On October 21, 1980, I was an 18-year-old young man living in my own apartment, working full-time at a local bank, married, and with an eight-month-old daughter at the time.
Living a block away was my 71-year-old grandfather, Ray Gilmore. Known as ‘Pop’ to the family, he was a huge fan of our hometown Philadelphia Phillies baseball club.
For over six decades leading up to that night, Pop had been following the exploits of the Fightin’ Phils religiously. When he began following the team it was through the newspapers. There was no TV or radio when his first favorites, including slugger Cy Williams, were playing at the old Baker Bowl.
Pop picked an awful time to start following the Phillies. Between 1918 and 1949 – 32 seasons in all – the Phillies managed just one winner, a 78-76 finish by the 1932 club. But through all those decades of losing he stayed a fan of the team.
My own knowledge of the Phillies existence came from him and about a half-dozen older fellows who lived on my rowhome block in South Philly during the second half of the 1960’s. I clearly recall walking the length of our block and hearing the games broadcast over radios positioned on their front porches on many a summer evening.
It wasn’t until the opening of Veterans Stadium for the 1971 season when I was nine years of age that I would finally get to attend a Phillies game in person. ‘The Vet’ in those early years was a glittering palace filled with dancing fountains, animated scoreboards, picnic areas, giant flags, and colonial era mascots.
The team wasn’t that great. But, unlike Pop, I came to my fandom at the perfect time. The first couple of years, losing never bothered me. In 1971 it was all too new. In 1972 the Phillies traded for a pitcher by the name of Steve Carlton who made every outing exciting.
After that point, the Phillies seemed to improve every single season, bringing new young players into the fold from their farm system. Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski first. Then Bob Boone and Mike Schmidt. They made smart trades to get Tug McGraw, Garry Maddox, Bake McBride, and Manny Trillo.
Then near the very end of 1978 the Phillies took their first dip into the free agency pool, signing Pete Rose away from the ‘Big Red Machine’ in Cincinnati. The great “Charlie Hustle” was coming to Philly.
Although my Phillies got around to the business of winning much sooner and much more often than Pop’s version of the team had back in his early days, the ultimate results to their seasons remained just as frustrating. Perhaps more so, because now the Phillies were incredibly talented. They just couldn’t win in the postseason.
For three straight years from 1976 through 1978 the Phillies won the National League East Division crown only to be eliminated in the National League Championship Series. The 1979 season, the first after the signing of Rose, had begun well but would ultimately collapse under the weight of various injuries. The collapse cost manager Danny Ozark his job, replaced by organizational man Dallas Green.
The 1980 season had been something of a struggle as well. The Phillies had a losing record as late as May 13, and after getting swept by the division-rival and defending world champion Pirates in Pittsburgh they were struggling along in third place, six game back, just three over the .500 mark.
Recovering from that Pittsburgh debacle, the Phillies ran off wins in eight of the next nine games. That began a 36-19 closing rush to their season, resulting in their once again becoming NL East champions.
Winning the division got them a date in the NLCS with the tough Houston Astros. In what is still regarded by many as the greatest NLCS in history, the Phillies would fight past the Astros in a series that went the full five games.
In the World Series, the Phillies won the first two in Philadelphia. I got to attend Game 2, a thrilling 6-4 comeback win. But the Kansas City Royals took the next two in KC to even it up. The Phils rallied in the 9th inning to win Game 5 and take a 3-2 lead in the series back to Philadelphia. And that brings us back around to October 21, 1980.
Pop had waited for this night for over 60 years. I had waited nearly a decade – but it felt like 60 years. On that Tuesday night in South Philly, the Philadelphia Phillies would do something that no other Phillies team in the 98-year history of the franchise had been capable of accomplishing.
When McGraw struck out Willie Wilson with the bases loaded to end it, the Phillies players mobbed one another on the field and the fireworks exploded high atop The Vet. Nearly 66,000 fans in attendance roared with triumphant glee.
In my little apartment, a group of friends and I shouted and hugged one another, our party spilling out into the street. Just up the block, a bit more subdued on the outside but no less thrilled on the inside, Pop watched his team win it all, finally.
During a four-game series with the Washington Nationals this past weekend, the Phillies honored that 1980 team with a series of fantastic ceremonies during the team’s annual Alumni Weekend.
On Thursday, fans received replicas of Mike Schmidt’s World Series ring. On Friday, PA announcer Dan Baker was honored for a half-century with the team. Saturday saw two 1980 heroes, Bake McBride and Ron Reed, enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame. It all culminated on Sunday with that entire team invited out to Citizens Bank Park, including the return of Pete Rose for the first time since his suspension from baseball.
To say that the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies will always be remembered is an obvious statement. But that team is more than just memorable to those of us who lived the experience. For my Pop, who passed away in the summer of 1992 at age 83, and myself, and tens of thousands like us who are still around, those Phillies will always be beloved.
MORE PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES HISTORY
- 5.17.2022 – An unforgettable 1979 slugfest at Wrigley Field
- 2.26.2022 – The 20 greatest black players in Phillies history
- 11.21.2020 – Did Larry Bowa deserve more than two Gold Glove Awards?
- 10.18.2020 – Phillies Phlashback: the Dave Cash trade
- 7.19.2020 – Phillies Forgotten 50: Bobby Pfeil 1971