A Team of Destiny - Richard Summers

Could it be luck?


Could it be fate?


Could it be coincidence?


Or could it be destiny?


As I continued work on this website, I was thinking long and hard about the “miracle season” of 1980. Any reasonable baseball man would have figured that, if the Phillies of that era were to win the Series, it would have been 1976.  Or 1977. Or 1978. Or even 1979. On paper, all four of those teams were better than the team that took the field in 1980.


But none of those teams had the intangibles that were present in the 1980 squad. Call it desire. Call it heart. Call it destiny. The American Heritage Dictionary, gives three definitions for the word destiny.


1. The inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; lot.


How many of us can honestly say that winning the World Series seemed inevitable after suffering a four-game sweep at the hands of the Pirates in late August? How hard was it to keep the faith after losing two of three to the Expos, to fall a half-game behind with only seven to play, three of which were against the same Expos?


How bad memories had to flood the thoughts and emotions of long-suffering Phillies fans that autumnal September evening. Were we to witness another collapse, like the 1964 team. Were we to fall short of the Holy Grail, like the ninety-six season before? Would this be another promising season that ends in disappointment? Would the Fightin’ Phils go one more season without a World Championship?


And yet, unlike the prior editions of the Phillies, this one did not quit.  They did not lose ten straight games to finish second. Instead, they won six in a row to pass the Expos and clinch their fourth division crown in five years.


2. The predetermined or inevitable course of events considered as something beyond the power or control of man.


Yes, the Phillies had been this far before. Three years in a row, the Phillies won the division. Three years in a row, they went home in disappointment and defeat. Those teams had won 101, 101, and 90 games.  How would the 1980 team outrun the ghosts of playoffs past?


Even after a big win in game one, there had to be doubts among the Phillies faithful. Like Pavlov’s dogs, the fans had become used to bitter disappointment. The win in game one was the set-up. Surely defeat and sorrow had to follow. After losses in games two and three, it appeared that the nay-sayers were right. The Phillies would be going home once more as a near-miss team.


But the team, this team would not quit. Facing elimination, the Phillies came back to win game four, even though they trailed as late as the eighth inning. In game five the lead changed several times, but the Phillies found themselves trailing in the eighth inning once more. But the team surged to take the lead, lose it, and gain in back again before finally wrapping the game up in the tenth inning and winning their first pennant in thirty years.


Twice the team was within six outs of being eliminated. Twice the team went into extra innings, in what was truly “do or die” for their season. The Phillies stared the baseball equivalent of the Grim Reaper in the eye, and they forced Death himself to blink.


3. The power or agency thought to predetermine events; fate


The Phillies may have accomplished something grand in winning the pennant, but the team had done that before. The Phils were now trying to blaze a trail to an uncharted land, and win the World Series.


The Phillies were huge underdogs to their opponents, the Kansas City Royals. The Royals won 97 games in 1980. The Royals beat the mighty Yankees in three straight games. The Royals had George Brett, who made a serious run at the magic .400 mark before settling for a .390 batting average.  Dennis Leonard won 20 games for the team. Larry Gura won 18. The list goes on and on. Most experts, and even many Phillies fans, thought that the team would meet its match in the Series.


Seemingly thumbing his nose at the experts, manager Dallas Green started a rookie in the most important game in Philadelphia in at least thirty years. Bob Walk struggled, but came away with a 7-6 victory to put the Phillies within three games of the ultimate victory. Another win in game two helped the Phillies fans gain some confidence about their team’s chances.


That comfort was to be short-lived, however, as the Phils fell to the Royals in both game three and game four. In the pivotal game five, the Phillies were within three outs of losing and once more facing elimination. However, as they had many times before in this season, the team dug in, found the answer deep within themselves, and were able to pull off yet another comeback and win the game, moving within one tantalizing game of the team’s first world championship.


And in game six comes no truer picture of the team’s destiny than in the bottom of the ninth, with one out, when Frank White popped up in front of the Phillies dugout. Bob Boone, one of the surest-handed catchers in the game, bobbled and dropped the ball. Another heart-breaker for the Phillies? Another in a long line of near-misses? Another bitter disappointment for the Phillies faithful? No- instead, first baseman Pete Rose grabbed the ball out of mid-air, securing the second out in the inning. Thousands of Phillies fans in the stands, and millions more watching at home, had long been dreaming of a World Series victory for their team. One out later, that dream would, after nearly a century, become a reality.


Phillies fans have endured much over the long and glorious history of baseball. Years, even decades of losing baseball. Promising season ending in disaster and disappointment. Nine-and-a-half decades of baseball without a single world championship. One may call it luck, fate, or coincidence, but the Phillies played like a team that envisioned their destiny. And, as a result, they fulfilled their destiny.