7 Reasons The 1980 Pennant Race Was Fantastic

Four teams, two spots, one weekend.

That’s what the 1980 pennant race came down to in the National League. The American League race produced some drama, but the NL pennant race was outstanding and it doesn’t get its due. It had everything, including two divisions that came down to the final weekend. Here are seven reasons the 1980 pennant race was fantastic.

The Pirates Fade

dave-parkerThe Pirates were the defending World Series champs and a consensus pick to repeat. They had their core back and held a 5 game lead in the NL East in May. By the morning of September 1st that lead was down to just a half game and they were in a tailspin.

From August 25th through September 9, the Pirates lost 13 of 15 games and were basically out of the race. The Buccos went 10-17 in September, enduring a five game losing streak at beginning of month and a six game skid to end the month, turning half game lead into an eight game deficit by the end of September.

“This is the first time in my 10 years as a big league manager that a club I managed didn’t have a good September,” said Pirates Manager Chuck Tanner. “That has been the big difference. We haven’t won like we used to in September.”

The Astros Inner Turmoil

The 1980 Houston Astros had an extremely talented roster, including one of the top pitching staffs in baseball. Then J.R. Richard went down.

That certainly would be enough to torpedo a lot of teams, but not this Astros team. There was another situation brewing under the surface, however, and it threatened to rip the team apart.

 

Joe Morgan
Morgan and Virdon didn’t see eye to eye

In his book, Joe Morgan – A Life in Baseball, Morgan recounts how he called a players-only meeting in August after a series against the Padres in San Diego. He challenged his teammates to be less selfish and he singled people out. It worked.

Immediately following the meeting, Houston went on a tear and gained a three game lead in the NL West. Everyone was happy according to Morgan except manager Bill Virdon, who felt Morgan had overstepped his bounds. Their relationship changed after that. As the team started winning, players would talk about how much of an influence Morgan was which made the problem worse.

Virdon began benching Morgan late in games and the players noticed. It was a situation that would come back to bite them later on.

The Montreal Expos

As talented as the Astros were, they had nothing on the Montreal Expos. Future Hall-of-Famers Andre Dawson and Gary Carter anchored a lineup that also included Larry Parrish, Ron Leflore, Ellis Valentine, Rodney Scott and a young outfielder up from the minors named Tim Raines.

 

Steve Rogers
Rogers was a workhorse in September

The Expos went 19-9 in September, thanks in large part to outstanding pitching. The Montreal staff threw six shutouts in September and allowed a major league low 78 runs. Staff ace Steve Rogers made six starts in 24 days, going 4-2 with four complete games.

Another key for the Expos was taking two of three from Pittsburgh in mid-September. After splitting the first two, Montreal won the crucial third game to grab a one game lead in the division while pushing Pittsburgh down to third place.

“I don’t think the Pirates will give us any more trouble,” Jerry White told the media after the 4-0 win. “Philadelphia is now the team we’ve got to worry about.”

The Phillies Surge

While Expos were surging, so were the Phillies. Six games back on August 11th, they managed to crawl back into a first place tie by the end of play on September 1st. Mike Schmidt took over from there. From September 1st through the end of the season, Schmidt hit .298 with 13 homers and 28 RBI. His hot bat helped the Phillies go 19-10 in September.

 

Marty Bystrom
Bystrom was a nice surprise

On the mound, they got a big big contribution from an unexpected source. Marty Bystom came to the Phillies an an amateur free-agent in 1976. After winning 6- games in 14 starts at AAA Oklahoma City, Bystrom went 5-0 in September of 1980 pitching some of the most important innings in franchise history. His 1.50 ERA earned him NL Pitcher of the Month honors.

“How good is Marty?” Phillies manager Dallas Green asked the media after his final win of the month. “Pressure doesn’t bother Marty. He has that look in his eye. A look of confidence.”

The Expos/Phillies Showdown

Great months by both the Phillies and the Expos set up a showdown in Montreal on the final weekend of the season. There was a tie at the top of the division and whoever won two of three in the series would be off the the NLCS.

“They’ll have to take it away from us in our own park,” said Andre Dawson. “We’re loose and confident and we’d just as soon get it over in the first two days of the series.”

The Phillies sent 16-game winner Dick Ruthven to the mound while the Expos countered with their own 16-game winner, Scott Sanderson. Not surprisingly, Pete Rose got things started for the Phillies by singling to lead off the game. He advanced to 3rd on a Bake McBride double and scored on a Schmidt sac fly to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

In the top of the 6th, Schmidt again provided the heroics, this time with a solo home run. Dawson’s sac fly in the bottom of the inning cut the Phillies lead to one, but Tug McGraw came on in the 8th inning and struck out five of the six batters he faced to notch his 20th save and give the Phillies a one game lead in the division.

“Now it’s our advantage,” Schmidt said. “The pressure stays on us but they must be feeling a bit of it themselves.”

“It’s very simple now,” said Expos manager Dick Williams. “We win tomorrow or we have to face the winter with the knowledge that we’re only a second place ballclub.”

Montreal grabbed an early lead in game two and was clinging to a 4-3 advantage in the top of the 9th when Bob Boone‘s two-out single off Woody Fryman scored Bake McBride to tie the game.

McGraw shut out the Expos in the 9th and 10th innings and in the top of the 11th, Mike Schmidt faced Stan Bahnsen with one out and Rose on second.

Schmidt delivered perhaps the biggest home run in Phillies history since Dick Sisler‘s shot on the final day of 1950. The 2-run homer won the game for the Phillies and sent them to the NLCS.


“This will give me a heckuva lot more character for future pressure baseball,” Schmidt said. “We have a bigger hill to climb ahead of us. I’ve yet to prove myself in a playoff and World Series.”

The Astros Meltdown

So the Phillies were in but they still didn’t know who they would play.  The Astros held a three game advantage over the Dodgers heading into the final weekend of the season and the two faced off in Los Angeles for a three game series. All Houston had to do was win one game and they would qualify for their first ever post-season appearance.

In game one, Houston had a one-run lead in the bottom of the 9th and their closer Dave Smith ready in the bullpen, but Virdon stayed with Ken Forsch instead. The Dodgers tied it with 2-outs in the 9th and won it on Joe Ferguson‘s walk-off homer off Forsch in the 10th. A young Fernando Valenzuela pitched two scoreless innings in relief to get the win for L.A.

Game two featured Jerry Reuss against Nolan Ryan and again the Dodgers prevailed by a single run. The game was tied at one when Steve Garvey homered off Ryan. It held up and the Dodgers won 2-1.

“He started me with a curve and then came with the fastball,” Garvey told the press after the game. “I was sure it was gone when I hit it.”

That set up a Sunday showdown. A Houston win meant they won the division. A Dodgers win would force a one game playoff.

“Sunday can’t be any tougher than facing Reuss,” said Virdon. “We’re not worried about numbers or statistics. We just need one more win.”

 

Ron Cey
Cey’s homer was huge

Houston again took a lead in the third game and again the Dodgers fought back in the late innings. Ron Cey’s 8th inning, 2-run homer proved to be the difference. Don Sutton, who started the first game of the series, got the last out and earned his first save of the season.

“We don’t have the killer instinct sometimes,’ said Morgan. “We got ahead 3-0 the same way we have all year, by slapping singles, stealing bases and bunting, but then we sat back and expected our pitchers to hold them. You can’t do that.”

One of the main reasons Morgan was in Houston was to provide veteran leadership, the kind Houston was lacking. This was his biggest test.

“This team is going to grow up a lot in the next day,” he said. “It will be strong or it will die.”

The Astros/Dodgers Playoff

More than 50,000 people packed Dodger Stadium on Monday, October 6th for the one-game playoff to determine the NL West champion.

The Astros sent 19-game winner Joe Niekro to the mound, while the Dodgers countered with Dave Goltz, signed as a free-agent in the 1979 off-season. Goltz recorded double-digit wins for six straight seasons in Minnesota but his first season in Dodger Blue was a disappointment. He entered the most important game of the season with a 7-10 record.

 

Art Howe
Howe’s homer iced it

Houston took Morgan’s words to heart and scored two runs in the first inning on two singles, a stolen base and two ground outs. Art Howe hit a two-run homer in the 3rd and the Astros plated three more in the 4th to take a 7-0 lead.

Seven runs were plenty for Niekro as he allowed just six hits en route to a complete game 7-1 final.

“I was confident. I was relaxed,” said Niekro after winning his 20th game. “After the first two innings I found I had a good knuckleball.”

As the champagne flowed in the visitors clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, Virdon finally let his guard down.

“I’m probably as relaxed right now as I’ve been in the last four days,” he said.

Aftermath

Like the regular season race, the 1980 ALCS was a bit anticlimactic, but the NLCS continued the regular season excitement. The Phillies beat the Astros in five thrilling games with the last four going to extra innings. In the end, the Phillies prevailed and went on to win their first ever World Series championship.

 

 

 

 

Missed it By That Much – The Mike Parrott story

Every baseball player has bad years. Both Cy Young and Walter Johnson posted 20-loss seasons. Mike Schmidt hit .196 in his first full year. But few players had a year as miserable as Mike Parrott‘s 1980.

Mike Parrott was a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Orioles in 1973. He worked his way up to AAA two years later and won 15 games with the Rochester Red Wings in 1977.

“The guy is a major league pitcher,” said his AAA manager Ken Boyer, who spent 15 seasons in the big leagues as a player.

“Poise, character, relaxation, concentration, movement on the ball, velocity – when you break him down in all those areas he’s been outstanding.”

Those traits made him the 1977 International League Most Valuable Pitcher and earned him a September call up at the end of the year. But at the Winter Meetings, the Baltimore traded Parrott to Seattle. What looked like a career setback proved to be the break he needed and he became the ace of the Mariners pitching staff. By 1979, his 14 wins lead the team and as the 1980 season dawned Mike Parrott had his sights set on winning 20 games.

Nightmare Season

Mike Parrott Seattle Mariners
Parrot got the nod on Opening Day

Parrott was the Opening Day starter and despite giving up two home runs to John Mayberry, he picked up the win against the Toronto Blue Jays. But at the end of April his season took a turn for the worse.

On April 30th, Parrott was facing Roy Smalley in the bottom of the 5th inning in Minnesota. The Twins’ shortstop sent a hot shot back up the middle and Parrott was unable to defend himself. The ball hit him squarely in groin. He wasn’t wearing a cup. Parrott collapsed on the mound and was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher. Newspaper reports called the injury a “severe bruise.”

In Rochester, former teammate Ed Farmer advised Parrott that he should get used to wearing a cup because big league hitters are much better at hitting the ball up the middle than minor leaguers are. Parrott wore a cup once and pitched poorly.

“It wasn’t comfortable,” he told the Associated Press after the injury. “But I’m superstitious and I wanted to go back to the old way. Let’s just say I learned a lesson. A very good lesson.”

The injury kept Parrott out of action for a month. It would be tough for your season to get much worse after an incident like that, but for Parrott that’s exactly what happened.

He returned to the mound at the end of May to face the Brewers and didn’t last long. Milwaukee scored six runs on seven hits in just two innings and Parrott’s day was over. On top of that, Cecil Cooper hit a line drive up the middle that nearly hit him.

His next start came against the Cleveland Indians. Parrott allowed five runs in 4.1 innings but only two were earned. Unfortunately the unearned runs came as a result of his own throwing error. By the end of May Parrott’s record stood at 1-6.

Bad Pitching & Bad Luck

His June starts were maddening both for him and the Mariners. The Boston Red Sox knocked him out after just one inning on June 9th. On the 19th, he pitched well enough to win, but Bob Stanley shut out Seattle and Parrott was the losing pitcher. Six days later he gave up two first-inning runs against the Rangers, but then held them scoreless for four innings. Again the Mariners offense didn’t produce, and again Parrott got the loss. Five days after that, he was perfect through two innings but gave up six runs in the top of the third.

“It’s got me down,” he said. “In the first two innings I had better stuff than I had all year. Then six runs. It’s hard on me and it’s hard on the team. This is the worst stretch of my career.”

In two July starts he lasted just 3.2 innings, giving up seven earned runs on ten hits. By the end of the month he was seeking help from a hypnotist.

“I went to see… if he could change my thought train,” he told the L.A. Times. “The hypnotist told me to reach back for something positive. I told him I couldn’t, that it had been so long I just couldn’t think of anything positive.”

The Mariners were also at a loss as to what to do with their Opening Day starter and sent him back to AAA Spokane. The move seemed to work as he gave up just two runs in 22 innings of work in the Pacific Coast League.

The Beat Goes On

He returned in September, made three starts and lost them all, allowing 13 earned runs in 21.1 innings. A move to the bullpen netted him three saves in four appearances but there was more misery to come.

On the final day of the season, Parrott entered the Mariners game against the Rangers with a one run lead and a runner on second. He got Billy Sample to hit a ground ball to 3rd, but Jim Anderson made a throwing error which allowed Bump wills to score to tie the game. Three innings later, Johnny Grubb‘s walkoff double won it for Texas and Parrott’s season from hell was over.

#Mariners pitcher Mike Parrott went 1-16 in 1980 and that wasn't the worst of it. Click To Tweet

Mike Parrott was the Mariners ace heading into the 1980 season. He started on Opening Day and got the win. From then on he lost 16 straight decisions and got hit in the groin with a one hopper that caused him to miss a month. He finished the year with a 1-16 record and a robust 7.28 E.R.A. American League hitters batted .348 against him.

“I think I’ll know how to handle adversity in the future,” he joked after the season was over. “I had enough this year, didn’t I?”

 

 

Rick Langford: Iron Man

Billy Martin strode to the mound at Arlington Stadium to talk to his starter, Rick Langford.

“I think it’s time now,” he said.

It was September 17th, 1980 and the Oakland A’s were up two in the 9th inning with two outs. But Rusty Staub‘s 2-run homer in the inning was followed by a Bump Wills single and a Jim Sundberg walk. Langford was in a jam and Martin felt he didn’t have a choice.

“I went with him as long as I could,” Martin told the media after the game.

Reliever Bob Lacey got Buddy Bell to ground out and it was over; both the game and one of the most remarkable streaks in recent baseball memory. For the first time in four months, Rick Langford hadn’t finished a game he started.

An Odd Beginning

Langford was the Opening Day starter for Billy Martin and the A’s but it didn’t go well. Facing the Minnesota Twins, he surrendered five runs in just three and two-thirds innings and was one of five pitchers Martin used that day. He came out of the bullpen in back-to-back games later in the month but nearly three weeks would go by before he got another start. On April 28th, Langford got the ball and went the distance against the California Angels.

His next two starts were complete games against Detroit and Toronto, the latter of which featured a bench-clearing brawl after Langford hit the Blue Jays’ Al Woods in the back with a pitch. Two more starts followed in which he was pulled after seven and four and two-thirds innings respectively.

The Streak Begins

Rick Langford - Oakland A'sOn Friday, May 23rd, Langford faced Fergie Jenkins and the Texas Rangers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Rangers won the game 3-1, but Langford went the distance. His next start came against the Kansas City Royals and again, Rick Langford went the distance.

In six June starts, Langford posted an 0-6 record with six complete games. Things turned around in July, when he posted a 6-0 record with, again, six complete games, including a 14-inning affair against the Indians on July 20th. Up 5-0 in the top of the 9th inning, Langford surrendered five runs, including a Toby Harrrah Grand Slam to tie it before the .196-hitting Dave McCay singled home Mitchell Page to end the game in the 14th inning. Had the game gone to the 15th, Langford would likely have gone back out.

Still Going Strong

August came and went. Langford made five starts and finished all five of them, going 4-1. The streak hit 19 on August 27th when Langford beat the Yankees 3-1. New York scored their only run in the first inning on a Reggie Jackson single but didn’t mount much of a threat for the rest of the game.

”I just went power to them in the ninth,” Langford told the media. ”I didn’t want to walk anybody. Sometimes that can get a rally started and wind up hurting you more than a home run.”

September

Rick Langford - Oakland A'sThe streak reached 21 on September 6th against the Orioles, and established a modern day record, surpassing Robin Roberts, who threw 20 straight for the 1953 Phillies. Often described as a “sinker/slider pitcher,” Langford didn’t walk a lot of batters and he didn’t strike a lot of people out, which kept his pitch count down. Billy Martin also didn’t have a lot of faith in his bullpen, which was a major factor in Oakland’s pitchers throwing as many complete games as they did.

Just one day earlier, the A’s bullpen allowed six runs in the final two innings of a loss to the Orioles and Martin wasn’t about to let it happen again.

“I wouldn’t have taken Langford out of the game tonight if he had put seven guys on base in the ninth,” Martin said. “Not after last night, I wouldn’t.”

By this point, the A’s had played 245.2 innings in Langford’s starts. He was on the mound for 234 of them.

“I never think about complete games,” he told the media after his 21st straight. “I take it one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time. I know I’ll come out of the game sometime, but when I do I’ll walk off the mound with my head high.”

Six days later, he allowed 14 hits, but picked up the win, and another complete game when the A’s beat the Royals 9-5 in Oakland.

The Streak Ends

Langford’s next start came against the Texas Rangers, that team against whom the streak began. Martin stayed with his starter as long as he felt comfortable, but with the game on the line, he had to make a move.

“The only reason I went with him as long as I did was the streak,” Martin said. “I’ve seen him pitch better.”

In his streak-snapping start, Rick Langford went eight and two-thirds innings, allowed four runs on eleven hits, and got the win.

“I didn’t ask him to leave me in,” Langford said of his manager. “He makes the decisions on this club and he’s done a fantastic job.”

He would make four more starts and finish all four, including a 10-inning CG on two-days rest on the season’s final day because Martin wanted to give him a shot at winning 20. He came up short, but still established a season the likes of which will probably never be matched.

In 1980, Rick Langford threw more complete games than 8 MLB teams Click To Tweet

In 1980, Rick Langford went 19-12 in 33 starts. He threw 28 complete games, including 22 in a row. The 28 CGs were more than the combined total of eight different teams. Not too bad for a guy who lead the league in losses just three years earlier.

 

Missed It By That Much – The Drungo Hazewood Story

 

The runners were tense at the starting line. The 1960 Summer Olympics were about a year away, but there was still a lot at stake in this race. On the line were bragging rights and the opportunity to affect someone’s life forever; someone who would be a big part of their lives forever.

“Go!”

The children took off, arms and legs pumping.

Catherine Hazewood had just given birth to her ninth child, a baby boy. He didn’t have a name yet but that would soon change. Her children were racing to the hospital and the winner would have the honor of naming her son.

Catherine’s son Aubrey was the winner and decided to name his baby brother Drungo in honor of his friend’s last name.

TWO-SPORT STAR

Ask anyone in the Orioles organization who the top prospect was at the end of the 1970s and, despite the presence of future Hal-of-Famer Cal Ripken Jr., the answer would probably be Drungo Hazewood.

Drungo Hazewood
Hazewood was a future star

Hazewood stood 6’3”, weighed 210 pounds and was a former first round draft choice. His decision to play baseball was a tough one since he had also signed a letter of intent to play tailback at USC where he would have had a shot to take over for Heisman Trophy winner Charles White.  Playing football for John Robinson and baseball for Rod Dedeaux was tough to turn down. Not many people have a chance to win a National Championship in football AND baseball during their collegiate careers, but Drungo Hazewood did. He said no.

“In high school I was considered a better football player than a baseball player,” Hazewood said later. “But the money did it. Plus I always wanted to play in the major leagues and I didn’t know if that chance would come again.”

Entering 1980, his decision to go with baseball seemed to be paying off. Had he gone to USC, he would have earned a Rose Bowl ring by virtue of the Trojans 17-16 win over Ohio State. But six weeks after the Rose Bowl, Drungo Hazewood was in spring training with the Orioles. He hit just .231 at AA Charlotte in 1979. But the tools…

“(He’ll) be a big league player someday, of that I have no doubt,” said Jimmy Williams, his manager in Charlotte. “His main problem is that he still chases the curveball, but he’ll get over that. I think he has a chance to go the farthest (of all the Orioles prospects) and stay the longest.”

BIG SPRING

That assessment looked to be correct after his performance in the spring of 1980.  In twelve at-bats, Hazewood collected seven hits. Interestingly enough, all five of his outs came via strikeout. A performance like that, especially from a first round draft pick, could be enough to make a lot of teams. But the Orioles were the defending AL champs, and already had a veteran outfield, so manager Earl Weaver had the odd job of sending a .583 hitter back to the minor leagues.

“He was making the rest of us look bad with that average,” Weaver joked. With depth at the major league level and Hazewood’s lack of AAA experience, it was the right decision. A bit more seasoning in the minor leagues and he could come to Baltimore to stay.

THE SHOW BECKONS

Back in Charlotte, Hazewood teamed with Ripken to terrorize Southern League pitching staffs. Ripken hit .276 with 25 homers and 78 RBI, while Hazewood batted .261 with 28 homers and 80 RBI while adding 29 stolen bases.

The Charlotte O’s finished 72-72 but it wasn’t for lack of offense. They scored 605 runs, but unfortunately the pitching staff gave up 607 and they finished five games behind the Savannah Braves.

Hazewood had earned his shot. But the Orioles were in the middle of a pennant race and Weaver didn’t have the luxury of giving an inexperience 21 year-old outfielder a chance to get his feet wet on the major league level.

Drungo Hazewood made his major league debut as a pinch runner in the 9th inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 19th, 1980. He would appear in three more games before getting his first at-bat.

It wasn’t until the Orioles were officially eliminated from the AL East division that Hazewood stepped to the plate in a major league game. In the bottom of the 11th inning on October 4th, Hazewood pinch hit for Mark Belanger and flew out to center field against Bob Owchinko in the first game of a double-header. In game two, he was the starting right fielder and faced Cleveland’s Rick Waits four times. He struck out all four times.  He would never appear in another major league game.

CHARLOTTE’S FAVORITE SON

Drungo HazewoodHazewood returned to Charlotte in 1981 and continued to be a fan favorite. Stories abound about his power, his speed, his arm and his raw strength. In his 1997 autobiography, “The Only Way I Know,” Ripken tells a story of Drungo being so upset after a fight with the Memphis Chicks that he broke a bat with his bare hands.

“He … stopped in front of a display of two bats mounted on hooks on the wall. He grabbed one and snapped it like a toothpick. … Drungo didn’t snap this bat across anything, and he didn’t hit it against anything. He just twisted and snapped it like a toothpick.”

Hazewood retired after the 1983 season to care for his mother, who was battling breast cancer. He took a job driving a delivery truck and settled into life after baseball. There were rumors if his being disenchanted with the way things turned out, but those closest to him deny that was the case.

In 2011, Hazewood himself was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in July of 2013. He was just 53 years-old.