I am twenty-nine years old, an age which is not generally considered “old”, per se, but an age at which there is a major cultural difference between me and many of you who are younger than I am, particularly if you are several years younger than I am. I spent the first decade-plus of my life without access to the internet.
I don’t mean “I didn’t have a smartphone” or even “I didn’t have high-speed internet”; I mean “I had not used the internet at all”. It technically existed my entire life but it wasn’t widespread and my family were, generally speaking, not particularly early adopters of technology anyway. I vividly remember the Friday night my dad brought home some America Online free trials discs home (after having taken an adult education course at our local public library about the internet and having his mind blown–I recognize that for somebody who is a teenager today this sounds insane, but it wasn’t a particularly uncommon point of entry), and we used our family’s Windows 95-capable PC to access the internet. I remember being blown away by things we take for granted. The idea that you could type in “espn dot com” and within thirty seconds or so (web pages didn’t load as quickly as they do now), you could see the scores of that night’s baseabll games on demand was absurd. It was a quantum leap.
The point in this anecdote is to say that I grew up partially in an era of limited information. My most treasured annual Christmas gift for many years in a row was a sports almanac with which I could, say, look up who won the Stanley Cup in 1986. Meanwhile, I just looked up the answer by barking the question to Alexa. Information was incomplete and too sparse to be on-demand. You took what you got and you consumed it. And I consumed Heck of a Year.
Heck of a Year, for the uninitiated, was the name of a 1985 St. Louis Cardinals season highlight film. It is a seminal artifact of its era for three main reasons, none of which have to do with the film’s relative quality (it’s fine, but it’s not like it was being nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards). One, it covers a very popular Cardinals team. Two, it was released right around the time that home video was becoming an attainable luxury good for the non-wealthy. Three, in a mix of the first two, there weren’t that many teams that conceivably could have become ubiquitous–any team pre-1982 that made the postseason would’ve been far too early and any team 2000 or later was too late. This was the sweet spot.
The 1985 Cardianls were particularly meaningful for my parents. They were married on October 12 of that year–the Cardinals won Game 3 of the NLCS that day, and tales of Tom Herr’s home run which gave the Cardinals a 4-0 lead spreads throughout the proceedings as they occurred. My parents were firmly working class, which meant they weren’t especially in the market for luxurious worldwide travel for their honeymoon. But they could afford something. So they went to Game 5 of the NLCS. This game will probably come up later.
Heck of a Year sat in our basement growing up, so I watched it a lot. I also rented the highlight film for the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils probably a dozen times from Dierbergs because, like I said, information was scarce. But until we got the 1999 St. Louis Rams official highlight video, Heck of a Year was my jam.
I don’t remember the video all that well, but it exists in its full form on YouTube, which I think is awesome. Let me be clear–I am not glorifying the days of scarce information. It it way better now. Also, I’ve spent the night drinking and feel like watching this video and telling everybody my thoughts and opinions on it.
But before I live-blog it (after like 700 words), a few notes:
- I’m watching the video on YouTube via my Roku on a 46-inch television because THE MODERN ERA OWNS
- I am watching this video safely at home. Don’t drink and drive.
- I might pause the video if one of these football games I was going to watch get good. But I’ll get back to work. I labor for you people.
This video is 44 minutes and 18 seconds long. My timestamps are approximate based on how quickly I pause the video. But here’s a link so you can follow along if you choose.
- 0:18–Often, an overarching narrative is used in these films. For the 1994-95 Devils video, it was that they had lost in heartbreaking fashion in the previous season. For the 1999 Rams, it was that they were terrible their first four seasons (and their last twelve seasons) in St. Louis. This one jumps straight into the action, though, showing a seemingly benign play–a Game 1 of the World Series foul out off the bat of Steve Balboni in which Terry Pendleton also threw out a runner at home. Interesting idea.
- 0:36–Okay, this seems more like a narrative for a video: the trade which sent closer Bruce Sutter to the Atlanta Braves. Ted Turner used the phrase “tickled pink” to describe the acquisition. Following this is the final out of Game 1, a flyout to Todd Worrell.
- 1:08–Dal Maxvill, who was the general manager of the Cardinals, discusses the departure of Bruce Sutter and their felt need to bolster the bullpen. The further removed I get from 2013, when I went to Casino Queen and some old guy was at the bar talking about how he was Dal Maxvill (and other old guys were talking about how he was Dal Maxvill), the more I think it probably wasn’t actually Dal Maxvill, but that’s just a lot less fun.
- 1:36–According to something called Sport Magazine, which sounds like a fake magazine your Be A Pro in NBA 2K games is interviewed by, the Cardinals were picked to finish in sixth place out of six in the NL East. This is frankly insane. I get why they weren’t favorites–the New York Mets of that era were pretty incrdible. But the Cardinals finished in 3rd in 1984 and did people really think Bruce Sutter mattered that much? I am more convinced than ever that if you sent me back to 1985, I’d be the greatest GM in the league. I’d also probably take up discovering Guns N’ Roses in my spare time.
- 1:55–Sporting News also picked the Cardinals to finish in last whyyyyyyyyyy
- 1:58–They showed a play from Game 6 of the World Series where Jorge Orta was ruled safe as Todd Worrell ran to first base. Tough call at the time but I gotta say, I think the runner was out. Oh well!
- 2:19–Amicable veteran starter Bob Forsch enters the screen and says a quick synopsis about winning a tough division and such and then closes the quote by saying, “We had a heck of a year.” That’s the name of this movie!
- 2:31–White typeface on a black screen about the time (1985), the place (the National League), and the shape (the St. Louis Cardinals), followed by the “Heck of a Year” title. This movie basically looks like a trailer. I’ve heard the same thing said about Goodfellas.
- 3:08–Maxvill comes on and says that Vince Coleman promised to be in St. Louis the whole year despite his assertion that Coleman was only going to be in St. Louis for a few games while Willie McGee nursed an injury. I think not!
- 3:43–In showing a Vince Coleman triple, there is a straight-on look at the 1985 logo of the Atlanta Braves. No…I mean, no. Why…who thought that was a good idea?
- 3:48–Mike Shannon announces a Terry Pendleton grand slam and he sounds so young. By the time I was listening to games, Shannon was exiting his prime as an announcer, and Jack Buck was past it, but I now recall that this video is full of vintage moments from both of these announcers. I’ll eventually have fewer comments as this video goes as I soak in the sounds of these legends and the sights of dudes in trucker hats at old Busch Stadium wearing short-shorts and no shirts. This used to be a thing. I don’t know why.
- 4:10–Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” starts to play. And the highlights are…weirdly benign. Like, they show Ozzie Smith starting a double play, but through a pretty routine grounder. Also, there’s a weird cartoon with a cardinal walking around (you know, the type of movement cardinals are most known for participating in). Also, I hate this song. I’m sure people of a certain age like hearing Female Version Of Meat Loaf here but I just don’t get it, man.
- 6:00–Whitey Herzog talks about how much he likes Lonnie Smith, who lost his job mid-season to Vince Coleman. He says at 6:24 that “if the National League had the DH, (Lonnie) would’ve died a Cardinal.” I don’t want to make a DH argument here, but I love that Whitey Herzog likes the DH. Just, as a matter of principle, it seems so counter to everything I know about what those who talk about the 1980s Cardinals like the only Cardinals teams that ever matters think about the DH.
- 6:26–An interview with “Dan Thompson: Cardinals fan”. They literally just brought in some guy to interview. His talking head is fine, but ultimately it provides no real insight and anyone could’ve done it. Speaking of Talking Heads, they released “Road to Nowhere” in September 1985. Would’ve been a better song to use than “Holding Out for a Hero.” Just throwing this out there.
- 7:45–An interview with “Roy Green: Cardinals fan”. As far as I can tell, this is the Roy Green who was a two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the football Cardinals. Reduced to “Cardinals fan”. Maybe Dan Thompson was locally famous, too. I don’t care enough to research any further.
- 8:20–Bob Forsch hits a home run and the Cardinals reach .500 on May 22. On May 26, they go above .500. Just remember this the next time the Cardinals are slow out of the gate.
- 8:56–Rick Hummel appearance! Being a Cardinals writer is like being on the Supreme Court–you get it as long as you want it. Does this mean you’re stuck with me forever? Of course not–this doesn’t qualify as writing.
- 13:18–The demented looking cardinal cartoon is back. His eyes are bulging and he just struggled mightily to open a door.
- 13:39–Absolutely nobody in 2018 associates the Hall of Fame inductions of Enos Slaughter and Lou Brock with the 1985 season, but I guess at the time, this was a bigger deal. It’s nice to have these primary sources to better understand history.
- 15:30–Terry Pendleton, who was pretty bad in 1985, is getting a lot of interview time.
- 15:52–Mike Claiborne is here now. How old is he? He doesn’t seem that old now, at least to me, and this was *33* years ago. So even if he had just gotten out of college, that means he’s in his mid-fifties now.
- 16:36–Whitey Herzog is making me reconsider my preconceived notions of him. He’s perceived as this anti-sabermetrics bastion but, like, why? His teams ran a lot, but it’s not like he had access to great power hitters. But he speaks of park adjustments with an almost religious fervor in analyzing why he was excited to bring in John Tudor, noting the difficulty of a lefty pitching at Fenway Park and lack of defensive support in his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I demand a proper reevaluation!
- 17:28–Vince Coleman gets caught in a dumb run-down between third and home and somehow scores because baseball is a weird and dumb sport and also baseball players weren’t as smart in 1985 as they are now and also a lot of them were high as kites, don’t at me please.
- 17:48–Donald Fehr makes an appearance here? Oh yeah, there was a strike in 1985. It lasted two days. That’s weird.
- 18:29–Finally, the presence of an off-brand version of Glenn Frey’s “The Heat is On”. I don’t think I even realized that Glenn Frey was in the Eagles until I was a teenager because I associated him so much with this song and this movie. Also, I was a teenager in the 2000s so honestly what good did knowing anything about the Eagles do me?
- 19:40–Not gonna lie, when “Peg Geolat: Cardinals fan” came on screen to explain being a female Cardinals fan in 1985, I was slightly worried that it would turn into a condescending, poorly-aged tidbit. But not at all, actually–she talks about how she goes to games with other women and how they truly enjoy the games and how they often have to explain the game to male fans. I approve of this.
- 20:26–It took nearly half the movie for us to get the first appearance of Jack Clark’s Unibrow. I’m outraged. But then “The Heat is On” came back on so we’re good again. Including four consecutive bats on balls to coincide with a four-beat drum break. Good work, whoever compiled this.
- 22:58–Dan Thompson is back and nobody let him know where the camera is facing, as he looks slightly off-center.
- 24:57–Long-time St. Louis Blues announcer Ken Wilson makes an appearance yelling for a Tom Herr walk-off home run. Also, I want to point out that very few fans in the stands that they show are wearing Cardinals things and nowadays if you wear normal street clothes to a game, you’re the weirdo. I want to bring back wearing whatever you want. Down with the haters.
- 28:10–“(John) Tudor is one out away from his 20th win.” Oh no please tell me they aren’t going to do that “actually Tudor should’ve won the Cy Young” thing that Randy Karraker has been doing for years on the radio because, while Tudor had a great season, Dwight Gooden may have had the greatest season in modern baseball history. He should’ve won MVP, not just the Cy Young Award. I’m scared.
Okay, Notre Dame/USC is close in the fourth quarter. I’ll be back.
Okay, I’m back.
- 29:22–After venturing strongly into pop music, a montage of relievers such as Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley is met with a classical song I definitely know but can’t remember the title. My guess was “Peter and the Wolf”, which is incorrect. But who cares, let’s just call it “Peter and the Wolf”.
The internet told me “Hey, check out this LSU/Texas A&M game! It’s almost over!” So I did. And then Texas A&M tied it up and it went to overtime. And then it went SEVEN OVERTIMES. Anyway, I’m now very tired and wish for this video to end so I can go to bed.
- 30:59–Willie McGee, who actually had a season worthy of the Boomer-guided hype he’s had ever since, said he didn’t expect to have this good of a season in Spring Training. Neither did anybody else with rational baseball takes, Willie. Neither did…they.
- 35:22–Amidst the highlight of the Cardinals clinching the NL East, a hilarious Busch Memorial Stadium graphic of Fredbird…I don’t know how to explain this really. Jumbotrons or whatever iteration this was were very remedial and strange at this point and you have the link to the video if you want to understand what’s going on (you won’t, but you’ll at least have a better mental image than I can present through my mediocre way with words).
- 35:49–Video board shows a visual stating “California here we come”, which is a phrase I honest to God thought came from that song from The O.C., a show which was inexplicably extremely popular when I was exactly the right age to watch it. Did I watch The O.C.? Not really. Do I know a lot more about it than I think I should based on friends who watched it and watching episodes with them during a pre-Netflix era of television? Well, golly, yes.
- More a general comment than a specific time one: It’s weird that there’s no narration. They’re recapping the early games of the postseason and, well, it’s just a seemingly random assembly of highlights. You can’t really tell context if you don’t already know it. It’s strange.
- 38:35–Vince Coleman’s weird tarp injury, which happened the day after my parents’ aforementioned wedding. Seriously, dude got rolled up the freaking tarp. Cardinals Devil Magic, though. Totally.
- 39:32–Game 5 starts! It’s the only game in the 1985 season I’ve watched in its entirety (not sure if this is high or low considering I was born in 1989; I have, however, listened to R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction and The Smiths’s (sp?) Meat is Murder dozens of times from the same year so it’s not like I’m not willing to dig deep. I just haven’t in this context.
- 40:02–It’s weird to me how nonchalant they treat the Ozzie Smith walkoff home run. Maybe they didn’t expect it to become as iconic as it did. At this point, after all, Ozzie was a popular fourth-year Cardinal but he wasn’t quite the iconic he is today. A minute later, when they show Jack Clark’s go-ahead home run in Game 6, however, they don’t even bother to play an announcer call. It just kind of happens. I think they ran out of steam making this video. I can relate.
- 41:52–Y’all rememeber Smash, the radio personality from decades of St. Louis radio? How about Wolfman Jack, legendary disc jockey you may remember from American Graffiti? Anyway, have you ever seen either of these two men in the same place at the same time as August Busch Jr., the gravelly-voice former owner of the Cardinals who makes appearances in this video? I fully recognize that he was born into wealth, but his ability to sound so defiantly blue-collar is downright impressive.
- And…the movie pretty much ends right there. There’s two minutes of credits. This is basically No Country for Old Men all over again. But, hey, I loved the ending to that movie, so I guess I have to love the ending to this one. More like “heck of a film!”, guys! I’m going to bed! (Note: This post, as should be abundantly obvious, was written last Saturday, and not right before it was published on Monday morning. I’m at work right now)