The '80 Series: top-flight play it wasn't; dramatic, it was
Philadelphia — Two teams a lot more similar than most people realized put on quite a show in the 1980 World Series -- one that more than made up in competitiveness, drama, and excitement for what it sometimes lacked in precise, championship execution.
The one most lasting impression of this year's classic has to be Philadelphia's amazing and somewhat ironic emergence as the ultimate fight-from-behind team -- amazing because of the regularity with which the rallies occurred, and ironic because this was exactly the quality that seemed to be lacking in all their talent-laden predecessors of the 1970s.
"Their ability to come back was the key," conceded Kansas City Manager Jim Frey after the Phillies had defeated his Royals 4-1 in the sixth game to close out the best-of-seven Series four games to two.
"We had'em on the ropes a couple of times -- a two-run lead in the eight in one game, a one-run lead in the ninth in another -- but we couldn't keep them there," Frey said. "We watched them do it on TV against Houston, and they did it again against us."
Philadelphia's comeback story actually started in September, when a team torn by bickering and dissension much of the season staged numerous late-inning rallies to finally beat out Montreal for the National League East title. It did it again in all three playoff victories, and it kept it up in the Series, staging come-from-behind rallies in its first three victories.
"We developed a lot of confidence in our ability to rally, to make things happen," said Dallas Green, the first-year manager whose no-nonsense approach is largely credited with straightening out what had been a lackadaisical, go-through- the-motions attitude on the club before he took over.
Mike Schmidt, whose .381 hitting, with two homers and seven RBIs, earned him Series MVP honors to go along with his almost-certain selection for the same regular-season award, concurred.
"You can see we're confident even when we're behind," he said. "Even if we don't wind up winning, we usually scare 'em. The way we were coming back in this Series, I guarantee you the Royals were worried anytime we were up, no matter what the score was."
But perhaps it was summed up best by Keith Moreland, a rookie reserve catcher who batted .333, with a couple of key hits in three games as the designated hitter.
"I experienced the college atmosphere of Texas," said Moreland, who played football for the Longhorns. "I didn't think I'd ever see anything like that at the pro level, but we're pretty close."
There were no truly memorable moments in this Series of the sort likely to be relived through the years, and no overriding individual performances like those of Reggie Jackson and Willie Stargell in recent Octobers, but of course there emerged the usual array of heroes, "goats," and exciting plays.
Philadelphia shortstop Larry Bowa and catcher Bob Boone not only played their usual fine defensive games, but provided the punch in the bottom of the order that was one of the big differences between the teams. Second baseman Manny Trillo was the hero of the pivotal Game 5 when he gunned down a big run at the plate and later got the winning hit. Bake McBride hit .304, including one very big three-run homer. Del Unser came up with two key pinch doubles. As usual, Pete Rose was everywhere with his combination of fiery play and intangible leadership. And, of course, starter Steve Carlton (two wins) and reliever Tug McGraw (one win, two saves) were the pitching story.
Willie Aikens was Kansas City's slugging star, with four homers and eight RBIs -- all in the first four games. But he found out the truth of Babe Ruth's old saying about being "a hero one day and a bum the next" when his defensive problems at first base -- including failing to touch the bag on one play -- contributed to Philadelphia's fifth-game victory. George Brett, Amos Otis, and Hal McRae also hit well, giving the Royals a big four who easily outslugged their Philadelphia counterparts, but too often they had to carry the load alone.
A "bean ball" incident marred one game -- the fourth -- when Philadelphia pitcher Dickie Noles knocked Brett down with a high inside pitch, but things were smoothed over and there were no other controversies.
The Phillies set the comeback theme right at the start, falling behind Kansas City's 20-game winner, Dennis Leonard, 4-0 in the third inning of Game 1, but they quickly struck back for five runs of their own en route to a 7-6 victory. The next night they overcame a 4-2 deficit in the eighth to win again. Even while losing Games 3 and 4 in Kansas City, they showed their never-give-up spirit, coming back three times to tie the third game before losing 4-3 in 10 innings, then trying vainly to overcome a 4-0 deficit in a 5-3 loss the next day. Then came Game 5 and a two-run ninth to turn another apparent loss into the win column.
Ironically, the only victory in which the Phillies didn't come from behind was the one that finally clinched the team's first world championship in its 98 -year history and set off wild celebrations in the city all through the night and again on Wednesday. This one looked easy most of the way, as the Phillies led 4-0 and Carlton was mowing the Royals down. But that, of course, is not the Phillies' style. If they can't come from behind, they apparently have to keep things interesting by giving the opposition ample opportunity to do so.
Anyway, Carlton faltered in the eighth, giving up a leadoff walk and a hit, and Green called on McGraw. Another walk and a sacrifice fly produced a run before McGraw got out of a bases-loaded jam. The ninth was more of the same, when a walk and two singles again loaded the bases. Then came the play that seemed to show it was just the Phillies' year. Frank White lifted a foul pop near the Phillies' dugout, and Boone got under it only to have the ball pop out of his usually sure hands. But Rose, who had raced over from first base, lunged and caught the ball before it hit the ground. Then McGraw finished things off with a flourish by striking out Willie Wilson.
"We practiced that play," joked Rose, who once again demonstrated those uncanny instincts and that inexplicable knack he has for being in the right place at the right time. The man whom the Phillies' acquired as a free agent two years ago to help push them over the top didn't have much of a Series offensively, but he did all those little things -- working pitchers for walks, getting hit by a pitch, moving runners along, and providing leadership -- that so often added up to victory in his Cincinnati years, and now have done so again.
All the rah-rah spirit and intangibles in the world won't win games, of course, without clutch pitching, timely hitting, and major-league execution. In the end, therefore, the difference was really Philadelphia's greater success (or perhaps a better way of putting it would be Kansas City's failure) in these aspects.
In many ways the two teams are alike, as can be seen from their statistics. Despite Schmidt's awesome individual totals, the 1980 Phillies are not really a power club. The Series rivals were just about even in home runs during the year , and the Royals had an 8-3 edge in the Series.
So both teams often have to scratch for runs, which is where timely hitting comes in. Kansas City had more hits, more walks, and quite a few more base runners, but the Royals also left 13 more men stranded.
Neither side's pitching was any mystery, as the Phillies batted .294 and Royals, .290. But Philadelphia had a big edge in the bullpen, as McGraw did his tightrope act repeatedly while K. C. ace Dan Quisenberry was largely ineffective.
Another Kansas City problem was that speedsters Wilson, U. L. Washington, and Frank White failed to reach base enough to set up the running game that helped them romp to the American League West title and a three-game sweep of the Yankees in the playoffs. Particularly frustrating was the ineffectiveness of Wilson, who led the AL in hits with 230, but who batted only .154 in the Series and struck out a record 12 times.
But even all this might not have finished K. C. off if the Royals hadn't made so many physical errors, mental lapses, and failures to execute fundamental plays -- far more than any team can hope to get away with in any championship series. The Royals were charged with seven errors, to only two for Philadelphia , and these plus all the other mistakes led ultimately to their downfall. The Phillies played much better fundamental ball, making it appear that their tough regular season finish and frantic playoff series had left them much sharper for this final battle.