Sunday, March 31, 2019

That season

It's contest time. Brian from Collecting Cutch wants to know about a year my favorite team didn't win the World Series.

Needless to say, this is an overwhelming concept.

A year my team didn't win the World Series? Like, say, in the last 31 years? I know my team isn't the Padres or Mariners or even the Pirates. The Dodgers are a little more fortunate in some ways. But they also have been around much longer than most of the unfortunate, so they've had many, many years to compile ineptitude. The Dodgers were the perennial loser Brooklyn Bums for more than 20 years during the early part of the 20th century, and then during the '50s almost all they did was lose World Series. They have Mickey Owen and Ralph Branca and Tom Niedenfuer in their history. There's all those Series losses to the Yankees and all those playoff losses to the Cardinals and, uh, losses in the last two World Series.

So I had to do some thinking. And I settled on a team that played long before many bloggers knew what baseball was. But it is a year that is very alive in my mind still, as if it happened just last year. That was the year the Dodgers did something remarkable ... and didn't make the playoffs.

That really struck me in 1980. I started following baseball around 1975, 1976. The Dodgers finished far behind the Big Red Machine in the NL West each year. No real chance of contending. Then in 1977 and 1978 they reached the World Series before losing. In 1979, L.A. took a nosedive and finished under .500.

So up until that point, that's how I thought baseball worked: you either finished waaaaay out of it or you played in the World Series.

A new kind of agony waited for me.

The Dodgers of 1980 were much like the 1970s Dodgers that I knew as a child. You can see by the yearbook above that many of those guys appeared with L.A. on 1970s cards, too. I liked that I knew most of these guys for a fifth straight year.

The longest-running infield in MLB history was still intact with Garvey, Lopes, Russell and my favorite, Cey, manning the diamond.

The starting pitching staff had evolved from the World Series days. I knew the starting rotation as Don Sutton, Tommy John, Burt Hooton, Doug Rau and Rick Rhoden. But John ditched the Dodgers for the Yankees. Rau endured arm problems. Rhoden was shipped to the Pirates.

These were their replacements. Rick Sutcliffe did well in 1979, winning the Rookie of the Year. But in 1980 he was terrible and feuding with manager Tom Lasorda. Fortunately, Bob Welch and Jerry Reuss were terrific in '80. Reuss, who came over from the Pirates in the Rhoden deal, was particularly great.

Even if Reuss never did anything else for the Dodgers -- and he did a lot -- he forever became a hero to me for his June 27, 1980 no-hitter against the Giants in Candlestick Park. It's the first no-hitter by a pitcher from my favorite team that I ever knew (it was the Dodgers' first no-hitter in 10 years).

The Dodgers, trying to erase the memory of 1979, had brought in several other new pieces for the 1980 season, diving into the free agent market for the first time during the '79-80 offseason.

They threw money at two notable pitchers, one a starter and one a reliever.

They were awful.

Dave Goltz was so atrocious that when I went looking for his 1981 card to scan, I realized I had never put it in my Dodgers binders and it had gone unnoticed for all this time.

Don Stanhouse? He was even worse. He was out of commission from April to July and when he came back it was not good. Five teams in the NL hit over .300 against him.

Fortunately, several youngsters salvaged the season. Steve Howe became the Dodgers' closer in 1980 and he was terrific. Other youngsters who played a part were Pedro Guerrero, Rudy Law, Mickey Hatcher, Joe Beckwith, Mike Scioscia ...

... and Fernando Valenzuela.

These were my guys as a 14-year-old fan. It was exciting watching them play and mixing in with the familiar veterans.

The Dodgers were in the news quite a bit in 1980 because they hosted the All-Star Game that year for the first (and, so far only) time. I watched that game with pride even though I lived 3,000 miles away and had never been in Dodger Stadium. I still remember watching that game at my grandmother's house in Buffalo. Four Dodgers (Garvey, Lopes, Russell and ... Reggie Smith) started that game.

The Dodgers started the season off well, winning 10 games in a row at the end of April. But the Astros were just as good that season with players like Cesar Cedeno and Jose Cruz and an incredible pitching staff in Joe Niekro, Ken Forsch, Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard (who would suffer a stroke in late July of 1980).

Around and around the two teams went until the end of September when the Dodgers found themselves three games behind the first-place Astros with three games left in the season. The Dodgers just happened to be scheduled to play the Astros for the final three games of the season at Dodger Stadium.

So, the mission: win all three games against the Astros and then win a one-game playoff with the Astros, which would also be at Dodger Stadium.

That's stupid. Nobody can do that, right?

Well, the Dodgers made a hell of a try.

Here is the account:

Every game decided by one run. Every game a Dodger victory.

The Dodgers won three straight one-run games to force a one-game playoff. Steve Garvey hit a home run off Nolan Ryan (the Astros' big free agent acquisition for that year). Joe Ferguson walked off the first game with a 10th-inning home run. Ron Cey sealed the deal with a two-run home run in the eighth inning of Game 3. Don Sutton came in for a relief appearance. And people just started to figure out who Fernando Valenzuela was as the young Mexican player was lights out in his relief appearances.

Living on the east coast, I received the information as if it came in a dream. The games were so late. I wouldn't get the news until the next afternoon sometimes. What? The Dodgers won the first game in the 10th inning? What? Jerry Reuss pitched a complete game and they're only one game behind?

By the time the Dodgers had tied the Astros for first place I had gotten caught up. I was aware enough of the discussion among fans and in the media: who would start the one-game playoff? The Dodgers said it would be Dave Goltz, who had won a pathetic seven games that year with an ERA over 4. Everyone else wanted it to be the kid, Valenzuela.

Goltz started. The Dodgers lost 7-1. I have that score burned in my brain, but I couldn't tell you a single thing that happened in that game because I didn't watch it and I didn't review it in the paper. I knew it was a lost cause as soon as Goltz was confirmed as a starter.

And that was it. The Astros went on to play the Phillies in the most interesting Championship Series that I had seen to that point, and one of the most interesting ever. The Phillies won the LCS and then won the World Series that year.

The Dodgers went home. But that 1980 season obviously meant something because a year later, L.A. would beat the Astros in something called a "division series," then beat the Expos, then beat the Yankees in the World Series.

The 1980 season was the most painful that I had known to that point as a Dodger fan. There would be other painful years: 1982, 1983, 1985, 2008, 2009, 2016. But 1980 prepared me for what most fans experience repeatedly: crushing disappointment.

So, 1980 Dodgers, for all you do:

This Bud's for you.

(P.S.: Where the heck is Reggie Smith's card on the front of that yearbook?)

Friday, March 29, 2019

More to the picture(s)

Even though I showed quite a bit of the photos that Alan sent in the giant diaper box, I felt like I didn't give the package justice just because so much was left out.

Since the arrival of the package, I've found out that this indeed was Alan's collection of Dodger photographs and my hat's off to him for his detailed accumulation as well as bestowing me with these.

As for some of the items that I left out, let's start with this:

This, I believe, is a program for the Montreal Royals, the long-ago farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Marvin Rackley played for the Royals and I believe this program dates from 1946. That would be the year that Jackie Robinson played for the Royals, too, and Robinson and Rackley were teammates. They were also teammates with the Dodgers and each made their major league debut on April 15, 1947 according to a few accounts.

That is far too cool and needs to be appreciated more than when I showed it on Twitter. Come on, man, the Montreal Royals? A dude who played with Jackie Robinson on two teams? Did I mention that he was once the oldest-living Dodgers player? Did I mention he served three years in the Air Force during World War II?

Here is poster of some sort in another foreign language. Ferrell Anderson was a catcher for the Dodgers and played for them in 1946. He also played in Cuba and I believe that's where this poster originates.

I find the '40s photos in this box the most fascinating, mostly because they're so old and that the players very rarely get mentioned today, but also because the photos are in magnificent shape, and obviously much better quality than what the Dodger photos became in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

There is a photo of Hall of Famer Billy Herman, noted mostly for his years with the Cubs. But he played a few years with the Dodgers during the 1940s, too.

Hugh Casey, a noted relief pitcher for the Dodgers in the 1940s. He was named the "all-time all-star" reliever in the very first TCMA set that I bought as a youngster, which designated a Dodger great for each position. So you had Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax and, yup, Hugh Casey. Also, Casey, according to Peter Golenbock's book "Bums," which sits on my bookshelf, engaged in some fisticuffs with Ernest Hemingway ... for fun.

More '40s Dodgers pitchers, more hijinks. Kirby Higbe won 22 games for the Dodgers in 1941. Higbe liked to carouse and thought nothing of walking into the hotel with a bottle of booze and a girl on each arm, but he said that blatant attitude hurt his chances of getting a job in baseball after his career. He was also dealt from the Dodgers when he and some other teammates protested Branch Rickey's decision to add Jackie Robinson to the team.

Fat Freddie Ftizsimmons went to the Dodgers after a long and successful pitcher career with the Giants through the 1930s. Considered washed up by the Giants, he went 16-2 with the Dodgers in 1940. Known for his knuckleball and ability to field his position, he was one of the most popular players of the 1930s and '40s.

Bruce Edwards was the Dodgers' starting catcher in 1946 and 1947. Edwards was moved to the infield after that and Roy Campanella stepped in behind the plate for Brooklyn.

I don't have time to break down every '40s photo I received, unfortunately. Here are a few more that I didn't show in the last post:

The last photo is of Tommy Brown, who at age 16 batted for the Dodgers in 1944 thereby becoming the youngest nonpitcher to appear in a major league game.

OK, moving on to the 1950s for a little bit, here is a photo that I wanted to show the last time:

Sal "The Barber" Maglie is another Giant who came over to the Dodgers (so much preferable than the reverse). He was also a legend in Niagara Falls, his birth place, where I used to work and the ballpark is named after him.

This is a beauty. The other Gil Hodges photos in this box are head shots. But I stopped in my tracks when I saw this picture. Wonderful.

Thought you might want to see a whole bunch of Jim Gilliam photos. There were a lot more than that, too. The last picture is the one that was shown repeatedly during the 1978 World Series when he was dying. It was a pretty sad moment and basically my first time knowing who Gilliam was.

The '60s photos are so much fun. I like this Hollywood-style photo presentation of young and old Tommy.

Some variouis photos of Davis over the years. Tommy Davis is right up at the top of "What Could've Been" players for the Dodgers. That 1962 season, man. If he could have duplicated that for a few more years.

There are some Willie Davis photos, young and old. I really like the shot of him posing hands on knees with the batting cage scene in the background.

A few more '60s players and '60s shots.

I was most familiar with the '70s photos that were in this package, but this '70s picture shows something that is not familiar to me at all: Davey Lopes WITH glasses and WITHOUT a mustache.

What the heck?

That's a cool shot of Charlie Hough and the knuckleball in action.

There are just a couple of photos in this lot that stumped me, meaning I have no idea who they are. This is one of them. Arthur B.L. .... something. I am coming up with nothing and I have no time to do 30 minutes of research, I have a post to finish! But someday.

Just a few more photos of '70s notables and not-so-notables.

By the '80s, I think the practice of issuing packets of photos died out in the Dodgers marketing department. Either that or my disinterest in ordering more Dodgers photos and Alan's lack of any photos beyond 1981 intersects perfectly at the early '80s.

At any rate, there are precious few of the '80s players in this huge assortment.

There's 1981 World Series hero Pedro Guerrero.

There's 1988 World Series hero Mickey Hatcher. Look how trim he is.

And that's a look at Mark Belanger in a Dodger uniform for his forgettable 1982 season with L.A.

So, now, I think I'm finished with showing the photos that Alan sent, even though there are guys I still haven't displayed here.

The history of baseball is probably my favorite part of baseball and that's not just something that has come up since I've aged into my 50s. Way back when I was starting into my teens, I'd drool over the TCMA retrospective sets commemorating the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids and the 1930s Gas House Gang.

Baseball is not only Bryce Harper and Mike Trout and the new guys we're supposed to be salivating over.

It's guys like Joe Hatten and Dick Tracewski and Paul Popovich.

I have the baseball cards -- and the photos -- to prove it.