Templeton work with a psychiatrist.

“What’s important is that I didn’t want him to do it because I suggested it,” London said. “I wanted him to do it because he wanted to.”[19]

“I think he has got some real deep emotional problems,” Herzog said of Templeton. “I think he’s very emotionally distressed.”[20]

In Balukjian’s interview with Templeton, however, Templeton again offered a different version of events:

“I didn’t see no psychiatrist,” he says. “They just had to show something for me not going cross-country to play baseball.”

I push back: “Garry, they must have evaluated you. Someone must have come in and talked to you.”

“I didn’t talk to no one,” he says, defiant.

“So what they said in the papers, it was all made up?”

He takes a moment to consider this, thinking back, realizing he doesn’t want to be inaccurate.

“I talked to the Cardinals doctor,” he says thoughtfully. “I don’t remember talking to any doctors in that damn hospital.” Pause. “Maybe I did talk to a doctor, because they did bring me some medicine in a cup. I flushed it down the toilet. I didn’t need it!”[21]

On August 31, the Cardinals placed Templeton on the disabled list retroactive to August 28. As a result, his suspension was limited to one day and cost him $4,000 in addition to his $5,000 fine.[22]

On September 14, an off day for the club before a double-header with the Expos the following day, the Cardinals hosted a news conference at Busch Stadium.

“I want to apologize for the incident of August 26,” Templeton said. “I know I did a big injustice to the fans. I just want to say I’m sorry. Second, I want to apologize to Mr. Busch (August A. Busch, Jr., Cardinals president), to the Cardinal organization, and to fans across the country. I apologize to anyone who might have been offended.” He then added, “The fans have to realize I have some problems.”[23]

At that news conference, Templeton said he would continue to see a psychiatrist and receive medication.

“To some degree, I have to because you can’t heal depression in one week, two weeks, or a year,” he said.[24]

When asked whether the use of illegal drugs had impacted his behavior, Templeton said, “That’s a medical matter and I’m not qualified to talk on medical matters.”[25]

However, he did say that seeing the way teammate Darrell Porter had overcome his drug and alcohol issues was an inspiration.

“I think that’s one of the reasons I sought the help I needed,” Templeton said. “I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last.”[26]

The following day, Templeton faced an even tougher challenge: apologizing to his teammates.

“I can’t go into details on exactly what he said, but he was man enough to admit it, that he had made a mistake,” Tenace said. “I’ve had to swallow my pride a lot. He paid for it and it’s going to take some time for him to get his feet on the ground. It wasn’t easy for him, but he did it and you’ve got to give him credit.”[27]

“I don’t think you’re much of a person if you can’t forgive someone,” Cardinals utilityman Dane Iorg said. “Who he really hurt was his own self. He didn’t hurt anybody else, though he might have embarrassed some people. But you have to accept anybody’s apology. When it first happened, there was a lack of understanding of the consequences involved. I think some people said things they now are ashamed of. He brought condemnation on himself for his actions. I think we’ve got to accept his apology and help him as much as we can.”[28]

Second baseman Tom Herr kept his description of the meeting simple. “I didn’t expect an apology and I don’t need one,” he said. “What he said was very appropriate. He said he wanted to come back and play hard and that’s all I wanted to hear.”[29]

Inserted into the lineup for the first time since the incident, Templeton went 4-for-5 with an RBI single, a stolen base, and two runs scored in a 3-2 Cardinals win. Templeton played well the rest of the year to finish with a .288 batting average. Nonetheless, his future with the club had long since been sealed.

That offseason, the Cardinals traded him to San Diego for Smith, whose contract negotiations with the Padres had turned bitter. Templeton played 10 seasons in San Diego, where knee and ankle injuries zapped some of the electricity from his game. Nonetheless, he remained an effective shortstop, winning his second Silver Slugger in 1984 and earning an all-star appearance in 1985. After the 1991 season, he retired with a .271 career batting average to go with 70 homers, 728 RBIs, and 242 stolen bases.

Following his playing career, Templeton managed four seasons in the Angels’ minor-league system, then managed independent league baseball from 2003 through 2011.

Smith, of course, went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career in St. Louis, where he helped lead the Cardinals to the 1982 World Series championship and National League pennants in 1985 and 1987. He won 11 of his 13 career Gold Gloves and made 14 of his 15 all-star game appearances while wearing the birds on the bat.


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[1] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[2] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[3] Terrence Moore, “Outburst overshadows Giants’ loss,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 27, 1981.

[4] Kevin Horrigan, “Obscene Gestures Further Fans’ Disgust,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[5] Nick Waddell, “Garry Templeton,” Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/garry-templeton/.

[6] Brad Balukjian, The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife, University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, Page 51.

[7] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[8] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[9] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[10] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[11] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[12] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[13] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[14] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[15] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[16] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[17] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apology Demanded,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 27, 1981.

[18] Bob Broeg, “Templeton Proved Right – We Hadn’t Seen Anything Yet,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 28, 1981.

[19] Rick Hummel, “Psychiatrist To Evaluate Tempy,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 28, 1981.

[20] Rick Hummel, “Psychiatrist To Evaluate Tempy,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 28, 1981.

[21] Brad Balukjian, The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife, University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, Page 52.

[22] Rick Hummel, “Psychiatrist To Evaluate Tempy,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 28, 1981.

[23] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apologizes, Rejoins Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 15, 1981.

[24] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apologizes, Rejoins Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 15, 1981.

[25] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apologizes, Rejoins Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 15, 1981.

[26] Neal Russo, “Templeton Apologizes, Rejoins Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 15, 1981.

[27] Rick Hummel, “Apology Well Received By Teammates,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1981.

[28] Rick Hummel, “Apology Well Received By Teammates,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1981.

[29] Rick Hummel, “Apology Well Received By Teammates,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1981.

1 thought on “August 26, 1981: Garry Templeton’s confrontation with fans leads to the Cardinals’ trade for Ozzie Smith”

  1. Pingback: February 11, 1982: Cardinals, Padres finalize the Ozzie Smith-Garry Templeton trade | STLRedbirds.com

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