The 1982 Philadelphia Phillies were coming off a stretch where they won four NL East titles in six years and the World Series in 1980. Even 1981, a non-division title year, still saw them make the playoffs under baseball’s strange split-season format in a strike year. Thus, even though the ’82 Phils were a contender and would have made the playoffs by the standards of today, their season was a mild disappointment.
There was a new manager in town. Dallas Green, architect of the ’80 champs, was gone and Pat Corrales was in charge. Other notable changes took place in the lineup. Bob Boone, the veteran catcher, was sold to the California Angels. The Phils then worked a three-team deal with Cleveland and St. Louis that netted them a solid catcher in Bo Diaz, but came at the cost of Lonnie Smith.
Larry Bowa was another mainstay of the championship team and dealt to the Cubs for Ivan de Jesus in a swap of shortstops. Bake McBride, a good rightfielder was shipped to the Indians in a deal for relief pitcher Sid Monge. Neither of those trades worked out and holding back on either one might have made the difference in 1982.
Diaz had a nice year at the plate and slugged .450. Pete Rose, now 41-years-old, had a .345 on-base percentage. Gary Matthews’ OBP was .345. And the batting order always came around to Mike Schmidt. The Hall of Fame third baseman had another vintage year with a stat line of .403 on-base percentage/.547 slugging percentage and 35 home runs. But the offense, the hallmark of the Phils’ success in this era, only ranked ninth in the National League in runs scored.
Pitching was often up and down for the Phils during this period of success, but one man you could always count on was Steve Carlton. The 37-year-old lefthander was on his way to the Hall of Fame and he won the fourth Cy Young Award of his career in 1982. Carlton made 38 starts, went 23-11 and posted a 3.10 ERA.
The rest of the rotation was respectable. Larry Christensen and Dick Ruthven each made 30-plus starts and finished with ERAs in the 3s. So did Mike Krukow, who the Phils had picked up in the offseason from the Cubs. Ron Reed saved 14 games with a 2.66 ERA. The problem was depth. Philadelphia pitching was respectable, but ranking sixth in the 12-team National League for staff ERA wasn’t going to make up for the unexpected offensive shortcomings.
The Phillies started slow and didn’t win a series until early May. They were heavy on losses to key NL East rivals in the Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals) and the St. Louis Cardinals (an NL East team prior to the realignment of 1994). Philadelphia faced a quick 8 ½ game hole and the rules of the time did not allow for a wild-card team. You had to win the division to go directly to the League Championship Series.
A change in the schedule to face teams from the NL West brought a quick change. The Phils went 14-2 in a stretch that included games with contenders from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Philadelphia chipped the margin down to 4 ½ games by Memorial Day. The Cardinals were out in front, the Phils were in fourth and the Mets and Expos were in between.
The Mets were not a good team and the Phils facilitated their downfall by sweeping a five-game series. Philadelphia won four of seven games in a pair of series with St. Louis. The Phils grabbed two of three from the Dodgers.
By the All-Star break, Philadelphia was 47-38 and had pulled into a first-place tie with St. Louis. Pittsburgh, a contender who had won the World Series as recently as 1979 had gotten back into the race and was 2 ½ back. Montreal was four games out.
The Phils kept playing well out of the break, going 8-4 on a road trip that included San Francisco, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Philadelphia took three of four from Montreal and nudged out to a two-game lead in the NL East.
A trip to Wrigley Field to play the lowly Cubs resulted in a three-game sweep and three losses in a five-game series with the Expos brought the Phils back to earth. But on September 12 they were only a half-game behind St. Louis. Montreal was in close pursuit at 2 ½ back, with Pittsburgh 3 ½ off the pace. It was time for a decisive stretch of games with the Cardinals.
Carlton took the ball for a Monday night home game and spun a 2-0 shutout for his 20th win. Philadelphia was in first place. But little did anyone know that it was downhill from here.
Krukow pitched well the next night, but lost 2-0. Another shutout loss followed, this one 8-0. In those two games the Phils mustered just eight hits and all were singles. The Pirates came into town over the weekend and took two of three, including a loss where Carlton pitched. Philadelphia was reeling when they made a return visit to St. Louis the following Monday.
The offense picked up where they left off—aimlessly hitting scattered singles—and lost 4-1. The Philly stars stepped up the next night—Schmidt homered and Carlton pitched a complete game to win 5-2. But the two-game split was too little too late. The Phils were 4 ½ out. The Pirates and Expos had also fallen by the wayside. The Cardinals cruised home to the playoffs and eventually won the World Series.
Philadelphia rebounded and played well enough to down the stretch to finish 89-73 and take second place. It was a good season. But it wasn’t what this organization had become accustomed to. More personnel changes followed, Corrales was replaced midway through 1983 and by the end of that season, the Phils were back in the World Series.