Almost a Dynasty

The Rise and Fall
of the 1980 Phillies

By William C. Kashatus

University of Pennsylvania Press. 392 pp. $34.95


Reviewed by Bill Lyon


Each spring, Phillies fans, corsages in hand, filled with schoolboy ardor, hope and fantasy, come knocking on the door of a new season.

And each autumn, with yet another postseason continuing without them, their corsages wilted and limp, their ardor cooled, their hopes dashed, and their fantasies unfulfilled, they retreat into the night.

For them, the words

someday

and

wait till next year

have this in common: Neither ever arrives. Both remain tantalizingly out of reach.

Except, of course, for that one enchanted exception, that one golden year when the Fightin's turned Philadelphia from barren wasteland into glorious Camelot.

1980.

The tribal elders call such phenomena the Year of the Blue Snow.

The Phillies won the World Series for the first and so far only time, and the city vibrated like a tuning fork. All things seemed possible. Life was swollen with favorable portent, and the true believers were certain that this was the start of that most sacred of sporting goals: a Dynasty.

Ah, but it was, as you have been endlessly reminded, not to be. It would, instead, be a cruel one-year wonder. It would be a brief, fleeting, fiery meteor, gone almost before it arrived. It would be

Almost a Dynasty

- the title of a book by baseball savant William C. Kashatus.

Actually, it is as much an extended and comprehensive love letter as a book, for the author is a self-confessed, passionately unabashed fan of the Phillies and most especially of that 1980 team, the touchstone of his boyhood. In tribute, he has knitted together a meticulously detailed, exhaustively researched, thoroughly dissected offering that contains no fewer than four appendices, a selected bibliography, an index, an introduction, a list of acknowledgments, and a veritable novella's worth of notes. It is difficult to believe that anything has been left out.

A historian by trade with more than a dozen books to his credit, Kashatus knows his way around the arena of studious inquiry. But he makes no claims of dispassionate objectivity here, readily admitting the hold the Phillies had on him, and that, all these years later, they still do.

There is, however, no fawning. The book is deftly done, unsparing, with neither apology nor alibi.

He dedicates

Almost a Dynasty

to two of the Phillies most prominent in the tumultuous rise and abrupt descent of the dynasty that never quite was - the late Tug McGraw, the irreverent leprechaun and tightrope-walking relief pitcher; and Michael Jack Schmidt, he of the cool grace, the easy elegance, generally acknowledged as the greatest Phillie ever.

"Those Phillies," Kashatus writes, "were the only professional sports team I ever lived and died with. Veterans Stadium was hallowed ground for me. From the first time I set foot in it in April 1971 to the last game September 28, 2003, the Vet and the red-striped teams who played there served as treasured benchmarks in my own life.

"My father and I sat in the nosebleeds and shared a host of memorable moments. . . . Those shared experiences allowed us to bond, even during my adolescence, when it seemed we didn't have much to discuss."

Fittingly, that circle has come full. Twenty-eight years later, the author is married with family of his own. His wish for his offspring is a magical team for their very own, for their generation.

If you grew up with the Phillies of his generation, this book will resonate and rekindle fond memories. If you are learning of it for the first time, well, there was a time, believe it or not, when the Phillies rose above their rag-tag history, when the teams of the most futile franchise in all of sport were perennial contenders. From 1976 through 1983, they won five divisional titles, two pennants, one world title, and another World Series berth, in 1983.

Kashatus detects the stirrings of another such run of glory now, finding in the incandescent homegrown talent of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels echoes of Schmidt and Luzinski and Bowa and Carlton.

"These are the Phillies who belong to my son Peter's generation," he writes. "With a little luck, they too will experience the heady exhilaration of a world championship, or perhaps even a dynasty. While I wish them the best it will never be the same for me. Perhaps that is only fitting."

Yes, for dynasties may come and go, but the best memories stay forever, and make a fire by which to warm yourself in deepest winter.

Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer sports columnist.