Wednesday, October 17, 2007
World Series and Remembrance - Part 3 - The Eighties - From the Phillies' First Win to Bay's Big Quake
1980 - The Year of Years - This was a memorable year. Early on I got a new job in the chemical plant where I worked. In midsummer my leg started going to sleep for no apparent reason. And, oh yeah, the Phillies finally won the NLCS to play in the World Series for the first time in 30 years, which included my frustrating decade of fandom.
The postseason was so memorable that the regular season has become a little fuzzy. I remember that the Phils main rivals in NL East were the Montreal Expos, who featured pitcher Steve Rogers, outfielder Andre Dawson, and catcher Gary Carter. If the Phillies faltered, the talented Expos would be right there to take their place. Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton were their future Hall of Fame selves and then some. Schmitty hit 48 HRs and won the MVP award. Carlton won 20-some games and his fourth (correction- 3rd) Cy Young award. Pete Rose, who passed Stan Musial to become the all-time NL hit leader as a Phillie, got on base from the leadoff spot and provided needed leadership. Manny Trillo, whom the Phils acquired from the Cubs before the '79 season became the best fielding second baseman in team history and contributed solid offense. Rookies Lonnie Smith (LF), Bob Dernier (CF) and Keith Moreland (C) spelled veterans Greg Luzinsk, Garry Maddox and Bob Boone respectively and contributed youthful energy and offense. Manager Dallas Green found a way to put veteran reserve OF Del Unser's bat, glove and savvy into the lineup most nights. Relief pitcher Tug McGraw pitched his arm off, and rookie starting pitchers Marty Bystrom and Bob "Whirlybird" Walk gave the Phils surprisingly mature work in a tight pennant race, with Bystrom reeling off a 5-0 record in August and September.
I remember a game in the last week vs. the Expos where the Phils came from behind late on 2-out extra base hits by Schmidt and Unser. Every game was a struggle, both for the Phils and for me, as I tried to listen by radio from about 600 miles away. Sometimes this involved moving around in the house or car to get the a listenable signal from KYW in Philadelphia. Announcers at the time were Harry Kalas and Phillies Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, one of the best announcing duos of all time, as Kalas's now legendary booming voice, ("That ball is OUTTA HERE!" was his trademark home run call.) broadcast professionalism blended perfectly with Ashburn's midwestern twang and wry sense of humor.
Travel Story Extra - How could I forget? I celebrated the Phillies 1980 regular season with a weeklong September pilgrimage to Wrigley Field to see the Phils take three from the lowly Cubs and the Cards win a couple of games too (though I'm less clear on who played the second series.) All the games were day games attended by just a few thousand people, so my friend and I were able to move close to the action. I made big poster (which I still have) that said "Hi Mom! Hi WGN! Go Phils!" or something like that, so my mother could spy me back in Philadelphia.
Wrigley was a little chilly in late September for a couple of South Carolina guys who left home in the middle of summer, but we bought extra clothes on the fly and tried to sit in the sunshine. By night, we found rock-and-roll bars from one end of Chicagoland to Wisconsin (though we never did find the bar we were looking for in Wisconsin) and ate a lot of ballpark food and Chicago-style pizza. I waved and yelled at Harry Kalas and Rich Ashburn, just as I'd done at several spring training games--I wonder if they recognized me. I even chatted with Kalas momentarily in Florida on one occasion. Ashburn had a head cold the time I tried to chat with him. If I wasn't committed enough already, the trip made me feel more like a part of the team's pennant drive.
The breaks fell for the Phils on the other side of the NL as well as the Houston Astros beat post-season tormentors, the LA Dodgers, in a one-game playoff for the NL West title. Joe Niekro, whom I'll always remember fondly, won the playoff game to hold off the Boys in Blue, who swept the last three games of the season to force the playoff.
My medical timing was terrible as I had surgery on my left knee to relieve the growing numbness just as the season ended. The surgery was successful, but I spent several weeks on crutches while the incision healed.
This was the first postseason series for the Astros in their franchise history. They played like they intended to win it. Every game was a war. Most went to extra innings. Convalescing at a friend's house, I limped around the living room in more mental than physical anguish. At one point I got so upset about a Phillie runner being called out for leaving third base too soon on a sacrifice fly that I refused to watch any more and went back to the bedroom. Soon after he called me back with, "You've got to come see this," as the Phils mounted another comeback. One game featured a short line drive by Garry Maddox to the Astros pitcher, who either did or didn't field it before it hit the ground. Conflicting calls by the umpires resulted in chaos on the field and a Solomaic decision that seemed outside the rule book, but there it was.
Things look bleakest right before the dawn. The Phillies were down in the 7th inning in Game Five, trailing 5-2 to the Astros with Nolan Ryan, author of about five no-hitters to that point, on the mound for Houston. As they had most of the season, they Phils refused to accept their apparent fate, striking for five runs to take a 7-5 lead. The Astros, also used to adversity, refused right back and tied the game. Finally in the 10th inning, Manny Trillo hit a triple that gave the Phillies the game by 8-7 and the NLCS by 3-2. I remember hopping on my crutch around my friend's living room with joy--this was the highlight of my life as a baseball fan. My team from a much bedraggled franchise was going to the World Series.
Correction: This game was even better than my memory of it. The Astros were playing at home. They scored to lead 5-2 after 7 innings. In the 8th the Phils load the bases vs. Ryan with no outs. Sambito relieves and gets two outs. Unser singles. Trillo triples to give Phils 7-5 lead. Astros rally vs. McGraw to tie game at 7. Starter Dick Ruthven pitches perfect 9th and 10th for Phils. Maddox drives in series-winning run in 10th.
By this time, my mom was plugged into the action, as one of the executives at her company had a connection to the Phillies front office. We talked by phone often during the pennant race and NLCS as I kept up with the scene in Philadelphia. As the World Series started, I was still on the cursed crutches, but determined to go to Philly and see a game if I could. She had two tickets way upstairs at the Vet to both an early game and to Game Seven. I decided that by Game Seven I'd be healed enough to travel and be willing to crawl up the stadium stairs to my seat if I had to.
Oh yeah, the opponents. Another multiple-time ALCS loser, the Kansas City Royals, had their breakthrough season and ALCS, finally taking out the Yankees, who'd won more than 100 games in the regular season behind former Royals' manager Dick Howser. George Brett had a monster season as he threatened the hallowed .400 batting mark for most of the year, finishing just below at .390. Willie Wilson, Frank White, and the wonderfully-named first baseman Willie Mays Aikens were other Royals' stars. Most of them had played in all the galling ALCS losses to the Yankees. The World Series would go to the team who was least satisfied with what could feel like a very satisfying league pennant.
With all of these angles in play, pre-Series coverage focused on of all things George Brett's hemorrhoids, a story that blessedly receded once the games began.
The extended NLCS forced Phillies' manager Dallas Green to send rookie Walk to the mound for Game One. The Royals responded with veteran Dennis Leonard. I'm delighted to report that Walk pitched creditably and the Phillies offense stayed on track for a 6-4 win. The team repeated the performance in Game Two behind Carlton. One memorable play was Schmidt faking a bunt to draw Brett in and then ripping the ball by him at third base. All was well for the men in red pinstripes as they headed to KC.
Being back home awoke the Royals' offense. Aikens slugged two homers in Game Three. I don't remember much about Game Four other than that the Royals won it to even the Series at 2-2. Phillies fans like me were torn between two realities--the almost 100-year history of franchise ineptitude vs. the recent history of a tough-minded crew that could handle adversity.
I'm trying to work from memory here or I'd research and tell you who started Game Five (Dick Ruthven, I think) and what the final score was. The Phils won the only Series game taken by a visiting team and went back to Philly leading 3-2.
Game Sixes are notoriously dangerous for the leading team. Only one of the two teams wants to play Game Seven. My sense is that a team that loses Game Six almost always loses Game Seven. This dark thought was in my head as Game Six started. My other thought was that Game Six was a no-lose situation for me. Either the Phils would be champions, or I'd be in the upper deck watching Game Seven live.
We sent our Cy Young winner to the mound. Carlton worked seven strong innings before giving way to the bullpen. The Phils' offense scored enough runs to give closer Tug McGraw the lead in the ninth. Still, we all knew this wouldn't be easy and it wasn't. With a couple of number of Royals on base, the batter was 2B Frank White. He hit a foul pop toward the Royals dugout. Both C Bob Boone and 1B Pete Rose settled under the ball--a routine out, it would seem. But the ball dropped into and popped out of Boone's glove, at which time Rose earned the entire salary on his contract by snagging the ball before it could hit the ground. At that point you could feel the demons fleeing Veterans' Stadium. I knew we would win. The last batter was leadoff man Willie Wilson, who while being a great centerfielder and fast as the wind, was prone to the strikeout, having amassed 11 thus far in six games. The antic McGraw, who would slap his glove against his chest after getting out of inning or recording a save (but who also adhered to the "frozen snowball theory" which states that none of this will matter much in six billion years when the earth is a frozen snowball in space), struck out Wilson for the save, the win and the World Series championship. My notes recalled that "horses and dogs" lined the field at the end, trying to prevent chaos from spilling out of the stands and onto the field. Tug jumped up a lot (see photo above) and I'm sure I jumped up a little bit--as best I could anyway.
Another 25 years would pass before I would need another surgery. The Phillies still suit up every spring trying to win their second world championship.
1981 - The Lost Half-Year - The second-most unsatisfying baseball season of my life happened in 1981. Playing as defending champions, the Phillies got off to a great start, with Mike Schmidt having an even better year than his 1980 MVP campaign. Then came the first serious players' strike in MLB history (the previous strike in 1972 ended after just a week of play in April), which started about a third of the way through the season and ended in early August, just in time to salvage the post-season. During the season I started a replacement league of my own on my APBA board game, but it was way too hard to play twelve games a night and record all the stats, and I gave up quickly. My other pastime was to create a lengthy list of what various major league ballplayers would do without baseball, based on the sound of their name. I wish I still had this--it was a great piece of word association.
Los Angeles Dodgers' sensational lefty Fernando Valenzuela won both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards in 1981.
Here are some names from the 1981 season (pulled from my diary of that year; I found it and lots of other stuff, but not the "job list") - Dan Driessen, Tug McGraw, Fernando Valenzuela (a superstar rookie that year), Gary Matthews, Larry Hisle, Don "Stan the Man Unusual" Stanhouse, Bruce Benedict, Dave Collins, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris, Rick Langford, Matt Keough, Rick Camp, Phil Niekro, Rufino Linares, Jerry Royster, Rafael Ramirez, Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz, Terry Puhl, Carlton Fisk, Greg Luzinski (now a White Sock), Jim Bibby, Kent Tekulve, Grant Jackson, Dale Berra, Nolan Ryan, Tommy Boggs (not Wade--we met him in mid-season as AAA games were televised during the strike), Rod Carew, Rick Burleson, Fred Lynn, Don Baylor, Dan Ford, Brian Downing, Tom Brunansky, Bobby Grich, Butch Hobson, Wayne Garland, Dick Tidrow, Lee Smith, Scot Thompson, Ken Reitz, Joe Strain (they can't all be stars), Rick Reuschel, Steve Henderson, Steve Carlton, Manny Trillo, Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez, Brian Kingman, Bert Blyleven, Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas (this list was generated between Opening Day and April 18, I'll stop here except to mention the unforgettable Lenny Randle, who once blew a bunt foul.) I'll also add Tim Raines, another fabulous rookie that season and a big part of the Expos success.
While the strike wasn't on yet, April 1981 gave us a 32-inning game in the International League between the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket Red Sox. To my knowledge, future Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs both played in that game, which was halted after 8 hours and 7 minutes of play. The end did come during the strike, as play was resumed in the top of the 33rd on June 23.
When the strike ended, the powers that be came up with the brilliant plan to declare all the teams that were ahead when the strike came as "first half champions". Post-strike standings would start with all teams at 0-0. The "second half champion" would play the "first half champion" in a best-of-3 (or maybe 5) extra playoff series, unless the both halves were won by the same team, in which case the first ever "wild card" team (second place finisher in the second half) would play in the extra playoff round. This seemed like a hideous injustice to the double winner--having to survive a short series against a team that finished second in a 50-game half-season, but there it was. The subseries also foreshadowed wild card playoff qualifiers--introduced 14 years later, when each league split into three divisions.
The Montreal Expos won the second half, and handily dispatched the moribund Phillies in the extra playoff round, as the long layoff seems to still whatever swagger the Phils had as defending champs. The Dodgers won the western side of the draw and beat the Expos in a decent NLCS about which I remember almost nothing. The Yankees recovered from a one-year ALCS slump to reach the World Series--once again to face the Dodgers.
Yankees-Dodgers has been my least favorite matchup since 1963, when I cared, and I was really apathetic after the depressing strike-split season. The Dodgers won--in six or seven, and Steve Yeager and two other Dodgers split the MVP award, a fitting outcome in a season put asunder.
Gymnastic Cards SS Ozzie Smith does his patented back flip going out to his position at Busch Stadium. This photo is either from the 1982 or 1985 World Series.
1982 - Not in the Cards for "Torre, Torre, Torre" and "Harvey's Wallbangers" - A lot of people stayed away from MLB for awhile after the strike, but I got right back in the water for the 1982 season. This was another pitching-dominated year in the National League. Steve Carlton hung up a fourth Cy Young, 20-win season as the Phillies fought hard all year to hang with the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the NL East by about 3 games, led by their pitching staff and the exciting play of shortstop Ozzie Smith, and despite hitting only 67 homers as a team (Barry Bonds of course hit 73 by himself 19 years later). Smith was acquired from the Padres in shortstop deal for Garry Templeton, who at that point in his career had strung together a couple of 200-hit seasons to look like Hall of Fame material. Smith was a spectacular shortstop but weak hitter for the Padres. But Cards' no-nonsense manager Whitey Herzog didn't like Templeton's belligerent attitude (he once flipped the bird to the Cardinal fans--the most loving baseball fans on earth this side of Cuba). Sinkerballer John Tudor and mercurial Joaquin Andujar ("one tough Dominican") led the Cardinals pitching staff, unless I'm confusing this team with the '85 Cards, who also won the NL. I'm confident about Tudor; less so about Andujar. (Correction: Tudor was with Boston in '82; he starred on the '85 Cards. Andujar had good seasons in both years. Bob Forsch was co-ace with Joaquin in '82)
The Cards beat the revived Atlanta Braves in the NL. It's hard to think back this far in his career given his long run with the Yankees, but the Braves manager in 1982 was none other than Joe Torre, who had been fired by the Mets. (The slogan above was a takeoff on the WWII movie "Tora, Tora, Tora" about the attack on Pearl Harbor). The Braves started the season 13-0 behind the MVP play of CF Dale Murphy (who played C and 1B on his way to CF) and hot early-season bat of OF Claudell Washington (the original C-Dub), an A's reserve in their glory days. I remember the Braves well because I lived in South Carolina at the time and travelled to Atlanta a couple of times a year to watch the Murphy, Niekro, Bob Horner and the rest battle the NL West. They hung on to win the division but fell quickly to the Cards in the NLCS after a rainout wasted a great start by Phil Niekro in Game One.
The AL champs were an unlikely lot--the Milwaukee Brewers, known affectionately as "Harvey's Wallbangers" after their manager Harvey Kuenn, and their longball-dependent offense. Sluggers included unkempt OF Gorman Thomas, MVP SS Robin Yount, catcher Ted Simmons and some others whose names escape me now. Their top pitcher and was equally unkempt righthander Pete Vuckovich, the unlikely winner of the AL Cy Young Award despite a relatively high ERA.
The Brewers beat the California Angels in the ALCS, 3 game to 2, overcoming a 0-2 deficit. (I had to look up both the opponent and the series score.)
The 1982 Series was a good one--extending the full seven games with the seventh game won by the Cards--Andujar pitching, I think. Bruce Sutter had come over from the Cubs and closed Game Seven and the Series with 2 scoreless innings. My theory about Game Sixes held here as the Cards won Game Six big, and went on to win Game Seven, the game the Brewers didn't want to play. The theory would come back to haunt the Cards three years later.
I can't believe this was the best picture I could find of Cal Ripken in first MVP season in 1983
1983 - Cal Jr. and the Wheeze Kids - A lot had to break just right for me to attend my one and only World Series game in October 1983. In a series of seemingly bizarre personnel moves pulled from Philip Roth's "The Great American Novel" or an Old-Timers Game, the Phils acquired ex-Big Red Machine cogs Tony Perez and Joe Morgan. Morgan had been with the Giants the year before; Perez perhaps was with the Expos. In any case, they were both over 40 years old when the season started, joining 1B Pete Rose in that demographic for the Phils. Perez's presence may have nostalgic for Rose, albeit not too flattering, given the implied message that Rose could no longer hit enough to hold a regular 1B position (it was true). Carlton and Schmidt remained mainstays. Pitcher John Denny came over from the Cardinals to anchor the starting rotation. "The Sarge" Gary Matthews, who came to the team from the Giants for the '82 season, was a fixture in left. "The Wheeze Kids", as they were satirically called, wheezed through August looking like a playoff outsider. But then a magic fairy visited the clubhouse, took 10 years off the ages of each aging player, and the Phillies (especially Morgan, who'd hit about .220 to that point) played like the Big Red Machine of old, rolling through September to capture the NL East title. If I think long enough, I'll come up with the name of the young pitcher(s) (Nino Espinosa?) that helped as Bystrom and Walk (both now gone) did in 1980. Somewhere in this timeframe, "Five for One" Von Hayes came to the Phillies from Cleveland in a trade for Julio Franco (really) and four other players. Other Phils regulars were ex-Cub Ivan DeJesus at short (we liked his enthusiasm, but my God, they traded Ryne Sandberg to get him), Bo Diaz at catcher and a platoon of Joe Lefevbre and Sixto Lezcano (great arm, great name) in right. Al "Mr. T" Holland was the closer.
In National League West, the Dodgers rolled through the season and through the Phils in interdivision games, winning 11 of 12. The entire baseball world wrote off the aging Phils against the younger Los Angelenos. Four games later (still in the "best of five" LCS era), the Phils had won three. Like an infantry officer leading a platoon, Gary Matthews hit and hustled his way to an LCS MVP Award. Carlton, Denny and Holland took care of the pitching. We were going to the World Series, and once again my mom had tickets.
In the era of Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly, a lot of teams other than the Yankees won American League pennants. In 1983, their tormentors were the Baltimore Orioles, who blended vets like Eddie Murray, Mike Flanagan, Ken Singleton and even Jim Palmer (not sure about that last one) with a youngsters like Mike Boddicker and a player who would leave an indelible mark on baseball, ironman and Holiday Inn spokeslegend, Cal Ripken, Jr. The Phils win over the Dodgers earned them some respect, but the oddsmakers still favored the Orioles. This time the oddsmakers got it right. The Phils won either Game One or Game Two. The Orioles won the rest, including Game Four, which I saw in person at The Vet. Highlights for Phillies fans included booing Howard Cosell (ABC did the TV coverage, based on their Monday Night Baseball contract) and chanting "Eddie, Eddie" sarcastically at Murray until he blasted a home run off the right centerfield scoreboard. 4 or 5 to 1 or 2 was the final of this anticlimactic game in an anticlimactic series. The Orioles went on to win 4 games to 1, in Cal Ripken, Jr's only World Series appearance. Phillies fans couldn't even think "wait 'til next year" as most if not all of the Wheeze Kids would be retired or gone before the start of the 1984 season. We'd just have to be satisfied with the fun of the September and LCS run.
1984 - Heartbreak on the North Side; Juggernaut in Motown - As expected, the retooled Phils weren't contenders in 1984, a status they'd carry on for the next nine years. But in 1984, rooting for the Chicago Cubs was the next best thing. The Cubbies had acquired a number of ex-Phils since 1980 and were led by none other than Phillies World Series-winning manager Dallas Green. Larry Bowa played short, Bob Dernier manned center, Keith Moreland caught and played some left field, and ex-Phils farmhand and backup infielder Ryne Sandberg dazzled the league with power hitting and slick fielding at second base. Watching him left you with a definite sense of "what if..."
As I remember, the Cubs won the NL East handily. The San Diego Padres, led by ex-Dodger Steve Garvey and unlikely hero Kurt Bevacqua, did likewise in the West. I may be wrong, because the experience of the NLCS that year has scarred my memory of whatever happened before. The Cubs and Padres played Games 1 and 2 in Wrigley Field. The Cubs won so easily that you wondered why the Padres were out there. With the Detroit Tigers dominating the American League (they started 35-5 and rolled to the Series), everyone looked forward to a rematch of the 1945 World Series, the last time the Cubs participated (they lost). Someone forgot to tell the Padres about their part in the drama as they rose from the dead to win three games in San Diego and the ticket to the World Series. Like the Phillies of '83, their appearance in the World Series was brief and painless. I pretty much sat this one out, as I couldn't root for an American League powerhouse (this was Sparky Anderson's best team with the Tigers, with Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish), and just couldn't get my heart behind the Padres after they'd destroyed the Cubs' dream.
1985 - Missouri Breaks - This was John Tudor's year to lead the Cardinals to the National League pennant, with a strong assist from "one tough Dominican", Joaquin Andujar. Slugging first baseman Jack Clark came over from the Giants to provide some unusual power for the Cards. In the NLCS, a pivotal home run was hit by the most unlikely of hitters. Skinny shortstop Ozzie Smith homered hitting left-handed off Los Angeles Dodger closer Tom Niedenfuhr to win an NLCS game. Jack Buck's famous call, "Go crazy, folks!" Ozzie never hit many home runs, but they usually came from right-handed swing.
In the American League, the Kansas City Royals also got their second bite at the apple in the '80s, having of course, lost to the Phils in the 1980 Series. This time, George Brett still led the team, but their pitching was much improved with the work of young Bret Saberhagen. After five games of the first Missouri cross-state Series, the Cards led three games to two, and seemed headed toward their second world championship in four years. (I had to look up this next part on Wikipedia--I'll just cut and paste their writeup.)
The widely discussed play in the 1985 World Series remains one of the most memorable moments in Series history. It was Game 6 (October 26), with the St. Louis Cardinals leading the Kansas City Royals 3 games to 2. The Cardinals had taken a 1-0 lead on an 8th-inning single by little-used backup catcher Brian Harper after Danny Cox (of the Cardinals) and Charlie Leibrandt (of the Royals) had battled tit-for-tat all game long. Ironically, it was a blown call in the 4th inning that cost the Royals a potential run and put them in the hole when Frank White was mistakenly called out after stealing second, and the next batter, Pat Sheridan, got a hit. Todd Worrell was now in the game for the Cardinals in the 9th inning, facing Jorge Orta, the leadoff batter for the Royals. Orta hit a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to Worrell covering first base. First-base umpire Denkinger called Orta safe, but instant replays and photographs clearly showed that he was out by half a step.
According to Denkinger, he got too close to the play, first looked at Worrell's glove, and then at Orta's foot a second later. Many Cardinals fans blamed the loss on Denkinger's call, but the Cardinals made a number of mistakes that enabled the Royals to stay in the game and win. In the next at-bat, Clark misplayed an easy foul pop-up by batter Steve Balboni. Instead of popping out, Balboni singled on the next pitch, and Onix Concepcion came in to pinch-run. With runners on first and second, Jim Sundberg then bunted into a force play at third. Catcher Darrell Porter then allowed a passed ball, allowing the runners to advance to second and third. Pinch-hitter Hal McRae was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Dane Iorg knocked a bloop single to right that scored Concepcion and Sundberg, who avoided Porter's tag at the plate to score the winning run.
Shortly after the game, Denkinger found Commissioner Peter Ueberroth waiting for him in front of the umpires' room. Denkinger asked Ueberroth if he had gotten the call right. Ueberroth shook his head from side to side, and said, "No, you didn't."
In a clear case of one team wanting to play Game Seven, while the other wanted to be having a party, the Royals blew out the Cardinals 11-0 to win the World Series. Both starting pitcher Joaquin Andujar and manager Whitey Herzog were ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Don Denkinger, the same umpire who had make "the call" the night before. Andujar destroyed a toilet in the clubhouse, and Tudor, whom Andujar had relieved after just two ineffective innings, punched a fan and cut his hand. I watched this last game at my friend's house. Growing up in downstate Illinois, he'd been a Cards fan for 20+ years. Needless to say, he couldn't stand much of this game, and neither could I.
1986 - Postseason Best - The continuing saga of Red Sox postseason woes overshadowed what was simply the most exciting baseball postseason of the four-division era, and perhaps of all time. The four division winners were all strong deserving clubs. The Mets assembled a veteran club, bring Keith Hernandez and Gary "Kid" Carter over from the Cards and Expos, respectively. Their own young players, Lenny ("Dude" or "Nails") Dysktra and Wally Backman, fit well with the gritty veterans. Long-time Mets like CF Mookie Wilson were happy to be playing with a winner. Young pitching phenom Dwight "Doc" Gooden was still a sensation in his third year. Their NLCS opponents were the Houston Astros, making just their second playoff appearance ever, but ably led by a strong pitching staff that featured Cy Young winner Mike Scott and future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan in his last year as an Astro. In the American League, the Red Sox, led by their own future Hall of Famer (still in our future) Roger Clemens faced the California Angels (not yet limited to Anaheim, Los Angeles or Los Angeles of Anaheim). I guess there was some confusion in other California baseball towns like San Francisco and San Diego.
Both League Championship Series went the then-full five games. The Mets and Astros played multiple extra inning games, including a 16-inning classic in which the teams scored matching runs in the 13th or 14th inning. A Mets' fan could tell you better how they clinched the Series. I expect that Jessie Orosco was on the mound.
The ALCS seemed to belong to the Angels, who led by two with 2 outs in the top of the 9th of Game Five until Sox OF Dave "Hendu" Henderson hit a 3-run homer off Angel's closer Donnie Moore to win the game and series. Moore's career and some say his psyche never recovered from the blow--he committed suicide a few years later.
The World Series between the Mets and Red Sox had its ups and downs. The Sox were most up when they led three games to two while playing with the lead in the 9th inning of Game Six. The champagne was on ice in the Sox locker room. Relief pitchers Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi began the collapse, which seemed inevitable when 40-year old 1B Bill Buckner let Mookie Wilson's dribbling grounder go between his legs for an error. Almost the baseball equivalent of "Agonie Defeet's" plunge from the ski jump ramp on Wide World of Sports, Buckner's error (and age) led him to retire after the season and hole up in Idaho. You'll have to ask manager John McNamara what aging Buckner was doing at first base in that situation. Ray Knight came around to score the winning run to push the Series to Game Seven. I missed most (all?) of Game Seven with a softball conflict, but the Mets won that one too to win their second world championship in their 25 years as a franchise. During that time and almost 45 more years, the Red Sox had won no championships.
1987 - Bagmen - This was the first year I moved to Baton Rouge. At World Series time I got further reinforcement about just what a football town this is. I struggled to find any public venue with a decent TV tuned to baseball. I forget the name of the place--it was more of a music club with one decent-sized but fuzzy TV. And it was across town. I tried the bars near campus, but the din there was even more deafening. I was about the only person interested in the World Series between the Cardinals and the upstart Minnesota Twins. I'm thinking that the Cards once again beat the Dodgers in the NLCS. I'm pretty sure that the Twins beat the Tigers in the ALCS because the Tigers traded prospect John Smoltz for Braves veteran starter Doyle Alexander near the end of the season. The move paid off in the very short term as Alexander pitched well and helped the Tigers win their division. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Alexander retired within a year and Smoltz went on to a 20-year Hall-of-Fame career with the Braves that is still going on.
I kept a diary during the Series, but I'll work from memory, which is admittedly fuzzy after twenty years. I remember (I think) that the home team won every game. The Twins, led by irrepressible Kirby Puckett and blocky 1B Kent Hrbek, had the extra home game and won the Series, 4-3. The source of their home field advantage was evident, as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome was a strange place--kind of a low-cost dome. The football bleachers that were recessed for baseball along the right field wall were covered by a piece of black canvas known as "the Baggie". Despite the size difference, the resemblance to the popular lawn refuse storage bags was striking. Twins fans also generated a din of their own in their enclosed stadium, which was accentuated by thousands of waving "Homer Hankies". Most stadiums (ex-NY and Boston) distribute similar towels for the fans to wave when they're excited. In 1987, this was a new practice, and to me it looked kind of goofy (actually it still does). Driven by towels, talent or canvas bags, the Twins outplayed their 85 win season to win their first-ever World Series championship.
1988 - Orel and "The Natural" - For about the tenth time in twelve years, I went to spring training in Florida in March 1988. Based on what I saw there, I came home convinced that the Los Angeles Dodgers would be the worst team in the National League. I may even have this written down somewhere. I forget the specifics of my complaint, but you may remember how the season turned out.
Led by the phenomenal pitching of Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers won the NL West and then upset the Mets in the NLCS to go to the World Series. He broke fellow Dodger Don Drysdale's record for consecutive scoreless innings during the regular season, and then pitched to the same level in the NLCS (in my new "traveling job" I watched part of one of Hershiser's NLCS wins in the Atlanta airport). Hershiser's performances are still part of baseball lore, but having happened over a game or a season, they stay in the background compared to one of the most dramatic and most replayed moments in baseball history--Kirk "The Natural" Gibson's home run off seemingly unhittable A's reliever Dennis Eckersley. Gibson, who had come over from the Tigers where he was a five-tool outfielder (and former star wide receiver at Michigan State), was injured much of the season, but still managed to produce sufficient stats and clubhouse fervor to be selected as the NL MVP. In the postseason his injuries seemed to catch up to him and he missed much of the play, including the entire game in which we would become the hero--except for his at bat. The Oakland A's, led by brainy manager Tony LaRussa and slugging musclemen Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire (the "Bash Brothers") rolled to the AL championship and were heavy favorites over the Dodgers. Eckersley, a converted starter, had become the most efficient closer in the American League, saving games while seemingly never giving up any hits or walks. His sidearm changeup baffled American League batters all year. Gibson, who had to receive treatment in the clubhouse and get wrapped just to serve as a pinch hitter, couldn't hit at least one Eckersley changeup, but he found the next one (or maybe it was a fastball) and drove it into the California night for a game-winning home run. In a scene you've seen dozens of time, Gibson limped around the bases pumping his arm while the stadium exploded with camera flashes--reminiscent of the last scene in the movie "The Natural", where Robert Redford's Roy Hobbs character, bleeding from a stab wound, hits a home run off the light stand in right field, exploding countless lightbulbs and triggering an impromptu fireworks display.
The homer (Gibson's) won Game Two (actually it was Game One) of the Series for the Dodgers, evening the Series at one game each (the A's must have won Game Two), and negating the A's impressive Game One (Game Two) win, which included a 450'+ home run blast to dead center by Canseco. The A's didn't seem to have much left for the last three games, all won by Tommy Lasorda's Dodgers to complete a most improbable (at least in my judgement) season.
1989 - All Shook Up - The Bash Brothers were back in the 1989 World Series, having dominated American League play with their combination of power hitting and stingy pitching. Their opponents from the National League played just across the bay. The Will Clark-led San Francisco Giants beat the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. I forget who played the A's in the ALCS, maybe the Orioles. I'm not alone in forgetting the preamble, given what happened just as Game One of the Series was about to start. Interrupting the game was the strongest earthquake experienced in the Bay Area since the catastrophic 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. A sports event quickly became a news event as bridges fell, buildings burned and roads collapsed. Candlestick Park shook but didn't break. I watched Game One (and the quake) from my girlfriend's (now wife of almost 16 years) apartment. "You gotta come see this!" (or words to that effect), I cried. The Series resumed several days late and lasted slightly longer than the tremor as the A's whipped the Giants in four straight games, satisfying the promise of the '88 season and erasing some of the disappointment of the '88 Series defeat. Still any success was dulled just a little by the natural disaster, a one-of-a-kind happening in American sports history.
Thanks for reading! I'll keep working and hope to have Parts 4 (the '90s) and 5 (the '00s) complete before the 2007 World Series begins (or at least before it finishes).