Orioles 3B Brooks Robinson had a lot to celebrate at the 1970 World Series, won by his Baltimore Orioles over the Cincinnati Reds
I maintained dual loyalties and rooted for the Yankees as well. They were probably better than the Phils, but no more serious contender to the continued AL reign of the Baltimore Orioles, who followed almost the same script as when they won the 1969 pennant--great regular season, wipeout of Twins in ALCS. The National League champions were the Cincinnati Reds, a developing powerhouse featuring "Charley Hustle", aka Pete Rose, young phenom Johnny Bench at catcher and dependable Tony Perez at 1B (or maybe 3B, as the Reds also had Lee May, who was definitely a 1B). The Reds beat the Pirates in the NLCS.
But back to the World Series and me. I started college that fall and was living in a dorm when the Series came on in October. My dorm was old and decrepit, and the TV in the common room worked about half the time. I walked across campus to a newer dorm's common room and watched both the Series and the Olympics there. The 1972 Series was a classic, matching AL champ Oakland A's in their first appearance (having beaten Detroit in the ALCS), with the Cincinnati Reds, who defeated the defending champion Pirates which much the same team as lost to the Orioles in 1970. A major upgrade for the Reds was the replacement of light-hitting Tommy Helms with short and speedy slugger Joe Morgan. Probably know more these days for his announcing than his playing career, Morgan was one of the smartest baseball players ever. In 1972, his first year with the Reds, he walked 115 times and struck out only 44; he stole 58 bases while being caught only 17 times. Morgan finished fourth in NL MVP balloting, which his teammate Johnny Bench won for the second time in three years with another ridiculous season in which he played 147 games and hit 40 home runs (after 45 HRs and 148 RBI in 1970).
The Series was closely fought and well played. Two managerial styles regarding handling pitchers were on display. Reds' manager Sparky Anderson preferred the "bullpen by committee" approach--keeping a number of both left and right-handed pitchers ready for relief to gain maximum matchup advantage against the batter. A's manager Dick Williams had one reliever he liked above all others, his "closer", though I don't think the term was used so generally in 1972. This was the mustachioed Rollie Fingers. In contrast to the clean-shaven Reds of America's heartland and Nixon's "Silent Majority", many of the A's, who played near radical Mecca Berkeley, California, sported bushy mustaches and hair sticking out from under their caps. Bushy won the week, but not by much, as the A's won in seven games with Fingers saving every victory. I think I was still an American League fan, but I don't remember clearly who I rooted for in this one. I would end up voting for Nixon in my first presidential election a month year, an error I write off to youth.
1973 - Not Quite a Miracle - I divorced the Yankees in mid-1973, even though and in part because the team got off to a great start, contending throughout the first half. We even went as a family in early summer to a game at Yankee Stadium against Cleveland. The player I best remember from this team is DH Ron Blomberg--a Jewish DH, what a fit for NY. I think he was the first DH to either get a hit or hit a home run, as the designated hitter was first used in the American League in what has become a 35-year "experiment." After the All-Star Game, the Yankees season went sour just as dramatically. They won about one game a week for long stretches, and eventually finished well off the pace of whomever won the AL East, probably the Orioles. That team was summarily dispatched by the A's, who built on their 1972 success to dominate the American League. The A's stalwart starter was lefty Vida Blue, kind of the American League version of Carlton or Koufax for a couple of years--lots of wins, low ERAs, big strikeout totals--all as a very young pitcher. Yankee management had enough too, as they fired Ralph Houk at season's end. But I'd had enough. I didn't consider the first half to be a sign of promise for the future. I considered the second half to be a harbinger of another decade of bad and boring teams. Well we can't all be seers (particularly those who voted for Nixon in 1972).
1973 was an odd year for the hometown Phils. Carlton of all players fell off his perch, going 13-20 with an ERA of almost double his 1972 number. He resented a long piece that ran in one of the Philly papers and stopped talking to the press, a policy he maintained for many more years, even when he was successful again. The Phillies fans (surprise!), who fell before Carlton's feet in worship just a year earlier, began booing. Mike Schmidt played semi-regularly at third. Management saw something special as they gave a lot of ABs to a guy who ended the season with about a .200 average. With all of this bad news, the NL East was bad enough to keep the Phils on the fringes of contention. Manager Danny Ozark said that you could "throw a blanket" over four or five teams in the East (NY, Pgh, Chi, StL, and Chi). The Phils slipped out from under the blanket on the losing side. Peeking just a nose above the others were the Mets, who then took on the mighty Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS.
Certain baseball happenings are inexplicable. The Mets NLCS win over the Reds in '73 is one of those, although, as they say, anything can happen in a short series. The Mets did have good pitching with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman joined by Jon Matlack (who went to my high school) and backed up by emotional closer Tug McGraw (father of country music star Tim McGraw). I will have more on Tug later when he joins the Phils.
The Mets squeezed past the Reds in five game to face the A's, to whom they succumbed more logically in five games. My main memory of the Series is a painful one. Honorary captain and sometimes starting centerfielder of the Mets was baseball legend Willie Mays, who was about 41 years old at the time. With anguish I recall Mays stumbling in the outfield under what in past years were fly balls he could catch with his teeth. The A's continued to be an impressive bunch, despite not liking their owner (Charlie Finley), their manager, or each other very much. If you've watched any of the ESPN series "The Bronx is Burning" about the Yankees of the mid-to-late '70s, you can understand the A's dynamic. Reggie Jackson was the star of both teams. I think I rooted for the Mets in this one. By this time, the A's were a powerhouse, and I rooted for the underdog, particularly one with a player from my hometown, even if they were the hated Mets, tormenter of the Phils in the NL East (no one more so than Tom Seaver).
The Mariano Rivera of his day, Rollie Fingers and his manager Dick Williams perfected the modern role of closer.
1974 - Three and Out - There will be no more commentary on the Yankees unless they play in the post-season, which of course they did several times between 1976 and 1981. Now a full-time NL fan, no longer burdened with the dilemma of who I'd root for between the Yankees and the Phillies in the World Series (talk about wishful thinking), I gave myself fully to the Phils, attending several games, including Opening Day, at the Vet. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I headed to the ballpark on an April afternoon in a T-shirt and shorts. The wind blew and the temperature dropped into the 40s and I froze. Oh, the Mets won.
Here's the wonderful character actor John Turturro as Yankees manager Billy Martin in a photo from the ESPN series, "The Bronx is Burning. The facial resemblance is uncanny. I think that the real Billy was a little scrawnier.
The NL West was a familiar scene as the Big Red Machine subdued all competition. The Phils might have been the best team in the NL for 3/4 of the season, but everyone knew who was the best overall. I ponied up $6 to be in the far right field stands on a frigid October night for Game 1, which the Reds won by a bloodlessly efficient 6-1 score. The next game was no better: 6-2 Reds. The Phillies at least competed in Game Three, losing 7-6 in a tiebreaker as I like to say. Straight sets to the BRM.
As we've learned from "The Bronx is Burning", George Steinbrenner took over the ownership of the Yankees in 1975 and brought in Yankee sparkplug of the '50s Billy Martin as the manager. Martin had managed the Tigers to their 1972 NL East title. New York fans loved Martin. He feuded with players (some of whom had come over from the feuding A's), especially Reggie Jackson, but coaxed the Bronx Bombers to their first post-season action since 1964. They even got past the (pause while I look this up) George Brett-led Kansas City Royals (how could I forget?), who made their first playoff appearance since being expanded into existence in 1969.
The BRM was another matter as the Yankees went as quickly and quietly as the Phils. Four games to none with only one game close. John Turturro as Billy Martin cried in his office until Oliver Platt as Steinbrenner came in and reamed him out. Later these two giants of marketing did a famous beer commercial series in which Steinbrenner repeatedly hired and fired Martin.
Wounded from the NLCS blow, I paid almost no attention to the Series, an odd reaction since I'd been a diehard Yankees fan just three years before. In fact, I went to a high school football game during one of the games in an crazy attempt to demonstrate that I could be a sportswriter, despite having been educated for four years as a chemical engineer. The editor of one of the local papers liked my article about the game, but he had no budget for an assistant. I soon found a headhunter and a job in my field, in which I still work today, but in a capacity pretty far removed from chemical engineering.
Reggie "The Straw That Stirs the Drink" Jackson hits his third home run of the game in the 1977 World Series.
1977 - The Drink Is Stirred - I got a job at a South Carolina chemical plant and moved directly after Super Bowl XI (Raiders and Vikings, I think). The sunny south greeted me with a week of January days when the temperature never exceeded freezing. Later on this would be averaged out with weeks of summer days when the temperature routinely exceeded 100 degrees. Clearly, this discussion has nothing to do with baseball. Back to the topic.
I celebrated the '76 season by leaving my South Carolina home late one March evening and driving all night to Clearwater, Florida, the spring training home of the Phillies. I was first in line at the Jack Russell Stadium box office for the next day's game. I remember seeing Phillies pitcher Wayne Twitchell up close (heretofore almost every game I saw was from the upper deck at the Vet--about 200 feet above the action it seemed). Ooh, I thought, Wayne Twitchell. I went back to spring training every year I lived in South Carolina (through 1987) and even once from Louisiana, but that's a story for another year.
To their credit, the Phillies built on the success of the 1976 season rather than dwell on its dismal ending. After all, they were up against one of the best teams of all time in the 1976 Reds (at that time, the best team since the 1967 Cardinals, but built more around offense than pitching). The 1977 regular season was like 1976 but without the swoon. Greg Luzinski had 90 RBIs by the All-Star break. Carlton pitched his way to a third Cy Young Award. Defensive mainstays Bowa and Maddox remained at the top of their games. OF Bake McBride came over from the Cards to help the offense.
The Dodgers beat the Reds in a close race for the NL West, even though Reds' OF George Foster won the MVP award with 52 home runs. Garvey, Lopes and Cey again led the Dodgers with help from a very solid pitching staff. Still, we Phillies fans felt we had the best team in the NL all year and with the experience of '76 behind us, we would almost certainly get to the Series for the first time since the Whiz Kids of 1950 (far before my time, but I bought into the backstory as my own). Still in the best-of-five format, the NLCS got off to a decent enough start with the Phils and Dodgers splitting the first two (the first Phils post-season win since 1915). Game Three was nearing the end and looking good until late when Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda inserted two pinch hitters. Ageless Vic Davalillo laid down a bunt single. Manny Mota, one time Clemente protege, lofted a fly ball to deep left field, where Phils LF Greg Luzinski rumbled back to take off the wall on a very short hop. From this sad moment it was a short trip to doom. The Dodgers completed their Game Three comeback and won Game Four easily in a drizzling rain as Dodger lefty made it rain ground balls. I laid prostrate in bed for some of this game. To this day, almost 30 years later, I wonder why Luzinski was still in LF with a lead in the late innings, instead of his usually defensive sub, Jerry Martin, a CF by trade. I will never know. I went to some kind of oyster roast or barbecue on a lake after the series and thought how it would feel to walk into the lake and drown. I can't swim very well, so I didn't. I mean, it was only baseball.
The Yankees once again beat the Royals to reach their second straight World Series, this time against their old rivals from the '50s and 1963--the Dodgers. I could hardly watch, devastated by how close the Phillies had come to being there. I couldn't root for the Dodgers. I couldn't root for Steinbrenner's mercenary Yankees. I watched parts of some of the games. It seems like Reggie Jackson hit some homers and Howard Cosell ran his mouth during ABC's broadcasts, but that could have been later. You probably know more than I do.
1978 - Deja Vu In More Ways Than One - The NL East caught up to the Phils in '78, but the team had just enough to hold off the Pirates and get to the LCS again, again vs. the Dodgers. I guess that bad LCS's come in threes. This one had its own brand of sorrow as once again the Phils had a chance to win Game Three of a tied series. This time the Secretary of Defense, the man who covers the part of earth that is not covered by water, CF Garry Maddox, dropped a short fly ball to CF, paving the way for the Dodgers to win Game Three and ultimately the series.
The whole playoff bracket in 1978 was a repeat of '77. I imagine that Royals fans were as frustrated as Phillies fans as their boys lost for the third straight time to the hated Yankees. Once again the Yankees and Dodgers met in a World Series that did little for me despite its popularity in television's two largest markets. The Yankees won again and I think that Reggie Jackson shook his booty to allow a throw to bounce of his hip for an error. I also remember that the Yankees' Graig Nettles was a very great third baseman during these series--on par with Brooks Robinson--nothing got by him as he played deep and used his strong arm to record outs at first.
Looking like a giant lemon popsicle in his yellow double knits, "Pops" Stargell led the Pirates "Fam-a-lee" to victory in the 1979 World Series.
1979 Pops Goes the Family - The axe fell on Phils manager Danny Ozark in 1979. He was replaced with Farm Director and martinet Dallas Green in mid-season. The team struggled throughout with the season's highlight occurring in April when the Phils beat the Cubs 26-23 on windy day in Wrigley Field. Pete Rose joined the club as the new 1B that year for the highest salary in baseball. Here my outstanding powers of clairvoyance shown again. I wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated which was published in which I predicted that Rose would become the first player ever to be elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. We all know how that worked out.
Among the winners, the Pirates retook the NL East after a 3-year Phillies reign. Most of the '71 championship had moved on, except for "Pops" Stargell, who led the "Fam-a-lee"--CF Omar "The Outmaker" Moreno, 2B Rennie Stennett, and star RF Dave Parker. The Reds, with a substantially retooled Red Machine, won the NL West, but provided little (actually no) competition for the Pirates in the NLCS.
As in 1971, the Pirates' World Series opponent would be the Baltimore Orioles, even more reshaped than the Pirates. Jim Palmer was still around, but this team belonged to 1B Eddie Murray and P Mike Flanagan. By this time, my conversion to NL fan was complete and I rooted for the Pirates, even with them playing disco music (their theme song was "We Are Family" by the Staple Singers) with every win. Baltimore fans had to be a little creeped out (ok, maybe a lot)when once again the Pirates stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to win a 7-game series, with the last win coming in Baltimore. NL co-MVP Willie Stargell was also the MVP of the World Series, a fitting climax to classy and productive career.