In 1980, the Royals finally bested their Bronx rivals, the New York Yankees, to finally win the first pennant in franchise history. While there was reason to celebrate the accomplishment, another opponent stood between the Royals and a championship - the Philadelphia Phillies. For Philadelphia fans, it was the first taste of the Fall Classic in three decades. Both teams were loaded with talent leading to a close series that tied for the highest TV ratings in World Series history.
For both teams, the Championship Series wins were so dramatic that the World Series almost felt like an afterthought. The series featured several firsts. It was the first World Series played entirely on turf. Both teams were managed by rookie managers and the series also featured two of the best third basemen to ever play the game in George Brett and Mike Schmidt. The Series opened in The City of Brotherly Love on Tuesday, October 14. Future Royal good luck charm Don Denkinger was part of the umpire crew and was working third base in Game One. Kansas City started Dennis Leonard while Philadelphia went with rookie Bob Walk.
The Royals drew first blood with Darrell Porter drawing a lead off walk in the second. Amos Otis drilled a home run over the left field fence to make it 2-0 Kansas City. The Royals added to their lead in the third. Hal McRae hit a one-out single and Willie Mays Aikens celebrated his 26th birthday by slamming a two-out home run over the right-center wall to put Kansas City up 4-0. Porter drew a walk and Otis ripped an infield single to put runners at first and second. Clint Hurdle then sliced a single into left field. Third base coach Gordon McKenzie sent Porter and left fielder Lonnie Smith, another rookie, made a terrific throw to the plate, erasing Porter and negating what could have been a big inning. It appeared that Porter gave Philadelphia catcher Bob Boone some professional courtesy and gave himself up. Porter, who usually played balls-to-the-wall, neither slid nor tried to run over Boone, a move that was widely discussed by Kansas City fans and media for years.
The Philly bats woke up in the third, as they punished Leonard with a 31-pitch inning. Facing the heart of the Philadelphia order, the inning went: ground out, single, double, single, hit by pitch, walk, home run, strikeout. Pete Rose was the batter hit by the Leonard fastball. Charlie Hustle took the pitch off his right shin, never bothering to try to get out of the way. He flipped his bat into the Philadelphia dugout and sprinted to first, glaring at Leonard the entire way. Bake McBride, batting cleanup, despite only hitting nine home runs in the regular season, left little doubt as his moon shot sailed over the right field fence. The saving grace was Lonnie Smith getting himself thrown out at second trying to stretch a single to a double. At the end of three, the scoreboard read: Philadelphia 5, Kansas City 4.
Philadelphia added to their lead in the fourth when a Bob Boone double brought home Manny Trillo, who had led off the inning with a single. After 3 2⁄3 innings and 75 pitches, Dennis Leonard was done. Manager Jim Frey gave the ball to Renie Martin. The Phillies got another run in the fifth on a Garry Maddox sacrifice fly to make the score 7-4, Philadelphia.
Kansas City mounted a rally in the eight. Brett doubled to lead off the inning and Aikens follow Brett with another booming home run, bringing the Royals within one. With the home run, Aikens became only the third player in history to hit two home runs in his first World Series game. That was all for Bob Walk. Manager Dallas Green called on Tug McGraw. McGraw got Porter on a flyball to left, before surrendering a single to Amos Otis. Jim Frey sent John Wathan to the plate, pinch hitting for Clint Hurdle, figuring a righty-lefty match up would be beneficial. Didn’t matter. Wathan promptly hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat. McGraw set the Royals down in order in the ninth and game one went to Philadelphia by the score of 7-6, giving the Phillies their first World Series victory since 1913.
Philadelphia had to be feeling good about their chances, after winning Game One. They started their ace, Steve Carlton, who went 24-9 in the regular season. Kansas City countered with Larry Gura, no slouch himself. Gura went 18-10 in the regular season and was a solid big game pitcher. The game was a pitcher’s duel for the first four innings, with the Royals managing six harmless singles off Carlton, while Gura held the Phillies hitless for four and a third innings. Keith Moreland broke up the no-no with a one-out infield single, and Gura cracked a little. Garry Maddox followed with a double to left, moving Moreland to third. Manny Trillo, star of the NLCS, hit a sacrifice fly to right, bringing home Moreland. Larry Bowa slipped a single to left, driving in Maddox, before Gura regained control. Phillies 2, Royals 0.
Kansas City got one back in the sixth, when Willie Aikens reach on an error, which allowed Amos Otis to score. Otis had led off the inning with a single. The inning ended when Frank White grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
Kansas City grabbed the lead in the seventh. Carlton had control issues and walked Willie Wilson, Dave Chalk and Hal McRae and with only one out, the Royals were poised for a big inning. Amos Otis, who was having a great series, doubled to left, bringing home Wilson and Chalk. The next batter, John Wathan, hit a fly ball to center, which was deep enough to score McRae, but Maddox’ throw from center was strong enough to nail Otis trying to advance to third. Royals 4, Phillies 2.
Dan Quisenberry came on and worked a clean seventh, but trouble found him early and often in the eighth. Bob Boone led off with a walk. Pinch hitter deluxe, Del Unser, slashed a double into the left-center gap, plating Boone. Quiz got Rose on a ground out to first, but then gave up three consecutive hits to McBride, Schmidt and Moreland, before getting Greg Gross on a 6-4-3 inning ending double play. At the end of eight, it was Phillies 6, Kansas City 4.
Ron Reed came on for Philadelphia in the ninth and worked around a one-out single by Hal McRae to set down the Royals. Kansas City had their chances in both games but was unable to capitalize.
The series shifted to Kansas City in what became a must-win game for the Royals. The Royals gave the ball to 13-game winner Rich Gale, while the Phillies went with veteran Dick Ruthven, who won 17 regular season games. Brett got the Royals off to a good start, blasting a two-out, first inning home run deep into the right field seats. The Phillies evened things up in the second, when Manny Trillo and Larry Bowa hit one-out singles. Gale walked Boone, before getting Lonnie Smith on a comebacker. Trillo, running on contact, scored on the play.
In the Royals’ half of the fourth, Aikens sliced a drive to left, which the diving Smith missed, allowing Big Willie to chug into third. Hal McRae then drove a single to center, putting the Royals up 2-1. The lead didn’t last long. Mike Schmidt took the fourth pitch from Gale and blasted a massive home run deep into the left field seats, to even the score. After a single by Keith Moreland, Frey called on Renie Martin to put out the fire. Martin worked out of a jam in the sixth and pitched a clean seventh to give the Royals a chance.
Amos Otis, enjoying a great series, hit a blast to right-center to put the Royals back on top, 3-2. Martin couldn’t close the door in the eighth, giving up a one-out single to Bowa, and a two-out walk to Lonnie Smith, before Pete Rose slapped a single to center, bringing home Bowa with the tying run. Ruthven worked out of trouble in the eighth and ninth innings, while Quisenberry did the same.
Dallas Green called on Tug McGraw to pitch the tenth and the Royals finally got to him. U.L. Washington led off with a single and Wilson followed with a walk. Unbelievably, Washington tried to steal third and Boone cut him down with a solid throw. One of the first things our Little League coaches taught us was “don’t run yourself out of innings.” That must not apply in the bigs.
Regardless, instead of letting the red-hot Brett beat him, McGraw gave George a free pass, bringing up the even hotter Aikens. Big Willie made him pay by ripping a single to center, which easily scored the fleet Wilson, giving the Royals their first ever World Series victory.
Through three games the two teams had been pretty even with both teams having their chances to win each game. In game four, the Royals brought back Game One starter, Leonard, while the Phillies countered with Larry Christenson.
Kansas City wasted little time jumping on Christenson. Wilson led off the first with a single. Wilson took his usual sizable lead, prompting Christenson to throw over. The pickoff throw got past Rose and Wilson motored to third. After a Frank White flyout, Brett smashed a triple into the right field corner, scoring Wilson. Willie Mays Aikens, making a case for Series MVP, slammed another home run deep into the right field seats, giving the Royals a quick 3-0 lead. Hal McRae and Amos Otis followed with consecutive doubles, making it 4-0 KC. Green had enough and brought on combustible right-hander, Dickie Noles, who wobbled but got out of the inning without further damage.
The Phillies got a run back in the second, which was nullified by another Aikens home run in the bottom of the inning. 5-1 Kansas City.
The Series took on a different tone in the bottom of the fourth. With Brett at the plate, Noles threw a fastball at Brett’s head, sending George sprawling. Frey charged out of the dugout and complained bitterly to home plate umpire Don Denkinger. Denkinger, who always seemed to be in the middle of Royal World Series brouhahas, warned Noles and the Phillies bench. Pete Rose, who had the personality of a small barking dog, then got into a shouting match with Frey.
Rose would lead off the sixth, but instead of drilling him, Leonard got him on a grounder to Brett. As for Brett, some speculate that the chin music threw him off his game, as for the remainder of the series, he only collected three singles and one RBI. The Phillies added single runs in the seventh and eighth, but it wasn’t enough as Quisenberry worked the final six outs for the save.
With the series tied at two games each, and Game Five being played in Kansas City, the Royals had a golden opportunity to take a commanding lead. The Royals went with Game Two starter Gura, while the Phillies went with another rookie, Marty Bystrom. The game was scoreless until the fourth. With one out, Bake McBride laid down a drag bunt. Gura made a fine fielding play but his throw pulled Aikens off the bag. The next batter, Schmidt, showed why he was a first ballot Hall of Famer, driving a Gura fastball over the centerfield wall to give Philadelphia a 2-0 lead.
The Royals got one run back in the fifth on a Brett ground out, and tied the score in the sixth when Amos Otis lead off with a booming home run to deep left field. Clint Hurdle and Darrel Porter followed with consecutive singles before U.L. Washington brought Hurdle home with a sacrifice fly. 3-2 Kansas City. The next batter, Willie Wilson, drove a pitch off the right field fence. Porter, who possessed good speed for a catcher, churned around third, but the Phillies executed two perfect relays to cut Porter down at the plate for the second time in the series. At least this time Porter slid.
Both managers went with their top firemen, Quisenberry and McGraw, in the seventh. The score remained knotted at two going into the top of the ninth. Schmidt led off with a cannon shot off the glove of George Brett. Del Unser came on as a pinch hitter and did his job, ripping a drive past Aikens and into the right field corner. The relay from Cardenal to White to Porter was too late to get Schmidt at the plate. With two outs, Manny Trillo hit a line drive off Quisenberry’s midsection to score Unser and give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.
The Royals weren’t dead yet. White drew a lead off walk, before McGraw got George looking. Aikens drew a walk and after a fielder’s choice off the bat of Hal McRae, Otis drew yet another walk to load the bases. Instead of calling for a pinch hitter, Frey sent 36-year-old Jose Cardenal to the plate. Cardenal was in the final year of a fine 18-year career that saw him accumulate over 1,900 hits and 21 WAR, but at this point he was running on fumes. Frey’s bench was dangerously thin, with the only viable pinch hitter being 29-year-old Dave Chalk. Chalk had also had a solid career, even garnering a couple of All-Star berths with California back in 1974 and 1975, but he too was at the end of the line and would be out of baseball after the 1981 season.
Frey stuck with Cardenal and McGraw got him swinging, to give the Phillies a commanding 3-games-to-2 lead, with the series heading back to Philadelphia. The ninth was hard to watch, as all three Philly hits were either off the body of or hit directly at Royal infielders.
Country superstar Charlie Pride sang the national anthem in Philadelphia. Looking for the clincher, the Phillies started Carlton, while the Royals countered with Rich Gale. The game was scoreless going into the bottom of the third. Gale walked lead off man Boone on four pitches. The next batter, Lonnie Smith, bounced an easy grounder to White at second, but shortstop U.L. Washington came off the bag before receiving the throw. Second base umpire Bill Kunkel did not give Washington the “in the neighborhood” call and replays showed that Washington was in fact off the bag. The error proved costly, as they almost always do. Frey came out to argue, but to no avail. Rose laid down a perfect bunt, easily beating Brett’s throw, to load the bases with nobody out. Schmidt then eviscerated a Gale fastball, ripping the single to right to drive home the first two runs of the game. Frey called on Renie Martin, who retired the next three hitters.
It was still a 2-0 ballgame going into the bottom of the fifth. Lonnie Smith led off with a double and Schmidt drew a one-out walk, which prompted Frey to bring in Paul Splittorff. A Bake McBride ground out brought home Smith to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead.
The Phillies nicked Splittorff for another run in the sixth and it remained 4-0 going into the top of the eighth. Carlton had been cruising along with a three hitter, but after walking Duke Wathan and giving up a single to Jose Cardenal, Green called on Tug McGraw to get the last six outs. McGraw walked Wilson to load the bases and a U.L. Washington fly ball brought home Wathan get the Royals on the board. Brett laced a single, but the aging Cardenal was unable to score from second, leaving the bases loaded for Hal McRae. McGraw got Mac to ground out to second to end the threat.
Quisenberry worked a clean eighth to give the Royals another chance. McGraw opened the ninth getting Otis looking. Aikens drew a walk, then Wathan and Cardenal followed with singles to load the bases. Third base coach McKenzie, perhaps tired of seeing his players get thrown out at home, or maybe fearing for his job, held pinch runner Onix Concepcion on the Cardenal hit.
The next batter, Frank White took a cut at the first pitch he saw and lofted a high foul ball in front of the Royals dugout. Boone threw his mask and called for the ball. The ball hit squarely in his glove…and bounced out. Unfortunately, in a play that Royal fans still curse, Rose had drifted over close to Boone and managed to snag the rebound for the second out. After seeing the play, my father said, “Rose caught that ball like he had money on the game.” Who would have known at the time, right?
After the White out, the Philadelphia police force, armed with German Shepherds, began to ring the field. That display no doubt had to distract the Royals, but given the history of Philadelphia sports fans, was probably prudent. That put the game on the bat of Willie Wilson. Wilson had enjoyed a fabulous 1980 season, stroking a league leading 230 hits, but he was having a miserable series. McGraw got him swinging and that was that. Wilson ended the series with four hits and a World Series record 12 strikeouts in 26 at-bats, a Duda-esque .154 average.
There were some bright spots. Amos Otis led the Royals with a .478 average, while Hurdle (.417), Aikens (.400), McRae and Brett (both at .375) did their part. White (.080), Wilson (.154) and Porter (.143) struggled. Aikens made headlines by smashing four home runs and it seemed like everything he hit was crushed.
The old saw goes that pitching wins championships and it proved true in this series. The Phillies staff was a little better. Carlton struck out 17 Royals in 15 innings. The entire Royals staff only managed 17 strikeouts. Dallas Green spread his work around, using ten different pitchers, while Frey used only seven, with most of the innings going to the overworked quartet of Gura, Leonard, Martin and Quisenberry. Somewhat unbelievably, Paul Splittorff, a 14-game winner in the regular season, only got 1.2 innings of work in the series and that came in Game Six.
Another angle in the series was Pete Rose. When Rose became a free agent following the 1978 season, Ewing Kauffman made him a substantial offer to join the Royals, but Pete elected to sign with the Phillies for similar terms (four years and $3.225 million). Why? Because Rose wanted to stay in the National League so he could break Stan Musial’s National League record of 3,630 hits. Mr. K was apoplectic. He said to Rose upon hearing the news, “Why are you thinking about the National League record? You should be thinking about the Major League record (Ty Cobb’s 4,189 hits).” Mr. K was always ahead of his time.
Philadelphia had a solid team, with Hall of Fame talent in Schmidt, Carlton and Rose plus other solid players such as Lonnie Smith, Bake McBride, Larry Bowa, Garry Maddox, Keith Moreland and Greg Luzinski. An argument can be made that Green did a better job of managing his squad. The Phillies also turned a World Series record seven double plays, most which short-circuited Royal scoring opportunities. Mike Schmidt treated the Royals pitching staff like a rented mule, hit .381 for the Series and won the MVP award. McGraw, who’s on -ound celebrations were deemed obnoxious at the time, but today would be commonplace, won one game and saved two. In the end, the Phillies were just a little bit better.