SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Gorman Thomas is still Stormin' in Milwaukee

Gorman Thomas

RUSSELL K. PACE

The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers were so good they had two nicknames.

Harvey's Wallbangers.

The True Blue Brew Crew.

Manager Harvey Kuenn's colorful team was led by bushy-haired outfielder/prankster Stormin' Gorman Thomas, Charleston's most accomplished baseball player to date. Those relentless Brewers -- also including Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, plus Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie and Ted Simmons -- led the majors in home runs.

They hit it hard off the field, too.

"After the game we went out and had a good time," Thomas said Thursday. "Every night. It didn't matter. We were just such a close team. We did everything together and it was one-for-all, all-for-one."

The year that made Milwaukee famous was almost three decades ago. The 1982 Brewers forced St. Louis to Game 7 of the World Series, and the franchise hasn't been back since.

Maybe this October.

The 2011 Brewers, preparing to host Arizona on Saturday in Game 1 of a National League Division Series, earned Milwaukee's first division title since 1982. A 2008 NL wild card berth was the Brewers' only other playoff appearance in the last 29 years.

20-20 unity

Today, Thomas will attend a pep rally for the Brewers in downtown Milwaukee. He is 60, and still a cherished baseball name in a city that takes the sport seriously. You can buy brats and hot dogs at Gorman's Corner at Miller Park, and he is part of the Walk of Fame in the Wisconsin Center District.

The Philadelphia Phillies are heavy World Series favorites in the National League, but the Brewers -- like the 1982 version -- led the league in homers. It isn't easy pitching around Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart.

Thomas also likes catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and most anyone else, who wears his former jersey number.

"Great kid, a nice Cajun guy," Thomas said. "I came up to Lucroy at batting practice one day and said, 'Do that number proud.' "

Thomas explained to Lucroy that Hall of Famer Lou Brock once told Thomas the same thing.

"It was when I was taking batting practice in St. Louis during the 1982 World Series," Thomas said. "And here comes the great Cardinal, Lou Brock, putting his arm around me and talking about No. 20."

The last out

Thomas and the California Angels' Reggie Jackson tied for the major league home run lead at 39 in 1982.

The Brewers slipped past the Angels in the American League Championship Series. They lost Game 7 of the World Series to the Cardinals, 6-3.

"It's easy to say now, but I think we were the better team," Thomas said. "It just didn't work out. People always see the highlight of me striking out to end the last game of the World Series, but they don't see me fouling off pitches against one of the best closers in baseball, Bruce Sutter."

Thomas, who grew up on James Island and went on to hit 268 big league home runs, gets back to the Lowcountry a few times each year. He and his wife Susie recently spent a week at Folly Beach.

"It was wonderful waking up in the morning and going out there on the beach before sunrise," Thomas said, "but one thing I realized is that I am no longer acclimated to the heat. Last night it was in the 40s here. My friends in Charleston always call me to tell me how nice it is down there, especially when the weather is so cold up here."

Thomas hopes for more calls from Lowcountry buddies in a few weeks, inquiries about World Series tickets.