Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mr. October's Hip Check Decks Dodgers in '78 Series

WE DRANK BEER and set off fireworks. We looked at skin mags and been bar-mitzvahed. That summer, I even had what you might call a girlfriend. We were two men in 8th grade and we were going to the World Series.

It was October, 1978, and the New York Yankees were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers. Again. A year earlier, the Bombers had beaten -- and humbled -- the Brooklyn fugitives, 4 games to 2. Reggie Jackson bashed three homers in the final game, burnishing his "Mr. October" legend.

A rematch of rivals, and
a fresh new hell for L.A.
Then, as now, the Dodgers were trying to avoid the sad distinction of losing back-to-back championships. And I was sure it was the Dodgers' year.

So sure, I put money on it, making schoolyard bets right before the morning bell at our Long Island junior high school. L.A. rewarded my faith by winning the first two games out on the coast. Let the taunting begin.

My pal -- we'll call him J.D. -- scored us tickets to game 4. I've no idea how. Visions of a sweep danced in my head. What we saw was a different side of Mr. October, a savvy, heads up move that changed the course of the Series.

But about J.D... He was one of those guys who'd hit puberty sooner than the rest of us, looked a little older (or maybe he was), and had enough self-assurance to pull off a beer buy at the local dairy drive-in without being questioned.

He was that kid who sold contraband out of his school locker, the one your mother warned you about. For reasons not clear 40 years later, I was his wingman. Maybe I was part of his shtick, the artifice, the innocent who made him look less conniving. Or maybe he was the devil on my shoulder, urging me to do bad things.

In our brief friendship, he got me into all kinds of vices that forestalled my irretrievable descent into nerd-dom. Along with the aforementioned beer, porn and gunpowder, he impressed upon me the importance of baseball and its crude street cousin, stickball.

Johnny Oates, Steve Garvey, Steve Yeager, Reggie Smith, Jerry Grote, Ron Cey,
Manny Mota, Dusty Baker, Davey Lopes, Rick Monday, Bill Russell, Don Sutton,
Terry Forster, Tommy John, Bill North, Bob Welch, Doug Rau, Vic Davalillo, Lee Lacy,
Rick Rhoden, Lance Rautzhan, Burt Hooton, Charlie Hough, Teddy Martinez and
Manager Tommy Lasorda

The tickets were a major coup, even if the seats were in the right-centerfield bleachers next to that eerie blacked out section that formed the batters' eye at Yankee Stadium. We'd get to the Bronx by Long Island Rail Road and then the creepy late '70s NYC subway.

We were 13.

Somehow, I convinced my folks we could do this. I think I told them J.D.'s big sister was our chaperone. I don't recall if she went or not. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

But about the series... As noted, the Dodgers had taken the first two games out in La La Land, closing out the second with an epic, David vs. Goliath confrontation between Reggie and Dodgers rookie pitcher Bob Welch. Momentum was on their side as the series moved east.

But, once in the Big Apple, Mighty Mo' ditched the Dodgers.

Third baseman Graig Nettles single-glovedly won game 3 for the Yanks. Though the final was 5-1, his stellar defense at the hot corner kept two to six L.A. runs off the scoreboard.

Ken Clay, Jay Johnstone, Ed Figueroa, Ron Guidry, Rich Gossage, Catfish Hunter,
Reggie Jackson, Sparky Lyle, Dick Tidrow, Mike Heath, Gary Thomasson, Thurman Munson,
Cliff Johnson, Chris Chambliss, Bucky Dent, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Brian Doyle,
Jim Beattie, Paul Lindblad, Jim Spencer, Fred Stanley, Paul Blair, Lou Piniella,
Mickey Rivers, Roy White and Manager Bob Lemon

Game 4 was make or break for the Dodgers. J.D. and I made our way to the stadium and, after the obligatory souvenir stop, settled into our seats to watch the action. Tommy John started for Los Angeles, Ed Figueroa for New York.

After four scoreless frames, Dodgers right fielder Reggie Smith -- the other Reggie -- belted a three-run homer, bringing home Steve Yeager and Davey Lopes. 3-0, L.A. at the midpoint. That score held until the bottom of the sixth when, with one swing of his butt -- not his bat -- famous original Reggie changed everything.

With one out, John walked Roy White, then allowed singles to Thurman Munson and Jackson, the latter scoring White.

Then, with Munson on second and Reggie on first, Lou Piniella hit a line drive toward Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell who knocked the ball down instead of catching it. Jackson took a few steps off first base and stopped.

Russell picked up the live ball, stepped on second for the force on Reggie, then threw it to Steve Garvey at first to double-up Piniella. The ball never arrived.

Jackson, still the baseline, swung his right hip into the throw, deflecting it past Garvey and into foul territory. Munson rounded third and scored.

Russell's throw caroms off Jackson's hip
and past the waiting Steve Garvey
(screen shot from an MLB Youtube video)
Meanwhile, Jackson retreated to first, bumping into Piniella as Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda raced out of the dugout to protest Mr. October's interference with the would-be double play.

His argument, though epic, was to no avail. The umps ruled Reggie out on the force at second, but not out of line.

Munson's run stood and the inning ended with the Dodgers clinging to a 3-2 lead. It wouldn't last. The Yanks would tie it in the 8th and then win it against Welch in the 10th. Once again, the Dodger rookie faced Jackson with the game on the line. this time Reggie singled to prolong a rally. Piniella delivered the kill shot.

Me and my pal made it home alive.

Though the series was tied at two games a piece, for the shaken and demoralized Dodgers, it was over. Los Angeles took a two-run lead early in game 5, only to see New York storm back with 12 unanswered runs and the 3-2 series lead.

The Yanks would take the championship two days later in Los Angeles, winning 7-2. Reggie took Welch deep in the seventh, a two-run bomb that sealed the deal. My lunch money now belonged to my creditors.

J.D. and I soon drifted apart. I don't recall a specific rupture, it was more like a widening rift. He got me hooked on baseball and then faded away.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The '83 Sox: When Winning Ugly Was All The Rage

THEY WERE FUN and then they were done. Nowadays they're remembered mostly for what they wore.

But if you woke up in Chicago on this day in 1983 and picked up a copy of the Sun-Times or Tribune, you might have had the sense the hometown White Sox were on the cusp of something rarely seen in the Windy City, a championship.

A day earlier the White Sox had beaten the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, in game one of the best-of-five American League playoffs. On the way, they'd rolled up the best record in baseball, 99-63, largely after being dismissively insulted by Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader.

Champagne days on Chicago's South Side
At the time of his fateful utterance, Rader's Rangers were atop the AL West though the trailing Sox had mounted a modest hot streak. "They're not playing that well," he'd said of his squad's pursuers. "They're winning ugly."

Well.

Well. Well. Well.

On July 6, the White Sox hosted Major League Baseball's All-Star game. Marking the event's 50th anniversary, it had returned to its point of origin on the city's south side, Comiskey Park. The home team's sole delegate was their slugging rookie Ron Kittle.

At 40-37, Chicago occupied third place in the West, 3 1/2 games behind Texas, but in 1983 baseball had no fury like the White Sox scorned.  They went on a 59-26 tear -- a near .700 clip -- leaving the Texans in the dust, 22 games back and in third place behind the Kansas City Royals.

Clad in bold futuristic uniforms later likened to beach blankets, the '83 Sox bashed 157 homers and led the league with 800 runs scored, tallying 4.94 per game. They also topped the AL by striking out 888 times. Kittle slammed 35 homer and drove in 100 runs to lead the charge. The Bull -- Greg Luzinski -- pounded 32 round trippers, knocking in 95. Hall of Fame-bound catcher Carlton Fisk went 26/86/.289, while Sox legend Harold Baines went 20/99/.280.

A 1983 Topps power trio: combining for 78 homers and 280 runs batted in.

They also had one of the best pitching staffs in the game, one that allowed just 650 runs (589 of them earned) while fanning nearly 900 hitters. Their staff ERA of 3.67 was third best in the league.

Their ace was LaMarr Hoyt, whose 24 wins were the most by any starter in the bigs. Right behind him, Sox starter Richard Dotson won 22, while Floyd Bannister won 16 and struck out 193 batters. Rounding out the rotation, lefty Britt Burns, whose career was later cut short by a degenerative hip condition.

The hurlers

Their manager: Tony LaRussa. A year earlier, he'd led them to an 87-75 record, good for third in the competitive AL West, parked behind the division-winning California Angels and the 1980 AL champ Kansas City Royals. It looked like 1983 would be the White Sox year.

And but for Baltimore, it might have been.

The Orioles had had the majors' second best record, just a game worse than the Sox. They also had Most Valuable Player Cal Ripken Jr. and a cadre of talented starting pitchers, Scott McGregor, Storm Davis, Mike Boddicker and Mike Flanagan.

Their good pitching stifled the White Sox hitters. Chicago's 2-1 victory in game one of the ALCS was their high point. Over the ensuing three games, they added just one more run as the Orioles claimed the pennant.

Baltimore went on to defeat the Philadephia Phillies in the World Series, their last championship to date. Hoyt's 24-10 record won him the Cy Young Award. Kittle garnered Rookie of the Year honors. LaRussa was voted AL Manager of the Year. As a group though, these South Siders would never ride as high again.

From the Sox ALCS program: the skipper
LaRussa had two more winning seasons before a tailspin and friction with then-General Manager Ken Harrelson cost him his job midway through 1986. His interim replacement: Doug Rader.

LaRussa was quickly hired by the Oakland Athletics, whom he led to AL pennants in 1988 and '90 with a World Series victory in '89. After winning three more flags and two titles with the St. Louis Cardinals, he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Hoyt faltered in 1984, falling to 13-18, losing the most games in the league. After that he was dealt to the San Diego Padres for a package of players including future White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen, He'd lead them to a Series title as manager in 2005.

While they didn't win it all, the Sox distinctive uniforms and typeface from that era have been part of their lore ever since. Winning ugly never looked so good.

-- Follow me on Twitter @papaerboyarchive