1983 The Good, the Old and the Ugly

The Baltimore Orioles wind their way through a postseason taking on challengers in a Chicago White Sox squad priding itself on "winning ugly" and the Philadelphia Phillies, baseball's surprising over-the-hill gang.

The Good: Baltimore Orioles. The Old: Philadelphia Phillies.

It can be a dangerous thing for a new manager to inherit a winner. To replace a legendary manager at the same time begs a risk for vocational suicide. With every John McGraw, Joe McCarthy and Sparky Anderson that stepped down, there was a Bill Terry, Steve O’Neill and John McNamara asked to take over with everything to lose and nothing to gain—except to uphold the excellence.

In 1983, Joe Altobelli would become the benefactor of Earl Weaver’s legacy. The new skipper of the Baltimore Orioles could have easily felt he was being set up for a fall. Altobelli was inheriting a team that, yes, did field one superstar with perhaps another on the rise. But he was also handed a roster with an aging outfield, an aging designated hitter, an aging bench, and a veteran pitching rotation showing signs of collapse. Above all of this, of course, was the pressure of living up to the legend of the pugnaciously brilliant Weaver, who averaged 96 wins in his 14 seasons at Baltimore with six divisional titles and four American League pennants.

Managing to outlast a highly competitive AL East, Altobelli’s Orioles met with two of the more unlikely postseason participants in baseball annals. One was a rough and tough pack of overachievers who thrived on the catcalls of critics complaining of their penchant for winning ugly. The other was a collection of elderly all-stars that might have easily been confused for an Old Timer’s Day squad, yet with enough poise and sage to retain a knack for winning.

When it was all over, Joe Altobelli would become Weaver’s equal in one important aspect, matching at one the number of Oriole World Series titles won under his command.

Of the many namesCal Ripken Jr. lobbied for his father, Cal Ripken Sr., to be the new Baltimore skipper—and had the 22-year-old held the clout he would acquire in later years, he might have gotten his wish. that came up in the hunt for Weaver’s successor, Altobelli’s merited little more than darkhorse consideration. He’d won the National League’s Manager of the Year award in 1978 piloting the San Francisco Giants, but that was sandwiched between two worthless years, the latter of which got him fired in 1979. Altobelli was passing the time as the New York Yankees’ third base coach when the Orioles called him in.

The one sure thing in Altobelli’s lineup was slugging first baseman Eddie Murray, well into his prime at age 27. But across the infield at shortstop was a rising star emerging as something beyond sure: Cal Ripken Jr. Now in his second full season at Baltimore, the 22-year-old Ripken was out there every game, every inning—as he would be for eons to come—playing great defense and improving his already sound batting skills with each passing month.

After a sharp start muted by a seven-game losing streak in late May, the Orioles won 32 of their next 40 to pull away with the AL East lead towards a playoff spot. Ripken cranked it up for the stretch run, hitting nearly .400 in September to finish his sophomore year batting .318 with 27 home runs and 102 runs batted in. Add on AL highs with runs (121), hits (211), doubles (47)—and of course, games played (162)—and Ripken copped the AL Most Valuable Player award—edging out Murray, who hit .306 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs.

Not as newsworthy yet as crucial to the Orioles’ success were the efforts of two young starting pitchers with infant major league experience. Mike Boddicker (a 16-8 record and 2.77 earned run average) and Storm Davis (13-7, 3.59) aided workhorse Scott McGregor (18-7, 3.18) to offset injuries to former Cy Young winners Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan—and a dreadful turnaboutMartinez, with a lifetime 82-57 record entering 1983, finished 7-16 with a 5.53 ERA. from Dennis Martinez, which he would later blame on alcoholism.

Through the end of July, it looked as though whoever won the AL East could phone it in at the ALCS against a much inferior AL West champion. But out of the West’s morass of mediocrity came a sudden burst of fire from an improbable source: The Chicago White Sox.

The Ugly: Chicago White Sox.

A year before they were famously tagged for “winning ugly,” the White Sox were just plain ugly, at least emotionally. No one seemed happy. Players complained of platooning, of each other, of deep fly balls dying in the expansive Comiskey Park outfield. Fired coaches mouthed off to the media. Tony La Russa, the youngest manager in the majors at 37, nearly came to blows with White Sox announcer Jimmy Piersall. Sporting a deadly serious scowl that perfectly mirrored the times, La Russa was vociferously booed by Chicago fans—even as he was in the process of giving them the club’s first back-to-back winning campaigns since the mid-1960s.

The booing continued well into 1983, as the White Sox scraped the .500 mark with a number of other AL West teams struggling to become postseason-worthy. Suddenly and like a rocket, Chicago bolted from the pack in July to take sole command. None of the other contenders sweated, believing the White Sox would promptly fall back down to Earth. Texas Ranger manager Doug Rader summed up that attitude when he told the press on the eve of the Sox’ visit to Arlington in mid-August: “(The White Sox’) bubble has got to burst. They’re not playing that well. They’re winning ugly.”

Like much of the White Sox, the team’s three top pitchers—LaMarr Hoyt, Rich Dotson and Floyd Bannister—struggled through the all-star break. But the three caught fire in the season’s second half and undoubtedly deserved primary credit for the Sox’ AL West triumph.

It was the first mention of anything “ugly” related to the performance of the White Sox, who along with their fans soon took the backhanded compliment to heart. Chicago won three of four from Rader’s Rangers and continued their maddening rush, one in which they would win 50 of their final 66 games to finish a remarkable 99-63No one else could reach .500 in the AL West; second-place Kansas City, at 79-83, finished a full 20 games back of Chicago..

Sparking the White Sox was a trio of pitchers all having the best years of their careers—and, in the season’s second half, perhaps the best of any career. Gruff-looking Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt (24-10, 3.66 ERA), 24-year old Rich Dotson (22-7, 3.23) and fireballer Floyd Bannister (16-10, 3.35) combined for an incredible 40-3 record down the stretch to fuel the White Sox’ drive. Complementing the pitchers were a couple of muscle-bound sluggers who happily approved of the brought-in Comiskey outfield fences: Rookie Ron Kittle, knocking out 35 home runs a year after belting 50 in the Pacific Coast League; and veteran Greg Luzinski, whose slow feet and sloppy defense made him thrilled to be an American Leaguer, as the designated hitterIt was Luzinski’s third year at Chicago after being ridiculed for his glove in the National League at Philadelphia. slammed 32 over the fence.

The White Sox beautifully played the role of ugly lucklings to start the ALCS at Baltimore. In a 2-1 triumph, Chicago’s winning run scored on a double play after reaching base on an Oriole error. But the Sox ran out of luck—and more importantly, offense—over the next three games, scoring a total of one run against the Orioles’ young and unyielding pitching.

Having dispensed of the ugly, the Orioles now readied to do battle with the old at the World Series.

The Philadelphia Phillies entered 1983 as perhaps the best team of 1973. With seven players very near, at or above the age of 40—and an everyday lineup that included just one player under 30—the Phillies were relying on an aging base of accustomed all-stars whose experience dictated a strong determination to win. The names of the elders were hardly lost on baseball fans: Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Steve Carlton, Tony Perez and Tug McGraw. For many of these players, it was their last stop before Cooperstown—and the Phillies, who had dealt away some hot young prospectsAmong those raised by the Phillies and grown into stars elsewhere were Ryne Sandberg, Julio Franco and Mark Davis. to acquire them, announced to the baseball world that the future wasn’t simply now, it was yesteryear.

Although the Phillies’ 43-42 record on July 17 was good enough to share first place in the NL East, it wasn’t good enough for the players or general manager Paul Owens—who fired manager Pat Corrales and placed himself into the dugout as field generalOwens was actually a sort of managerial figurehead; coach Bobby Wine did most of the pitch-to-pitch strategies.. Nicknamed the Pope because of his likeness to said pontiff, Owens continued to watch his collection of veterans sputter and slump throughout the summer, yet remained in playoff contention with no one else pulling away from the rest of the division.

The door left open, the Phillies woke up in September and won 25 of their last 32 games, including 11 straight at one point—all a likely by-product of the veterans’ habit to bring it on home in the clutch. No one embodied the spirit more than Joe Morgan. Struggling just to keep his batting average above .200 for much of the year, the second baseman celebrated his 40th birthday on September 19 by banging out four hits, including two home runs, in a 7-6 win against the Chicago Cubs. The next day he collected four more hits. The hair of opposing pitchers both young and old were more likely to turn gray than Morgan’s as he hit .455 after turning 40 to help lift the Phillies through the final two weeks and into the playoffs.

In coughing up a 1-11 regular season record against the Dodgers, the Phillies mustered a total of just 15 runs—an all-time team low against another opponent during a season series of 12 or more games. For the NLCS, the Phillies showed a different, more potent side of their offense.

At the plate, Mike Schmidt remained the Phillies’ primary threat. Though batting an underwhelming .255, Schmidt was pardoned thanks to a NL-high 40 home runs and 128 walks—emblematic of a team that finished ninth in league batting but third in on-base percentage and runs scored. In terms of keeping runs off the board, the Phillies were led on the mound by John Denny, a ten-year veteran recently converted to religion and reconverted to winning with a terrific 19-6 record and 2.37 ERA; and by 38-year-old Steve Carlton, whose 15-16 record was misleading when considering his 3.11 ERA.

For the NLCS, the Phillies looked on paper to be decided underdogs to the NL West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers, who not only listed better numbers with a not-so-over-the-hill roster, but had won 11 of 12 games over Philadelphia during the regular season. Yet the Dodgers had won all those games before the Phillies embarked on their successful third act to the season; they were without top closer Steve Howe—serving the first of an eventual seven “lifetime” suspensions for drug use; and their more prosperous hitting talents—such as Pedro Guerrero, Steve Sax and Mike Marshall—lacked the kind of postseason experience that Philadelphia’s “Wheeze Kids” were brimming with. That last intangible made all the difference. Led by Steve Carlton—who won the first and final games of the NLCS—the Phillies ousted the Dodgers, three games to oneOverall, the Phillies’ pitching staff allowed just four earned runs in four NLCS contests..

The Phillies introduced themselves to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series much the same way the Chicago White Sox had in the ALCS, with a 2-1 win at Memorial Stadium. But the Orioles again rebounded and took charge after the opening loss, winning three straight to back the Phillies to the brink of Series defeat.

Entering Game Five, the Series had been a story of slumping star sluggers: Mike Schmidt for the Phillies, Eddie Murray for the Orioles. Whoever broke out, it was thought, might make the difference in the Series. This was historical cold comfort for the Orioles; in their last trip to the Fall Classic—in 1979 against Pittsburgh—the Orioles led by the same count and proceeded to lose three straight and the Series.

Murray, batting a wretched .054 with not one RBI over his last eight World Series games, would awake to make the difference in Game Five—homering in his first two at-bats to ignite the Orioles to a 5-0 clincher at Philadelphia. Schmidt, enduring another 0-for-4 effort, finished with just one single, no walks and no RBIs in 20 Series at-bats. As usual, the Veterans Stadium unfaithful let him know about it.

As it was during the ALCS, Baltimore pitching was the true hero of the World Series. Mike Boddicker and Storm Davis, the two Oriole young’ens, each won their starts, and Jim Palmer chipped in with a victorious Game Three decision in rare relief. Overall, the Orioles limited the Phillies to a .195 average and nine total runs in five games, and capped the postseason with an astonishing 1.10 ERA.

Joe Altobelli’s first year at Baltimore would be his foremost. He would reap one year’s worth of benefits from the Earl Weaver regime and win it all before the organization suffered into a prolonged decline. When Altobelli was fired in 1985, not even the man who replaced him—Earl Weaver—could save it.

But at the very least, Joe Altobelli was able to taste wine before it became water again.

1984 baseball historyForward to 1984: The Roar of a Powerhouse The Detroit Tigers bolt out to a 35-5 record and coast from their to their first World Series title since 1968.

1982 baseball historyBack to 1982: Streaking Engagement There's hardly a dull moment in a year where baseball's playoff contenders careen about like out-of-control rollercoasters.

1980s baseball historyThe 1980s Page: Corporate Makeover Baseball enjoys a healthy boom on several fronts, with increased attendance, corporate sponsorship and memorabilia sales; players also continue to enjoy skyrocketing salaries, but some abuse their newfound riches by delving into illegal drugs.

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1983 Standings

National League East
Philadelphia Phillies
Pittsburgh Pirates
Montreal Expos
St. Louis Cardinals
Chicago Cubs
New York Mets
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers
Atlanta Braves
Houston Astros
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
Cincinnati Reds
American League East
Baltimore Orioles
Detroit Tigers
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Milwaukee Brewers
Boston Red Sox
Cleveland Indians
American League West
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
Texas Rangers
Oakland A's
California Angels
Minnesota Twins
Seattle Mariners

1983 Postseason Results
NLCS Philadelphia defeated Los Angeles, 3-1.
ALCS Baltimore defeated Chicago, 3-1.
World Series Baltimore (AL) defeated Philadelphia (NL), 4-1.

It Happened in 1983

Game of the Year: The Pine-Tar Moment
George Brett, a life-long thorn in the side of the New York Yankees, is temporarily given his revenge by the Yankees in one of baseball’s most bizarre series of events. Brett’s two-run homer on July 24 at Yankee Stadium has just pushed the Kansas City Royals ahead, 5-4, with two outs in the top of the ninth. But Billy Martin—back in his third of an eventual five tours of duty as Yankee manager—reaches deep into the nuances of the rulebook and claims that Brett exceeded the 18 inches of pine tar. The umpires agree, nullify the home run, call Brett out and grant New York a 4-3 win.

Brett instantly goes wild, charging the umpires like a madman and practically needing a straitjacket to be restrained. However, American League President Lee MacPhail overrules the overruling and lets the home run stand, and after numerous (and rejected) court challenges, the ninth inning is resumed four weeks later before 1,245 curious onlookers.

Martin has one last trick up his sleeve: Claiming that neither Brett nor tying runner U.L. Washington touched any of the bases on Brett’s home run—and that the umpiring crew, a new one, could not know otherwise. But they do. They produce a statement signed by the game’s original crew that the runners had, indeed, touched every base. From there the Yankees go quietly in the ninth to make it all history.

Game of the Year: Runner-Up
Lenn Sakata of the Baltimore Orioles has just scored the tying run to send an August 24 game against the Toronto Blue Jays into extra innings; but with no one else available on the bench, he must now take over as catcher. Sakata’s never played behind the plate in his seven-year major league career, and the Blue Jays know it. Three Toronto batters get on safely in the tenth inning and take massive leads off first base, but they’re forgetting one thing: Reliever Tippy Martinez. The Oriole lefty picks all three runners off, the first time a major leaguer has done so in one inning. Sakata gives thanks to Martinez by hitting a game-winning homer in the bottom of the tenth for a 7-4 Baltimore victory.

Succumbed to the Thumb
Steve Garvey, playing his first year at San Diego after 14 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, sets the all-time National League record for most consecutive games played, breaking Billy Williams’ mark of 1,117 at Dodger Stadium against his old teammates on April 16. Garvey will extend the streak to 1,207, but that’s where it ends on July 29 when he dislocates his finger attempting to score on a wild pitch against the Atlanta Braves. The injury will sideline Garvey for the rest of the year.

What Would Alfred Hitchcock Say?
On August 4 at Toronto, Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield throws his last warm-up toss before the Blue Jays bat in the fifth inning—and accidentally strikes and kills a seagull that was resting on Exhibition Stadium’s artificial surface. As the bird is carried away, Winfield takes his cap off and holds it over his heart in a mock funeral service gesture. The Toronto fans find Winfield’s ad-lib hysterically unfunny—seagulls are on Canada’s endangered species list—and begin hurling insults and debris at him. It gets more serious for Winfield: After the game, Toronto police arrest him with an animal cruelty charge. That charge is later dropped, obviously owing to the unintentional nature of the crime.

Stars and Pinstripes Forever
Dave Righetti, pitching in what will be his last year as a full-time starter before making a successful switch to the closer role, tosses the kind of no-hitter only a wistful screenwriter could dream up: Pitching for the New York Yankees on the Fourth of July at home against the hated Boston Red Sox, with the final out a strikeout of the hard-to-whiff, hard-to-retire Wade Boggs. Righetti walks four in the 4-0 victory, the first no-hitter thrown by a Yankee at the Stadium since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

The Race to Catch the Big Train
Nolan Ryan of the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Steve Carlton each surpass Walter Johnson on the all-time strikeout list, and spend 1983 trading off the lead as the King of K’s. Ryan is the first to pass Johnson, on April 27; Carlton, who eventually establishes another milestone on the year when he wins his 300th career game on September 23, demotes the Big Train to number three on May 20. Carlton’s career will soon begin to bog down, but some of Ryan’s best years—with 2,000 strikeouts’ worth of gas—are still ahead of him.

Get a Whiff of This
While Ryan and Carlton are achieving milestones in regards to strikeouts, so is Reggie Jackson—but he probably doesn’t want you to know about it. The veteran slugger becomes the first player in major league history to fan over 2,000 times in a career. It’s not a wonderful honor for a player enduring not too wonderful a year; Jackson finishes the season batting an atrocious .194 with just 14 homers in 116 games for the California Angels. He will finish his career as, far and away, the all-time strikeout leader with 2,597.

Freddy’s National League Nightmare
After losing 11 straight and 19 of its last 20 All-Star Games, the American League erupts and demolishes the National Leaguer, 13-3, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 6—exactly 50 years to the day of the very first All-Star Game, also played at Comiskey. The door-slamming moment for the AL comes with a seven-run third inning—the exclamation point of which is a grand slam by Angel outfielder Fred Lynn, making his ninth straight (and last) All-Star appearance. Atlee Hammaker of the San Francisco Giants allows all seven AL runs in the third, but Cincinnati’s Mario Soto, who allowed a run in each of the first two innings, is charged with the loss.

Royal Incarceration
Four members of the Royals—Willie Wilson, Vida Blue, Willie Aikens and Jerry Martin—are arrested for attempting to buy cocaine and are each sentenced to three months in jail after the 1983 season. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn gets in his two cents’ worth as well, suspending all four players for the entire 1984 season. The players’ union can’t keep the Royal four from serving their jail time, but do convince an arbitrator to overturn Kuhn’s edict on May 15, 1984, a month into each of the player’s suspensions.

Is This What You Call a Petition?
The Louisville Redbirds of the American Association become the first minor league baseball team to draw over a million fans in one season. At the same time, three major league teams—the Cleveland Indians, the Minnesota Twins and the Seattle Mariners—fail to reach a million in attendance for 1983.

Try Flying Out More Often
The Boston Red Sox set a major league record by hitting into 171 double plays during the season. The old mark was set the year before—by the Red Sox. Minnesota will top the new record by one in 1996.

Comprehensive Insurance
After dueling through five scoreless extra innings of a 4-4 tie, the Texas Rangers break through in the 15th inning against the Oakland A’s—and how. They put 12 runs across and then “hold on” in the bottom of the inning to win, 16-4. It ties a major league record for the most runs scored by a team in an extra inning. The Rangers do the damage through eight hits, four walks, a wild pitch and an error; Bob Jones doubles twice in the inning.

Taking a Staub at Pinch-Hitting
Rusty Staub, 39, ties a major league mark by collecting his eighth consecutive pinch hit for the New York Mets, June 26 against the Phillies. Staub hits .296 in 81 pinch-hit at-bats for the year.

Let’s Not Play Two
The Seattle Mariners become the first team to go through an entire season without playing a doubleheader. Once a staple of baseball to bring more people to the ballparks, doubleheaders are quickly on the verge of extinction. To blame: Longer games (leading to marathon twinbills), increased attendance (reducing the incentive for doubleheaders) and more union influence (the players don’t like them).

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