The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has won exactly two World Series championships over the course of 137 seasons of play. Those two world titles came in 1980 and 2008.
As part of our season-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of that 1980 team championship, I am comparing those two great Phillies teams to see whether either can legitimately be considered as having been better than the other.
I got to enjoy each of those seasons, the first as an 18-year-old in October of 1980 and the next as a 46-year-old in October 2008. As a huge Phillies and baseball fan who has followed the club all the way back to 1971, I feel extremely qualified to hold an educated opinion on the subject.
To date the series has examined the second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, catchers, pitching rotations, bullpens, and bench groups. Those pieces can be found linked below. Once this evaluation series ends there will be one final piece in which I will give my opinion as to which – if either – of these two Phillies championship teams was the better all-around squad.
Today we wrap-up the infield with a look at two players who couldn’t be more opposite in style and personality. One is the fiery ‘Charlie Hustle’, the missing ingredient who pushed the 1980 team to finally win a world title. The other was ‘The Big Piece’ in the middle of the 2008 team, the second-greatest power hitter in franchise hitter.
1980: PETE ROSE
Philadelphia Phillies general manager Paul Owens made Rose the first-ever big ticket free agent signing when he inked the superstar to a four-year, $3.225 million contract in December 1978. That made Rose the highest-paid player in the history of the sport to that point. At age 38, his legend had already been assured, and yet he still had a few big chapters to write.
Rose was born and raised in Cincinnati, and it was there that he would become a baseball legend. His uncle was a scout for the Reds organization, and convinced them to give his nephew a chance. And so, Rose signed with the Cincinnati Reds upon graduating from high school.
Over three minor league seasons, Rose did nothing but hit, batting .331 in 1961 and .330 in 1962. During spring training of 1963 he won the Reds starting job at second base. It was also during this spring that he was given the nickname ‘Charlie Hustle’ by Whitey Ford after Rose sprinted to first base following a walk from the New York Yankees legendary pitcher.
Rose would do nothing but hustle over his first 16 seasons in Major League Baseball. He filled up score sheets with hits and his trophy case with numerous awards. Rose was the 1963 National League Rookie of the Year, a 12-time NL All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, and the 1973 National League Most Valuable Player.
During those first 16 years he accumulated 3,164 hits including 572 doubles and 111 triples and became known for his signature head-first slide into third base. Rose compiled a cumulative .310 batting average and .379 on-base percentage, and finished among the top ten in NL MVP voting nine times, including as runner-up in 1968.
Rose was perhaps even better under glare of the postseason lights. He was the leadoff man for back-to-back World Series championship teams for Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in 1975 and 1976 and helped the club to two more NL pennants. In the Reds seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1975 Fall Classic, still considered by many as the greatest World Series ever played, Rose was named the series Most Valuable Player.
The Phillies emerged from an era of losing to become contenders while the Reds were winning those World Series crowns. But Rose hit .429 with two doubles and a triple as Cincy swept the Phillies out of the 1976 NLCS. And then despite winning 101 games in both 1977 and 1978, the Phillies were knocked out in the NLCS by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Rose became a free agent following the 1978 season and was wooed heavily by both the Phillies and New York Yankees, who had won back-to-back World Series titles in 1977-78. Both he and the Phillies felt that Philadelphia was a perfect fit, and the deal was done.
The 1979 Phillies had added Rose and Manny Trillo to form a new right-side infield. The three-time defending NL East champs were sitting at 24-10 and were 3 1/2 games up in the standings on May 17, and it was all going according to plan. But then injuries began to pile up, and the Phillies would slowly stumble to a fourth place finish.
Suddenly as 1980 opened, the once fearsome Phillies seemed to have quickly aged. Some saw the Rose signing as a bad investment at that point. He would prove the naysayers wrong again, hitting .282 and scoring 95 runs while leading baseball with 42 doubles during his age 39 season.
When the Phillies went to Montreal for their season-closing weekend series with the host Expos, the two teams were tied at the top of the NL East standings. Rose delivered five hits over the first two games as the Phillies swept both, taking the opener 2-1 and the Saturday clincher by 6-4 in 11 innings.
In the dramatic five-game National League Championship Series victory over the Houston Astros, Rose hit .400 with a .520 on-base percentage. In Game 4 with the Phillies trailing 2-1 in the series and their backs to the wall, Rose scored all the way from first on a Greg Luzinski double in the top of the 10th inning, bowling over Astros’ catcher Bruce Bochy to score what would prove the winning run.
It wasn’t a hit, but instead a hard-earned walk that would prove his key moment in Game 5. Trailing Nolan Ryan by 5-2 in the top of the 8th inning, the Phillies loaded the bases without hitting a ball out of the infield. Rose then battled Ryan in a classic duel. He worked the count full, fouled off two pitches, and then drew an RBI walk to cut the deficit to 5-3. It began a five-run rally that pushed the Phillies into the lead in a game they would finally win in 10 innings to capture the NL pennant.
Rose had six hits and two walks during the six-game Fall Classic victory over the Kansas City Royals. As usual, he saved his biggest moments for the key time. In Game 6 with the Phillies trying to win the first World Series title in franchise history and the Royals trying to force a seventh game, Rose delivered three hits.
With the game scoreless in the bottom of the 3rd inning, the Phillies put the first two runners on. Rose then laid down a perfect bunt single on the third base line to load the bases. Mike Schmidt would follow with a two-run single to give the Phillies the lead.
His next influence on the game and series would be his biggest of all, and it would come with his glove and legs in what is a signature ‘Charlie Hustle moment. It also stands as one of the three most important defensive plays in Phillies history.
Top of the 9th inning, Phillies clinging to a 4-1 lead and the Royals with the bases loaded and one out. Frank White sent a foul pop towards the Phillies dugout. Catcher Bob Boone raced over and stuck his glove out to make the catch, but the ball popped out. Had it dropped to the ground, White would have stayed alive, and who knows what might have happened?
But as the ball popped from Boone’s glove, there was Rose to snatch it out of the air. He had hustled over from first base and thus was there in position to make the big play for the second out. Tug McGraw then struck out Willie Wilson, and the Phillies were finally World Series champions.
2008: RYAN HOWARD
Howard was born and raised in the Saint Louis area and became the Phillies fifth round selection in the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft out of Missouri State University, where he had been the 1999 Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year.
Rising through the Phillies minor league system, Howard exploded in a 2004 season split between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. That year he slashed .291/.380/.637 while slamming 46 homers and producing 131 RBIs.
Unfortunately for Howard, his defensive limitations made him a first baseman-only, and he was blocked by Jim Thome at that spot with the Phillies. Howard did receive a September call-up, seeing action in 19 games, making five starts, and drilling his first two big-league homers.
Thanks in part to an injury to Thome, Howard would finally take over the first base position in Philadelphia during the 2005 season. In just 88 games he hit .288 and produced 22 homers and 63 RBIs. For that performance he was honored as the National League Rookie of the Year.
The following season was even better. In his first full year in Major League Baseball, Howard set a Phillies franchise record with 58 home runs. He also knocked in 149, scored 104 and produced a .313/.425/.659 slash line. For that he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
2008 would be Howard’s fifth big-league season at age 28. His .251 batting average and .339 on-base percentage were both career lows to that point. But the power was still there as he blasted 48 homers and drove in 146 runs while scoring 105 times, finishing as the NL MVP runner-up.
Howard turned it on when it mattered most that year. From September 3rd, at which point the Phillies trailed the New York Mets by three games in the NL East standings, through the end of the year, Howard slashed .363/.436/.888 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs over the final 23 games of the regular season. That led the Phillies to a 16-7 mark, and they clinched their second straight division crown on the next-to-last day of the season.
In the postseason, Howard hit just .269 and went hitless in seven of the club’s 17 games. But he still came up big in a few contests. In the clinching Game 5 of the NLCS victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers he had three hits. His two-out RBI single in the top of the 3rd scored Jimmy Rollins to put the Phillies up 2-0. He then singled and scored a run in the top of the 5th inning as the Phillies pushed the lead to 5-0 in a game they would win by 5-1 to clinch the first NL pennant for the franchise in 15 years.
Game 3 of the World Series saw him go back-to-back with Chase Utley. The second baseman homered to lead off the bottom of the 6th inning and Howard followed, pushing the Phillies up 4-1 in a game they would ultimately walkoff in the bottom of the 9th for a 2-1 series lead.
It was Game 4 of that Fall Classic at which Howard busted out his big stick and used it in serious fashion as the Phillies romped to a 10-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park, taking a 3-1 lead in the series.
With the Phillies leading 2-1, Howard lifted an opposite-field three-run homer down the left field line to score Rollins and Jayson Werth and make it a 5-1 lead. Then in the bottom of the 8th with the Phillies having opened up an 8-2 lead, Howard capped the scoring with a monstrous two-run blast to right-center.
Game 5 would take the Phillies three days to win thanks to a suspension due to torrential rains, but win it they would. When a Brad Lidge strikeout completed the World Series victory the closer was met at the mound by catcher Carlos Ruiz. Howard quickly joined them, taking both out with a huge tackle. They were all instantly mobbed by their teammates as the Phillies began celebrating as world champions of baseball.
This was a tough one. As I said at the top, these are two very different types of ball players. Rose is the fiery leader, the all-time MLB Hit King. Offensively he specializes more in base hits, doubles, and baserunning. Howard is the slugger, a good hitter early in his career whose strikeout prevalence eventually hurt his all-around offensive game.
The series here compares player performance during the season and postseason in which the two teams won their championships. Rose hit .282 with a .352 OBP in the 1980 regular season while leading the league in doubles. Howard hit .251 with a .339 OBP in the 2008 regular season and led baseball with 48 homers and 146 RBIs.
In their postseasons, Rose hit .326 with a .431 OBP in 1980. Howard hit .269 with a .397 OBP. Howard’s run production was greater over his 17 games compared to Rose over 11 games. However, Rose produced big plays with his glove and his legs and was a far superior defensive contributor.
I’m calling this one for “Charlie Hustle” over “The Big Piece” based on that ability to help the club not only with his bat, but also with his glove and his legs. He also had the ability to mentally and emotionally take charge of the 1980 Phillies team at key times, both on the field and in the dugout. Rose was that type of player, one that simply found a way to win, especially in the most nerve-wracking moments.
1980 vs 2008 SERIES TO DATE
4.16.20 – SECOND BASE
4.10.20 – SHORTSTOP
4.02.20 – THIRD BASE
3.30.20 – CATCHERS
3.24.20 – BENCH GROUPS
3.20.20 – RELIEF PITCHING
3.18.20 – STARTING PITCHING