1980 Finally Philly

After years of developing into a consistent winner, the Philadelphia Phillies attempt to win their first-ever World Series against the Kansas City Royals, who feature George Brett—mounting a serious challenge to hit .400 for the year.

Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt jump for joy after recording the last out of the 1980 World Series, giving the Philadelphia Phillies their first world title and erasing a century of failure, folly and frustration.

The Philadelphia Phillies and the Kansas City Royals had plenty of recent frustration in common when they met in the 1980 World Series. Both teams had lost league championship series in three straight years, from 1976-78. Both suffered disappointing a drop-off in 1979. Both started anew under first-time managers in 1980. And by meeting up in the Fall Classic, they represented for the first time in 60 years two teams in search of their first-ever championship.

But that’s where the similarities came to a stark end.

One team was among the oldest of baseball franchises, a traditional flop on the fringe of centenarian status. The other was barely a pre-teen that avoided the pain of expansion infancy and took the fast track to success.

If entitlement favored seniority, then justice would finally be delivered for the Phillies.

Born in 1883, the Phillies definitively set the tone for the next 60 years by finishing 17-81. They would be the most consistently awful franchise in baseball, struggling under a string of incompetent owners while performing in a ballpark (Baker Bowl) whose decrepit structure offered an occupational hazard for the few who showed up.

The Phillies were rescued from futility in 1943 by new owner Robert Carpenter, whose family had wealthy business ties to the DuPont Corporation. Under the Carpenters—first Robert, then Robert Jr., then grandson Ruly in 1972—the cellar dwelling was over, replaced by a stubborn middle occupancy within the National League that created a new level of frustration. The improved results fell short of those anticipated by Phillies fans, who harbored all the sympathy of a pack of vultures.

The fans’ expectations—and ensuing anger—only intensified through the 1970s, as the Phillies failed to win it all despite a powerful roster that included sluggers Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski; defensive stalwarts in shortstop Larry Bowa, center fielder Garry Maddox and catcher Bob Boone; and ace pitcher Steve Carlton. The free agent addition of Pete Rose in 1979—tagging the Phillies with the NL’s highest payroll—got them no closer. The vicious boo birds at Veterans Stadium couldn’t let go of the franchise’s historical inabilities. No World Series titles. No NLCS triumphs. A 6.5-game lead blown in the final two weeks of 1964.

Dallas Green, the Phillies’ new managerGreen replaced Danny Ozark, who managed the Phillies to NL East titles from 1976-78—some say, in spite of his clueless managerial instincts. in 1980, felt he had the cure for the team’s recent bout of underachieving. Sensing that his collection of high-priced All-Stars had developed too individual a mindset, Green hammered a “We, not I” campaign that worked only in annoying, not galvanizing, his veteran players. Not even the combative Green’s intimidating presence—a big, burly frame, a booming voice and a rigid jaw structure that made him look more suited as a NFL linebacker coach—could scare the players his way.

Green himself was part of the problem, making a bad habit of criticizing his players to the press—and thus violating some of the very rules he had laid out. But as the 1980 season advanced with the Phillies barely skating above .500, the players found themselves fighting battles on many fronts: Against Green, the hostile fans, the pressIn midseason, the local press uncovered a story in which Philadelphia players—and their wives—were taking speed through the Phillies’ minor league physician in Reading. Few denied the story and some later confirmed it. and sometimes themselves. It was a clubhouse more chaotic than that of George Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees, if that was possible.

When the Phillies were swept at Pittsburgh in mid-August—dropping them six games behind the defending champion Pirates—Green’s protruding jaws went overtime, excoriating his players in a close-door meeting easily heard outside by waiting reporters.

Slowly at first, the Phillies soon turned it on for the home stretch, going 36-19 in the wake of Green’s rant. Equally helpful was a season-ending injury to Willie Stargell, the Pirates’ 1979 hero; the Bucs were 16-29 after his departure and quickly exited the NL East race.

One Phillie who certainly heeded Green’s anger was Mike Schmidt. The star third baseman, suffering his own love-hate relationshipSchmidt on the local fans and press: “Philadelphia is the only city where you experience the thrill of victory one day and the agony of reading about it the next day.” with Philadelphia fans, shredded apart a long-standing label as a choke artist in the clutch. He hit .338 with 21 home runs and 48 RBIs over the last 55 games, had numerous game-winning hits, and smacked an extra-inning home run to clinch the NL East at Montreal—who had been running neck-to-neck with the Phillies through most of September. Schmidt’s heroics won him the NL’s Most Valuable Player award for the first—but not last—time.

The Phillies were also buoyed in the end by Carlton, who at 35 won his third—but not last—Cy Young Award with a 24-9 record, a 2.34 earned run average and 286 strikeouts in 304 innings; and by Rose and reliever Tug McGrawMcGraw allowed just one earned run in 39.1 innings of work after Green’s chewing out in Pittsburgh., two of the game’s cockiest players, whose postseason experiences and attitudes may have helped gel an otherwise lost clubhouse.

Trying to chuck the NLCS monkey off their backs, the Phillies’ fourth attempt in five years to get to the World Series meant defeating the NL West champion Houston Astros. If they thought the NL East race had an exhaustive exercise, they had no idea what was in store for them in the NLCS with the tough-as-nails AstrosThe Astros excelled in every facet of their game except power hitting; they hit just 75 home runs as a team, the third worst output in the majors., making their first-ever postseason appearance—and barely, having blown a three-game lead in the season’s final weekend at Los Angeles. It took a one-game playoff to overcome the Dodgers and win the West.

The Phillies took the NLCS opener at home, 3-1, a tight result that would prove to be the yawner of the series. The next four games would take the best-of-five series to the limit and beyond, all extra-inning affairs with an abundance of roller-coaster lead changes, blown calls, reversed calls and un-reversed calls that nearly rendered the World Series anticlimactic.

Down in the series 2-1 with the final two games to be played in the hostile, raucous atmosphere of the Houston Astrodome, the Phillies somehow managed to advance. An especially wild Game Five decider saw the Phillies score five in the eighth off Nolan Ryan to erase a three-run Astros lead; losing that lead when Houston notched two in the bottom of the inning; and then taking it back for good in the tenth when Garry Maddox doubled home the pennant-winning run in an 8-7 victory.

Most observers were convinced the Phillies, emotionally and physically spent, would have nothing left against a superior World Series opponent in the Kansas City Royals.

Begun in 1969 by pharma magnate Ewing Kauffman, the Royals eschewed big-name, over-the-hill talent as other expansion franchises instinctively sought, and instead entrusted their future to players without names but with promise, backed by an aggressively built farm system. Many of those early prospects had, by 1980, become the stars of the team, with the star of stars—a blue-eyed, blond-haired West Virginian native named George Brett—ready to absolutely explode with one of the most spectacular campaigns in modern times.

Brett’s 1980 season started nominally enough, batting under .300 by Memorial Day. Then he turned it up—way up—well beyond the Alps of envy usually reserved for legends like Ted Williams.

Over the next three months, Brett would bat an astounding .481—103 hits in 214 at-bats—and on August 26 led the world many times over with a .407 batting average. Some hitters see the ball as a softball when they’re hot; Brett saw it as a juiced-up beach ball. He was in such a groove, when he pulled together a few consecutive games with a single hit in each, he sighed, “I’ve got to get out of this slump.”

George Brett’s chilly start, sizzling summer stretch and late cooling off in 1980 could have easily been adopted by the National Weather Service to substitute Kansas City conditions.

Brett stayed at or above the .400 mark until September 19, when the combination of pressure, the national media and injuriesBrett missed a month starting in June because of an ankle injury, then missed another ten days in September with an injured hand. finally took its toll. Over the final two weeks, he hit .304—superb by common player standards, but for Brett a sharp drop from immortality, slipping below the .400 mark and leaving Williams, then as now, as the last player to finish above the magic barrierBrett’s .390 average is the best ever by a third baseman; he hit .437 against right-handed pitchers, .318 against lefties, and a stunning .469 with runners in scoring position..

Despite missing 45 games on the year, Brett still managed to muster up terrific numbers alongside his season-ending .390 batting average with 24 home runs and 118 RBIs to give him, easily, American League MVP honors.

As Brett went, so went the Royals. Under first-year manager Jim FreyFrey replaced Whitey Herzog, who brought the Royals their first three divisional titles but also wore out his welcome with both Kauffman and the players., Kansas City quickly bolted away from a weak AL West once Brett got white-hot, coasting to a 14-game cushion by season’s end. Brett was buffeted by leadoff man Willie Wilson, who led the leagueWilson also stole 79 bases—second in the AL to a 21-year-old kid in Oakland named Rickey Henderson, who became the first-ever AL player to reach 100. in hits (230) and runs (133); by starting pitchers Dennis Leonard (20-11, 3.79 ERA) and Larry Gura (18-10, 2.96); and by second-year closer Dan Quisenberry (12-7, 3.09, 33 saves).

Kauffman proclaimed in 1973 that sparkling new Royals Stadium would help give the Royals five pennants in ten years. He might have been right had it not been for the New York Yankees, who got in the way of three of those five from 1976-78—and now would attempt to deny a fourth as the teams hooked up yet again in the ALCS.

Though the Yankees had forged an impressive comeback after a rough 1979 campaign with a 103-59 mark—barely outdistancing AL champion Baltimore, at 100-62—the Royals liked their chances this time around, having taken eight of 12 games over the Yankees during the regular season.

Royal confidence was well justified. Kansas City hitters hit and the pitchers kept Yankees bats in check as the Royals impressively swept in three, capping the triumph when Brett launched a pennant-clinching home runBrett, who hammered the Yankees with a .425 average and 22 RBIs in ten regular season games, was “only” 3-for-11 in the ALCS—but two of his hits were home runs. into Yankee Stadium’s upper deck. Embarrassed at the three-and-outing, George Steinbrenner had his predicted tantrum, firing the man he made as scapegoat—third-base coach Mike Ferraro. In utter disbelief, manager Dick Howser said he’d go if Ferraro went; Steinbrenner obliged.

Rested with the sweep, the Royals discovered through the first two games of the World Series that the Phillies were not out of gas—but rather on a spirited high carried over from the NLCS wars. Nail biting remained routine at the Vet as the Phillies overcome 4-0 and 4-2 leads in Games One and Two, respectively, to win by scores of 7-6 and 6-4. If being down two games in the series was bad enough for Kansas City, they had a bigger problem.

George Brett was fighting a new injury: A case of hemorrhoids.

Frantically, the Royals and Brett did everything they could to get him fixed. A small surgery and a full day of bed rest later, and Brett was ready for Game Three at Kansas City by declaring with humor, “The pain is behind me.”

Brett thanked the doctor by homering and doubling in another tight contest, won 4-3 by the Royals in ten innings, and added a run-scoring triple in a 5-3 Game Four victory. But Kansas City lost the all-important fifth game as Mike Schmidt—Brett’s opposite number as MVP third baseman—took over the spotlight. Schmidt homered to give Philadelphia an early 2-0 lead, then singledSchmidt’s base hit deflected off of Brett’s glove; Brett was playing closer in as Schmidt had bunted for a hit off him a day earlier. to start a winning two-run rally in the ninth after the Phillies had fallen behind. Philadelphia headed back home with two shots to take the victor’s crown at last.

Phillie fans and players are held in brief suspense when a pop fly squirts out of catcher Bob Boone’s glove—but Pete Rose is there to catch the carom, keeping a bases-loaded Kansas City rally from spinning out of control. The Phillies would secure the World Series trophy one out later.

Hardened as ever from a century of luckless baseball, long-suffering Phillies fans wouldn’t believe a world championship until the final out was snared. Even as the Phillies were coasting 4-0 behind Carlton in the seventh inning of Game Six, the 66,000 that jammed the Vet couldn’t help but think bad thoughts. That the Phillies had trailed at some point in each of the first ten postseason games only made them more edgy. And it appeared the ghosts of Phillie collapses past were ready to bust out when—with one out in the Royal ninth, the bases loaded and the go-ahead run at the plate in Frank White—a foul pop-up squirted out of the mitt of Bob Boone.

To the rescue came Pete Rose, in perfectly fortuitous position to glove the bobble and secure the second out.

Then Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson for the final out, and the City of Brotherly Love was turned upside down and all around with massive pandemonium.

When the city closed down the next day to revel in triumph with a million-plus Philadelphians lining the victory parade, all that embattled Phillies manager Dallas Green could do was sigh in relief, “I don’t want to put up with another year like this one.”

After 97 long years, the Phillies finally got to taste the top. The Royals would have to wait their turn, though it would come soon enough given their outstanding track record to date. Phillies fans, hardened over a century of failure, were instinctively more skeptical of future gains even in the afterglow of victory.

If the Phillies were to indeed reach the top again, they wouldn’t do it under Ruly Carpenter. Even as he celebrated the here and now, he rued the future. Carpenter saw a system going haywire under spiraling free agency and owners who had no sensible plan to deal with it. So five months after taking the victory ride down Broad Street, Carpenter announced he was selling.

The 1980 season had made Carpenter a champion; 1981 would make him a prophet.

1981 baseball historyForward to 1981: No Ball, One Strike A criplling midseason player strike plays havoc with the schedule and the integrity of playoff eligibility.

1979 baseball historyBack to 1979: One for Pops and His Family After years of injury and career decline, Willie Stargell comes alive at 39 to lift the Pittsburgh Pirates.

1980s baseball historyThe 1980s Page: Corporate Makeover Baseball enjoys a healthy boom on several fronts, with increased attendance, corporate sponsorship and memorabilia sales; players also continue to enjoy skyrocketing salaries, but some abuse their newfound riches by delving into illegal drugs.

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They Were There: Jerry Reuss
Jerry ReussThe 220-game winner looks back at his early days with the Cardinals and Astros, his peak years with the Dodgers, and an endearing hobby photographing old ballparks.

1980 Standings

National League East
Philadelphia Phillies
Montreal Expos
Pittsburgh Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals
New York Mets
Chicago Cubs
National League West
Houston Astros
Los Angeles Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds
Atlanta Braves
San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres
American League East
New York Yankees
Baltimore Orioles
Milwaukee Brewers
Boston Red Sox
Detroit Tigers
Cleveland Indians
Toronto Blue Jays
American League West
Kansas City Royals
Oakland A's
Minnesota Twins
Texas Rangers
Chicago White Sox
California Angels
Seattle Mariners

1980 Postseason Results
NLCS Philadelphia defeated Houston, 3-2.
ALCS Kansas City defeated New York, 3-0.
World Series Philadelphia (NL) defeated Kansas City (AL), 4-2.

It Happened in 1980

Who Clot J.R.?
Houston pitching ace J.R. Richard, working on an excellent 10-4 record and 1.90 earned run average that merits him a starting role at the All-Star Game, suffers a stroke during a workout on July 30. He makes a complete recovery at the hospital but not on the mound, where an attempted 1981 comeback fails.

It will get worse for Richard, who’ll suffer through costly business losses and a divorce; by the 1990s, he’s living homeless under a bridge near the Astrodome. He’ll become more financially stable thanks to a pension that kicks in around 1995. Richard won 20 games for the Astros in 1976, an ERA title in 1979, and struck out over 300 batters each in 1978-79.

Opening Up the 700 Club
Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals becomes the first major leaguer to record 700 at-bats in a season. Other players have accumulated more plate appearances in one season, but they’ve done it with an abundance of walks—which don’t count as at-bats; Wilson walks only 28 times in 1980. Only Jimmy Rollins (with 716 in 2007) will later rack up more at-bats in a season.

Generously Giving to History
The Astros’ Nolan Ryan—enjoying the first year of a pact that’s earning him an unprecedented seven figures a season—becomes the fourth pitcher to reach 3,000 career strikeouts when he whiffs Cincinnati’s Cesar Geronimo in an 8-1 loss to the Reds on the Fourth of July. For Geronimo, it’s a dubious case of déjà vu; he was Bob Gibson’s 3,000th strikeout victim in 1974.

Little Big Slugger
Freddie Patek, who at 5’4” had come to symbolize the short-and-skinny movement among middle infielders in the 1970s, provides one of baseball’s most unexpected power surges when he homers three times at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox on June 20. He also doubles and knocks in seven as part of a 20-2 rout by the California Angels. Patek’s three blasts are among 41 he will hit over a 14-year career.

Gullible? Not Gullickson
Montreal pitcher Bill Gullickson, 21, strikes out a rookie-record 18 Chicago Cubs on September 10 in a 4-2 Expo win at Wrigley Field. The mark will be broken 18 years later on the same field by Kerry Wood.

The GW-RBI, as in: Gosh, Who’ll Really Be Interested?
The game-winning run batted in is introduced as an official stat. San Francisco’s Jack Clark leads the NL with 18 while Ken Singleton leads the AL with 19. The statistic is largely disdained by those who question, as an example, the importance of being granted a GW-RBI for homering in the first inning of a 16-0 rout. Such ennui for the statistic will lead to its being discontinued after 1988.

Please Tip Our Shortstop
After losing four of his right fingertips in a chainsaw accident, ten-year veteran Roger Metzger makes a go of it for the San Francisco Giants. But the comeback won’t last long, collecting just two hits in 27 at-bats before retiring. Metzger’s best years took place with the Astros during the mid-1970s, where he twice led the NL in triples and won a Gold Glove at shortstop.

He Played Minoso Many Years
Minnie Minoso, 57 years young, makes yet another brief return to the Chicago White Sox. He appears as a pinch-hitter in the final two games of the season, going hitless in both, to become the first player since Nick Altrock to have played in five different decades. He wants to make it six in the 1990s, but the White Sox—under new management—say thanks but no thanks. He’ll get his chance instead with the minor league St. Paul Saints in 1993, and again in 2003—at the age of 80.

Pitcher or Pusher?
Ferguson Jenkins is arrested in Toronto on August 25 for carrying varying amounts of marijuana, hashish and cocaine. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspends the Texas Rangers’ star pitcher indefinitely a few weeks later. But Kuhn is later overruled by an independent arbitrator—the first time that a baseball commissioner’s ruling is forcibly reversed. A Canadian citizen, Jenkins will be convicted, then acquitted, in a December trial when the judge lets him off for past good behavior.

Cobwebs in the Bullpen
The young and promising pitching staff for the Oakland A’s, under the first-year leadership of two-time former Yankee manager Billy Martin, compiles a total of 94 complete games—twice as many as the runner-up, and the most by any team in 34 years. Rick Langford leads the club by finishing 28 of his starts, including 22 in a row at one point.

The long term will illustrate why no team has since attempted to mimic the A’s strategy; overuse of the Oakland starting five—Langford, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty and Brian Kingman—will be evident five years later when the same five pitchers, who should be in their prime, painfully combine for a 15-29 record.

Agreeing to a Calm Before the Storm
Major League ballplayers walk out on the final week of spring training and threaten to strike on May 23 if a new Basic Agreement isn’t hammered out with management—who’s looking to seek more aggressive free agent compensation than the players’ union is willing. An agreement of sorts is signed just 12 hours before the strike deadline, resolving minor issues while tabling the compensation issue—and a likely strike—for another day. That day will come in 1981.

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