Dodgers Astros Showdown

“For you guys who don’t think we can win four in a row, do us a favor. Don’t get dressed.”

So read the sign in the Dodgers clubhouse on Friday, October 3rd. L.A trailed the Astros by three games with three remaining in the season. Anything less than a four-game sweep would end their year.

Game 1 – October 3rd, 1980

Despite the inspiration, the Dodgers were in trouble late in Friday’s opener. Alan Ashby’s 8th inning sacrifice fly gave the Astros a 2-1 lead and L.A. had just two at-bats left to save their season.

Houston starter Ken Forsch, whose 2nd inning single off Don Sutton gave the Astros a 1-0 lead, set L.A. down in order in the bottom of the 8th and was scheduled to lead off the top of the 9th. Astros manager Bill Virdon opted to let Forsch hit for himself against Valenzuela, who had still not yielded a run on the season and Forsch lined out to 2nd baseman Davey Lopes.

 

Forsch got Jay Johnstone to ground out to open the 9th, but a Rick Monday single was followed by an error on Rafael Landestoy. Two batters later, Ron Cey singled to left field to tie the game.

Valenzuela again set the Astros down in order in the top of the 10th inning and Virdon again sent Forsch out in the bottom half of the frame. Former Astro catcher Joe Ferguson sent Forsch’s first pitch into the stands over a leaping Cesar Cedeno in left-center field for a walk-off homer, giving the Dodgers new life. Ferguson celebrated his game winning homer by throwing his batting helmet into the air as he rounded 3rd base and, after crossing home plate, picked up Lasorda in a bear hug before mobbed by his teammates and blowing kisses to the fans.

“Sometimes we don’t look pretty out there,” said Ferguson, “but this team has shown more heart than any team I’ve ever played on.”

Game 2 – October 4th, 1980

The two teams squared off the following afternoon with L.A.’s Jerry Reuss against Houston’s Nolan Ryan. L.A. took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Derrel Thomas singled to left to score Steve Garvey. Art Howe’s RBI single in the 4th tied the game at one, but Garvey led off the top of the 5th with a home run, his 26th, and Reuss shut out the Astros the rest of the way for his 18th win.

“I’ve never seen him more aggressive,” Lasorda said of his starter. “I’ve seen him throw better, but he went after every batter today.”

The win meant Houston’s lead was down to just a single game with one game remaining. A Dodger win on Sunday afternoon would force a one-game playoff in Los Angeles, while a Houston win wrap secure the division title.

“The fact is this: We can win it tomorrow. They can’t,” said Morgan. “We win tomorrow and it’s all over. The percentages are in our favor. The Dodgers haven’t beaten us four straight all year and I don’t see them doing it.”

Game 3 – October 5th, 1980

For game three of the series, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda started 14-game winner Burt Hooton, while Houston skipper Bill Virdon went with Vern Ruhle, who was dealing with a finger injury he suffered when he cut his right index finger on a nail in the dugout on Friday. The wound required two stitches to close and left Ruhle unsure how long he could go in the season’s final game.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a factor, but I’m going to let the trainer work on it,” Ruhle said. “Obviously I can’t pitch with a Band-Aid on, but I think I’ll be all right. If I can’t (pitch) I’m sure Joaquin will be ready.”

In addition to Ruhle, Joe Morgan injured himself in Friday’s game sliding back into 1st base on a pickoff attempt. The Dodgers weren’t faring much better though as Davey Lopes was battling a sore neck and both Ron Cey and Dusty Baker were dealing with hamstring pulls. But minor injuries wouldn’t keep anyone out of game of this magnitude.

It didn’t take long for the Astros to get to Hooton or to practice a little gamesmanship. Cesar Cedeno led off the top of the 2nd inning by testing Ron Cey’s sore hamstring with a bunt down the 3rd base line that turned into an infield single. A stolen base and a Hooton error put runners on the corners with no one out. Alan Ashby singled to center to score Cedeno and Craig Reynolds singled to right to give Houston a 2-0 lead and chase Hooton from the game.

Ruhle wasn’t around much longer than Hooton but it wasn’t the Dodgers that knocked him out of the game, it was his finger. The stitches opened up early and by the third inning he had to come out of the game.

“I went as far as I could as hard as I could,” he said afterwards. “It started breaking by the first inning, but it didn’t start bleeding. It just started tearing downward and by the last two pitches I made, I just didn’t see any point in going on. I would have been hurting the team.”

Houston increased their lead to 3-0 in the top of the 4th but the Dodgers got one back in the bottom of the 5th on a Davey Lopes single off Joaquin Andujar. Down 3-1, Lasorda once again called on Fernando Valenzuela to keep his team in the game and once again, the rookie delivered, throwing two scoreless innings. When he was due to hit in the bottom of the 7th with two men on base, the 19-year-old Valenzuela was replaced by 42-year-old Manny Mota, whom the Dodgers activated as a pinch-hitter in September. This presented a slight problem as Mota was also the Dodgers’ 1st base coach. Ever the strategist, Lasorda sent pitcher Don Sutton to take Mota’s place in the coach’s box while Mota took Valenzuela’s place at the plate against Joe Sambito.

The two had faced each other on September 10th and Sambito had induced Mota to ground into a double play in the 9th inning of a 6-5 Houston victory. This time, Mota stroked an RBI single to right field to cut the lead to 3-2 and end Sambito’s afternoon. Houston manager Bill Virdon summoned Frank LaCorte from the bullpen, who retired Lopes and Dusty Baker to escape the inning.

Steve Garvey to hit a ground ball to 3rd baseman Enos Cabell to open the 8th inning, but Cabell couldn’t handle it and Garvey was safe at 1st base to bring up Cey. Conventional wisdom called for Cey to bunt, especially since he was nursing a sore hamstring, which not only prevented him from running well but also sapped a lot of his power. Cey squared around to bunt twice, but couldn’t get it down. He then worked the count full and when LaCorte delivered his next pitch Cey drove it straight into his left ankle. Now both legs were hurting, but the count was still full and Cey looked to put a ball in the gap.

He fouled off two more pitches before LaCorte delivered a fastball that caught too much of the plate and Cey pounced on it, sending the ball deep to left field. “You gotta be kidding me,” Sambito thought as the ball sailed into the left field seats.

The two run homer, Cey’s 28th of the season, gave L.A. a 4-3 lead, but there was plenty of drama left. Houston put two on in the top of the 9th, which brought Lasorda out of the Dodgers dugout and drew a round of boos at the prospect of his removing Steve Howe from the game, who had replaced Valenzuela in the 8th. But the boos turned to cheers when starter and ersatz 1st base coach Don Sutton emerged from the Dodger bullpen and trotted to the mound. Two pitches later, Sutton got Denny Walling to bounce out to Lopes to end the game and force a one Monday afternoon playoff at Dodger Stadium.

“This team’s going to grow up a lot tomorrow,” said Morgan, “or it’ll die. It’ll be strong, I’ll tell you that, one way or another, or it’ll die.”

Game 4 – October 6th, 1980

The man charged with staving off the Astros’ death was knuckleballer Joe Niekro. In 14 big league seasons, Niekro had thrown more than 2,100 innings and not one of them had come in the postseason. Whether or not that streak continued was up to him, but his two previous outings against L.A. had not gone well.

“The challenge is out there, and I’ve got to go out and get it,” Niekro said. “I accept it. If we had to have a playoff game, I wanted to pitch it.”

Niekro was gunning for his 2nd straight 20-win season while the Dodgers starter, Dave Goltz, was trying to redeem himself after not living up to the free-agent deal he signed at the beginning of the season.

“I’m excited about being given the chance to win it,” Goltz said. “I’ve never been in a situation where a game meant so much. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Astros General Manager Tal Smith got caught up in the excitement as well, but he also could have lived without it. “It’s just like a World Series,” he said. “Three of the most exciting game you’ll ever see, especially if you’re an impartial observer, which I’m not.” Few of the 51,000 fans people who showed up for the playoff game were impartial, either and there was another biased observer sitting on the Dodgers bench.

Ron Cey woke up on Monday morning with a badly swollen ankle, the result of the previous day’s foul ball, and was in enough pain that Lasorda had no choice to remove him from the lineup. For a team already missing Reggie Smith and Bill Russell it was a big blow and the first sign of trouble for the Dodgers.

The next sign came when Terry Puhl led off the game with a ground ball to Lopes, who had the ball pop out of his glove for an error. Enos Cabell then singled to center and stole 2nd. After two batters, Houston had runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out and the Dodger bullpen began to stir. Two batters later, Jose Cruz hit a ground ball to Mickey Hatcher, who had taken Cey’s place at 3rd base. Hatcher came home with the throw but Joe Ferguson couldn’t hold onto it after Puhl collided with him. Cesar Cedeno’s groundout gave the Astros a 2-0 lead despite their only having one hit.

While Goltz and the Dodgers looked a bit shaky in the early going, Niekro was anything but, retiring the first six batters he faced on the strength of an active and unpredictable knuckleball. In the top of the 3rd, Art Howe faced Goltz with two out and a man on and deposited Goltz’s offering into the left field seats to give his team a 4-0 lead. For Howe, it was his 10 home run of the season and the 33rd, and most important of his career.

Houston added three more the following inning and Niekro handled the rest. When Jack Perconte came up with two outs in the 9th inning and his team down 7-1, the Dodger Stadium organist broke into the inspirational World War II tune, “We did it before and we can do it again.” But there was no miracle comeback this time. Perconte popped out to Dave Bergman at 1st base and the Astros, for the first time in their 19-year existence, were headed to the playoffs.

“No team beats us four in a row,” said Joe Morgan. “No team does that to us. Our pitching is too good. The Dodgers learned that today, no matter what kind of momentum they thought they had.”

 

A Discussion with Sean Kane

Your average fan uses a baseball glove to, you know, catch baseballs. Sean Kane uses them to create amazing pieces of art.

For more than fifteen years, Sean Kane has been creating one-of-a-kind painted glove pieces that have earned him national recognition and a sizable following which includes many of the players he features. It all started in 2001 with a trip to spring training.

“The first glove had bright, playful images on it: a guy eating a giant ballpark hot dog, a pennant with ‘Play Ball’ on it, a ‘Hit it Here’ target and on the inside, a ball diamond scene with players and stadium,” Kane said.

“I left one painted finger on the glove blank where I hoped to get Tony Gwynn’s autograph. As luck would have it, I wasn’t there 5 minutes, walked up to a batting cage, and there was Tony talking to fans. I showed the glove to him, he laughed and said it was cool and he signed right where I imagined he would.”

From there, Kane began creating pieces that showcased his love of baseball stories, baseball graphics, and old baseball gloves. The process can be tedious and time-consuming, but the results are well worth the effort, both for Sean and his patrons. The first step is to acquire the appropriate glove.

Sean Kane Baseball Artist“I aim for gloves from the era to be represented, for the position the player played and for the hand they wore their glove on,” says Kane. “For my recent painting of Lou Gehrig, it took a few years to find a 1920s/30s first base mitt for a lefty, similar to a buckle-back glove I’ve seen a picture of him wearing. The glove is my little time machine, adding another layer to the story being told.”

“I then stare at the glove for what seems ages, looking for the spots where I can apply design and portrait elements. Each glove is unique in this way, with various creases to be avoided and sweet spots for portraits, etc., which complicates the creative process compared to working on a traditional canvas but also adds to my excitement at the possibilities.”

 

Kane spends hours poring over old photos, statistics, and career highlights, looking for just the right things to include. With limited space on each glove, sometimes deciding what to cut out is the most difficult part.

“I don’t always succeed with the ‘less is more’ approach –I’ve done some which seem like the back of a baseball card crammed with info. The editing process is a big part of the design decision-making, for sure,” says Kane.  “I try to highlight just enough info about the player to tell a simple story — enough meat on the bone for the casual fan to be interested and the big fan to have a jumping off point for their own stories about the player.”

Sean Kane Baseball ArtistThat’s the key to Kane’s work. Because the gloves often don’t depict a specific moment in time, viewing them on display can mean different things to different people. His Hank Aaron glove may elicit memories of the 1957 World Series to one person and memories of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record or getting an autograph as a kid to another. There are notable exceptions. Last fall, Sean unveiled a two-glove set to commemorate Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. But many of his pieces are celebrations of the player or players depicted. Sometimes it’s an entire team, and that can present its own issues.

Sean Kane Baseball Art“The painting featuring the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers was probably my most challenging,” Kane says. “Since it was featuring an entire team, I wanted to include the entire team, at least by name. Doing so in a way that wouldn’t be a total visual mess was tough and the five portraits wearing pinstripes were very tiny and difficult to paint. I’m pretty proud of that one.”

In the future, Sean will continue to do commissioned work, but he’s also researching stories and acquiring gloves for two different projects. One focuses on Indiana-related baseball history for an upcoming exhibit, and the other will feature Japanese ball players who have made a recent impact on the game in the U.S.

About Sean:

Sean’s paintings have been featured on ESPN. com, NBC Sports. com and MLB Network Radio and reside in the permanent collection of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, The National Pastime Museum, and private collections across the U.S. His paintings have been commissioned by the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers Fantasy Camp and have assisted in fundraising efforts for several charities. Glove paintings have been exhibited at The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and West Virginia University.

Sean Kane Baseball ArtistSean has been a professional artist for over 20 years, creating art for big hitters in the publishing and corporate worlds including The New York Times, Amazon. com, The Wall Street Journal, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Charles Schwab, and Target Stores, among others. He’s a Chicago native now residing near Toronto with his wife and two Little Leaguers. He is a graduate of Butler University and attended Herron School of Art.

Sean was recognized as an ‘Artist of the Month’ by the National Art Museum of Sport in 2016.

For more information, including a look at more of his work, please visit SeanKaneBaseballArt.com

Wild One at the Vet

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.

Eventful 1st Inning

Davey Lopes led off with a single off Phillies starter Randy Lerch and Rudy Law reached on an error by 2nd baseman Luis Aguayo. Two batters later, Steve Garvey was up when Pete Rose noticed something was amiss. The lineup posted in the Dodgers dugout had Dusty Baker up after Garvey, while the one given to the umpires (and the Phillies) had Ron Cey as the next batter.

Rose noticed the Dodgers were out of order

“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.”

More Twists

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.

Bull got the Phillies on the board

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.

 

All-’80s Baseball Hoops Team

It’s NCAA Basketball tournament time and that can mean only one thing: Baseball!

Not only were the ‘80s a great decade for baseball, you could make a pretty solid hoops team from guys who played baseball in the 1980s. Here’s our team:

Point Guard: Tony Gwynn

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.

Shooting Guard: Danny Ainge

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.

Small Forward: Ron Reed

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.

Power Forward: Dave Winfield

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.

Center: Tim Stoddard

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.

6th Man: Frank Howard

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.

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

<a rel=

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

<a rel=

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

<a rel=

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.

Baseball Nivrana

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.

The autograph section was busy all day
The autograph section was busy all day

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.

1972 Topps Baseball
My White Whale

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.

 

Aside from filling want lists, one of the big attractions for me  was just taking in all the show had to offer. Going to a card show is like visiting a museum where everything is for sale. Click To Tweet

Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron &amp; Roberto Clemente
Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Hank Aaron & Roberto Clemente

The ’80s were well represented, too.

Steve Garvey, Leon Durham, Willie Stargell
Steve Garvey, Leon Durham, Willie Stargell

Fans of Olde Tyme Baseball had something to see.

1935 Goudey Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth
Lou Gehrig & Babe Ruth

But my favorite part of shows like this is all the oddball stuff you can find.

Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays baseballs
Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays baseballs
1957 Milwaukee Braves Ashtray
1957 Milwaukee Braves Ashtray
1976 Phillies Phantom World Series Press Pin, 1970 Reds World Series Press Pin, 1980 All-Star Game Press Pin
1976 Phillies Phantom World Series Press Pin, 1970 Reds World Series Press Pin, 1980 All-Star Game Press Pin

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.

Dickie Noles warm up jacket
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.

1984 Topps Cello Packs
What I wouldn’t give to tear into these

Joe Morgan’s Mysterious Dodgers Connection

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.

Mr. Red

Joe MorganDuring 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.”

Free Agency

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.”

Joe MorganIt 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.

1983

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Reflections on 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.

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.

Riverfront Stadium didn't have charisma, charm or beauty. Damn, I miss that place Click To Tweet

“Straight A” Tickets

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.

Hop over the railing, evade security and you're good to go
Hop over the railing, evade security and you’re good to go

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.

everready1
I bought Rayovacs. Turned out to be a bad move

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.

Memories Galore

A Riverfront staple
A Riverfront staple

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.

That Time I Met Johnny Bench (Twice)

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.

Johnny Bench's Homeplate
A Baseball Fan’s Nirvana

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

My Johnny Bench Autograph
My Johnny Bench Autograph

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.