Late 1970s MLB History: The Constant Heartbreak In KC & Philly

The period of late 1970s MLB history was marked by a certain continuity in October—which is another way of saying that the same teams kept playing over and over again. From 1976-78, of the six League Championship Series matchups, a group of five teams occupied the 12 available slots.

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What’s more, if we narrow the focus to 1977-78, and eliminate the ’76 title run of Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, you have the same four teams in the playoffs each year, the same teams reaching the World Series and the same team winning it all.
The New York Yankees won the Fall Classic both years, and the Los Angeles Dodgers at least got the fun of getting there. The October frustration was left to the fans of the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals.
For Philadelphia, the losses were always frustration and occasionally heartbreaking, but the Phillie fan base had it easy compared to what Royal fans endured. Kansas City lost in the ninth inning of the decisive Game 5 in both 1976 and 1977 (in the latter case blowing the lead), and then lost a crusher in 1978 in a Game 3 that swung the series.
TheSportsNotebook has been compiling game-by-game accounts of all of these postseason series, which are linked to below. Within those articles are links to stories with more detail on the path each team took in the regular season to win their division…
*A back-and-forth series ends when Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss hits a walkoff shot into the bullpen. This is also the first year that future Royal Hall of Famer George Brett appears on the national stage.
*This one was worse for the Royals. The series was theirs for the taking, with a 2-1 lead in games (the LCS round was best-of-five prior to 1985), and having the Yankees on the ropes in Game 4. New York was first bailed out on a brilliant bullpen display from Cy Young winner Sparky Lyle, then put on a ninth-inning rally to win the decisive game.
*Another missed opportunity for the Royals—the Yankees had a rotation in a mess after an epic pennant race with the Boston Red Sox, but still grabbed the first game in KC. The Royals then lost a dramatic Game 3 in spite of three home runs from Brett.
*After splitting the first two games in Los Angeles, the Phils had a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning of Game 3, two outs and nobody on base. They lost, when a bunt single by an aging veteran started the winning rally.
*This one wasn’t quite as crushing, as the Phils dropped two quick ones at home to the Dodgers. But Philly went on the road, took Game 3 and were tied in extra innings of Game 4. The game looked ready to go to the 11th inning, when normally reliable centerfielder Garry Maddox dropped a fly ball that would have ended an inning. It led to the winning run.
Fortunately, the Royals and Phillies each had their vindication ahead. Two years later, the Royals and Yankees met for a fourth time in the ALCS (an article on which is coming in the next couple weeks), and Kansas City won.
Philadelphia had an even bigger vindication in 1980—they won the pennant over the Houston Astros in one of the greatest postseason series ever played, then defeated Kansas City to win the World Series. You can read the complete account of the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies here.
In 1983, the Phils took care of some unfinished business with the Dodgers, winning the NLCS over their old rivals in four games before losing the World Series.
The final piece of the vindication puzzle came in 1985, when the Royals won the World Series—they did it in an especially dramatic way. KC chased down the California Angels to win the AL West at the wire. Then the Royals rallied from a 3-1 deficit in games to beat the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, the first year that four wins were required at the LCS level. Kansas City then did the same to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
In ripping victory from the jaws of defeat, it was though the Royals made amends to the fan base for having done the reverse at so many key points in the late 1970s. Read the complete account of the 1985 Kansas City Royals.
The late 1970s of MLB history made for great rivalries, great storylines, and if you stretch your view into the mid-1980s, everyone ultimately got what they wanted.