The greatest loss of the Phillies’ pandemic-shortened 2020 season was not the one in Miami on the final day of the season that deprived them of a chance to end their playoff drought. Let’s face it, even if they got in they were going to be an easy first-round out for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that was on a mission to end its own 31-season drought without a World Series title.
A far greater setback for the Phillies was the missed opportunity to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1980 World Series team, which, in this writer’s opinion, remains the greatest moment in franchise history and one of the most underrated championship stories in baseball history.
Sadder still is that we’re going to have to wait at least one more year for all the players from that team to gather for a reunion at Citizens Bank Park.
“It’s very important to us,” Phillies executive vice president David Buck said. “We can’t do it this year. Until last week, we didn’t know when we’d be able to go full capacity, and we just ran out of time from a planning standpoint. But it’s really important to us that we celebrate these guys.”
» READ MORE: The day the Phillies won the 1980 World Series
One member of that 1980 World Series team will be honored during the first weekend of August when the Phillies play host to the New York Mets. Manny Trillo, the MVP of the Phillies’ riveting five-game NLCS win over the Houston Astros, will be inducted onto the team’s Wall of Fame, and plenty of his former teammates are sure to be in attendance. His induction was also prevented from happening last year because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Trillo will be the 11th member of the 1980 team placed on the Wall of Fame, joining players Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, Bob Boone, and John Vukovich. The late Paul “The Pope” Owens, the general manager of the team, and the late Dallas Green, the manager, are also of the Wall of Fame.
All living members on the Wall of Fame are always invited to the induction ceremony, but it’s important that a complete celebration of the team takes place because the story of the 1980 Phillies is a great one, and the cast of characters extends beyond the core that is mentioned above.
“It is important for it to happen,” Buck acknowledged. “We’re just not sure when.”
The sooner the better for one obvious reason: the majority of players from the 1980 team are 70 or older. In the last five years, Green and four of his coaches — Ruben Amaro Sr., Billy DeMars, Mike Ryan, and Herm Starrette — have died. Utility infielder Ramon Aviles was removed from the roster of living players last year, joining Nino Espinosa, McGraw and Vukovich.
“We are the first ones who ever won it,” said Bowa, the shortstop on the 1980 team. “We’re all getting up in years, and some of us have passed away just in the last year. I think it is something a lot of fans want to see.”
Full disclosure: As a senior in high school, I was in love with the 1980 Phillies. It was actually a long-term relationship that had started in the early 1970s as Bowa, Schmidt, Luzinski, and Boone came through the farm system, while Carlton, McGraw, Maddox, Trillo, and Bake McBride came over in masterful trades made by The Pope.
“That was just a really, really good team,” Buck said. “They were special to me. That’s for sure.”
A quartet of Phillies actually had a small reunion in March when they gathered at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fla. The group consisted of Bowa, Pete Rose, Luzinski, and Boone. Lee Elia, the third-base coach, was in the audience.
“It was fun just to relive that world championship because it meant so much to so many people,” Rose said. “The most awesome sight I ever saw in my life was that parade. We had parades in Cincinnati but nothing like that.”
Bowa said the banter at the Clearwater event was entertaining.
“Baseball minds are funny,” Bowa said. “They remember everything that happened. The big hits. Pete running through a stop sign. Us getting behind in the first game of the World Series. But the biggest topic was the ball off Boonie’s glove. Boonie says, ‘Look where I ran to and where Pete came from, and tell me whose ball that was.’ We laughed so hard.”
There are so many stories to be told about the 1980 Phillies, and, truth be told, their place in baseball history has been shortchanged.
That team needed to overcome ghosts from the franchise’s past that rivaled the romanticized failures of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. The Red Sox went 86 years from 1918 until 2004 between World Series titles, and the Cubs went a record 108 years between their 1908 and 2016 titles.
It took the Phillies 97 years to win their first title, and the amount of bad baseball and broken hearts by that point had stockpiled like cars in a junk yard. The Phillies had endured 14 100-loss seasons, which remains tops in the National League and the most for a team that has remained in the same city throughout the history of its franchise.
The Athletics are the only franchise with more 100-loss seasons, at 16, and 11 of those came while they were still playing in Philadelphia.
The Phillies, of course, also had to deal with the horror of 1964, a collapse so monumental that it still haunts the fans who remember it to this day.
“When you joined the Phillies, you were sure to know about the 1964 season within your first two months of being there,” Bowa said. “It felt like it was written about every day. You knew about Gene Mauch using only two starters, and the Chico Ruiz steal of home.”
By 1980, three straight playoff failures and manager Danny Ozark’s job had been added to the tab. Black Friday had become part of the lexicon that described nearly a century of discontent, and an antsy owner had given the core an ultimatum during spring training.
“We played that whole year with a chip on our shoulder,” Bowa said. “Ruly Carpenter was a great owner, but he told us he was going to break up the team if we didn’t get over the hump and get to the World Series. He told us that before the season started.”
The playoffs actually started in the regular season for the Phillies. They traveled to Montreal on the final weekend tied for first place with the Expos. A two-run homer by Schmidt, and two perfect innings by McGraw gave them a 2-1 win in the first game. The following night, Boone tied the game in the ninth inning with a two-out single. Schmidt launched a two-run homer in the 11th, and McGraw pitched three more scoreless innings.
“I do think our title is underrated considering what we had to go through to get there,” Bowa said. “Montreal was a really good team, and they were tough to beat up there.”
It took five more gut-wrenching games against the Houston Astros, including four that went extra innings, for the Phillies to end their 30-year drought without a National League pennant. Seven innings into the deciding game, they were staring at a 5-2 deficit with Nolan Ryan on the mound. Ryan was 112-3 when leading after seven innings at that point in his career. The Phillies won, 8-7, in 10 innings, thanks to an RBI double by Maddox.
It wasn’t just the superstar core that carried the Phillies that year. Rookies Lonnie Smith and Keith Moreland perfectly complemented a bench that included veterans Del Unser and Greg Gross. Rookies Marty Bystrom and Bob Walk were asked to pitch huge games in the postseason after making major contributions during the regular season. Dick Ruthven won 17 games in the regular season and Game 5 of the Houston series by pitching two perfect innings.
It was the greatest season in Phillies history, and it should always be treasured and periodically celebrated, especially while the participants are still alive.