The late 1970s and early 1980s was a great time in Philadelphia Phillies history. The franchise, after more than a decade of irrelevance, had come back in 1975 as a contender and in 1976 they returned to postseason play. It started an eight-year stretch where they won five NL East titles, two National League pennants and a World Series. The links below capture the heart of this great era for Phillie fans.
Philadelphia fans experienced the full gamut of emotions. They won 101 games in 1976 and were probably the second-best team in baseball, behind only the powerful Big Red Machine of Cincinnati that won the World Series. The Phils returned to NLCS in 1977 and 1978, but suffered tough losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 1980 was the breakthrough.
The 1980 Phils won a de facto playoff against the Montreal Expos, a three-game weekend series to end the regular season, with the teams tied for first. The Phillies won the greatest League Championship Series ever played, the 1980 NLCS, and they won an exciting six-game World Series over the Kansas City Royals.
Philadelphia returned to the playoffs in the split season of 1981, though they lost the NL East divisional round to Montreal. It looked like the run might be over, but the Phils signed a couple veterans of the Big Red Machine and made one more run to a National League pennant before losing to the Baltimore Orioles.
The articles below celebrate all the great moments of the 1976-83 high point. From the greatness of third baseman Mike Schmidt and starting pitcher Steve Carlton. To the power of Greg Luzinski, to the scrappiness of Larry Bowa, to the defensive wizardry of Garry Maddox to the bullpens anchored by the colorful Tug McGraw to the consistency of “The Sarge”, Gary Mathews. They’re all here, as are many more.
Read through the narratives of the regular season and the game-by-game breakdowns of the postseason, all included below. READ MORE ABOUT THE 1980 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1976 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1977 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1981 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1983 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
The city of Philadelphia was coming off an amazing sports year in 1980, one in which their teams reached the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals and Super Bowl—and no team went higher than the beloved Phillies, who won the World Series. The 1981 Philadelphia Phillies came out swinging the bats well and returned to the postseason, but pitching problems and the chaos of a year broken up by a long players’ strike led to an early exit.
Philadelphia returned to its offense-heavy ways of the late 1970s, and went to extremes that even some of those division-winning teams never imagined. The Phils had the best offense in the National League, but the worst pitching.
Mike Schmidt won the MVP award and in a season were barely more than a hundred games were played, the third baseman hit 31 home runs and batted .316. Pete Rose was now 40-years-old, but the first baseman could still hit and he batted .325. Gary Matthews hit .301, while middle infielders Manny Trillo and Larry Bowa found ways to keep getting on base. Manager Dallas Green also worked young outfielder Lonnie Smith into the mix frequently, and Smith hit .324.
Steve Carlton, the great lefthanded pitcher and perhaps the best starting pitcher of his era, was still reliable at the top of the rotation, going 13-4 with a 2.42 ERA. Tug McGraw, the feisty lefthander in the bullpen was still good, with a 2.66 ERA and ten saves. It was the depth that killed Philadelphia’s pitching.
Dick Ruthven, the #2 starter, struggled to a 5.15 ERA and new starter Nino Espinosa was even worse, at 6.11. The bullpen had problems, and neither Dickie Noles, nor Sparky Lyle, a veteran retread from the New York Yankee championship teams of the late 1970s, could give any consistency.
Green found a little bit of stability with veteran Larry Christenson, who had 3.54 ERA, but only won four games. An experiment in giving Marty Bystrom nine starts worked reasonably well, while another experiment with Mark Davis was less effective.
The Phils still started the season well, and from April 24 to May 5, they went 9-2. From that point forward, they stayed within a game or two of first place in the old NL East, with the St. Louis Cardinals leading and the Montreal Expos not far behind.
On May 31, Philadelphia tied for first and then went 7-2 to start the month of June. This included a three-game home sweep of the Houston Astros, the first meeting between the two teams since their incredible 1980 NLCS battle. Normally, this would be just a nice June run into the division lead, and not anything major in the historical record. In the world of 1981 MLB, it was decisive.
The players went on strike on June 12, and when they returned in mid-August, MLB decided they would change the playoff format. At the time, each league was two divisions with the winners going directly to the LCS. 1981 would see a “split-season” be introduced.
MLB’s split-season format declared the teams leading at the strike to be champions. They would play whichever team won the “second half”, in which everyone would start from scratch and play out the balance of the schedule.
And what if the same team won both halves? Instead of allowing teams like the Phillies to play their way directly into the LCS by winning both halves, MLB ruled that the inaugural Division Series must go on. In that event, the runner-up from the second half would play the winner of the first half.
The only reward Philadelphia had to chase during the second half, was the prospect of one extra home game in the Division Series—instead of playing two on the road to open, they would only play one. That’s not a lot of incentive when other teams are fighting for their lives, and the Phils played like it. They lost 13 of 19 after the strike and finished the second-half 25-27.
Philadelphia met up with Montreal in the Division Series, the same team they had battled to the wire in 1980. The Phils lost the first two games in Montreal, before rallying to win the next two and setting up Carlton to pitch the decisive Game 5. But on a nice Sunday afternoon in Philly, the bid for a repeat title ended and Montreal advanced.
The good news for the city of Philadelphia is that they wouldn’t have to wait long for October baseball to come back. In 1983, they won the NL East and then beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. The bad news is that would be 2008 before they won the whole thing again, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the 1983 World Series and the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993.