John Stuper: Forever a St. Louis Cardinal

Catching up with 1980's St. Louis Cardinals pitching star John Stuper, baseball coach at Yale University.

As the college baseball gets ready to kick off, I had the chance to catch up with former St. Louis Cardinal John Stuper. Why would I talk college baseball with the former World Series hero? Because he is the Head Coach of the Yale University baseball program.

In seems hard to believe that it has now been over 25 years since John Stuper put together one of the greatest performances for a rookie in World Series history. With the Cardinals down three games to two, Stuper went out and dominated the Brewers, helping to even the 1982 Series with a 13-1 Cardinal victory. During that Series, Stuper became just the 14th rookie ever to start two games of a World Series.

Stuper made his Major League debut on June 1, 1982 at St. Louis. In that game, he allowed six hits in eight innings against the San Francisco Giants, but ended with a no-decision as future Cardinal Jack Clark singled in Darrell Evans in the top of the 11th and the Giants won 4-3.

During his rookie season, Stuper went 9-7 with a 3.36 ERA in 137 innings, including two complete games. In 1983, he posted a 12-11 record in 198 innings with a 3.68 ERA, including six complete games. During the 1984 season, Stuper was hit by the injury bug and made only 12 starts for the Cards with his last appearance being June 26. On September 9, 1984, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder Paul Householder.

For the Reds, Stuper appeared in 33 games, including 13 starts, during the 1985 season. Stuper's final professional game was on October 4, 1985. After that season, he was traded in a multiple player deal to the Montreal Expos. The Expos released him on April 1, 1986.

Fortunately, his career in baseball did not end when his playing days were over. After earning his master's degree, Stuper came back to the Cardinals as a Minor League instructor and coach until Yale University hired him before the 1993 season as the 16th Mazzuto Family Head Coach in the school's history.

The 50-year-old is now entering his 16th season as the head coach of the Bulldogs. Stuper's rookie season at Yale was as successful as his rookie season in the big leagues and his team won a school-record 33 games including earning a Regional appearance as well as stealing a school record 160 bases and breaking many other Yale records. The right-hander reached the 100-win mark faster than any Yale coach and oversaw the best four-year period in the school's history.

Stuper has seen 22 of his players sign professional contracts, the most recent being Marc Sawyer, a 2007 15th round selection of the Chicago Cubs. His teams have won two Ivy League titles and three Red Wolfe Division titles.

One of is current players, Ryan Lavarnway, is the second All-American he has coached during his tenure at Yale. During 2007, Lavarnway led the nation in hitting and slugging and should be Stuper's 23rd player to sign a professional contract.

John, along with his wife Pam, who is the Head Field Hockey Coach at Yale, created World Class Sports. It is a camp that offers instruction in baseball and field hockey.

I had a chance to interview Stuper recently. The first question I had to ask was about his title, Mazzuto Family Head Coach.



Dustin Mattison: First off, please explain your title, Mazzuto Family Head Coach for Baseball.

John Stuper: My position, like eight other coaching positions here at Yale is now endowed. John Mazzuto, who is a 1970 Yale graduate and former baseball player, graciously and generously donated 1.5 million dollars to endow my position. We are so grateful to him.

DM: I must admit that in the Midwest, we don't follow the Ivy League very closely. But it seems that if your pitching comes around, Yale has a good chance at the Ivy League title. How is your team looking?

JS: I am very excited about this year's team. We struggled last year, but a nice influx of young talent gives me reason for optimism. We have at least three legitimate pro prospects on the mound and some pretty good depth. We are young in two key positions (3B and SS) but I really have liked what I have seen. It all revolves around the guys on the mound, and that is my source for greatest optimism. Additionally, we have Ryan Lavarnway, and the other teams don't.

DM: What are your feelings on the new universal start date for college baseball?

JS: I like the universal start. We in the Northeast and Midwest hope it evens things out a bit. Case in point: in the old days, often teams in warm weather areas had games under their belt before we had even practiced! We go on our spring trip in March, and our first game would be versus a team with 15 or more games under their belt. Hard to win in that situation, and it will come back and haunt you later when it comes to at-large bids to the tournament.

DM: Your first season at Yale was your most successful. Is it difficult to find such success so early in your career and does that put unfair expectations on your program?

JS: I am the one who puts expectations on our program. We won a championship in my first two years. We have been competitive ever since, with a few exceptions. I believe there are other ways to measure a program's success, although winning and losing is number one. Pro signees, what your kids do after graduation, how they view their time here, etc… I think we score high marks in all those areas, and for that I am quite proud.

DM: How did playing for Whitey Herzog influence the way you manage?

JS: Whitey was the best. I learned much from him. Preparation, taking risks, being aggressive, having faith in your players, getting your entire roster involved, handling a pitching staff; I think he was terrific. I also think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. The two managers I watch closely now are Mike Scioscia and Tony La Russa. Mike is the closest to Whitey in style and Tony may go down as the best ever. I admire them both.

DM: What about Pete Rose?

JS: I actually just saw Pete recently. I would prefer not to comment on that situation.

DM: You spent time with the Cardinals as an instructor after your playing career. How did that help you get ready to be a head coach?

JS: Working for the Cardinals for two years was invaluable. I was a pitching coach and got to see every mechanical flaw you can imagine. It helped me become a better coach. The college atmosphere is different, but they are both teaching atmospheres. I have had feelers over the years about a return to pro ball. I have a great situation here at Yale, but I would never rule out a return to pro ball in the right situation.

DM: Tell me about your memories of the 1982 postseason, especially Game 6 of the World Series.

JS: 1982 was a long time ago, but when I return to St. Louis for the Winter Warm-Up, it seems like yesterday. There are no fans like Cardinal fans. Living in Connecticut, I am surrounded by Red Sox and Yankees fans. They talk about "Red Sox Nation." Please...there is nothing like the sea of red you see at Busch. The loyalty, support and memory of fans is incredible. I am so proud of being a Cardinal. I am proud I was a contributing member of a world championship team. I have often said that when I return to St. Louis, the fans treat me like Bob Gibson. Anyone who ever saw me pitch knows I was no Bob Gibson. But I will always be a Cardinal.

DM: This is a generational question. Do most of your players know that you put together one of the most impressive rookie pitching performances in World Series history?

JS: My players know a lot about my career. After all, it is the internet age and they are Yale guys. They ask me lots of questions, and as an old timer, I am glad to oblige with stories!

DM: You had good success early in your career and then saw that promise cut short by injury. Do you ever look back and wonder "what if"?

JS: I was very blessed in my career. I was part of a World Series champion, played for and with Pete Rose and was on the bench when he broke the hit record, and I played with and against many Hall of Famers. I have no regrets whatsoever. I wish I could have played longer, but I am grateful for the years I had. One of my biggest thrills was two years ago when I was an invited guest to Bruce Sutter's Hall of Fame induction. I was so happy for him. He has come to a number of our Yale golf outings. He is a great friend.

DM: Personally, I have become a big fan of college baseball over the past couple of years. What do you see as the biggest differences between the professional game and Division I baseball?

JS: The biggest difference is probably class time and other commitments that your players have. You don't have as many games and you have a lot of practices, so you probably teach more in the college game. You know that while pretty much all of your players want to play pro ball, the reality is that most won't.

DM: Tell me about Ryan Lavarnway. From what I have read there is a lot to like.

JS: Ryan is special. Big and strong (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) Powerful. Tough. Hard worker. Had a phenomenal year last year. Led the nation in hitting and slugging percentage. Could he have had those stats playing in the SEC? Probably not, but he is the real deal. The best position player prospect I have had in 16 years at Yale.

DM: You have had 22 players sign professional contracts. Tell me what advice you offer from your experiences.

JS: I just relate my experience, both as a player and as a coach. I want them to know what to expect. I do not sugarcoat it. Pro ball is a grind. It isn't easy. I also do not stand in their way if they wish to leave early. If they are ready, they have my blessing. I have always said I was in this for the kids. I got into coaching because I wanted to affect young people's lives. I believe, at the risk of sounding immodest, that I have stayed true to that

DM: Tell me about World Class Sports.

JS: My wife and I started World Class Sports. She is the Head Field Hockey Coach here. She was on the National Team for nine years. She played in three World Cups. I envy her because she had USA across her chest for nine years. That is the one thing in my career that I long to do. I am very patriotic and would do anything to have USA across my chest. Anyway, we run baseball and Field Hockey camps during the summer. Some of it is recruiting; some of it is for little kids. We enjoy it.

I thank John for his time and wish he and his Yale club a successful 2008.



Dustin Mattison can be reached via email at dustin@whiteyball.com.

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