Baseball Digest - October, 2000
1980 Phillies Capture Club's First World Series Title
By Joe O'Loughlin
When Tug McGraw struck out Royals' Willie Wilson in Game 6, he ended his club's many years of frustration.
"NOTHING CAME EASY THAT year," said Tug McGraw describing the Phillies' 1980 march to the only world championship in the franchise's long (97 years at that point) and painful (innumerable last place finishes) history.
The play that occurred with one out in the top of the ninth in Game 6 of the World Series proved the irrepressible Irishman's point.
Kansas City, the Phils' opponent, had loaded the bases in the top of the ninth (for the third time in the contest). Frank White, the Royals' second baseman, was at bat. McGraw, pitching on pure adrenaline at this point, was on the mound trying to nail down the biggest win in Phils' history.
"We were a much maligned ballclub. People didn't feel we had the leadership maybe to win it all," said Mike Schmidt, the Phils' third baseman.
If ever a team deserved a break it might have been the Phillies who had gotten to the League Championship Series three years running (1976-1978) only to lose each time.
"If you believe in the baseball gods what happened next proved they were finally smiling on us," McGraw pointed out.
Leave it to catcher Bob Boone, the cerebral Stanford grad, to dissect the play a bit more dispassionately.
"White hits a foul pop toward the far end of our (first base) dugout. As a catcher you go after it but you don't call for it because it's the first baseman's ball. So I'm running with all this gear on and I'm thinking `Where the hell is Pete (Rose)?'“
While the Veterans' Stadium crowd of 65,839 held their collective breath that chilly October 21 evening, with visions of postseason debacles past devilishly dancing in their heads, the ball began its swirling descent.
"Now as a catcher with my back to the plate I'm catching the ball at a different angle, over my shoulder, like a wide receiver, that's why its supposed to be the first baseman's ball. But the ball's getting close so I know I have to go for it and it pops out of my mitt. So now I'm mad at myself and I wanted to kill Pete for not calling me off," Boone said with vigor 20 years after the play.
But as the Tugger said, the diamond deities were taking kindly to the Phils this night for as the ball popped out of Boone's mitt, Rose plucked it out of mid-air.
"When that happened a world of failure was lifted off my shoulders, I thought, `Yeah, Pete!' but I still wanted to kill him. Charlie Hustle my butt, I hustled my butt off to even get to a ball that wasn't even mine!" said Boone with a laugh.
That play set the stage for the final out. Willie Wilson, who had suffered through a horrendous World Series (.154; 12 strikeouts), was all that now stood in the way. A dangerous hitter (.326 regular season, major league leader in hits--230) desperately seeking redemption can be a lethal combination.
But the inimitable McGraw found inspiration from the animal kingdom of all places.
"I'm drained. And then I notice the mounted police are circling the field along with German shepherds to keep the fans from storming the diamond. All of a sudden, one of the horses makes a `deposit' on the turf and I thought `If I don't get Wilson out that's what I'll be in this town!'
Then I noticed one of the dogs and thought, `K-9 Corps. That's what I need a K (strikeout) in the 9th!'" he recalled vividly two decades later.
And when Tug struck out Wilson swinging at 11:29 P.M. that night he uncorked a celebration that had been bottled up for almost a century.
"When we won I felt good for all the people in the Phillies' family," said Dallas Green, manager of that ballclub, and now special advisor to Phils' GM, Ed Wade. "(Then owner) Ruly Carpenter had worked hard to build a family type organization. Pope (GM Paul Owens) was my mentor and my friend. The main thing that went through my mind was this was the culmination of the work of all the people of the organization," he emphasized.
But to get to that sweet moment, Green had to come down to the dugout from his position as farm director to replace Danny Ozark on August 31, 1979.
"I presented a tough program, `We, not I.' I was trying to break up, what I call, the `Mr. Cool' kind of approach some of the veterans had," he said. The nucleus of the team: Schmidt, Boone, Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski had come up through the farm system in the early '70's. Players like Garry Maddox (1975), Steve Carlton (1972) and Bake McBride (1977) were added through trades.
"They kept getting to the playoffs but never winning. It's like getting to the church but never getting married! Their approach wasn't working," stressed Green, never one to mince his words.
Even the addition of Rose in the offseason of '78, which was done in the hope that the proven leader from Cincinnati's Big Red Machine could push the team to the next level, didn't work.
"In the late '70s, we could `out-talent' the other teams. We won on talent but other clubs like Pittsburgh and Montreal had caught up to us in terms of talent level. We had to learn to play tough, grind-it-out baseball in order to be champions," Green adamantly stated.
And that meant ruffling feathers in the veteran laden clubhouse. Green shook things up right out of spring training when he chose several rookies for the squad. Keith Moreland, Lonnie Smith, Bob Walk and Ramon Aviles made the roster.
And they came through. "I stuck my neck out when I put those guys on the roster. But because I knew about their backgrounds as a farm director I felt I could take a chance on them. And they proved me right," he said.
Outfielder Smith led the team in average (.339) and stolen bases (33). Moreland batted .314 while filling in for Boone. "Boonie played with heart and guts many a night. He was coming off ligament surgery (from September '79 home plate collision with Joel Youngblood). I felt he came back too soon." Green said. But the tough-as-nails Boone disagreed. "Everybody plays hard in the majors," the uncomplaining backstopper contended.
Walk went 11-7 and proved to be a valuable commodity when injuries felled hurlers such as Larry Christensen (5-1). Aviles spelled infield veterans Bowa (.267) and Manny Trillo (who had career highs in average (.292), hits (155), runs (68), doubles (25) and triples (9).
The club lost McGraw for the better part of the season's first half. But Ron Reed (seven wins and nine saves) took up the slack. "I always tease Tug when people talk about his great stretch drive (52 1/3 innings, 0.52 ERA, 5-1 record with 13 saves). I tell him 'You should've had one. You were well rested. You only played half the season," Reed related mirthfully.
And the two-sport star (NBA-Detroit '65-67) proved to be a vital piston in the, Phils' engine. "Ron did a tremendous job holding the bullpen together in Tug's absence," Green stressed.
It was Green's and the Phils' good fortune that the 6-6 Notre Dame alumnus was as flexible in his thinking as he was athletically versatile. "People forget that I was a starter most of my career until I came to Philadelphia. In '75, the year before I was traded here, I pitched over 250 innings as a starter.
Then in spring training, Danny Ozark told me that he wanted to make me a reliever. I was from the old school that said if you weren't a starter, being put in the bullpen was a step back and the next one was out the door," Reed recalled with a laugh. But when Ozark told the man nicknamed "Big Slink" he would get into at least 60 games a year Reed rapidly rebounded from his momentary melancholy. "That meant I'd have a chance of getting into a game almost every other day instead of every fourth or fifth day."
Although McGraw might have been its best-known member, Reed was invaluable part of an indispensable bullpen arsenal--Kevin Saucier (7-3); Warren Brusstar (2-2); Dickie Noles (1-4)--that kept the Phils in the race.
Reed also became part of a pivotal moment in the Phils' season. On August 10, the club was in the process of dropping a doubleheader to the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium. The dual defeats would doom them to their worst position of the season, six games out and in third place.
Between games Green launched into a paint peeling lockeroom lecture where he challenged the club's collective character. At one point, Reed had to be restrained from going after his manager.
But that tumultuous tirade made its impact. The team went to Wrigley Field and took two of three from the Cubs, then invaded Shea and swept five in a row from the Mets to propel themselves back into the race.
Everyone was playing a part. Cleanup hitter Greg Luzinski, an integral part of the 1970s squads, was hobbled with a knee injury when he slid into second base at St. Louis. Green replaced "The Bull's" blasts with Lonnie Smith's speed and the club won 23 of the next 39 games. While Green certainly could press his players' hot buttons, he also knew what managerial buttons to push.
"I have never seen a guy use all 25 guys on a team more effectively," said utility infielder John Vukovich. "You always knew that you had a chance to contribute on that club."
The club baffled it out with the Bucs and the Expos heading into the end of August. But things that occurred during back-to-back losses at San Diego (August 30-31) were anathema to the "Pope".
"I felt we were slipping back again and I didn't like it one bit," he said. "On the flight up to San Francisco I told Dallas I wanted to address the team."
On September 1, Paul Owens delivered a profanity laced "sermon" to the Phillies' congregation. "I challenged them and I singled out Bowa and Maddox on their play especially. I said if any one of them wanted to fight me to step outside. That's how hot I was?
Owens' preaching must have had a big effect on the Phils as they went on to win 21 of their last 28 games. What was more impressive was how they won. Fourteen of those triumphs were one-run decisions.
"We couldn't have done what we did if we hadn't learned to play grind-it-out baseball for an entire 162-game season," Green pointed out.
And it didn't hurt that the baseball gods were blessing the Phils once more. Into the fold came but another rookie, Marty Bystrom. "Simply put without him we don't win the division," Green emphasized.
The 6-5 right-hander almost made the team in the spring except he pulled a hamstring working out. Then he slipped on some concrete in the Phils' clubhouse and he was finished. But Bystrom worked hard at Oklahoma City (Phils' Triple A club) to work his way back.
Like many things about the '80 season, even the timing of injuries might have been a blessing in disguise. For Bystrom was ready just when the Phils needed him and with a perfect demeanor. "I won my last five starts for the '89ers and was in a groove. When I got called up being as young as I was at the time (21), I didn't realize the full impact of the situation," Bystrom recalled.
Although he might not have realized the impact of the situation, the towering fireballer made a definite impact. Bystrom went 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA earning N.L. Pitcher of the Month honors.
Going into the season's final ten games, the Phils were 84-68, a half game in front of second place Montreal. On September 26, the Expos came to the Vet to take on the Phils in a three-game series. In the Friday night opener, Bake McBride hit a dramatic home run in the bottom of the ninth off the Expos' David Palmer to snap a 1-1 tie and give the Phils a victory and a one and a half game lead on their divisional foes.
But controversy was still brewing. The Phils dropped the next two games including a contest when Maddox lost a ball in the sun. With the score 2-1 in favor of Montreal, the Expos' Chris Speier lofted a fly ball to center. Maddox lost the ball and two runs scored with Speier winding up on third. There was heated debate as to whether Maddox would have caught the ball had his sunglasses been flipped down. Maddox thought not.
Now the Phils trailed Montreal by a half game with a week to go in the season. Never a timid soul, Green took decisive action. The next night as the Phils prepared to take on the Cubs at home, he benched Maddox as well as Luzinski and Boone, who were in terrible slumps.
Despite the ensuing furor the club rallied to win a 6-5 fifteen-inning contest against Chicago. Ironically, Maddox came off the bench to deliver the game-tying hit and score the winning run.
The Phils knew they had to sweep the four-game set with the Cubs in order to assure, at least, a tie with the Expos when the two teams tangled at Olympic Stadium on the regular season's last weekend.
And that's exactly what Philadelphia did while the Expos took three from St. Louis. With three games left both teams were dead even at 89-70.
Long-time Phils announcer Harry Kalas remembers the flight to Montreal vividly. "I had never seen a ballclub so confident. I think a lot of that had to do with Pete Rose."
Schmidt agreed. "Pete kept us feeling loose yet confident. He also did so much to intimidate the other team. During batting practice in Montreal, Pete would be talking to the Expos and saying stuff like 'You guys getting ready to go hunting next week?'"
The confidence rubbed off on Schmidt who had a career year (48 homers; 121 RBI; N.L. and World Series MVP awards). Schmidt slammed a homer to win the first game of the series 2-1 and then propelled a homer in the 11th to lead the Phils to a 6-4 victory in the next game and the division title.
From the freezing environs of State Olympique, the Phils' journey took them to Houston in what many argue was the best playoff series ever (four of the five games decided in extra innings by two runs or less).
After splitting the first two at Philadelphia, the team headed to the Astrodome. "A lot was hanging over our heads, all those prior years when we couldn't win the League Championship Series," said Schmidt.
With all that pressure, the Phils entered the deafening din of the Dome. "The very construction of the place forced all the noise down on the field," Boone related. "It got so loud that you would hold your ears and just want it to stop," he added.
The noise and the pressure only worsened after the Phils dropped Game 3, 1-0, in ten innings to fall behind two games to one.
But then the Phils rallied to win Game 4 to tie the series. Rose played a pivotal role. With the score tied at 3-3, he scored the winning run by bowling over catcher Bruce Bochy at home plate.
Green went with Bystrom in Game 5. The rookie held his own in that contest staving off Houston with some fine defensive help. McBride and Trillo combined on one of their precision relay efforts to cut down a big run at the plate to keep the Phillies ahead, 1-0.
"Bake and I would hang around after the game to work on our relays. We went to the Dome early to work on balls in the corner. We had someone hit fungoes to the corner. Bake was giving me perfect throws," said Trillo, who was named MVP of the LCS. And the effort paid off in the clutch.
But despite their efforts, the Astros broke through to take a 5-2 lead in the seventh.
Things couldn't have looked more bleak. Staring down at them from the mound was Nolan Ryan who was an incredible 112-3 when holding a lead from the eighth inning on.
"But this team was one that had the make-up to prevail," said Schmidt.
Bowa led off with a single against the all-time strikeout king. Then Boone singled off the pitcher's glove. Former Astro Greg Gross, laid down a perfect bunt to load the bases. "I wasn't here during the frustrating playoff years. I had the best of both worlds having been traded to Philly from a non-contender (Cubs along with Trillo in 1979)," Gross explained.
A walk to Rose cut the lead to 5-3. Moreland then drove in a run with a groundout. Up came Schmidt with runners at the corners and a chance to redeem himself for past playoff failings. But Ryan struck him out.
"I felt horrible letting the club down like that. I owe Del Unser a lot for picking me up like he did," said Schmidt.
Unser had been readied for such a moment. "Dallas used me a lot. He found ways to work everyone in," said the soft-spoken but hard-hitting journeyman, who batted .400 in the LCS and .500 in the World Series.
Unser singled off Joe Sambito, who had come on in relief, to tie the game. Then Trillo banged a two-run triple that gave the Phils a 7-5 lead. McGraw got the call from the bullpen but Tug was tagged for two runs to tie the game.
"That's another thing I kid Tug about. I got the last out in the eighth. If he holds that lead I get the win," said Reed.
But the drama was to hit a new level. Maddox, who had endured the indignity of not starting the last six games down the stretch, was about to redeem himself big time.
"Dallas and I were like oil and water," was how Maddox described the relationship between himself and his manager.
But to both men's credit, they did their jobs professionally. Green continued to use the great center fielder and Maddox went about his job with proficient dignity.
In the 10th inning, Unser came up with a double. "Dallas would use me and GG (Greg Gross) in situations. If he needed a single he'd go to Greg. If he wanted an extra-base hit, he'd go to me." Unser related.
Then Maddox banged out a single to drive in the lefty reserve for an 8-7 Phils lead. Fittingly, the man of whom Met broadcaster, Ralph Kiner once said, "Two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, the other third by Garry Maddox," came up with the biggest catch in Phils' history when he caught Enos Ca-bell's fly ball to clinch Game 5 and the LCS.
"Every kid fantasizes about being carried off the field on the shoulders of your teammates after winning the game and that's exactly what happened to me," Maddox recalled with a grin.
After the grueling series with Houston, the World Series should have seemed like a party. But there was still more heart stopping action coming for the "Cardiac Kids", one of the Phils' many monikers.
Having used starter Dick Ruthven in relief to win Game 5 against Houston, Green went to Bob Walk as the Game 1 World Series starter. After falling behind 4-0, the Phils rallied for five runs in the bottom of the third, the big blow being a three-run homer by McBride.
"That was a huge hit," Schmidt recalled. "I mean even though I got Series MVP, any one of several guys could have gotten it: Bake (.304 BA, 5 RBI), Bowa (Series record seven double plays, .375 BA) or Boonie (.412 BA to lead all hitters)," he stressed.
The Phils took Game 2, 6-4, behind Steve Carlton with Reed picking up the save. After that the series switched back to Kansas City for three games and momentum began to shift. The Royals took Game 3 in ten innings, 4-3. In Game 4, Kansas City jumped on Larry Christenson for four runs in the first inning.
Then came The Pitch.
Dickie Noles entered the game early in relief and threw a pitch that might have turned the tide. With the Royals ahead 5-1 and one out in the bottom of the fourth, George Brett, who led the A.L. with a .390 batting average and was hitting .545 (6-for-11) in the Series came to bat. Noles got ahead in the count 0-2 and fired a searing fastball that whizzed right under Brett's chin. The Royals' third sacker flipped back, head over heels, and lay sprawled on the ground.
Kansas City manager Jim Frey came out to argue with umpire Don Denkinger. Brett seemed more quizzical than angry at the whole matter. The normally combative Green stayed serenely in his dugout. After a few minutes of verbal sparring between Rose and Frey, the Kansas City manager retreated to his dugout.
Did the pitch unnerve the Royals?
"All I know is that after Dickie threw that pitch, the Royals only scored four runs in the next 22 innings (after notching 19 previously)," stated Green. "You figure it out."
The Royals did go on to win that game 5-3 and tie the Series at 2-2 but that proved to be Kansas City's high water mark.
In Game 5, the Phils trailed 3-2 going into the ninth inning. But a team that could claw its way back from three down against Nolan Ryan was not about to let this obstacle derail their championship ride.
Schmidt, who had belted a two-run homer off starter Larry Gura in the fourth, led off the ninth. Oddly Frey, fearing a bunt, had Brett play in on Schmidt. That proved to be a serious tactical mistake as Schmidt smoked a liner to third that bounced off Brett's glove for an infield single.
Pinch-hitter Unser stepped up and lined a double to score Schmidt with the tying run. Unser moved to third on a Moreland infield out. Maddox grounded out. With two down Trillo scorched a line drive off reliever Dan Quisenberry's glove bringing Unser home with the winning run.
"When you play with guys like Rose, Bowa and Schmidt, the confidence rubs off on you," Trillo explained.
But all the big hits in the ninth might have been for naught were it not for Trillo's defensive work. In the sixth, when starter Bystrom was laboring, Green brought in Reed. With the Royals leading 3-2, Wilson belted a double to right. McBride played the ball perfectly and relayed it to Trillo. The second baseman fired a perfect throw to Boone to cut down Darrell Porter at the plate.
As Rose said at the time, "If Manny doesn't make a perfect throw they might have gone on to have a big inning and taken us right out of the game."
When McGraw wriggled his way out of a bases loaded ninth inning jam by striking out Jose Cardenal, the Phillies were one out away from a world championship.
The script couldn't have been any more perfect for the Phillies. On the mound for Game 6 was Cy Young Award winner Steve Carlton (24-9; 2.34).
But the sphinx-like southpaw kept his implacable reserve. "Everyone's running around all excited after Game 5 and I'm thinking `I've got to focus because we have to win another game to be champs!'"
And the masterful Missourian was superb for seven innings with his explosive slider. Schmidt sparked the offense and the Phils had a 4-0 lead. But Carlton allowed the first two Royals to get on base in the eighth. Boone signaled to the dugout that the big left-hander was out of gas.
McGraw came in and surrendered a run on a sacrifice fly to make it 4-1 at the end of eight.
Then came that wild and wonderful, mystical and magical ninth inning.
When McGraw struck out Wilson, he blew away 97 years of agony and frustration. All the galling playoff defeats, like the `Black Friday' Game 3 setback which paved the way to the '77 series loss to the Dodgers followed the next year by another win by Los Angeles, when many felt the Phils were the better team were washed away.
Boone probably summed it up best when he said, "The best team doesn't always win it all in baseball. But when you win it all you are definitely the best!"
And in 1980 the Phils were definitely the best. But it sure wasn't easy!
A trip through hell, but Phillies arrive laughing in heaven
By Frank Dolson
It was the perfect ending for a baseball team that did everything the hard way… a perfect finish to a 30-year struggle by the Phillies to bring a World Series to Philadelphia.
If the 10-inning, 5-3 victory that kept the Phillies alive in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series was an emotionally draining experience, if the 10-inning, 8-7 victory in Game 5 that earned this team the pennant- and the recognition- that had eluded it so long was even tougher, then it was in keeping with an entire season of ups and downs, giddy highs and sickening lows.
Somewhere, at some time, there may have been a professional sports team that went through more than the 1980 Phillies.
Somewhere, at some time, there may have been a team that had more to prove to even its most ardent supporters than the 1980 Phillies.
But I don’t know where.
This was supposed to be a club of “fat cats”, a group of high-paid, under-motivated baseball players who had all the talent in the world, but not enough desire, not enough heart to win when the going got tough.
It wasn’t until just before midnight on Sunday, when Garry Maddox clutched Enos Cabell’s fly ball for the final out, that the sports fans of Philadelphia, the sportswriters of Philadelphia, that everybody in Philadelphia really believed that this club could do it.
The doubts were apparent, even as the club drove through the stretch in pursuit of the Montreal Expos. The fans had to be convinced that the 1980 Phillies were for real, that they cared, that they were willing to do whatever was necessary to bring a World Series to the Vet.
The reason was clear. Past Phillies team had disappointed their fans too many times, failing to win a single home game while losing three consecutive National League championship series.
But in the end, the team that did everything the hard way from day one, won the big series- the big game- in the hardest way imaginable.
Manny Trillo played second base brilliantly all season and was spectacular in the five-game showdown with the Astros, making superb plays, delivering clutch hits and earning the award as the most valuable player.
Bob Boone, so loudly booed through most of the season, delivered a vital, two-out, ninth-inning hit that kept the Phillies alive in the division clincher in Montreal, then came through with a two-out, two-run hit off one of Nolan Ryan’s fastest fastballs in the pennant-clincher.
Garry Maddox, the center of controversy late in the stretch drive, came through with two gigantic clutch hits- a two-out single in the 15th inning that saved the Phillies from what would have been a costly, perhaps fatal, defeat to the Cubs on the final Monday of the regular season, and the pennant-winning hit, a two-out line drive to center that fell just in front of a desperately-charging Terry Puhl in the 10th inning Sunday night.
Larry Bowa, a frequent target of the boo-birds and for a time mired in the first fielding slump of his career, turned what had been his unhappiest season as a Phillie into his happiest by playing shortstop the way he had played it for a decade and chipping in with several important hits, including the one that triggered Sunday night’s five-run eighth.
Greg Luzinski, who struggled and suffered through much of 1980, came through when it mattered most, getting the game-winning hits in Games 1 and 4.
It didn’t matter that Mike Schmidt, who had led this team throughout the season with his home run and RBI production, hit only .208, with no homers and one RBI in the playoffs. His teammates picked him up- and that is the mark of a truly fine ball club.
It didn’t matter that Pete Rose turned 39 early in the season. He played with the verve, the daring, the aggressiveness that has always been a Pete Rose trademark.
In the playoffs Rose hit .400. He made a mad, stop-me-if-you-can dash from first to home on Luzinski’s two-out, 10th-inning double to win Game 4. He worked Nolan Ryan for the bases-loaded walk that pushed across the first run in the big eighth inning in Game 5. And he made so many outstanding plays at first base you’d have sword he had been playing there all his life.
Game after game in the playoffs, there was Rose, standing in front of the dugout, urging his teammates to get the big hit, to start the big rally. If anybody ever had the slightest doubts that signing Rose as a free agent was a good move for the Phillies, his performance under pressure in the last couple of weeks surely dispelled them once and for all.
But above all, this was a team victory by a ball club that spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time trying to become a team.
Ironies abounded. In the spring, this was supposed to be a club without pitching. As September turned into October, it was pitching that kept the 1980 Phillies alive. Not just Steve Carlton, who zeroed in on his third Cy Young Award, but Dick Ruthven and Larry Christenson and a kid named Marty Bystrom… and an irrepressible older fella named Tug McGraw.
This was a team that seemed, at times, to be at war with its manager. And yet, when Sunday night’s drama had run its course, there were some of Dallas Green’s severest critics embracing the man.
“I think,” said Greg Luzinski in the glow of this team’s greatest victory in three decades, if not of all time, “we proved to the world that we don’t have a quitter on this team.”
“The bench never let us get down, even when they (the Astros) went up by three,” Larry Bowa said. “The guys never stopped talking and clapping…. I never have been associated with a team that had more character.”
So there it is- the incredible saga of a baseball team that went through hell for the better part of six months- and wound up in heaven.
And took a lot of nonbelievers along for the ride.
Tug McGraw and Del Unser Played Vital Roles In Phillies' Title Run
By Jon Caroulis
Tug McGraw and Del Unser understood the irony of their 'trade' and how it affected the 1980 World Series champion Phillies. Without McGraw, the team could not have won it. Without Unser's key pinch-hits, the team wouldn't have made it past the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals for the title. The funny thing was that the Phillies traded Unser (along with catcher John Stearns and pitcher Mac Scarce) to get McGraw in 1975, only to resign him as a free agent four years later.
"Tug said it took me to get you," said Unser.
While seemingly every player on the 1980 Phillies team that year contributed to its success, McGraw's contribution was extraordinary. After June, he gave up only three earned runs, and saved or won numberous key games down the stretch drive to win the National League East, then the National League Championship Series over the Astros, and finally wrapping up the World Series against the Royals.
Unser, who had rejoined the club the previous year, came up with four key hits in post-season games that were critical.
In the deciding NLCS game against Houston, the Phillies entered the 8th inning trailing 5-2, facing Nolan Ryan. The team started an improbable comeback, and with the score 5-4 had runners on first and third and one out with Mike Schmidt coming to the plate. The future Hall of Famer took a called third strike from Ken Forsch, and dejectedly walked back to the dugout. Unser, however, followed with a single to tie the score.
Unser said Forsch had a good sinker that broke away from left-handers, and he was at the plate looking for an outside part of the plate, when the right-hander came in on him. But Unser managed to get enough of the pitch to hit a line drive to right center for a single to tie the game.
In the 10th inning, Unser faced Frank Lacorte. The Astros had reliever Dave Smith warming up "and I couldn't hit him with a canoe paddle." But Houston stayed with Lacorte and Unser ripped a double down the first base line. He later scored the winning run that gave the Phillies their first pennant in 30 years.
Against Kansas City, the Phils won the first game of the series, but were trailing in the eighth frame of game two. Facing Dan Quisenberry, Unser knew the submarine right-hander had a fastball that had great movement but was short on velocity. Unser got a hold of one and ripped it into left-center for a double.
Unser's fourth clutch hit came in the ninth inning of Game 5. After winning the first two games, the Royals took the next two and were on the verge of taking a 3-2 lead in the Series. With the Royals up 2-1, Mike Schmidt led off the ninth inning with a single.
Unser came to the plate "looking to do the same thing (as in Game 1), drive it to the left side, hoping to be on time for the changeup."
Quisenberry threw him a pitch ("probably a changeup that he took something off of") and Unser smoked it down the first-base line for a double. Schmidt came around with the tying run, and Unser eventually scored the winning run, swinging the momentum back to the Phillies, who wrapped up the series with a win in Game 6.
Unser was almost out of baseball before he rejoined the club in 1979. After two solid seasons with the Mets he was traded to Montreal. But with an outfield of Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie, he didn't see much playing time.
He chose not to resign with the Expos and hoped to latch on with another club. In the spring of that year, he was playing in a racketball tournament in Las Vegas, when Phils general manager Paul Owens returned one of Unser's phone calls. Owens, the man who had made the deal to send him to New York for McGraw, told Unser "You can't get in baseball shape playing racketball," so Unser got on a plane and was at the Phils' spring training camp the next morning.
After being an everyday player, Unser said it took some adjustment to learn how to be a role player and pinch-hitter. "Can't be picky when you're pinch-hitting," Unser said. "Like when you're working a pitcher to see what he's got. You take your shot at him when you get it."
That season he set a major league record by hitting three consecutive pinch-hit home runs, the final one a three-run game-winning blow in the ninth frame against Rollie Fingers of the San Diego Padres.
The Baseball Hall of Fame called him and asked for his bat. "I said I might hit another one with it," recalled Unser. "My next pinch at-bat was against Fingers and he struck me out. Then I gave them the bat."