Larry Bowa: Pride of Philadelphia and Sacramento

NOTE: This is a guest post from Marshall Garvey

It’s become something of a cliche to praise a modern player who shows any semblance of hustle as a “throwback”. Should one employ the term, though, Larry Bowa is the ideal litmus. In a year that’s seeing home runs fly at a historic rate (juiced ball or no), Bowa would be out of step, hitting a scant 15 in his entire career. His forte was instead pure defense, coupled with reliable contact hitting. He didn’t even look like a star ballplayer, with a small, skinny frame and a mug graced by a bulbous nose. Even more vintage than his playing style is his story, one of tenacity forged by doubts about his ability and later turning MLB’s lousiest franchise into a winner.

The Early Years

That story began in an unlikely place: Sacramento, California. While the River City might not come to mind as an eminent baseball city for most, it’s been the hometown and launching pad for players spanning from Stan Hack to Derrek Lee. Bowa was practically destined to join this group from birth; his father Paul played in the minor leagues (including the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League), and mother Mary excelled in softball. Larry first honed his skills under his father’s tutelage with a Land Park Little League team. Always the smallest kid on the squad, he learned not only the fundamentals of the game, but a fervent sense of determination to overcome any adversity he faced.

Larry Bowa
Bowa (colored sleeves) as a youth in Sacramento

This resilience was tested right away in his teens at C.K. McClatchy High School. The school coach derided Bowa for his size, telling him he was simply too short to excel in baseball. Bowa was cut from the team, only adding to his drive. His family, disheartened when he broke the news, avoided summer vacations from thereon to accommodate his playing in the Summer League. That dedication paid off when Sacramento City College coach Del Bandy spotted Bowa and asked him to join the school’s team, the Panthers. It was there his talent flourished, earning league MVP and the attention of Eddie Bockman, a major league scout from the Philadelphia Phillies.

However, that scout didn’t get to see the young prospect in action right away. In a moment that would become common in his later coaching days, Bowa managed to get ejected from both games of the doubleheader that served as his audition. Bockman would eventually see Bowa’s natural talent, signing him to a minor league deal. In 1970, the kid who was told he couldn’t succeed at McClatchy High School debuted as Philadelphia’s shortstop at Connie Mack Stadium.

To Philadelphia

It was perfect timing. The fiery, chip-on-the-shoulder mentality Bowa fomented in his youth suited him for 1970’s Philadelphia. It was a decade that saw the city face substantial adversity, as deindustrialization hollowed out its economy and “white flight” to the suburbs turned once vibrant neighborhoods into slums. Unbecoming of its nickname, the City of Brotherly Love was further torn apart by intense racial discord, exacerbated by police chief-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo’s clashes with black liberation groups.

Nothing embodied the gritty tribulation of the city during this time more than the Phillies, a franchise with much to prove. Despite almost an entire century of existence, the Phils were the embodiment of baseball futility. Of the original 16 teams in Major League Baseball, they were the only one without a World Series title, with just two intermittent pennants (1915 and 1950) to punctuate decades of grueling irrelevance. The Phold of 1964 still left a searing pain for fans, when the club squandered a 6½ game lead with only 12 left to play and missed out on what seemed a surefire NL pennant.

The first half of the 70’s were more of the same old, bottom-feeding Phillies. But the scrawny Sacramentan quickly distinguished himself as a premiere shortstop during that span. By 1972 he was already a Gold Glove winner, racking up assists, putouts and double plays with ease. Two years after that, he earned his first All Star selection. The team even came around and posted a winning record in 1975, augmented by Bowa’s career-best .305 average. When asked about his success, Bowa didn’t credit his trademark heart and hustle but rather…transcendental meditation.

Playoff Runs

1976, all too fittingly, was the year the Fightin’ Phils completed their renaissance. Philadelphia was thrust into the national spotlight anew by the U.S. Bicentennial celebration, and an unlikely smash hit at the movie theaters that became the city’s pop culture insignia. On Thanksgiving week, Americans packed into cinemas to watch a rudimentary but charming film about an Italian-American boxer named Rocky Balboa. With Philly’s blue collar neighborhoods as his training ground, Balboa went from an aimless club fighter to going the distance with champion Apollo Creed. Rocky conquered the box office, then improbably won the Academy Award for Best Picture against much-favored competition. Amidst the slog of stagflation, poverty and racial strife, the city could beam with pride at the success of a local underdog sports hero, albeit a fictional one.

Before Rocky conquered the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Phillies weaved their own rags-to-riches tale in ‘76. They won 101 games, giving the franchise its first postseason berth since the “Whiz Kids” of 1950. Bowa’s pristine fielding earned him his third straight All-Star selection, ranking in the NL top five in fielding percentage at shortstop. Alongside him was an ever-improving battery of stars: third baseman Mike Schmidt, equal parts slugger and defensive maestro; Greg Luzinski, a stocky outfielder with a penchant for monstrous homers; Steve Carlton, a crafty southpaw against whom hitting was like “drinking coffee with a fork” (in the words of Willie Stargell); and reliever Tug McGraw, who rallied the rival New York Mets to an impossible pennant in 1973 with the hokey yet galvanic phrase, “Ya gotta believe!”

Any hopes of ending the franchise’s title drought were quickly (and perhaps predictably) snuffed out in the NLCS by the Cincinnati Reds. “The Big Red Machine” were the defending World Series champions, in the midst of a two-year run that merited consideration for greatest team of all-time. Cincinnati swept Philadelphia in three games, but the nucleus for the most successful stretch in franchise history had been formed. For the first time since 1964, Philadelphia could reasonably envision a World Series on the horizon.

Being the Phillies, that World Series wouldn’t come without enduring some more macabre heartbreak. The 1977 squad won 101 games again to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. Philadelphia looked poised to take the series at home late in game three, holding a 5-3 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth. It was then that Bowa would be front and center for the devastation of “Black Friday”, the moment that led to more tears in the Delaware Valley than any other in Phillies history. (At least until Joe Carter, anyway.)

The Dodgers scored a run on two hits and an error to make it 5-4 with a runner on third. Davey Lopes then chopped a grounder that bounced off Schmidt’s knee, which Bowa swiftly grabbed and propelled to first. Lopes was called safe in what appeared to be a virtual tie, allowing the tying run to score. The Phillies argued, but to no avail. Los Angeles rallied to win the game, and easily beat the deflated Phils the next day to take the series. The teams met again in ‘78 with the same result, this time ending on a walk-off hit at Dodger Stadium.

1980

At the end of a step-back season in 1979, the front office selected Dallas Green as manager, hoping he could refine an already talented club into a championship one. Green implemented a no-nonsense clubhouse ethic, feeling the players had been too loose in recent years. Long-time stars were no longer guaranteed play time if a younger player was doing better, a “We, Not I” sign graced the clubhouse wall, and the door to Green’s office was frequently left open for verbal reamings.

This leadership style butted heads with many veterans, especially Bowa. The shortstop and new skipper frequently clashed in heated exchanges. One time, Bowa did manage to get in a rare last word. After a particularly dismal loss, Green left the door open again as he spoke to reporters, loudly questioning the team’s desire to win. Bowa instructed one writer to ask Green how many games he won in his career as a major league pitcher (the answer: 20). Green’s booming response from the office: “Touche, Bo. Touche.”

Green’s style wasn’t what the players wanted, but it was certainly what they needed. Unlike their dominant seasons in the 70’s, the Phils were locked in a multi-team race all throughout 1980, and it would take everything they had to win the NL East. Green’s patience was exhausted by an August slump that put them six games behind Montreal, leading to a clubhouse lecture so thunderous that reporters could hear it in the hallways outside. It did the trick, as the Phillies rattled off a bevy of one-run wins down the stretch and eked out a division title.

It was just the warm-up they needed for the NLCS against Houston, a white-knuckle battle that might still be the greatest series in NL history. Four of the five games went into extra innings, each one marked by miraculous comebacks and near-misses. In the deciding fifth game in Houston, the Phillies found themselves staring at yet another devastating postseason defeat as they trailed 5-2 in the eighth inning. Worse, the Astros had none other than Nolan Ryan patrolling the pitcher’s mound, making a rally seem all the more unlikely.

Once again, Bowa would be center stage for an indelible NLCS moment. Much unlike “Black Friday”, it was a triumphant one. He led off the eighth with a single against Ryan, keying a five-run rally that set up an 8-7, 10-inning win. The Phillies were finally back in the World Series, thanks in no small part to Bowa’s .315 average throughout the LCS. But their title drought wasn’t officially over unless they got through George Brett and the Kansas City Royals. In the first game, the unyielding shortstop came through yet again. The Royals staked a 4-0 lead early on when Bowa, just like a few nights before in Houston, started a five-run rally with a base hit, ending in a 7-6 victory.

The series saw Philly engaged in more one-run battles, but wouldn’t go the distance. It ended in game six, with Tug McGraw striking out Willie Wilson for the final out. As McGraw rotated his pitching hand into a celebratory fist pump, the team swarmed the mound as the franchise’s historic drought was finally laid to rest. For the veterans of the squad, it was a complete effort: Carlton won two games including the clincher, Schmidt took home World Series MVP honors, and the image of an exultant McGraw became the defining image of the series. Yet Bowa was hardly lost in the shuffle. He hit a muscular .375 (with a hit in every game), turned a WS-record seven double plays, and scored one of Philadelphia’s four runs in the clinching game.

Bowa’s heroics for 1980 were an apropos bookend to his full decade in a Phillies uniform. As he evolved into one of the game’s finest shortstops during that span, the Phils transformed from a perennial loser in 1970 to World Series champions in ‘80. They were also his veritable swan song: after a first round playoff exit in 1981, an aging Bowa was traded alongside budding infielder Ryne Sandberg to the Chicago Cubs. He hung up the cleats for good with the Mets in 1985, holding defensive records like career games at shortstop in the NL (2,222), career fielding percentage (.980) and fielding percentage for a single season (.991 in 1979).

Still a Phan Phavorite

Today, Bowa remains a source of pride for the oft-derided cities that shaped him, both of which honored him accordingly. He was enshrined in the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame in 1991, and the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. Even with those accolades, he hasn’t put baseball behind him just yet, currently serving his fourth stint in Philadelphia (this time as bench coach). The Phillies, like so many times before, languish in dead last, grinding out a much-needed rebuilding cycle. Whether Bowa sticks around for its payoff remains to be seen. Thanks to his direct contributions to their first title, and his help setting the stage for the second, it’s a wait he and Philly fans can afford to sit through a little more easily than before.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A graduate of UC Davis with a B.A. in history, Marshall Garvey serves on the board of directors for the Sacramento County Historical Society. He’s currently working on the forthcoming book The Hidden History of Sacramento Baseball, in which Bowa and many other local players are profiled. In 2010, he fused his love of history and the national pastime to create the Presidents Baseball card franchise, which imagines all of America’s Presidents as a baseball team. He’s also the lead editor of the popular Sacramento-based video game blog Last Token Gaming. An avid baseball fan since 2000, he roots for several teams and stresses out about the Dodgers way too much.

 

 

(Mark) Clear as Mud

Not many guys can go from getting seriously knocked around in the Appy League to becoming a Major League All-Star in less than five years, but that’s exactly what Mark Clear did.

Clear was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 8th round in 1974 and spent his first professional summer with the Pulaski Phillies of the Appalachian League. To say it didn’t go well would be a gross understatement.

The 1974 Pulaski Phillies were, to be blunt, terrible. They finished the season with an 18-50 record, led the league in errors and passed balls and their team E.R.A. was 6.07, nearly a run-and-a-half higher than the next closest team.

The manager of this crew was a man named Frank Wren, who had recently left a very successful career as a college coach at Ohio University, where he had helped Mike Schmidt become an All-American. He had to be wondering what he had gotten himself into.

A Clear Problem

If the Pulaski had the worst pitching staff in the Appy League that season, Mark Clear was one of the reasons why. In fourteen appearances, Clear went 0-7 with an 8.65 ERA. He gave up 69 runs (49 earned) in 51 innings while allowing 71 hits, 43 walks and hitting 11 batters. He also threw six wild pitches. He was just 18 at the time, but it wasn’t a great way to begin your professional baseball career. The Phillies felt so too, and on April 2nd, 1975, less than a year after he was drafted, they released him.

Like a Phoenix

Mark ClearBut the California Angels saw something they thought they could work with, signed Clear as a free-agent in June and moved him to the bullpen. It worked. In the rookie Pioneer League, Mark Clear shaved more the six runs off his E.R.A. in 13 appearances. There were still a few rough patches on his ascent, but on April 4th, 1979, four years and two days after being released by the Phillies, Clear made his major league debut and threw two and one-third scoreless innings against the Seattle Mariners. Four days later, he got his first win. He would win eleven games in 1979, make the All-Star team, and finish third in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind John Castino and Alfredo Griffin.

Eleven Seasons

Mark Clear ended up spending eleven seasons in the major leagues with California, Boston and Milwaukee, compiling a 71-49 record and winning a career-high 14 games with the Red Sox in 1982. He’s a reminder to athletes to never give up and a reminder to teams not to give up too soon on athletes.

 

 

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.

 

On Dallas Green

Dallas Green… was tall, blunt, and had a voice like a foghorn.”

-Bill Giles

Midway through the 1979 season, it became clear that Danny Ozark had lost control of the Philadelphia Phillies and a change was needed. At one point during the season, Ozark confided in Phillies team president Bill Giles, “I can’t control these guys. They’re making 10 times more money than me.”

On August 31st, 1979, the popular Ozark was fired and replaced by Farm Director Dallas Green. He took over with 30 games left in the season and used it to evaluate what he had, and what he needed. One of the biggest changes he felt needed to be made was the team’s attitude.

“We’re in trouble,” Green told reporters when he took the job on an interim basis. “We owe the Philly fans a lot more than we’ve been giving them for their money. We’ll make some over the winter and find out who wants to play here and who doesn’t.”

The Phillies had officially been put on notice. Green got right to the point and a lot of the Phillies, specifically the veterans, didn’t care for his style. When players groused about his ways he told them it was their fault that he was the manager because their poor play had gotten Ozark fired.

We, Not I!

When spring training began in 1980, Green had signs placed around the Phillies facility that said, “We, Not I.” The message was sent, but it wasn’t well received. Many felt it was too rah-rah for a major league team, but Green didn’t care. In fact, that was a big key to his success.

Dallas Green was the rare major-league manager who didn’t especially want the job, didn’t care who he pissed off, and had the full support of the front office. In short, he was a comfortable player’s worst nightmare.

“It’s not going to be a country club; you can count on that,” he said of his first spring training. “If you get away from the basics and get away from the idea that you can play yourself into shape and forget that conditioning and fundamentals are how the game is won, then you’re in trouble.”

A Dream Season

Green led the Phillies to an N.L. East title in 1980, but it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t without incident. In early August, the Phillies went to Pittsburgh for a crucial four-game series against the defending World Series Champion Pirates. The Phillies were in 3rd place. A good series could vault them over the Pirates and have them nipping at the heels of the first-place Montreal Expos.  Instead, they got swept.

Green let his team have it. “Get off your asses and beat somebody,” he railed. “If you don’t want to play, come into my office and tell me, ‘I don’t want to play.’

“You’ve got to stop being so cool, and if you don’t get that through your minds you’re going to be so far behind it won’t be funny.”

The sweep left the Phillies six games out in the N.L. East, but it also lit a fire under them. They won the division on the last weekend of the season, then went on to beat Houston in the NLCS and Kansas City in the World Series.

Legacy

Phillies phans owe Dallas Green a debt of gratitude. The franchise began playing baseball in 1883 but until 1980 they had never won a World Series. Dallas Green took them there in his first full season. R.I.P., Dallas. You’ll be missed.

 

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.

Dream Season: Mike Schmidt

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. We’ll start with Mike Schmidt.

April 1986

Schmitty had some slow starts, but his final season was not among them. He went 2-4 with a homer off Mario Soto on Opening Day and kept going. Not a huge power month, but the batting average was solid. He ended April hitting .328 with 5 homers and 19 RBI with 10 runs scored. A great way to kick off the season.

May 1980

The Phillies first World Series season was Mike Schmidt‘s finest season as well and May was a huge month. Philadelphia entered May already 4.5 games behind in the National League East but by the end of the month, they were back in it. Schmidt hit .305 with 12 homers and 29 RBI to earn Player of the Month honors. His teammate Steve Carlton also had a pretty good month, going 6-1 with a 1.88 E.R.A. and was named Pitcher of the Month.

June 1977

After leading the National League in home runs for three consecutive seasons, Schmidt finished 4th in 1977, but he still hit 38 dingers and drove in 101 runs. He also raised his batting average and cut down on his strikeouts. In June, Schmitty hit .318 with 14 homers and 28 RBI.   His biggest day came on June 10th against Atlanta when he went 3-4 with two homers and 5 RBI, one of two multi-homer games that month.

July 1979

Once Pete Rose came to the Phillies, Schmidt’s career really took off. He hit 40 homers for the first time in 1979 and his July was something to remember. Mike hit .354 with 13 homers and drove in 32 runs in 28 games. During a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants from July 6-9 at The Vet, Schmidt went 8-14 with 6 homers and 13 RBI. The Giants never knew what hit ’em.

August 1981

Among the many tragedies of the strike season was what it took away from Mike Schmidt. He won his second consecutive MVP award that season and also had the best single-season batting average of his career, batting .316. When the players finally got back on the field Schmitty went off, hitting .380 with 9 homers and 24 RBI in 20 games.

September/October 1980

The stretch run in 1980 is something no Phillies phan will ever forget and Mike Schmidt played a huge role. For the month, he hit .298 with 13 homers and 28 RBI, but there’s one homer that stands out above the rest. On the next to last day of the season, his 11th inning homer in Montreal gave the Phillies the N.L. East division crown.

The Totals:

When you put it all together, it doesn’t look too bad. In Mike Schmidt’s dream season he hit .327 with 66 homers and 160 RBI while scoring 118 runs. I’ll take that.

Best Baseball Weekend EVER

It was January of 1995 and Mike Schmidt had just been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I distinctly remember coming home that day and my girlfriend, now wife, could sense I was a bit down. She asked me what was wrong and I told her I had always told myself I would go to Cooperstown when Schmitty got in but I didn’t think it was going to happen.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I can’t?” I said

“Why not?” she asked again.

That was pretty much all it took. That night, I called around and finally found a hotel that had a room on induction weekend. The only problem was it was in Utica, about an hour away, but I didn’t care. I was going.

Hitting the Road

In Late July, a friend and I rented a car and took off from Clearwater, FL on our way to Cooperstown, a scant 1,200 miles away. We didn’t have cell phones or satellite radio, but we did bring a baseball encyclopedia and spent a good part of the trip quizzing each other on lineups and all kinds of other minutiae to pass the time.

The trip went off without a hitch until we reached our hotel. In a horrible rookie move, I hadn’t reserved the room with a credit card and they had given it to someone else. So here we were, 1000+ miles from home with no place to stay. Good times. I don’t remember how, but by some miracle we were able to get a room and settle in.

Off to the Hall

My friend, Bob, and I worked in television and we were doing a documentary about Richie Ashburn, who was also being inducted that weekend. We secured press credentials through the Phillies and went to the Hall to pick them up. As soon as we stepped outside someone offered to buy my press pin. Sorry, dude. No go. This was the big time. I was a credentialed member of a HOF Induction weekend about to see my guy go in.

Mike Schmidt
Schmidt Locker display at the Hall of Fame

It was fantastic. We cruised up and down the main drag in Cooperstown and went inside the museum shooting video for the documentary. After a long day we hopped in the car for the drive back to the hotel. When we got back all we had to do was charge the batteries for our equipment and we were all set. Except we weren’t.

When we plugged in the charger it started to spark and pop. Turns out we left it on the air conditioning unit in the hotel room and condensation had built up while it ran during the day.  Another rookie move by me. We tried to dry the charger without much luck and figured we’d let it air dry deal with it in the morning.

The Big Day

The main order of business on Induction Day was finding a place to plug in our charger. After a while, I found a security person and explained our predicament. Amazingly, the guy took us into a building and showed us a place where we could plug in. Second miracle of the day; there were no sparks, no pops and the lights indicated the batteries were charging. We were all set.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I looked around the room and was dumbfounded.

Me: “Um Bob? Is that Stan Musial over there talking to Yogi Berra?”

Bob: “Sure looks like it.”

Whoever we asked to help us had apparently shown us into the room where all the Hall of Famers hang out before the induction ceremony. Fanboy in me was thrilled, but I quickly realized the best way to get kicked out of there was to start running up to guys and bothering them.

I spotted Roy Smalley, who was working for ESPN at the time, explained we were working on a documentary about Ashburn and asked if he thought it would be OK to interview some of his contemporaries. He said he wasn’t sure but that it probably wasn’t a good idea. Smart guy.

MIke Schmidt
Schmidt delivers his induction seech

We eventually we found a place to shoot the ceremony and get a really good sunburn before attending the post-induction press conference where I got what I needed for my documentary.

It’s All Good

The trip was a success despite everything I did to ruin it. The next day we woke up in Utica and prepared to drive back to Florida. I told Bob I’d start driving and then we could switch but if he got tired I’d help him out. Shortly after Bob started driving I fell asleep and by the time I woke up we were just outside of Tampa. I’d been asleep for about 6 hours, maybe more.

The moral of the story? Marry a baseball fan, and NEVER drive long distances with me. I’ll bag you every time. I also never finished the documentary.

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.

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

Game Six

You never forget your first time. For me it was October 21st, 1980; the night I had my first championship experience.

I was a few months into 8th grade at a small school in Oxford, OH. By small, I mean really small. My graduating class had about 25 people. I was a little anxious about beginning high school the following year but none of that mattered now. What mattered was that my Phillies were about to win their first World Series title.

Phillies phans in southwest Ohio were pretty rare in the Big Red Machine era, but I was one of them. Call me an outlier if you like, I prefer to think of myself as a member of a very select club. One that was accustomed to heartbreak.

For me, it began in 1976 when the Reds swept the Phillies in the NLCS. In all honesty, my memories of that season are pretty sketchy since I was only eight at the time but the soul-crushing defeats at the hands of the Dodgers over the next two seasons still resonate, especially 1977.

I grew up in a college town and used to walk home from school. One day on my journey from McGuffey Laboratory School to our house on Beech St., I recounted the events of the horrible 9th inning of Game Three to some unsuspecting Miami University student. He seemed amused; though I don’t remember if it was by the story or because a nine year-old was lamenting the fact that Vic Davalillo, at age 40, actually beat out a bunt. Don’t get me started on Manny Mota’s drive to left and the ensuing Greg Luzinski incident.

But that was in the past and twelve year-old me was ready to move on. After enduring a gut-wrenching NLCS, in which four of the five games went extra innings, and a back-and-forth World Series against George Brett and the Royals, I sat on the edge of my bed in the 9th inning of Game 6 while Tug McGraw was putting on his usual show of loading the bases and then trying to get out of it.

A Defining Moment

With the Phillies leading 4-1 McGraw struck out Amos Otis to lead off the inning, but walked Willie Aikens and then surrendered singles to John Wathan and Jose Cardenal. On the mound at The Vet, McGraw was summoning the energy to record two more outs. In Ohio, I was sitting on the edge of my bed wearing one of those plastic Phillies batting helmets and holding two different Phillies pennants. Tugger needed me at this moment and there was no way I was going to let him down.

rose-backs-up-bob-booneWhat happened next was pure World Series magic. The infamous Frank White popup in foul territory that Bob Boone muffed but Pete Rose caught followed by McGraw striking out Willie Wilson to end the game. Pandemonium ensued both in Philadelphia and on Coulter Lane in Oxford as we all jumped for joy. It was nearly 11:30 at night on a Tuesday and I had school the next day. I can’t stay up that late anymore but I’m so glad I did then.

Years later, I met McGraw at an event and stupidly said something to the effect that I remembered that game, as if neither he nor anyone else there didn’t. I told him about sitting on the edge of my bed and how excited I was when he struck out Wilson.

“Ah, Willie Wilson,” Tugger said. “My favorite baseball player.”

It was perfect and so are my memories of that season and that moment. You never forget your first time.