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.