Dream Season: George Brett

Every player longs for that dream season. The one where they stay healthy and just produce. I’m going to crunch the numbers and create dream seasons for notable 1980s stars. Next up is George Brett.

March/April 1983

There are quick starts and then there’s the jump George Brett got on the 1983 season. In the first week of the year, Brett hit .440 with a homer and 4 RBI. Then he got hot. He finished April with a .460 batting average, 5 homers and 20 RBI.

May 1979

Compared to April of ’83, Brett’s 1979 May was somewhat pedestrian. For a mortal, though, it was still a helluva month. How about sixteen multi-hit games, including a 5-7 effort against the Orioles on May 28th? Imagine posting 16 multi-hit games in a month and it not being the best month of your career. In May of 1979, Brett hit .388 with 5 homers and 20 RBI.

June 1982

In June of 1982, George Brett played in 27 games. He had at least one hit in 23 of them. He entered the month hitting .278 and finished the month hitting .317. It’s not easy to raise your batting average 39 points in mid-season but for George Brett, it’s no big deal. For the month, he hit .379 with 5 homers and 16 RBI.

July 1985

One of the things that are tougher than raising your batting average by 39 points in June is raising it by 31 points in July. That’s exactly what George Brett did in July of 1985, thanks in part to six different 3-hit games. Brett opened the month by going 8-12 with 2 homers and 8 RBI in a three-game series against Oakland and finished the month going 4-9 against Detroit. The final numbers? A cool .432 batting average with 7 homers and 24 RBI.

August 1980

Brett had his best season in 1980, batting .390 and winning the MVP. On August 17th at home against the Blue Jays, he wrapped up a three-game series by going 4-4 to raise his batting average to .401. He would flirt with the .400 mark for a month before fading at the end of the year but for that month he was on fire, hitting .430 with 6 homers and 30 RBI.

September/October 1981

It’s important to have a strong finish to your season and Brett certainly did that in 1981. Fourteen multi-hit games, five three-hit games and a .362 batting average with 3 homers and 20 RBI is a nice way to wrap up your year.

The Totals:

Add it all up and the totals for George Brett’s dream season look pretty good. He ends up hitting .404 with 31 homers and 130 RBI.

One of the most amazing things I saw when putting this together was the months that DIDN’T make the cut. Over the course of his career, George Brett had 17 different months in which he hit .350 or better.

I also intentionally used only one month from 1980 just to mix things up a bit. If you use his June, July & August numbers from 1980, Brett’s dream season batting average jumps to .423.

The Best of 2016 on ’80s Baseball

I started this blog 364 days ago. Since then, I’ve published 64 posts, including guest posts, for which I’m very grateful.

It’s been a great year and I thought I’d take a look back at the Top 5 posts of 2016 based (unscientifically) on page views.

Number 5: George Brett’s amazing 1980

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Brett was absolutely ridiculous in 1980 and this post tells the story of his remarkable season. If you’re going to hit .400, or even have a shot, it helps to have a summer like George Brett did in 1980.

 

Number 4: Schmidt and Brett in 1971

The Reds passed on a kid in their back yard. The Phillies snapped him up

The most important day of the 1980 baseball season may very well have taken place in 1971. One decision would have put Mike Schmidt in a Royals uniform and given the 1980 World Series a completely different look.

 

 

Number 3: Missed it by That Much: The Mike Parrott Story

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Mike Parrott was the opening day starter for the Seattle Mariners in 1980. Unfortunately for him, 1980 was just a horrible year, in more ways than one.

 

 

Number 2: You Forgot How Good J.R. Richard Was

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James Rodney Richard was absolutely dominant and 1980 was shaping up to be the best year of his career. Then tragedy struck and he never pitched again.

 

 

 

Number 1: Missed it By That Much: The Drungo Hazewood Story

<a rel=Drungo Hazewood had all the talent in the world. He was a can’t miss prospect for the Baltimore Orioles. Then he missed.

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading and I look forward to 2017!

-J.D.

George Brett and the Amazing Summer of 1980

 

If you’re going to hit .400, or even have a shot, it helps to put together a summer like George Brett did in 1980.

The Royals third baseman got off to a slow start, hitting just .259 in the first month of the season. Brett was just starting to get hot in June when an ankle injury cost him 35 games. He didn’t return to the lineup until after the All-Star break and it was anybody’s guess as to how he’d do. He spent the layoff thinking about hitting, visualizing at-bats and pumping himself up.

“I just kept telling myself, ‘You’re hot, you haven’t been gone at all.'” he told the Associated Press.

Hitting a baseball at the big league level is among the toughest things in sports and timing is a huge part of hitting. Missing a month of action doesn’t help and neither do torn ankle ligaments. But none of that mattered to George Brett.

A Triumphant Return

Brett assumed his normal spot in the Royals batting order on July 10th and began a seven-week hitting spree the likes of which has rarely been seen in baseball history. In his first seven games, Brett went 17-29 with six doubles and a triple against Detroit, Baltimore and Boston. He also drew six walks during that span for a ridiculous seven game OB% of .636. Red Sox lefty John Tudor held him to an 0-4 evening at Fenway Park on July 17th, but it would be more than a month before Brett went hitless again.

The Streak

The hitting streak began at Yankee Stadium. In the three-game series against starting pitchers Rudy May, Doug Bird and Ron Guidry, Brett went 7-14 with a homer and nine RBI. After that was a 7-16 four-game set against the White Sox. By the end of July, Brett was batting .390 and riding a 13-game hitting streak. Over the next month, his batting average would go UP.

August began with a modest (by Brett standards) 4-13 performance against the White Sox followed by a three game series against Detroit at Tiger Stadium. In the second game, Brett homered off Detroit starter Milt Wilcox to extend his streak to 18 games. In his next at-bat, Wilcox knocked him down twice before getting him to fly out. On his way back to the dugout, Brett and Wilcox exchanged words and the benches emptied, resulting in a brawl that must have had Royals skipper Jim Frey extremely nervous.

“I thought about going after him the second time he knocked me down, but he was too big,” said Brett of the 6-2, 215 pound Tiger pitcher. “Then, after he was staring at me a bit I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ It was a matter of honor.”

Brett escaped with just a scratch under his right eye and held no grudges.

“I’m not mad at Milt, that’s just baseball,” he said.

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George Brett stands at second after reaching .400

After the Dust Up in Detroit, Brett rapped out eight hits in seventeen at-bats in a four game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, then returned to Kansas City and went 13-24 in a six-game homestand, including a 4-4 day against those same Blue Jays that boosted his average to .401.

“It was electrifying to stand at second base and see a standing ovation,” he said after the game. “That was really something. I was getting goose bumps out there.”

When he reached the magical .400 mark, the scrutiny and media attention increased dramatically. No one had finished a season above .400 since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941. Rod Carew flirted with the mark in 1977, but he dropped under .400 on July 11th and never got back.

Brett’s quest had a different feel. First of all, he reached .400 on August 17th, some six weeks later than Carew. Secondly, George Brett was enjoying the season of a lifetime.

From the time he returned from the disabled list until the day he finally reached .400, Brett played in 37 games and recorded at least one hit in 36 of them. From July 10th through August 17th, he hit .473 and struck out a total of three times. His manager had no doubt Brett could deal with the pressure.

“You’re talking about a guy who can handle it better than almost anybody else,” said Jim Frey. “He’s one of those unusual guys who doesn’t spend any time thinking about what could go wrong.”

Over the next nine games hardly anything did. His hitting streak may have ended at 30 games, but his average continue to climb, culminated by a 5-5 effort against the Brewers on August 26th to bring his batting average to .407 with 36 games left in the season.

George Brett hit .456 over a 7 week span in 1980. #Royals Click To Tweet

“I really feel no pressure because there’s such a long way to go,” Brett told the media. “I imagine I will feel more pressure if I’m at .395 or .400 with a week to go in the season, but not now. I just want to have fun playing baseball and fun to me is hitting and driving in runs.”

Late Season Struggles

Brett’s average stayed at or near .400 as late as September 19th, with just 14 games left in the season. Unfortunately, he experienced his first real slump over the next seven games, hitting just .148. He hit “just” .304 over the last two weeks of the season and finished at .390.

“It would have been better if we’d been playing games that meant something,” Brett said after the season. “That way they’d have to pitch to me and I’d also have had to be more selective. The way it was, those trips to Seattle and Minnesota two weeks before the season’s end were just awful.

“I knew I was running out of time, and I was swinging at bad pitches and I couldn’t do anything. I was just hacking and digging a hole for myself. There just wasn’t anything I could do.”

Hacking, digging holes for yourself, swinging at bad pitches and still hitting .390 is a good problem to have.

George Brett: The Pine Tar Game

Note: This is a guest post from Rocco Constantino

July 24, 1983

The old baseball cliché is that you see something new at the ballpark every time you go to a game. It could be something as simple as a player recording his first major-league hit or achieving a team record; however, sometimes something so crazy will happen that it will be talked about in baseball circles for decades.

On July 24, 1983, fans undoubtedly witnessed the latter. The Yankees and Royals had one of the game’s best rivalries in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The teams met in the postseason in the 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980 ALCS, and the main cast of characters was similar in each series. The Royals were led by George Brett, Frank White, Hal McRae, and Willie Wilson, among others. The Yankees featured Graig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, and Goose Gossage during that time.

The Background

By 1983, the Yankees were starting to get old but still had some fight in them. The Orioles and Tigers were the up-and-coming teams and would finish ahead of the Yanks in the AL East standings. The Royals finished second that year but were never really in the race, ending the season 20 games out of first. With Wilson, White, and McRae still in their prime, the Royals lineup was tough to negotiate for any pitcher. But Brett remained the focal point of the offense and was an incredibly difficult out for pitchers. “Brett was the toughest hitter I faced in my career,” said Don August, a starter for the Brewers whom Brett went 5-for-11 against. “I remember him standing way off the plate when I faced him, so I put a fastball on the outside corner. He hit it off the center-field wall. Next time up, I tried to come inside, and he turned on it and ripped it into the corner. How do you get Brett out? I guess throw it down the middle and hope he hits it at someone.”

The Yankees had taken two of the first three games in this four-game set and faced off against the Royals in a Sunday afternoon game at Yankee Stadium on July 24. Bud Black and Shane Rawley were the starting pitchers for the Royals and Yankees, respectively, but they would be long gone by the time the events that made this game famous happened.

The Game

The first inning went by without incident, and the Royals were the first to get on the board when John Wathan scored on a groundout by White in the second. The Yankees quickly tied the game up when Dave Winfield homered off Black. The Royals regained the lead in the fourth when White again drove home Wathan, this time with an infield hit. Black settled in after the Winfield homer, only allowing singles to Bert Campaneris and Roy Smalley as the game remained 2–1 through five. In the sixth, the Royals scored again on a triple to center by Don Slaught. The Yankees, however, would finally get to Black in the sixth. Campaneris led off the frame with an infield hit, and Lou Piniella followed with a one-out single to center. Don Baylor tripled to center to tie the game, and Winfield singled to left to give the Yanks a 4–3 lead.

The game stayed that way until the top of the ninth. Despite having Gossage, the Hall of Fame closer, available in the bullpen, manager Billy Martin stuck with Dale Murray, who had retired all eight batters he faced to that point. Slaught grounded out to lead off the top of the ninth, and Pat Sheridan popped up to first for a second out. However, U. L. Washington singled to center, and with Brett due up next, Martin opted to bring in Gossage. Brett launched a long home run to right off Gossage for what was apparently the go-ahead hit. He circled the bases, touched home, and took a seat in the Royals dugout next to Sheridan and McRae. What happened was iconic ’80s baseball.

In a game in 1975, Nettles was involved in a play in which a similar illegal bat was used. According to an archaic rule stating that no substance could be applied to a bat beyond 18 inches from the knob. The Yankees were facing the Twins on July 19, 1975.  In the game, Twins manager Frank Quilici asked umpires to check Thurman Munson’s bat after he hit an RBI single.  The umpires ruled that Munson’s pine tar exceeded 18 inches and called him out.  The rule allegedly was put into place because players were applying pine tar toward the barrel of the bat and then using it to get a better grip. While the application of pine tar was not illegal, rules were changed to limit the application to 18 inches above the knob because too many batted balls were coming in contact with the pine tar and causing otherwise perfectly good baseballs to be thrown out of play because they were stained.

Nettles had approached Martin earlier in the year when he noticed that Brett’s bat had pine tar that was obviously well past the 18-inch limit. The Yankees manager decided to wait until the right time to appeal Brett’s bat to the umpire. The Yanks had played the Royals earlier that year, but Brett didn’t have any big hits in the previous series, so Martin declined to call him on it. The home run he hit on July 24, 1983, was the perfect time.

George Brett Pine TarMartin approached home plate umpire Tim McClelland with his concerns. The umpires convened, and third-base umpire Nick Bremigan suggested that crew chief Joe Brinkman measure the bat against home plate, which is 17 inches wide. It was estimated that the pine tar stretched more than 25 inches past the bat handle, clearly past the limit. The problem that ensued was that there was no specific penalty listed for someone who had applied material past the 18-inch mark. Martin was ready for this and suggested the umpires invoke a rule stating that the umpires have the right to make any decision on any penalties not specifically listed in the rule book.

Slaught was sitting near Brett in the dugout during all of this: “I was sitting right near George, still in my equipment,” said Slaught. “Someone said, ‘Hey I think they’re gonna call you out.’ George said, ‘If they call me out, I’ll kill them.’” At about the same time, McClelland took a few steps toward the Royals dugout, with Brett’s bat in hand. McClelland raised his right hand, pointed at Brett with the bat, and called him out. After that, pure insanity erupted.

George Brett Pine TarBrett jumped off the dugout bench and sprinted at McClelland, arms flailing and furiously screaming at the umpire, who stood 6’6″. Brinkman grabbed Brett with a choke hold, and Brett began screaming and struggling to get loose as the entire Royals bench emptied onto the field. Almost as mad as Brett was Royals manager Dick Howser, who furiously protested the call. In the fracas, Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry grabbed the bat from McClelland and handed it down in a relay to a Royals batboy, who went toward the clubhouse. Yankee Stadium security noticed this and, along with the umpires, sprinted down the runway after the illegal bat.

“It was wild,” said Slaught. “Steve Renko and some of the guys were running around the hallways looking for the bat, and security was running right behind them through the halls.” Eventually, the bat was confiscated by the umpires and sent to American League president Lee MacPhail for investigation.

The Aftermath

The Royals filed a formal protest against the ruling and waited for a final decision to be made by MacPhail. MacPhail ruled in favor of the protest, citing the rule’s archaic nature, the fact that the pine tar did nothing to enhance the ball’s contact off the bat, and an incorrect penalty by the umpires. MacPhail stated that the way he read the rules, the umpires should’ve just removed the bat and continued play from there. The bat was eventually returned to Brett. He removed the excess pine tar, drew a line with a red marker around the 18-inch mark, and continued to use it in games. But Perry advised Brett that the incident was so unique that his bat was a baseball artifact and he shouldn’t risk breaking it. Brett agreed and eventually sold the bat for $25,000; however, Brett rethought the transaction and bought the bat back for the same amount. To this day, the bat is still on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As for the game itself, MacPhail ruled that the remaining four outs would be played as part of a makeup on August 18. Martin and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, always the competitors, were livid at the reversal. On August 18, the Royals returned to Yankee Stadium to finish the game. Howser, Brett, Perry, and Royals coach Rocky Colavito were ejected from the original game due to their actions in the melee that ensued during the initial ruling.

“It may have been the most nervous I was for a game in my career, even including the postseason,” said Slaught, who was in his second season in the bigs and went 3-for-4 in the game. “There were more reporters there than any postseason game that I played in. It was a weird, weird game. Gaylord Perry even had T-shirts made up for us and then tried to make us all buy them from him.”

The Conclusion

As the game was about to start, Martin appealed the fact that Brett actually touched every base. He contested that since it was an entirely different umpire crew, they would have no way of knowing that he indeed touched every base. But the umpires anticipated Martin might do this and had a sworn affidavit from the original crew stating that Brett did touch every base. Martin then informed the umpires that he was playing this game under his own protest.

When the action finally started, Martin made some lineup changes. Jerry Mumphrey, the original center fielder in the game, had been traded in the ensuing weeks and so was unavailable to continue. Martin decided to send his ace pitcher, Ron Guidry, out to center. He also inserted rookie Don Mattingly at second base. Mattingly, a lefty first baseman, became the first lefty to play a middle-infield position since Indians pitcher Sam McDowell in 1970. No lefty has played a middle-infield position since. Asked for his reasoning behind the moves, Martin said the resumption of the game was a mockery and he would play it like one.

With George Frazier pitching in relief for the Yanks, the game resumed. McRae, who was the on-deck batter when Brett homered, struck out to end the ninth. Royals closer Dan Quisenberry came on for the save and retired Mattingly, Smalley, and Oscar Gamble in order to finally give the Royals the 5–4 win in front of the 1,200 fans who showed up for the final four outs. Brett flying out of the dugout is something that will live on in the annals of baseball history. Brett, Martin, Perry, and Nettles were some of the most colorful characters in baseball, making the incident even more memorable.

The game itself brought the Royals to within one game of first place, but they went into a midseason slump, and that would be the closest they got to first place for the rest of the year. In the years after, all parties involved looked back on the incident with a sense of humor, accepting their place in baseball history and laughing about the events surrounding the end of the game. Brett went on to have one of the greatest careers in baseball history. He finished the 1983 season with a .310 batting average and went on to record 3,154 hits in his career. He maintained his reputation as an intense player who was willing to do anything he could to play the game and play it well. “Brett was just a regular guy, but incredibly talented,” said Andy McGaffigan, who was Brett’s teammate between 1990 and 1991. “He showed up and played hard and played hurt. He would DH, play third, play first, whatever it took to be in the lineup that day. He had no pride or ego, and that was contagious. It’s what made him a great leader.” Another of Brett’s teammates agreed with that assessment: “He was the best pure hitter I ever played with,” said Jim Wohlford, who played with Brett the first four years of his major-league career. “You just knew the special talent was there, even as a 20-year-old kid.” Slaught also reflected on Brett’s greatness: “George always seemed to hit what we needed,” said Slaught. “It was unbelievable. If we needed single or double, that’s what he seemed to hit. Look at the pine tar game; we needed a homer and that’s what he hit. He was the guy that did that the best of anyone I played with.” There are so many reasons George Brett is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game. His clutch performance in the game and wild outburst after he was called out were two iconic moments in one of the most colorful and productive careers in baseball history.

About Rocco Constantino

515LKDSOtIL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Rocco Constantino is the author of 50 Moments that Defined Major League Baseball (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and a writer for www.baseballhotcorner.com.  Released in June of 2016, 50 Moments that Defined Major League Baseball examines 50 unique moments from the past 100 years that helped define the sport that we love.  In addition, it also features exclusive interviews with over 40 players who played in each decade from the 1950’s through the 2010’s.  With input from players like Fred Lynn, Rod Carew and Jeff Montgomery, readers get a perspective on these special games directly from the players.  50 Moments that Defined Major League Baseball is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s online store.  Rocco Constantino is represented by P.S. Literary.  Follow him on Twitter @MLB100years.

That Time I Met George Brett

NOTE: This is a guest post from Tim Harms.

Manners matter.

More on that in a moment as I share the story of meeting my baseball hero and getting his autograph.

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My formative years as a baseball fan came in Wichita, Kansas, in the late 1970s. Kansas City is a three-hour drive from Wichita, and the Royals were dominating baseball, winning four division titles in five years and making a trip to the World Series in 1980.

Could there be any doubt that George Brett was my favorite player? The man who flirted with .400 for much of the 1980 season before finishing at .390.

I became an avid collector of baseball cards that same summer and soon was hoping to score a Brett autograph.

I remember one family trip to Kansas City when I had my prized George Brett card in hand. As I waited along the wall near the dugout I got my card autographed – by Larry Gura.

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No offense to Larry Gura, but thinking back on that now, what was I thinking – my Brett card with a Gura autograph?!

We moved to Fresno, California, during the summer of 1981, but my love of the Royals didn’t die (and still hasn’t).

In June of 1982 we took a family trip to the Los Angeles area. On a Saturday evening, the entire family went to watch the Royals battle the Angels. Somehow my parents and my sisters hung in until the conclusion of a 12-inning loss.

The next day my mom and sisters went to Magic Mountain. My dad and I returned to Anaheim for a Sunday matinee.

The Royals lost again – this time 9-1 with Brett delivering the only run via an RBI triple.

But after the game, my manners helped me get Brett’s autograph!

As my dad and I left the stadium to head for the car, we walked past a tunnel entrance used by the team bus. A lone security guard stood at the top. My dad and I stopped and asked if there was any chance we could go down there and get some autographs.

The answer of course was “No.”

We decided to wait around at the top of the tunnel anyway.

As we waited, a number of fans tried to walk down into the tunnel, forcing the security guard to shoo them away.

The guard saw us patiently waiting.

He gave me a wave and said, “Go ahead and go down there.”

I was thrilled. I walked down and stood at the door of the team bus. I had Brett’s card along with top pitcher Dennis Leonard’s (who was injured and I later learned not traveling with the team).

After a few minutes, I saw Brett walking toward the bus.

George Brett Autograph
Mission Accomplished!

It was a simple, “Would you sign this?” and nothing more. But I got his autograph – and a lesson that manners matter.

Have you met one of your baseball heroes from the 1980s? I want to hear about it! Click here for details and tell me your story.

ABOUT TIM HARMS: Tim Harms has been a lifelong fan of the Kansas City Royals and happily celebrated their World Series title in 2015 after a 30-year drought. He was fortunate to work in minor league baseball for 12 seasons in a variety of roles. Currently he serves as communications director with the American Heart Association, an organization dedicated to fighting the leading cause of death in the United States. You can support their work via http://www.heart.org./ 

June 20th, 1980 was weird

Flea goes for 3 and other oddities

“Is it a full moon or somethin’?”

That’s what my mother-in-law says when weird stuff happens. June 20th, 1980 must have featured multiple full moons because some bizarre crap went down. On the field, it began in Boston when the Red Sox hosted the California Angels.

The Angels were decimated by injuries but the lineup still featured Rod Carew, Carney Lansford Joe Rudi and Bobby Grich, so Boston starter Steve Renko could be forgiven for looking past the Angels shortstop. Standing 5’5” and weighing just under 150 pounds, Freddie “The Flea” Patek wasnt the kind of player to strike fear in the heart of opposing pitchers, but that didn’t stop him from putting on a prodigious power display on this evening.

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Patek stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd against Dick Drago (Renko had already been knocked out of the game) and hit a three run shot to give the Angels a 10-0 lead.

He homered again to lead off the Angels’ 5th, and after grounding into a double play in his next at bat, Patek came to the plate in the 8th inning, again with Harlow on base, and he homered again, this time off Jack Billingham, to give the Angels a 17-0 lead.

He had a chance to become just the eleventh player in major league history to hit four home runs in a game, joining the likes of Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt and Willie Mays, when he came up in the 9th inning, but Bill Campbell struck him out.

“The whole thing is just amazing to me but it happens,” Patek told reporters after the game. “The fourth time up I was just trying to hit the ball and stay with what I know. I just wanted to hit the ball somewhere, but I struck out.”

Al Cowens vs. Ed Farmer

On the same night that Patek was putting on a power hitting display at Fenway, Detroit outfielder Al Cowens put on a display of an entirely different sort in Chicago. The Tigers and White Sox were tied in the top of the 11th inning when Cowens stepped in against Chicago relief pitcher Ed Farmer.

Farmer was looking to keep the Tigers off the board in hopes of picking up a win. Cowens was looking for revenge. The two were facing each other for the first time since the previous May when a Farmer pitch sailed inside and shattered Cowens’ jaw.

Al Cowens
Cowens got lost on the way to 1st base

This time around Farmer’s pitch was over the plate and Cowens grounded out. But as the ball bounced to shortstop Todd Cruz, Cowens must have gotten lost on the way to first base and charged the pitcher’s mound, causing a bench-clearing brawl.

American League President Lee McPhail acted swiftly, suspending Cowens for seven games and fining him an undisclosed amount. But that wasn’t the only trouble he faced. Farmer filed charges in Cook County Circuit Court, and a judge issued a warrant for Cowens’ arrest on an assault-and-battery charge.

When the Tigers returned to Chicago in August for a two-game series Cowens did not make the trip due to the outstanding warrant. Ever the instigators, White Sox fans hung a huge banner in the outfield that read, “Cowens the Coward.”

The two eventually buried the hatchet in September when the White Sox traveled to Detroit. They met at home plate to exchange lineup cards and Cowens apologized for charging the mound. Farmer accepted and later dropped the criminal charges he had filed.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over and done with,” Farmer told the media.

“I’m relieved,” said Cowens. “So much has been made of this. Every time I turned around there were headlines about it. The whole thing has been tough, but it’s a dead issue now.”

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Each Other

Nineteen-Eighty was a rough year for the St. Louis Cardinals. They began June 9.5 games out of first place and had just finished a two-game series against the Astros in which they scored zero runs when their team bus pulled up to the Stouffer’s Cincinnati Towers early in the morning of June 20th.

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A foul mood must have been prevalent because a shoving match broke out between pitcher John Fulgham and first baseman Keith Hernandez as they stepped off the bus. Fulgham had been out with a sore shoulder (which turned out to be a torn rotator cuff) and Hernandez had been giving him grief about it. There was also bad blood between the two because Hernandez reportedly had laughed after Fulgham gave up a home run in Montreal earlier in the season.

Teammates were able to separate the two before punches were thrown, though one report said the “brawl” spilled onto the sidewalk and involved as many as 10 members of the team.

Leonard-DuranIt was probably just a coincidence that the two baseball fights took place on the same day that Roberto Duran defeated Sugar Ray Leonard in front of more than 46,000 people at Olympic Stadium, home of the Montreal Expos.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t.

 

Schmidt & Brett in 1971

The most important day of the 1980 baseball season may very well have taken place in June of 1971.

Goodwin told Chicago no and went to Southern University
Goodwin told Chicago no and went to Southern University

June 8th was draft day. The Chicago White Sox held the #1 pick and chose a high school catcher named Danny Goodwin from Peoria Central High School. Goodwin was the consensus #1 choice, a 6′-2″ 195 lb school boy star. But the White Sox couldn’t sign him and he ended up going to college. He holds the distinction of being the first overall #1 choice not to sign AND the only player to be selected #1 overall twice. The Angels chose him at the top of the first round in 1975.

The first round was heavy on pitching and shortstops. Nineteen of the 24 first round picks fit into that category. One team bucking the trend was the Boston Red Sox who took an outfielder at #15 overall. His name was Jim Rice.

The Kansas City Royals held the 5th pick in the first round and chose a pitcher named Roy Brance who eventually appeared in two games with Seattle in 1979. The Philadelphia Phillies picked one spot behind the Royals and selected pitcher Roy Thomas from Lompoc, CA.

The Royals took Brett with the 5th pick of the 2nd round
The Royals took Brett with the 5th pick of the 2nd round

Having gotten their pitcher in the first round, the Royals were on the prowl for a shortstop and chose George Brett, a high schooler from El Segundo, CA,  who had impressed scouts by, among other things, playing all nine positions in a high-school all-star game including pitching both right and left handed in the 9th inning. Yet despite this, he was overshadowed by his older brother, Ken, who had always been the one destined for stardom and was pitching for the Red Sox when George was drafted.

With Brett off the board, the Phillies chose an All-American shortstop from Ohio University named Mike Schmidt with the next pick.

The Reds passed on a kid in their back yard. The Phillies snapped him up in the second round
The Reds passed on a kid in their back yard. The Phillies snapped him up

The Major League Baseball draft is an inexact science to say the least, but eight different shortstops were selected ahead of two of the best players ever to play the game. The most accomplished of them was Craig Reynolds. Three of them never played in the big leagues and the eight combined to hit 59 career, home runs, or eleven more than Schmidt alone hit in 1980. Hindsight is obviously a distinct advantage, but it does seem curious that the Cincinnati Reds would choose Mike Miley, a high school shortstop from Louisiana, over Mike Schmidt a Dayton native who played his college ball just a few hours away in Athens, OH.

Schmidt later recounted a story of a Phillies scout arriving at his house to negotiate a contract. He pulled a typewriter out of his trunk and offered a deal worth $25,000. Schmidt’s father, acting as his agent, said they wanted $40,000. A contract of $37,500 was eventually agreed upon and Schmidt immediately went out and purchased himself a Corvette.

Joe Theisman
Joe Theisman coulda been a Twin

There was one other shortstop of note selected on that day in 1971. In the 39th round, the Minnesota Twins selected a kid from Notre Dame named Joe Theisman.

How would the 1980 season have played out had the Royals taken Schmidt instead of Brett? What if the Reds had taken Schmidt in the first round instead of Miley? Can you imagine the Big Red Machine with another Hall-of-Famer in the lineup? How did every team in baseball pass on these two in the first round?

Send in the Qs

April 13th, 1980 began like just another day. But by the end of the evening, some 17,000 plus baseball fans could rightly tell their kids they witnessed a major league baseball first.

The Kansas City Royals led the Detroit Tigers 1-0 in the 7th inning when KC starter Paul Splittorff began to struggle and was replaced by submariner Dan Quisenberry. And just like that, it happened…

Catching for the Royals that day was 25 year-old Jamie Quirk. The Quisenberry/Quirk combination was the first-ever All-Q battery in the history of the game.

Desperado: The Jerry Terrell Story

967-1.

That was the vote.

On April 1st, 1980, players across the major leagues voted on whether or not to strike that season. Of the 968 votes cast, there was but one dissenter.

As spring training wound down, one issue loomed above all others: The threat of a players’ strike. Ever since Peter Seitz’s ruling in December of 1975 which struck down the reserve clause, MLB owners had been trying to turn back time. The collective bargaining agreement was set to expire and the owners’ proposal of Free-Agent Compensation was the major sticking point. Owners wanted a system in which a team signing a free agent would be able to protect up to 15 players and the team losing the free agent could select any unprotected player as compensation for the loss.

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Player’s Association head Marvin Miller advised the players not to accept the proposal because he felt it would keep teams from aggressively bidding on free agents, which it certainly would have done. On April 1st, the players voted to walk out of the final week of spring training and to go on strike on May 22nd if an agreement was not reached. The strike would deprive the owners revenue from 92 spring training games and put the regular season in doubt. The final vote was 967-1 in favor of a strike. The single no vote came from Royals infielder Jerry Terrell who objected on religious grounds. Terrell didn’t admit to casting the lone dissenting vote, but there was no doubt as to where he stood.

Terrell was the Royals player representative and addressed his teammates before the vote. He told them he would vote against a strike and he told them why. He also offered to step aside as player rep. His teammates turned him down.

“I’m just 1-39th of a team’s opinion and the majority feels the other way,” he said. “It is not hard to cast the vote. The players know my views and there is mutual respect,”

John Wathan and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad May

A great month can make a season.

In July of 1980, George Brett hit an amazing .494, en route to leading the major leagues with a .390 batting average. Likewise, some players perform exceptionally well against certain teams. Over his career, Babe Ruth slugged .744 against the Detroit Tigers. Ted Williams hit .374 against Orioles and Ty Cobb hit .381 vs. Philadelphia A’s.

But the opposite is also true. Try as they might, certain players struggle against certain teams. Such was the case for Kansas City Royals catcher John Wathan against the Oakland A’s in 1980 and the month of May was especially brutal.

Royals catcher John Wathan
Royals catcher John Wathan

Oakland manager Billy Martin made a living out of exploiting weakness. After taking over the A’s before the 1980 season he decided to use the stolen base as a weapon and when he spotted a weakness he took full advantage of it.

The carnage began on May 19th, a 6-5 Royals win in Kansas City. Dwayne Murphy, Rickey Henderson and Mitchell Page each stole bases against Wathan, though Page was also gunned down trying to steal 3rd. The next night, the same Oakland trio combined for five stolen bases in five attempts. Billy was onto something. On the 21st, Henderson got two more in two attempts. In the four game set, Oakland stole 10 bases in 12 attempts.

Rickey Henderson
The thing John Wathan’s nightmares are made of

The two teams got together again a week later in Oakland. In game one of the series, the A’s gave Wathan a break. Despite thirteen baserunners, Oakland had zero stolen base attempts. In game two, it was Rickey and Page again, who combined to steal three more. Wathan did get credit for a caught stealing when Wayne Gross was nabbed trying to steal home in the 2nd inning.

In the series finale the following afternoon, the A’s really did some damage.  In the bottom of the first inning, singles by Murphy and Page put runners on the corners with one out. With Gross at the plate, Page took off for second while Murphy broke for home seconds later. Wathan’s throw went into center field, allowing Murphy to score and sending Page to 3rd. Then with Gross still at the plate, a Rich Gale pitch got past Wathan, which allowed Page to score.

Later in the inning with Gross on 3rd and Jeff Newman on first, Martin reached into his bag of tricks. Newman took a big lead off first and then “fell down” drawing a throw from Wathan. This gave Gross the opportunity to steal home, while Newman got up and ran to second for the 4th stolen base of the inning.

“It worked to perfection,” Martin said. “Gross’ timing coming home was sensational.”

Newman was especially proud of his performance, telling the media, “I get the best supporting actor award.”

Wathan exacted some revenge by gunning down Henderson trying to steal second in the next inning, but Billy and the A’s weren’t through with him yet. They would steal three more bases in the game, running their total to an amazing 20.

In fairness to Wathan, there were double steals and steals of home mixed into the total. He even stole two bases himself while hitting .345 with a home run against the A’s, but the stat line is ugly.

In one month, the Oakland A’s stole 20 bases in 24 attempts against Wathan, who also committed two throwing errors and a passed ball, which made for one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad May.