Sports Illustrated - October 13, 1980
By Jim Kaplan
It was a memorable year. George Brett almost hit .400, the National League had two gut-clenching pennant races, San Francisco's Willie McCovey retired, and the players and owners narrowly averted a strike. At times the mood got ugly on the field as pitchers threw at hitters and the hitters took their anger to the mound. But an early season attendance slump, amid the threat of a player walkout, cost baseball another record ticket-selling season. Even so, Los Angeles set a single-season mark by drawing 3,249,287 fans to Dodger Stadium, the Yankees set a record for road attendance (2,461,240), and for the first time every National League team passed the one-million figure at home. Led by the A's Ricky Henderson, three runners stole more than 90 bases, a feat accomplished by only three other players since 1900. The major league total of 3,290 was the highest since 1911.
KC's Brett batted 38 points higher than anyone in baseball and drove in 118 runs in 117 games. Not since Walt Dropo's 144 in 136 games for the 1950 Red Sox has a player had more RBIs than games played. In addition to leading the league in runs and hits, Willie Wilson became the first player to break the 700 at-bat barrier, and he batted .326. Dan Quisenberry (12-7, 3.09) was the stalwart of the Royals' bullpen.
Charlie Finley sold the A's, and Billy Martin managed them to a surprising 83-79 season with a daring brand of "Billy Ball." Highlighting the A's leap from last to second was Henderson's base running (he broke Ty Cobb's league mark of 96 steals), .303 average and 117 walks, and Mike Norris' 22 wins. Although Mickey Rivers (210 hits), Al Oliver (209) and Buddy Bell all batted better than .300, Texas had a 31-46 record in one-and two-run games. The Twins dropped out of contention so quickly that Manager Gene Mauch resigned, forfeiting his $100,000 salary for 1981. Then Minnesota ran off a 12-game winning streak in the final weeks of the season, the longest in the majors this year. Ken Landreaux of the Twins had a 31-game hitting streak but was fined in the middle of it for wearing his socks too high. Flamboyant White Sox President Bill Veeck left baseball, but not before reactivating 57-year-old coach Minnie Minoso to make him the second player to perform in five different decades. Minoso was hitless in his two plate appearances. Seattle Pitcher Rick Honeycutt was given a 10-game suspension for taping a thumbtack on the forefinger of his glove hand to deface the ball. The rest of the team couldn't cut it either, even though the front office fired Darrell Johnson and hired peppery Maury Wills as manager. The Mariners finished with the majors' worst record (59-103). Those who picked California to repeat in the West no doubt expected Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Brian Downing and Dan Ford to have outstanding years again. But because of injuries, they had almost no years at all, and the 1979 Western Division champs didn't even reach .500.
The Yankees won the East after leading from May 14. New Catcher Rick Cerone batted .277 and threw out 47% of the opposition's base stealers. Other stars were Reggie Jackson (.300, 111 RBIs) and Reliever Goose Gossage (28 consecutive perfect innings over one span).
Baltimore fell short despite Ken Singleton's 19 game-winning hits, Steve Stone's 25 victories and Eddie Murray's .300 average, 32 homers and 116 RBIs. Boston's bat-or-bust attack went for naught when Jim Rice slumped and Fred Lynn was injured. At season's end Don Zimmer, a proponent of Boston's one-dimensional approach, was fired as manager. Overshadowed by the headline-grabbing performances of Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper (.352) and Ben Oglivie (.304, 118 RBIs) was the extraordinary play of Brewer Shortstop Robin Yount, who got his 1,000th hit at an earlier age (25) than anyone but Ty Cobb and Al Kaline. The Tigers didn't live up to the preseason hype of Manager Sparky Anderson, who at the end called this "my most disappointing season ever." The Indians prospered with newcomers Joe Charboneau (23 homers), Jorge Orta (.291) and Miguel Dilone (.341, 61 steals). Toronto started fast and, with a 67-95 record, finally finished a season with fewer than 100 losses.
As the players raged against the fans and press and compared rookie Manager Dallas Green to a Gestapo chief, Philadelphia won its fourth Eastern Division title in the last five years. The world-champion Pirates suffered on several fronts—Bill Madlock's 15-day suspension for poking an umpire with his glove, injuries to Dave Parker and Willie Stargell and an off season by Reliever Kent Tekulve—and finished third. Newcomer Ron LeFlore's base stealing and 95 runs helped the Expos give Philadelphia a run for its money. The Cubs dropped to last place in the East as Dave Kingman missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. Five .300 hitters and four different managers couldn't atone for dreadful Cardinal pitching. The Mets turned quite a trick in dropping from .500 and four games out in July to 28 games under and 24 back at season's end. Still, they finished out of the cellar for the first time since 1976.
Houston could have lost hope when Pitcher J.R. Richard (10-4) suffered a stroke on July 30. Instead, Vern Ruhle came from oblivion to win 12 times, Joe Niekro added 20 victories and the bullpen saved 41 games. The Dodgers got stalwart performances from Jerry Reuss (18-6) and Dusty Baker (.294, 29 homers, 97 RBIs). One of the Reds' few boasts was Johnny Bench's career home-run record (356) for catchers. Atlanta's season began with a 1-9 record and laggard attendance; it ended with an 81-80 record and an attendance of more than one million for the first time since 1971. In San Francisco, Giant Third Baseman Darrell Evans made three errors in one inning and Manager Dave Bristol blackened the eye of Pitcher John Montefusco. San Diego broadcaster-turned-manager Jerry Coleman signaled for a relief pitcher and then attempted to reverse himself. No wonder that at season's end he was sent back to the broadcasting booth.
Dilly of a Win for Philly
By Steve Wulf
Like children stuck inside on a bad day, the Phillies were restless. Their little date with destiny was being held up by a steady Montreal rain. In the Philadelphia locker room Del Unser and Marty Bystrom were practicing their golf swings with bats, Nino Espinosa was playing basketball with his sanitary hose, Lonnie Smith was reading the Saturday funnies. Mike Schmidt leaned back in his cubicle, cradling his bat and enduring a bad cold. Ron Reed woke up the clubhouse boy, Bushy, with a mock slap. Steve Carlton walked silently, and Larry Bowa paced, looking, in his red stocking cap, like one of Santa Claus' more crazed elves. Tim McCarver chanted "Booorrring" and fiddled with a giant radio. After Kenny Rogers finally won out over disco, the words of The Gambler filled the room. "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."
The Phillies know now. Ten hours later, ribbons of champagne—Mumm's Cordon Rouge Brut to be exact—were filling the room as the players hugged, kissed and sprayed each other. As wild celebrations go, this one was pretty wild, but who could blame them? By beating the Cubs Monday through Thursday and then sweeping the first two games of what amounted to a best-of-three mini-playoff series with the Expos, Philadelphia won its fourth East Division title in five years.
Saturday's coup de grace may have been The Silliest Game Ever Played, but it was representative of the Phillies' whole season. Not many people expected Philadelphia to win the division, and not many people expected the Phillies to win Saturday, not after they committed five errors and four base-running mistakes and hit into a classic centerfielder-to-shortstop-to-third baseman-to-second baseman-to-third baseman-to-catcher double play. But they hung in there, thanks largely to two of the most overdue Phils, Greg Luzinski, who singled in two runs in the seventh to give them a 3-2 lead, and Bob Boone, who singled in the tying run with two outs in the ninth. That left it all up to Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt, the two men most responsible for winning the 2-1 game the night before and the two who had been winning—and saving—games all through September. McGraw came in to pitch the last three innings, allowing only one base runner, the solitary one he gave the Expos in seven innings over the last two weeks of the season. Schmidt, who was feeling truly awful, crushed a 2-0 fastball from Stan Bahnsen into the leftfield seats in the top of the 11th with a man on. The home run ball was so clearly gone that Jerry White, the Expos' leftfielder, froze in his footsteps and didn't bother to look. He, too, felt truly awful.
It was bound to be a weird game. A steady rain delayed the start three hours and 10 minutes, time enough for 248 members of the media to consume 660 hot dogs and sip 1,100 cups of coffee. National League President Chub Feeney had suggested calling the game off and scheduling it as part of a Sunday doubleheader, but all parties decided to wait, and at 5:25 the game started. "The field was worse than it was for that 1977 playoff game with the Dodgers," said Bowa, referring to the 4-1 Phillie loss that has become the standard for games that shouldn't have taken place.
The Phillies played much of Saturday's game as if they had a death wish. In the bottom of the first, Second Baseman Manny Trillo made a fine stop of a ground ball hit by Rowland Office that hung up Rodney Scott between third and home. Instead of throwing to the plate, Trillo held the ball and then tossed to first to nip Office. Scott finally broke for home and beat the throw from Pete Rose, but after he missed touching the plate, Catcher Keith Moreland slapped on a tag for the double play.
But the most ridiculous play of all came in the seventh with the bases loaded and none out for the Phils. Luzinski, batting cleanup despite a .225 average, got the green light on a 3-0 pitch from Steve Rogers and singled cleanly up the middle, scoring two runs. But Schmidt was caught in a rundown between second and third, and then Luzinski was pickled between first and second. If you're scoring, or if you're a telephone operator, that's 8-6-5-4-5-2.
The Expos went back ahead in the seventh because Trillo, a Gold Glove, missed an easy popup with one out. Ron LeFlore, limited to pinch-running because of a broken wrist, stole second and went to third when the throw got away. Pinch hitter John Tamargo walked, and his pinch runner, Tim Raines, stole second. White, who had driven in the Expos' two runs with a third-inning homer off Larry Christenson, hit a sacrifice fly, and then Scott doubled in Raines to give Montreal a 4-3 lead. The Phillies have been through this before.
The 50,794 moistened Expo fans took heart when their savior, Woodie Fryman, came in to strike out Garry Maddox with men on first and second and two outs in the eighth. But in the ninth he walked Rose to lead off the inning. McBride nearly hit into a double play, but arrived at first at the same time as the throw, and First Base Umpire Dick Stello graciously gave the Phillies the benefit of the doubt. Schmidt then hit a nubber to third that should have been an infield hit, but Stello blew the call and signaled him out. Even the umpires were getting into the swing of things. With two out and McBride on second, Boone, who didn't start because of his .228 average, singled up the middle to tie the game.
Montreal, meanwhile, was getting nowhere with McGraw. On Friday night he had struck out five of the six batters he faced, and in the ninth on Saturday he whiffed Larry Parrish and Jerry Manuel and got Tim Wallach to pop up. McGraw ran into a little trouble in the 10th when White led off with a single, went to second on a sacrifice and to third on a ground ball to first. Dallas Green came out of the dugout to ask McGraw if he'd rather face Andre Dawson or walk him to get to Gary Carter. McGraw chose Dawson, made the centerfielder miss two screwballs and then threw a fastball by him for strike three.
Rose led off the top of the 11th with a single, and after McBride popped out, Schmidt stepped to the plate. His 47th homer had won the game Friday night, but he had failed to put this one away in the fifth when he struck out with the bases loaded and none out. Bahnsen went 2-0 and then threw a fastball over the plate. Schmidt's 48th homer set a major league record for third basemen and was his fourth game-winning RBI in the Phillies' last five victories. "I have to be MVP," Schmidt later said, and he's right.
The Expos deserved better, but then, as one Phillie put it, "They'll just have to go through what we went through." Of the 18 games the two teams played, including a meaningless 8-7 Montreal win over Philadelphia in the season finale on Sunday, the Expos won nine and the Phillies nine, and 10 of the games were decided by one run. That's how close the two teams were. But all the Expos had to show for their troubles were the Youppi dolls—replicas of the team mascot—left in each locker Saturday night. They each were hoping for a ring.
"It was another great year, but we're second again," said Montreal Manager Dick Williams. "It just wasn't to be. We only needed one more out to take it to Sunday, but we couldn't do that. Why don't you [writers] go over to where the party is? Go get some champagne."
The party was in full swing. Keith Moreland was screaming, "They picked us fourth. Too many old goats and young cats." Smith sat high up on one of the lockers, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Some of the players started pouring baby powder on each other along with the champagne. Carlton—yes, he speaks—said, "Good champagne."
Ironically, the two players who couldn't fully enjoy themselves were Schmidt and McGraw. Schmidt was still feeling woozy. "I hope I don't have to stay sick to keep hitting," he said. And McGraw's stomach was staging a revolution. "I was so tense," he said. "But then I looked at our catcher, Don McCormack. Here's a kid who's called up in September to observe, and he gets into the biggest game of the year by accident. He's sitting behind the plate, smiling, in total control, having a good time. I looked at him and how could I not pitch well?"
McGraw is just a few nationally televised thigh whacks from becoming an American treasure. His screwball ways and good humor have always kept teammates and writers happy, but it was thought he might be through last year after his ERA skied to 5.14 and he tied a league record for giving up the most grand-slam homers (4) in a season. But this season has been, as he says, his "redeemer." It's been a redeemer for many of the Phillies, who played right through their primes with a lot of disappointment to show for it. "Everybody was saying we didn't care," said Bowa during the celebration. "Well, we care. You better believe we care."
After Friday night's victory, Schmidt was led into a huge interview room which the Expos had set up in anticipation of the playoffs. Schmidt climbed the stage, looked at the microphone and the crowd of reporters and said, "Is this what they do for the World Series?" Although Schmidt may yet find out for himself, he and the other Phillies would do well to remember the rest of the refrain from The Gambler. "You never count your money when it's sittin' on the table, there'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done."