80s Baseball and Why it Doesn’t Matter

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September 23, 2014 by NowhereButPop

by Andrew Doscas

Baseball sucked in the 80s; everyone will tell you that.  From historians looking back on it, to fans who witnessed it firsthand, the 1980s were the most boring decade for baseball since probably the 1870s.  For one, teams that weren’t the best were winning the World Series with more frequency (1985, 1987, 1988).  Another reason why baseball wasn’t all that exciting in the 80s was because of the fact that there was no true dynasty as there had been in previous decades.  For a sport that’s so steeped in mythology and continuity, having those mythic dynasties is what helps to augment the grandeur and the larger than life appeal that baseball once had.  On top of the lack of a certifiable “Team of the Decade” there was also a noticeable lack of transcendent players.  For the most part, the big names of the 80s often get forgotten when placed between the heroes of the 70s, and the more recent studs of the 90s.  Between forgettable World Series, no continuity of greatness vis a vie a dynasty, and no transcendent players, the 80s, from an interest point of view, was a complete bust for baseball.

The only (moderately) exciting World Series came in the first two years of the decade, as in 1980, an aging Phillies team beat a Royals team that had no idea what the hell they were even doing in the World Series, and in 1981, when a players strike dissected the season and half and threw the postseason out of whack.

Baring the stretch of World Series from 2004-2008, the three World Series from 1982-1984 was probably the most boring stretch of October baseball.  All you need to know about the following three World Series is this: 1) The 1982 World Series is why the Brewers don’t matter, 2) Cal Ripken Jr. never came close to winning another World Series, and 3) Sparky Anderson becomes the first manager to win the World Series in both leagues.

The latter half of the decade is when things get ostensibly more interesting though, as they’ve given us some of the most memorable World Series moments of all time…kinda.  The 1985 and 1986 World Series are both best remember for botched plays that altered the course of the series, while the 1987 World Series is noted as being the first World Series to ever feature the home team winning every game.  All gimmicks by most sane standards.  Below is a list of the last five World Series of the 80s and what they are most memorable for:

 

Year Champion Memorable Moment
1985 Royals Don Denkinger’s blown call which robs the Cardinals of the World Series
1986 Mets Bill Buckner forgets how to field a ground ball
1987 Twins First time in MLB history where the home team wins every game
1988 Dodgers Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in game 1
1989 A’s Loma Prieta earthquake

 

In 1985 the Cardinals were robbed of a second title in three years by what is arguably the worst call ever made in World Series history, which is not really a good sign if the most memorable moment of the World Series is a blown call.[1]  Then again, the Cardinals only scored 13 runs in a seven game series, so really the only real loser of the series were the fans, forced to watch seven boring games of shitty baseball.  For the second year straight, in 1986, the World Series went to seven games, but again it’s a misleading seven games series since the underachieving Mets should have honestly taken care of the Red Sox in five or six games.  In 1986, the Mets were too good of a team to rely on luck, but that’s exactly what allowed them to win game six, and then force a game seven.[2]  If the Mets didn’t win, it would have been a severely anticlimactic World Series, and the only reason why it’s remembered as being so exciting is because the Mets underachieved for 59 innings of the 1986 World Series.

The 1987 Twins were, prior to the 2006 Cardinals, considered to be the worst team to ever have won a World Series…and that’s absolutely true.  The Twins that year posted a 29-52 road record, and there have been unconfirmed rumors that the staff at the Metrodome would alter the ventilation systems in the dome during games to affect the trajectory of balls hit into play.  The Twins that year were the 9th best team in baseball, and more than half of the American League East finished with a better record than them.  If not for the fact that it was the American League’s turn to have home field advantage, there’s no doubt that the Twins would have succumbed to a much better Cardinal’s team.

Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson pulled a Steve Stone, and put everything they had into the 1988 season at the cost of the rest of their careers.  A Met’s vs. A’s World Series would have been a much more exciting matchup, but instead we got a grossly overachieving Dodger’s team winning another undeserved World Series, this time against a bunch of pricks from Oakland.  First of all, Gibson’s home run came in game one, more than enough time for Oakland to rebound from that…but they didn’t, and they only managed to score seven more runs for the rest of the series.  The Gibson walk-off home run is really a gilded façade to gloss over what was an otherwise uneventful World Series.

The very next year the A’s were back in the World Series, and on their way to sweeping a WTF Giants team an earthquake devastated the bay area, the very first, and as of 2014, only time this has happened in baseball history.  The Giants didn’t show up to the first two games, and it’s not like the two week layover affected them too much since they scored 7, and 6 runs in the last two games.  The World Series that year was just a matchup between the only real contender that year, and the least shittiest of the other teams.  The 1989 A’s are owners of what is probably the most unenthused sweep in baseball history.  If not for the tragedy of the earthquake, which overshadowed the series, the 1989 World Series would have been just as memorable as the 2008 World Series.

What these World Series all have in common is that they all failed to excite in a way that they had previously done in the 70s.  Each World Series in the 80s was like a series finale of a show that didn’t live up to expectations or was as dissatisfying as humanly possible.  I think part of the reason is because there was no continuity in between years, and baseball, more than any other sports needs continuity characterized by a dynasty.  The Cardinals, Mets, and A’s all could have been that dynasty, but they were all stymied by luck (Cardinals in 1985/1987), hedonism and debauchery (Mets 1985-1990), or overachieving opponents (A’s in 1988/1990).  A high championship turnover doesn’t work in baseball because it loses that mythic and grand illusion that winning a championship is this prestigious and herculean task, which the sport had cultivated for itself prior to the 80s.[3]

When I look at the 70s, not only was the decade home to some of the best teams ever, but it was also the time when some of the greatest players were at their peak.  Players like Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench, and Tom Seaver were all larger than life players at the pinnacle of their careers in the 70s.  But, by the time the 80s rolled around they were already past their illustrious peaks.  In the 90s, those larger than life players became Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey Jr.  The 80s, for the most part lacked a discernable and sustained face of baseball.  Mike Schmidt dominated for the first half, while guys like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa would hit their stride until the 90s, after their steroids began to kick in.[4]

The players in the 80s who could have become the next face of baseball in the 80s were all derailed from one of the following: injury (Don Mattingly), drugs (Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry), playing for shitty teams (Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr.), overestimated talent (Kirk Gibson, Fernando Valenzuela).  There were a bunch of great players, it’s just that the ones that are Hall of Famers, are for the most overshadowed by the legends of the preceding decade, or the slew of truly transcendent players that would emerge in the 90s, like a Jeter, Maddux, or Griffey Jr.

Unfortunately, the trends laid out about the 80s, are repeating themselves once again.  Besides Mike Trout, who else could be the face of baseball going forward?  With his history of injury and is noticeable lack of charisma, will Miguel Cabrera continue to be an ungodly force within the MLB, or will he sizzle out like a Dale Murphy?  Since the new millennium, no team has repeated as champions, and the team with the most victories in the span, the Red Sox, have become more and more unlikable as time goes on.  Teams don’t carry success over between seasons as well anymore, just look at the Giants or the Tigers even.

In terms of World Series, the only objectively exciting World Series since the turn of the century have been in 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010, and the last three innings of game six of the 2011 World Series.  In the 70s and 90s, it seemed like the World Series was much more exciting because more often than not (1997 for example) the two best teams were competing to in it all.  Now, it’s literally a crapshoot.  Maybe that’s my problem with 80s and 00s baseball, because very rarely had things operated as they should have.  If an 85 win team could win the World Series, or an umpire can hand it over to a lackluster team, or if a defending champion could lose 20 more games the next season, it cheapens the championship, and what it means to win it.  A championship should be something for the immortals, something for the worthy only; in the 80s, it seemed like any shmuck could have won one.

———————————————————————————————

[1] It seemed like someone on the 1985 Royals sold their soul and 30 years of atrocious baseball for one championship.  A pretty lopsided deal.

[2] What people (Red Sox fans) tend to forget is that the Red Sox has already given up the lead before Buckner botched Mookie Wilson’s ground ball.  On top of that, the Red Sox owned a three run lead in the middle of game seven too!

[3] That honor now belongs to the NBA.

[4] Morality aside, they were still some of the most memorable and iconic players of the 90s.

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