Sometimes mistakes can work in your favor. That was certainly the case for Tommy Lasorda and the L.A. Dodgers when they took on the Phillies at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia on May 4th, 1980.
Prior to the game, Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton took the lineup care to home plate and handed it to umpire Paul Pryor. There was just one problem. Bench coach Monty Basgall had two different versions of the lineup. He handed one to Sutton, but posted the other on the wall of the Dodgers dugout. Then the fun began.
“I’m out there on first and I see Baker on deck,” said Rose. “I said to (first base umpire John) McSherry, ‘They’re batting out of order. What do I do?’ He said, ‘Wait ’til he makes an out or something.”
So that’s what Pete did. Garvey singled to score Lopes and give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead and when Baker strode to the plate, he hit a ground ball to Aguayo for what looked to be an inning-ending double play. But the Phillies couldn’t turn it and Baker was safe on a fielder’s choice while Rudy Law scored the Dodgers’ second run.
“When I got to first, Pete Rose said, ‘You hit out of order,'” Baker told the media after the game. “I said, ‘Man, you’re crazy'”
But it turned out Pete was right. at least according to one of the lineup cards. Rose immediately told the Phillies dugout what had happened and the umpires were summoned. But then there was another problem. The rule book stated what happened when the batter got a hit or made an out but there was no specific mention of what happened if the batter hit into a fielder’s choice. A lengthy umpire conference ensued and the final decision was that Cey, who should have been hitting, was declared out, Law was returned to 3rd, Garvey returned to 1st and Baker was the batter. Phillies manager Dallas Green was furious.
“I didn’t make the mistake, yet I’m the one suffering the consequences,” he said. “The batter should be out because he did what he did. And the runner at second was out so he should be out. If the batter makes an out, I don’t say anything. If we turn a double play, I just let it go.”
But that’s not what happened and it was about to get even worse for Green and the Phillies. Baker stepped up to the plate to face Lerch for the second time in a row. But instead of grounding out, he hit a three-run homer.
“It was a weird game,” said Baker. “Weirdest I’ve ever been in.”
It only got worse for the Phillies from there. The Dodgers tacked on one run in the 3rd and four more in the 6th. When the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the 6th, they trailed 9-0. But that’s when their bats came to life.
Dodgers starter Dave Goltz was riding a scoreless streak of more than 20 innings when Del Unser singled and Mike Schmidt doubled to put runners on 2nd and 3rd. Greg Luzinski followed with a three-run homer, Bob Boone homered after that and suddenly it was 9-4. Philadelphia added three more in the 7th and two in the 8th. What was a 9-0 game was suddenly a 9-9 tie.
“I’m sitting there relaxed,” said Lasorda. “I’m feeling good. I’m winning 9-0. I’ve got a guy out there going for his 3rd straight shutout. All of a sudden I look up and I’ve used everybody on my (pitching) staff.”
Eventful 9th Inning
Green went with Dickie Noles, his 5th pitcher of the afternoon, for the 9th inning and things immediately went downhill. A Derrel Thomas single was followed by back-to-back broken-bat singles by Gary Thomasson and Garvey and a passed ball by substitute catcher Keith Moreland. Mickey Hatcher then doubled to score Thomasson and Garvey and the Dodgers were up 12-9.
Lasorda called on Jerry Reuss, who would later throw the season’s only no-hitter, to close the game for the Dodgers. Two singles and another passed ball made it 12-10, but Reuss struck out Moreland to finally end the game.
It was a game that featured 36 players, 28 hits, 22 runs, 11 pitchers, four errors, three passed balls and two wild pitches. Just another day at the yard.
Not only was Tony Gwynn one of the top hitters in baseball history, he was also a pretty good hoopster. Tony actually skipped the baseball season in his freshman year at San Diego State to focus on basketball. During his time at SDSU he set the single game, single season and career assist record and in addition to being drafted by the Padres, he was also selected by the San Diego Clippers in the NBA Draft.
This is a pretty easy selection. Danny didn’t hit much in his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he did OK once he switched to basketball full-time. He finished his career with nearly 12,000 points, more than 4,000 assists and two NBA championships. He also authored one of the great moments in NCAA tournament history.
Reed’s path was the opposite of Danny Ainge. After a standout career at Notre Dame, the 6-5 Reed was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1965 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He spent two season in the NBA, scoring just shy of 1,000 points. Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, Reed was playing two professional sports at the same time. After finishing the 1966 NBA season, he pitched in two games for the Braves and went back to the Pistons.
Winfield was just a phenomenal athlete. In addition to being a Hall of Fame baseball player, he was also a stud basketball player at the University of Minnesota. Over the course of his career, he averaged 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and was drafted by both the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA. Had he chosen the ABA, he could have teamed up with Moses Malone to form a pretty solid frontcourt.
Stoddard won a state title in high school, where he teamed up with future NBA player Junior Bridgeman, and then went to N.C. State where he teamed up with David Thompson and won an NCAA title by knocking off Bill Walton and UCLA. Not too shabby.
OK, Frank Howard was a coach in 1980, but he was also an incredibly talented basketball player. Howard went to Ohio State where he was an All-American in baseball and basketball in the 1950s. In a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden, Howard once grabbed 32 rebounds in a single game. In addition to being drafted to play major league baseball, he also was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, which means he and Wilt Chamberlain could have potentially been twin towers in the NBA, predating Sampson and Olajuwon by decades.
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.
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.
I’ve been a collector for my entire life. You never know when you may need a 37-year-old pocket schedule and I don’t want to be unprepared. So I packed up my sons and headed to Chicago for the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular.
One of the big draws of shows like this is the autograph pavilion. There are always lots of big names with big price tags attached.
Since I spent some time working in baseball I’m pretty spoiled and I don’t like to pay for autographs but there were obviously plenty of people who were there specifically for that. Some of the bigger names on hand included Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Cal Ripken, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams. There were also plenty of members of the 2016 Cubs.
But I had two things on my mind: Soak in as much atmosphere and cool stuff as I possibly could and work on my 1972 Topps set.
Baseball cards form the bulk of my collection and my latest project is completing the 1972 set. It’s tough and expensive but I’m in no hurry. Had I been so inclined, I could have easily finished the set. There were multiple dealers there with binders of cards from 1972. The only thing stopping me was the expense of purchasing the cards and the expense of the subsequent divorce when I returned home.
But my favorite part of shows like this is all the oddball stuff you can find.
It was an outstanding afternoon with my kids and a few of their buddies. My youngest son bought his first T206 card and my older son picked up some relic cards. I got a bit closer to finishing my ’72 set and picked up a signed Bill Madlock photo.
As we were preparing to leave, I spotted one last item, a signed Dickie Noles warm up jacket.
Noles holds a special place in my heart as it was his pitch up and in to George Brett in the 1980 World Series that signaled the beginning of the end of the Royals in the series. Kansas City fans probably have different feelings on Mr. Noles.
If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend attending a similar show near you. You never know what you’ll find.
Joe Morgan made a career out of beating the Los Angeles Dodgers. The damage varied from beating L.A. in the regular season to knocking them out of the playoffs. Over a nine year span, Morgan’s teams ended the Dodgers season five times, including two defeats on final day of the season. But one thing many don’t know is that Joe Morgan nearly became a Dodger. Twice.
During his eight seasons as a member of the Cincinnati Reds Morgan was one of the top players in the game. From 1972 through 1976 he was dominant. During that time he hit 108 homers, drove in more than 400 and drew nearly 600 walks while stealing 310 bases. After Morgan won his second consecutive MVP award in 1976, Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray called him, “pound for pound the best player ever to play baseball.”
“What other guy 5 feet 6 inches, 150 pounds in any sport dominates the way Joe Morgan does?” Murray wrote in an October 1976 column. “It’s like a 4-9 guard in basketball throwing in 50 points a game.”
But by 1979 it was obvious his time in Cincinnati was over. Injuries and age limited him to just a .236 batting average in 1978. In 1979 his home run total slipped from a high of 27 to just nine. He also wanted out of Cincinnati. In his 1993 autobiography, Joe Morgan, A Life in Baseball he cited the Reds firing Sparky Anderson after 1978 as a tipping point for him.
“With Tony, Pete and now Sparky gone, the heart of the Big Red Machine had all but ceased. It was… before the 1979 season was even under way that I decided to play out my contract and move on.”
Morgan entered the 1980 Free Agent Draft and was selected by the Rangers, Giants, Padres and the Dodgers. Morgan wanted to go to a winner and the Dodgers were at the top of his list. L.A. was set at 2nd base with Davey Lopes, who hit .265 with 28 homers the year before, but they weren’t set in center field. Derrel Thomas was the incumbent but the Dodgers weren’t sold on him offensively.
Signing Morgan would allow Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to move Lopes to the outfield and plug a future Hall of Famer into one of the best infields in the major leagues. There was just one small snag.
Morgan’s signing was predicated on Lopes agreeing to move to center field. But Lopes balked and Morgan didn’t want to be the reason for a fracture on a pennant-contending club.
“I don’t want to be used as a scapegoat,” Lopes told the L.A. Times. “But I don’t want to throw all that work out the window.”
It was clear the Dodgers longed to add Morgan to their lineup but not at the risk of upsetting Lopes and Morgan knew it. His agent, Tom Reich, did his best not to upset anyone by saying there were “no villains in this matter, certainly not Davey Lopes. He’s the best second baseman in the league. Joe knows that.”
Morgan signed with the Houston Astros and beat the Dodgers in the N.L. West in a one game playoff. In 1982, as a San Francisco Giant, Joe Morgan’s homer off Terry Forster on the final day of the season knocked L.A. out of the playoff hunt.
The following year, Morgan moved to Philadelphia. Reunited with Pete Rose and Tony Perez Morgan did what he did best: beat the Dodgers. The “Wheeze Kids” beat L.A. in the NLCS before losing to Baltimore in the World Series.
At the conclusion of the ’83 season, Lasorda decided he was due a raise. He was fresh off leading the Dodgers to their first World Series win since 1965 along with back-to-back playoff appearances and he wanted to get paid.
In his book, My 30 Years in Dodger Blue, Fred Claire described what happened next.
“Tommy and I met for breakfast at the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. I made my best pitch… Still Tommy knew Peter (O’Malley) was going to have the final say when it came to the manager of the Dodgers.”
The two returned to Dodger Stadium where Lasorda met with O’Malley. According to Claire the meeting didn’t last long and when it was over he went to O’Malley’s office while Lasorda headed to his office to make some phone calls.
When Claire arrived he was informed it was time to search for a new manager. In the room was Claire, O’Malley, G.M. Al Campanis and Scouting director Ben Wade. Claire suggested Morgan and there was soon consensus.
Morgan was still technically a member of the Phillies, so Claire called Phillies owner Bill Giles to request permission to speak to Morgan.
No sooner did O’Malley hang up with Giles did the phone ring again. It was Lasorda calling from his office asking if O’Malley’s previous offer was still on the table. Informed it was, Lasorda took it.
Joe Morgan spent 1984 with the Oakland A’s and then retired. According to Claire, he never realized how close he came to becoming Lasorda’s replacement.
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
The 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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t grow up going to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. I cut my teeth as a baseball fan at the concrete monolith known as Riverfront Stadium.
I attended my first big league game there in 1975 when the Reds hosted the Astros. Over the years there were lots of memories, some shenanigans and a beer or two (OK, more than two.)
Riverfront Stadium was where I first saw my favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies, in person. I stood just a few feet from Steve Carlton while he warmed up in the bullpen and it was absolutely amazing to be that close to a guy I regularly watched on TV. Over the years I saw some great moments in Reds/Phillies history in that ballpark. It didn’t have charisma, charm or beauty; in fact is was kinda soulless. Damn, I miss that place.
The Reds had a program where students getting good grades were able to get free tickets to certain games. On the surface, it was a very nice goodwill gesture. Reward the youngsters for their hard work in the classroom! In reality, it was a great way for the Reds to sell tickets to games against crappy teams that didn’t draw well.
You see, earning good grades didn’t get you tickets to a Reds/Dodgers game in September; it got you tickets to a Reds/Padres game in June. On a Tuesday. In the upper deck. I got Straight A tickets a few times, though I’m not sure how, and also tagged along with friends who were more studious than myself. It was a win/win. At least for me and my friends because we didn’t have to pay for the extra tickets the Reds made it so easy to order.
The Coveted Blue Seats
The best seats in the house were the Blue Seats. They were field level and you had to go through a huge tunnel to get to them. My friends and I would scout out the tunnel, hoping to sneak down but there was always an usher checking tickets. Sometimes we could sneak past with a large group but those occasions were rare. As we got older, taller and more daring/stupid we came up with a devious plan.
The Green Seats butted up against the Blue Seats and were accessible to anyone with a ticket anywhere in the ballpark. My friends and I would find an aisle with no usher and casually walk down towards the field. Then we would leap over the railing into the Blue Seats and run down the aisle and under the stands. I remember being yelled at a few times but it didn’t matter. It was the baseball equivalent of yelling, “Stop, thief!” We would scurry down and resurface in another part of the Blue Seats and enjoy the rest of the game feeling like real outlaws.
The World Series
It was also at Riverfront Stadium that I saw my first and only World Series game in person. Game Two of the 1990 Fall Classic pitted the Reds against the Oakland A’s and we had seats in the upper rows of left field. One of the “features” of Riverfront was that the upper decks had so many seats that the further you went up, the less of the field you could see. You also couldn’t see the scoreboard.
Being a Riverfront veteran by this time I devised a plan. I had a portable black and white television that ran on batteries. I figured I would bring it with me so me and my buddy could see the entire field and watch replays when necessary. The only problem was the tiny television required nine D-Cell batteries. I was a senior in college and nine D-Cells represented a pretty serious investment so I skimped and bought Rayovacs because they were the cheapest ones I could find.
Turned out not to be a wise choice as they died in about the 7th inning and the game went into extras. But not all was lost as I got to see Billy Bates dash home on Joe Oliver‘s double down the line to give the Reds a 2-0 lead in the series. Unfortunately it’s also the last time the Reds won a World Series game at home.
My trips to Riverfront included bearing witness to Tony Perez becoming the oldest player to hit a Grand Slam, when he hit one against the Phillies in 1985. I was there when Robby Thompson set a major league record by being thrown out stealing four times in one game. I saw Larry Bowa hit an inside the park homer and I saw Eric Davis, Barry Larkin and Terry Francona hit Opening Day dingers against the Expos in 1987.
By 1995, I was living in Clearwater, Fl, some 938 miles away from Riverfront Stadium, when I got engaged. My wife and I went back to Ohio in July of 1996 to get married and my best man asked me what I wanted to do for my bachelor party. Shunning tradition, I replied that I lived in Florida where there was a strip club approximately every 137 yards but that we didn’t have Major League Baseball. So it was settled. My bachelor party was a Reds/Pirates game at good old Riverfront Stadium.
I didn’t grow up going to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. I cut my teeth as a baseball fan at the concrete monolith known as Riverfront Stadium. And that’s just fine with me.
If you were a kid in southwestern Ohio in the 1970s and you could eat anywhere you wanted, the answer was clear: Johnny Bench‘s Home Plate.
Bench owned two restaurants in the Cincinnati area at the time and one of them was near the Northgate Mall, which was about 40 minutes from my house. I don’t remember a whole lot about the restaurant except that there was a HUGE catcher’s mitt chair in the lobby. At my age it could easily swallow me up and it was a must-do each time we visited.
I frequently asked to go there for my birthday and it often worked because my father liked their steaks. Worked for me, too. On one occasion we were there for dinner when in strolls Johnny himself. I was in awe. Unfortunately I didn’t have anything with me for him to sign, but my mother was a college professor and was thus equipped with a piece of paper and a fountain pen. That’s right: A fountain pen. Johnny inked my piece of paper.
So Mr. Bench, We Meet Again
Years later, I worked at WCET-TV (PBS) in Cincinnati. The building had a large studio that we would rent occasionally. Parts of Rain Man and Little Man Tate were shot there. I came to work one day and was informed that Fifth Third Bank would be shooting a commercial in the studio and that Bench would be in the house. Johnny had been working with Fifth Third since the early ’70s and had done lots of commercials and print ads. Someone from our staff needed to be there in case the ad agency needed anything and since I was the resident baseball freak, they gave me the plum assignment. Basically my job was to sit there, watch the show and tell people where the bathroom was.
Once again I didn’t have anything for Bench to sign, but I did have a car. When the crew broke for lunch, I headed straight to Koch’s Sporting Goods in downtown Cincinnati and bought a baseball. When everyone came back I asked Johnny to sign it.
He was hesitant, probably it was a pretty serious breach of etiquette on my part to ask for an autograph while we were both working. I think he also figured I would sell it. Damage done on the first count, but not the second. He asked me my name and signed the ball to me, which worked out great.
A Treasured Keepsake
The ball now sits proudly on a shelf with others signed by Hall-of-Famers. Thanks, J.B!
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.
In the late 70’s my family moved from New York to Columbus, Ohio. The Yankees had finally returned to prominence, winning the World Series in ‘77 and ‘78, I naturally became a Yankee fan. And I still am to this day. I was still relatively young at the time, so I didn’t get to watch many baseball games back then (except the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week!) but I remember “stealing” my Dad’s Sports Illustrated magazines and plastering my bedroom walls with pictures of my favorite Yankee players- especially Graig Nettles, my all-time favorite Yankee. When I was playing Little League I ALWAYS wanted to play third base, like my idol. I was officially hooked on baseball.
At that point, I also became an avid baseball card collector. I couldn’t get my hands on enough cards! I would try to collect all of the Yankee players of course, but I then became fixated on collecting an entire set of cards. As I would work on building a set, two things would happen. I would collect as many all-stars player cards as possible (like everyone else), but I would study the cards. I became fascinated with reading the player’s career stats, which led to learning more about the history of baseball, records that were broken and milestones hit. It was then that I realized that Nolan Ryan was in a class by himself when it came to starting pitching.
In the early 80’s, Nolan Ryan was THE strikeout king. No one came close to his stuff. In 1973 he set a record with 383 strikeouts in one season! By 1980, Ryan already had five seasons with 300+ strikeouts and had amassed nearly 3,000 career strikeouts. He had a legitimate chance of breaking Walter Johnson‘s record of 3,509 strikeouts, a mark that had stood since 1927. In 1983, he did indeed pass Johnson to become the all-time leader in career strikeouts (he ended his career with an astonishing 5,714 career strikeouts).
It was also 1983 when my family went to St. Petersburg, Florida for Spring Break. While the beach and sun was great, I was most excited to see a spring training game. The Cardinals’ spring training was held in St. Petersburg so my brother and I ventured over there one afternoon to watch a game and see if we could get some autographs. Before the game we managed to get a ton of autographs- guys like Dickie Thon, Denny Walling and Vern Ruhle among others. We then watched a rather boring affair as the Cardinals rolled to victory.
After the game, my brother and I stalked some players and coming out of the clubhouse we met Ozzie Smith! He was holding his son yet was still gracious enough to sign autographs for us as well as others. I was so pumped to meet “The Wizard”! But that wasn’t the highlight of the day.
As we were leaving the stadium, we noticed that the Astros players were out doing practice drills (batting, fielding, etc). I chalked it up to the coach being upset at the poor play of the day, but I was curious. So my brother and I walked around the stadium to a gate where we could look onto left field. We watched batting practice for a bit (ran down a BP homerun ball from Dickie Thon!) but then I saw a player doing calisthenics with the trainer. At first from a distance I couldn’t tell who it was but then I saw the number: ‘Ole #34. It was Nolan Ryan! My brother and I just watched- mesmerized. After a while, he finished up and started to come over. Nolan Ryan was coming our way!
It was just my brother and I and our patience was about to pay off. No one else was with us; other kids had taken off by then. Ryan gets to the gate and asks, “How are you boys doing today?” I could only muster one word: ”Good”. He then asks if we want him to sign the piece of paper we had in our hands. Another well thought out response: “Yes”. So I watched in amazement at the very moment I was getting Nolan Ryan’s autograph. Nolan-flipping-Ryan! A sure-fire Hall of Famer! One of the premier players in the league! And he was right in front of me. Just me and my brother. As he signed our papers, said goodbye to us and walked away, my brother and I looked at each other in astonishment. We just got Nolan Ryan’s autograph!! We gave each other a high-five and with huge smiles on our faces, took off to tell our parents and whomever else might be interested in our story. It was a moment I’ll cherish forever and is still my favorite autograph that I own to this day. Even better than the Derek Jeter autograph my Mom bought me for Christmas one year. That’s saying something…
Scott Ottenweller lives in Columbus, OH where he roots for the OSU Buckeyes, Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Yankees.
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There have been 87 All-Star games in major league history. Exactly one of them took place at Dodger Stadium.
Watching the game today on YouTube brings you right back to the era, complete with Keith Jackson, Don Drysdale and Howard Cosell in the booth. Love him or hate him, there’s nothing quite like listening to Cosell and his skills were on display immediately as he seamlessly transitioned from discussing A.L. leadoff hitter Willie Randolph’s OB% to Gregory Peck’s childhood vocation when Peck appeared on screen.
J.R. Richard on Display
The game also presents the opportunity to see J.R. Richard in his prime one last time. Richard left two of his June starts early after complaining of discomfort but doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him. That fueled whispers about how he was faking an injury. That talk intensified after he handled the best the American League had to offer. Richard would make one more regular season start before heading to the disabled list and then suffering a stroke at the end of July that ended his career. But on this night he was brilliant.
Richard was incredibly difficult to face. Even more so when you’d never seen him before, as was the case for many A.L. hitters in the days before interleague play. Add the factor of squaring off against him in the twilight at Dodger Stadium and it appeared to be a mismatch.
Richard threw two scoreless innings and struck out three, but he did surrender a base hit as Bucky Dent singled to right in the top of the 2nd. As good as Richard was though, he was outdone by A.L. starter Steve Stone.
Steve Stone in the Spotlight
In July of 1979, Stone’s record was 6-7 with a robust 4.40 ERA, thanks in part to surrendering 21 home runs. This year he was in the midst of the defining season of his career as well as a run of 10 wins in 10 straight starts during the regular season. He ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant the day before the game and received a fortune cookie telling him he would reach a high level of intelligence.
“What I wanted it to say was that I was going to pitch three innings, allow no hits and strike out six,” he joked. Had the fortune cookie said that it wouldn’t have been too far off as Stone turned in one of the best starting performances in All-Star history. He faced nine N.L. hitters and retired them all, including strikeouts of sluggers Dave Parker and Dave Kingman along with Dodger pitcher Bob Welch. Even more impressive was the fact that he accomplished this on just 24 pitches.
”I couldn’t look at this lineup as a group,” said Stone. ”I had to face each one as a single entity. As a group, it would have seemed too big a task but, one by one, I was able to handle nine guys.”
The A.L. grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the 5th when Rod Carew hit a 2-out single off Welch and Fred Lynn ran the count full before homering into the right field bleachers. Lynn was nursing a sore hamstring and considered skipping the game to rest, but he didn’t want to disappoint the fans so he made the trip.
Griffey Plays Hero
In the bottom of the 5th, lefty Tommy John was on the mound for the A.L. when N.L. manager Chuck Tanner went off script and sent the left-handed hitting Ken Griffey to pinch hit for Kingman. The move was prompted by Tommy Lasorda, who recalled a time when Griffey had burned Lasorda when John was with the Dodgers. Just as Lasorda predicted, Griffey took John deep and the N.L. was on the board.
“I wasn’t thinking home run,” Griffey told reporters after the game. “I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. I’ve always hit him pretty good. Everybody was pretty pumped up after the home run. Then we just took advantage of their mistakes.”
The mistakes mounted as the N.L. scored two more in the bottom of the 6th on a base hit by George Hendrick and an error on Randloph. They added one more in the 7th when Dave Concepcion scored on a Dave Stieb wild pitch.
The Streak Continues
The Nationals came away with a 4-2 win, which marked the 17th time in the previous 18 seasons that the N.L. won the Mid-Summer Classic, a fact that was not lost on the American Leaguers.
“One more year we have to hear we’re inferior all over again,” said Paul Molitor. “That’s the hard part.”