RHP 1975-83, 85-86 White Sox, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Brewers
Vuckovich was selected by the Blue Jays in the expansion draft and, although mostly
used in relief, threw the first shutout in Blue Jay history, a 2-0 victory over Jim
Palmer and the Orioles. Traded to the Cardinals for 1978, he started more often and
finished third in the NL in ERA with a 2.55 mark while going 12-12. Used almost exclusively
in the rotation thereafter, his ERA went up but he posted 15-10 and 12-9 records
before being traded to Milwaukee in December 1980 with Rollie Fingers and Ted Simmons
for Sixto Lezcano, David Green, Dave LaPoint, and Lary Sorensen. The deal made the
Brewers instant contenders and soon led to their first pennant.
Pitching for an
offensive powerhouse helped Vuckovich go 14-4 in the 1981 strike season, tying for
the AL lead in wins and finishing first in winning percentage despite a mediocre
3.54 ERA. Milwaukee won the second-half title in the split season, and Vuckovich
won Game Four of the divisional playoff against the Yankees 2-1.
When the Brewers
finally won the pennant in 1982, Vuckovich won the Cy Young Award. He was 18-6, tying
for the AL lead in winning percentage and finishing in a three-way tie for second
in wins. His 3.34 ERA and 1.03-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio were the worst ever at
the time for a Cy Young winner, but there were no strong candidates for the award
(the wins leader, Lamarr Hoyt, went 19-15 with a 3.53 ERA). The Brewers' unofficial
motto that year was "winning ugly," referring to high-scoring games that weren't
"pretty." Many players, including Vuckovich, went unshaven on game days to play up
the idea, and Vuckovich's record certainly reflected the strong offensive support
"Harvey's Wallbangers" provided him. He lost Game Two of the LCS to the Angels 4-2,
but did keep Milwaukee in the game in their clinching victory, leaving in the seventh
inning down 3-2. In the World Series, the Cardinals beat him 6-2 in Game Three, and
he got a no-decision in the final loss.
Vuckovich had been battling shoulder pain
for two seasons; in spring training 1983, it was discovered that he'd torn his rotator
cuff. He skipped surgery in favor of an exercise rehabilitation program and spent
most of the summer doing color commentary on Brewers cable TV broadcasts. He attempted
an unsuccessful comeback for three games in September and then missed all of 1984.
Subsequent and prolonged comeback attempts all failed. In the 1989 movie Major
League, Vuckovich played a minor role as the Yankees ' slugging first baseman.