I’m not the sports blogger on Cosmos Philly and I leave that to my fellow blogger, John Stratis, who does a great job. And, I’m not talking about the 2008 Champion Phillies, which was the most exciting sports event in Philadelphia for the last 20 years, or the 2012 Phillies and their disastrous year.
My job is to take you down memory lane and this time I’m taking you back to the 1980 World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Phils beat the Kansas City Royals in six games (4-2) and I was at game 2 at the old Veterans Stadium.
The Phillies have been known by many nick names including the “Whiz Kids, the “Heart Attack Kids,” and “Cardiac Kids,” but 1980 they were simply known as “Champions” and the Delaware Valley celebrated with them. If you are under 30 years old you cannot understand the sheer joy of winning the World Series that year. You “young folk” have lived with a championship quality Phillies team for the past decade and don’t know suffering (well, you are starting to learn with this year’s Phillies team), but us older folks suffered for years…specifically 97 years, since it took the Phillies that long to win a World Series (they were the last of the 16 teams that made up the major league in the first half of the 20th Century to do it).
But in 1980 it seemed that it was a perfect storm and everything just came together. We had Mike Schmidt, the Series MVP and the greatest third baseman in baseball history; Pitcher Steve “Lefty” Carlton, Cy Young Award winner and Hall of Famer; Catcher Bob Boone; 1st baseman Pete “Charlie Hussle” Rose; 2nd baseman Manny Trillo; Shortstop Larry Bowa; Outfielders Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, and Bake McBride; Relief pitcher Tug McGraw; and many others. That year the Phillies won 91 games and Schmidt led the league in home runs with 48, 16 over the nearest player.
Although we look back and proudly smile about that time, it was rough. The Phillies were not your most trustworthy team. To put it simply, they let us down a lot. For 97 years there was no championship. In fact, in 1964 they had a 6 game lead in the NL with 12 games left and it looked like they were going all the way. They blew it – they lost 10 straight games and dropped to a 2nd place tie where they ended the season in 3rd place. This became known as the “Phold,” the most notable collapse in sports history. That’s our Phillies! This was the legacy we had when the Phillies won the NL East in 1980. We thought it was a fluke and they would blow it in the NL League championship. To our surprise, they didn’t, but we all knew they wouldn’t win the World Series – no way, but low and behold, they did.
At the game 2 of the World Series in Philadelphia on October 15, 1980, I sat on the 1st base side about mid-way up with my good friend Chris Peetros. For 3 hours, 65,775 Phillies fans (I’m sure there were 1 or 2 Royal fans – brave souls) cheered them on. The fan noise was unbelievable and I never heard anything like it in my life. Steve Carlton pitched and it was a shut-out for both sides until the bottom of the 5th when the Phils scored 2. The Royals came back with 1 in 6th and 3 in the 7th and suddenly it was 4-2, Kansas City. Uh oh…here was the old Phillies again, but the fans never gave up. The Phils scored 4 in the bottom of the 8th and the Royals were taken out in the 9th. The Phillies won.
Walking out of the stadium with 65,000 of my closest friends, it seemed like a million…the swarm of humanity that spilled out of the stadium and into the street was awe-inspiring. The Series was now 2-0 in favor of the Phillies. For a moment we thought that the Phillies just might do it, but although we celebrated that night, in the back of our collective minds, we knew that it was a Philadelphia sports team and the sports gods never looked favorably upon us. Don’t know why, there was no curse that I knew of, unlike the Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs. Besides, there were 5 games to go.
As it turned out, the Royals won games 3 and 4 and Phillies won game 5. Game 6 was back in Philadelphia. The Series was 3-2 Philadelphia. It was a Tuesday night, October 21, 1980 and Carlton was back on the mound. Like the assassination of President Kennedy, the Apollo 11 moon landing, or 9-11, everyone in the Delaware Valley remembers where they were that night. Whether they were baseball fans or not, at that specific moment, we were all Philadelphia Phillies fans.
On that fateful night, I was working at my Dad’s diner in Northeast Philadelphia, the Macedon Diner on Frankford Avenue near Cottman Avenue. The diner was mostly empty since everyone was home watching the game. We had a small black & white TV with an antenna (remember those?) and the few customers left and employees watched. The Phillies scored first with 2 in the bottom of the 3rd inning. They scored 1 in the 5th and 1 in the 6th. It was now 0-4, Philadelphia. We held our breaths. Around the 7th inning I called my father. “Dad,” I said, “I think they may actually do it and I don’t want to be here when they do. We need to close early.” (our closing time was 11:00 PM). He was not too happy. “Dad, if they win, this town will go nuts and I’ll never get home.” My father grumbled something about work ethics and laziness but agreed. We closed down and I made it home to NJ in about 15 minutes to catch the last 2 innings with my father.
The Royals scored 1 in the top of the 8th and at the top of the 9th, with the score 1-4, Philadelphia, Tug McGraw came to the mound. The Philadelphia mounted Police were surrounding the field (my Dad now understood why I wanted to get out of Philadelphia as fast as possible). McGraw loaded the bases with 1 out. Here we go again, we thought…we’re going to lose. The next batter pops up a foul ball. It goes in and out of catcher Bob Boone’s mitt, but Pete Rose is right underneath and grabs it. 2 outs – could this be it? The entire tri-state area went silent…only one more out. The final Royal batter was Willie Wilson, who had struck out 11 times in the Series – nice. We all prayed to the sports gods and offered them Philadelphia cheesesteaks wit and whiz.
Finally, at 11:29 PM and with 65,839 fans at Vet Stadium and the second-largest TV audience in World Series history watching, McGraw winds up, pitches, Wilson swings and misses – strike 3! THE PHILLIES WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!
I guess the sports gods were finally appeased with just a few cheesesteaks. We all felt like champions and we were finally number 1. The Phillies win the World Series! I have only heard that 2 times in my life…I would like to hear it at least one more time, please? Like the late, great Tug McGraw said, “Ya Gotta Believe.”