Monday, October 20, 2008

The World Series of My Childhood

For the first time in 15 years, and for just the 4th time in my life, the World Series is coming to Philadelphia. All this week, I will be turning over this website/blog to my favorite sport, our American 'National Pastime', what I like to call 'The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented'. For those looking for the usual social and political commentary there are plenty of other outlets. With the election coming those important topics will return next week. My own experience in enjoying the Series is highlighted by the Phils' appearances, but is not exclusive to the home team. The Series of my childhood were dominated by dynasties in Oakland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and New York. The first Series that I recall from my childhood was the 1971 victory by Roberto Clemente and the Pittsburgh Pirates over Brooks Robinson and the Baltimore Orioles. As a 9-year old that summer, I first fell in love with the game when the Phillies opened Veteran's Stadium virtually in my backyard. The shame of that '71 Series for me was that I never really got to appreciate Clemente fully as a ballplayer. It was my first time watching him, and one of the final times. He was killed in a plane crash the following off-season, and I didn't learn about just how great he had been until much later. To me, those Pirates were the villains in the Phillies east division. They had slugging Willie Stargell, daring Dave Cash, colorful catcher Manny Sanguillen, professional hitters in Al Oliver and Gene Clines, and a pitching staff led by Steve Blass and Dock Ellis. On September 1st of that year those Pirates had become the first team in MLB history to field an all-black starting lineup. Bottom line is that they were good, and as the Phils emerged mid-decade as contenders it would be those Pirates whom they battled. I really got into the game the following season which saw the emergence of the Oakland A's dynasty. Those 'Swingin' A's' wore colorful uniforms and had colorful stars like Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers. As the sun set on that Oakland dynasty, we saw the emergence of the 'Big Red Machine', who won back-to-back in '75-'76 with players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster, and Ken Griffey Sr leading the way. That 1975 Series gave us one of the greatest moments in World Series history when the Red Sox won game #6 in extra innings to tie the Series and send it to a 7th game on a dramatic homerun by Carlton Fisk (pictured above). The Bosox catcher was forever immortalized as he nailed a long fly along the 3rd base line towards the 'Green Monster' in Fenway Park's left field. Fisk was pictured waving the homerun fair as he headed toward first base, then leaping for joy as it cleared the wall. Watching on TV as a 14-year old, I was rooting for Boston and screamed for joy when Fisk hit his blast, waking my dad who was a cop and who came running out thinking that something was wrong in our apartment. That was one of the most dramatic games that I had ever seen to that date, and I recall a game-tying homerun by Bernie Carbo of the Sox in the late innings almost as well as Fisk's blast. The Yankees turn came next, as George Steinbrenner used the new free agency system to buy the Bronx Bombers back to the top by signing players like former A's stars Jackson and Hunter, winning the '77-78 Series in back-to-back fashion. It was during these years that the Phillies began to emerge as serious contenders. The 1975 Phillies were in contention for most of the year before falling short, but then won the N.L. East titles in 1976-77-78, winning 101 games in both the '77 and '78 seasons. But the Phils always managed to fall short in the playoffs. In '76 it was pretty much accepted, as the Phils were newcomers to the post-season and the Big Red Machine that defeated them was in its heyday. But the '77 & '78 teams were arguably better than the LA Dodgers clubs that defeated them. In that '77 playoff, it was the 'Black Friday' game that cost the pennant, a game that was discussed in detail in one of my postings last week. So the Phils were contenders, but couldn't seem to reach the World Series. After that '78 season, ownership opened its wallets and signed Pete Rose away from the Reds. The Phils bolted out to another eastern lead with Rose, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, and Larry Bowa leading the way. But that team somehow faded down the stretch, and was passed in the standings by the 'We Are Family' Pittsburgh Pirates and their 'killer bee' uniforms that were highlighted by flat-top caps. The Pittsburgh franchise that won the first Series which I had ever followed back in 1971 had ended the decade as champions again. Would the Phillies, serious contenders now for the previous five years, ever get to the World Series, or had their best opportunities passed them by? The 1980 season would answer the question in dramatic fashion. That story for tomorrow.

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