Tag Archives: Tug McGraw

1980: Not A Kid Anymore

All this year at my Facebook page, which you can view from the link in the sidebar here at my website by joining up yourself and ‘friend’-ing me, I am taking a daily trip back in time to the 1980’s.

Each month I am highlighting a different year chronologically, and this month have been featuring the music, tv, movies, and important events of the first year of the decade: 1980.

In 1980 the world changed, both in my own individual life and the world at large, in some of the most important and influential ways it ever would. Just one year earlier, as 1979 dawned, I was a 17-year old high school senior living in an apartment in South Philly with my dad and brother. Little did I know how much a life could change in less than a year.

I had been dating a girl, Anne Jacobs, ever since meeting her down at the Jersey shore in Wildwood, New Jersey during the late summer of 1976. We overcame the fact that I lived in South Philly without a car and she lived out in the Delaware County suburb of Prospect Park to become high school sweethearts.

Anne was a year behind me in school, and so while I was finishing up my senior year and preparing to graduate from St. John Neumann high school in South Philadelphia during the first half of 1979, she was still just a junior at Archbishop Prendergast high school out in Drexel Hill, Delaware County.

It was at some point in the late spring of ’79 that we began to realize something big might be up. There were increasingly unmistakable signs to us that Anne had become pregnant, and by the early summer we knew it was true. We told our parents at the end of that summer, and I put my LaSalle University plans aside to go out and find a job.

In the fall of 1979 I landed a job as a messenger clerk with the old First Pennsylvania Bank, beginning a decade-long career in the banking world. Anne and I, with the necessary permission from our parents since we were still under 18 years old, got married on November 7th that year, and I moved in with her family.

This is where 1980 opened for me, vastly different from a year earlier. Married at just 18 years of age, living in the suburbs, taking a train in to work everyday in downtown Philadelphia. And then in early February, a day before my own father would turn 40 years old, Anne gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who we named “Christine”, adding ‘Dad’ to my new roles in life.

There is no way that I will ever encourage any teenager to get pregnant. It is one of the most difficult things to go through, trying to properly raise a child while you are still very much one yourself in so many ways. But I also cannot deny the love and joy that Chrissy brought into my life beginning on that day. In a few days from now she will turn 30 years old, and is now a 2-time mother herself. Where has all that time gone?

That would not turn out to be the last major domestic change in my life during 1980, however. We tried to live with Anne’s family, but trying to make your own way as parents and a couple is difficult enough without having the dynamic of living under the same roof as people who still treat you like kids. By the fall we had gotten our own apartment at the corner of American and Ritner Streets, and thus began trying to give it a go out on our own back in my old South Philly stomping grounds.

One of my favorite little life stories comes from February 22nd of that year. Just as this year, 1980 was a Winter Olympics year, and the American hockey team made up of young college kids had been stunning the world by slipping through the tournament undefeated. Looming ahead of them was a date with Cold War destiny.

On that Friday the American kids were poised to take on the goliath hockey juggernaut from the Soviet Union in an Olympic semi-final game at Lake Placid, New York. Just two weeks earlier, the Russians had blitzed the U.S. by a 10-3 score in a pre-Olympics exhibition. Then they rolled over five opponents by a combined score of 55-11 to reach this point in the tournament.

The day before the matchup, New York Times columnist Dave Anderson wrote: “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.”

No one really believed that miracle was likely, but the young American team had captured my and the nation’s hearts and imaginations with their dramatic play. The game against the Soviets was going to take place during the day, but would be televised that night in prime time by the ABC network. Remember, these were the pre-ESPN domination days with no 24-hour news coverage of events.

I resolved to stay away from any radios or television during my work day at the bank, which in those days proved easy. I went home with no knowledge of what had happened in the game and was prepared to grab some dinner and then settle in to watch the drama of the U.S.-Soviet hockey game.

While I ate, excited about the upcoming game, Anne walked in to the kitchen of her parents house on 11th Avenue and said matter-of-factly “How about the Americans beating the Russians in hockey today?!”

I’ll leave it to your imaginations the phrase that immediately raced through my stunned mind at the revelation of the game result that I had been successfully avoiding all day. Ouch. Priceless.

With my excitement ruined and my enthusiasm tempered by the knowledge of what was going to happen, I settled in that evening to enjoy the spectacle of what has become known to history as the ‘Miracle on Ice’ in the American squad’s 4-3 epic upset of the Soviet hockey team: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

In the larger world during the first year of the 1980’s, the Carter Presidency continued to deteriorate as the Iranian hostage crisis droned on and on. His candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination received a serious threat from Teddy Kennedy, who I stood just a few feet away from during an early spring campaign stop in Philly that year.

Kennedy would receive my first-ever vote in a Presidential primary, but would lose a hard-fought nomination process to Carter. Later in the year, the Reagan Revolution began with the election to the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, the greatest American President of the past century, but one who I simply did not appreciate or support at the time.

During the year of 1980 we Americans would become introduced to or more familiar with people and topics such as Abscam, Voyager, Ayatollah, Olympic boycott, Rosie Ruiz, Mt. Saint Helens, Yoda, CNN, Solidarity. We would all end the year sobbing over the murder of John Lennon while asking the question “Who shot J.R.?”

Philadelphia was the capital of the sports world in 1980. That spring, the Flyers were beaten in overtime of the 6th game of the Stanley Cup Finals on a controversial goal by Bob Nystrom of the New Islanders. The Isles appeared to be clearly offsides on the winning play, but the refs blew the call. Had the Flyers won, they would have tied the series and sent it back to the Spectrum for a decisive 7th game.

Also that spring, the 76ers advanced to the NBA Finals before succumbing in six games thanks to a herculean performance from Lakers rookie Magic Johnson, who filled in for injured all-star center Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and single-handedly kept the Sixers from sending that championship to a deciding game.

The Philadelphia Eagles had a season to remember that fall and winter, finishing 12-4 and winning the NFC East under coach Dick Vermiel. The Birds finished tied with the Dallas Cowboys, who beat them in the regular season finale by a 35-27 score, but won the tie-breaker for the division title. They would advance to make the franchise’ first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl in January of 1981.

And then there were the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies. One of the best teams in baseball since 1975, the Phils were repeatedly disappointed and disappointing in making playoff appearances in 1976, 1977, and 1978. The 1980 team was considered by some to be getting a little old-in-the-tooth, but the veterans fought to yet another division title.

In what many still believe to be the greatest NLCS in baseball history, the Phils edged past the Houston Astros and advanced to face the great George Brett and the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. In the dramatic finale to the 6th game at Veteran’s Stadium, Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson to preserve a 4-1 win and give the long-suffering franchise’ it’s first-ever world championship.

I remember clearly watching the game in our little South Philly apartment that was full of friends for the game. We spilled into the streets after the victory, and I headed up to Broad Street with some to enjoy the victory celebration. We worked our way towards the Vet, and it was in the midst of that joyous celebration of the championship just won by Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and crew that my life very nearly changed forever once again.

I was standing on Broad Street just north of Snyder Avenue in the middle of what was a sea of celebratory humanity, and at the same time there were vehicles still trying to leave the area as well. Somehow I got squeezed by the crowd into the small space between two cars slowly edging their way along. Trying to avoid the crowds, one of the cars kept edging towards the other, pinning my legs between the two.

I started to bang on the hood and windows of the two cars as my legs got squeezed tighter, and just in time felt the release of pressure as the drivers realized what was happening and eased off me. That close to getting my legs crushed while celebrating a life long dream of a World Series victory!

1980 was absolutely a year of change for me, for the country, and for the world. It was a year of beginnings and challenges, of frustrations and celebrations, of defeat and victory, and of joys and sorrows. It was a year that not many others to follow would be able to equal for it’s quantity of high drama. And it was ultimately the first year of my life in which I was not a kid anymore.

BORN 1980: Christine Veasey, Erin Mooney Bates, Justin Timberlake, Elin Nordegren, Zooey Deschanel, Robinho, Nick Carter, Gilbert Arenas, Albert Pujols, Eli Manning, Adam Lambert, Francisco ‘KRod’ Rodriguez, Natalie Gulbis, Andre Iguodala, Joe Flacco, Mischa Barton

DIED 1980: Jimmy Durante, Paul Lynde, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, Ray Kroc, Johnny Weissmuler, Jackie Wilson, Donna Reed, L. Ron Hubbard, Ray ‘the Scarecrow’ Bolger, ‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich, Hirohito, Ted Bundy, John Lennon

Harry the K is outta here

Embed from Getty Images

Harry Kalas after throwing out the first pitch of a game vs the Braves just last week

 

Once there was a silly old ant, who thought he could move a rubber tree plant. Everyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant. But he had high hopes. He had high hopes. He had high apple pie in the sky hopes.”

There is perhaps no more wonderful, in-character moment in the adult life of Harry Kalas than the time he stood in a beer and champagne-drenched Phillies locker room in the fall of 1993.

The Phillies had just accomplished what many thought was impossible. What is still perhaps the most beloved group of players in the franchise’ long history – John Kruk, Mitch Williams, Lenny Dykstra, Curt Schilling, Darren Daulton, et al – had just defeated the powerful and heavilyl favored Atlanta Braves to win the National League pennant. It happened just one year after the team had finished in last place.

Harry stood in the middle of the trainer’s room with the players all gathered around, everyone soaked with that bubbly and brew, and led them in a rousing version of the song “High Hopes”, a moment which someone had the great vision to actually record for posterity.

The scene in the bowels of Veteran’s Stadium can be viewed on any number of video products released from that magical season. It is my absolute favorite Harry Kalas moment of all-time. The pure joy emoted by Harry in that moment, the obvious love that he had for the Phillies organization, and the particular affection that he had for that group of players was on full display.

Last week, Harry Kalas began his 39th season as the lead broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies on radio and television. It all started with a game in April of 1971 that christened the shiny new Veteran’s Memorial Stadium in South Philadelphia. On Monday afternoon it ended fittingly at a ballpark.

Harry was prepping for last night’s broadcast of the Phillies game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. when he collapsed in the press box. At the age of 73, the man who had become known affectionately as ‘Harry the K’ and respectfully as ‘The Voice’ had reached the end of his days.

My own love affair with the team traces back to that very 1971 season. As a nine-year-old, I became infatuated with the game and a team that had just moved from North Philly down to almost being in the shadow of my own home in South Philly.

My friends and I would ride our bikes that spring up on to the nearly completed but not yet opened Delaware Expressway, now known simply as ‘I-95’, from our homes in the Two Street neighborhood. We would then ride around to the shining new jewel of towering white columns that would become known as The Vet.

We would ride around the outer concourse of the stadium, hitting full speed before exiting off one of the many long, sloping ramps that would lead tens of thousands of fans up to the entrances just weeks from then. The thrill of those rides was as great a rush as any kid could ever hope for, or so I thought in the days just before my Phillies affair would begin.

My dad took my brother and myself to the Opening Day festivities for the Vet. There we got to see the magical dancing water fountain in center field, the gigantic unfurling American colonial flag, the fan-friendly baseline picnic areas, and the huge, smiling faces of a couple of characters, Phil and Phyllis, who would fire off a cannon to celebrate every Phillies home run in those early Vet days.

I was hooked, and I began to listen to Phillies games on the radio. It was something that for every year of my life growing up to that point I had already heard my own grandfather and many of the older men of the neighborhood doing while sitting out on their porches on almost every summer evening.

These men had listened to the games as they were broadcast from old Connie Mack Stadium by the legendary By Saam and Bill Campbell, and a relatively young, recently retired, and popular former Phillie named Richie Ashburn.

But for the new era now opening at The Vet, the team wanted a new fresh face and voice. To that end, they lured a 35-year old Kalas away from the Houston Astros organization where he had been the on-air voice since 1963.

When I turned on my little transistor radio that April and began to follow the Phillies for the first time, it was Harry’s voice that greeted me, as it would for every single Phillies season over nearly four more decades.

In those early years the Phillies quickly began to become strong competitors in the National League, culminating in the club winning three straight Eastern Division titles from 1976-78.

Those teams featured some veteran pitchers such as Steve Carlton and Tug McGraw, and talented young players like Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, Greg Luzinski, and most importantly a young, slugging third baseman named Mike Schmidt.

Over the nearly two decades of Schmidt’s playing career, Kalas would develop a strong relationship with the Phillies Hall of Famer and greatest-ever player.

For fans, that relationship was highlighted by the development of a legendary and iconic home run call heard across two generations:

“Swing, and a long drive, deep left field….Outta Here! Home run, Michael Jack Schmidt!”

It was a call that every Phillies fan would learn to imitate as well. You can stick a microphone in the face of almost any Phillies fan and get them to do their ‘Harry home run call’ impression.

Harry also developed an intense friendship with Ashburn, the man with whom he shared the broadcast booth for 28 seasons and who Kalas simply called “His Whiteness” after Ashburn’s long time nickname of Whitey.

The on-air chemistry between the two men would rival only their off-field friendship, and this came out clearly in their banter and game-calling. When ‘Whitey’ passed away following the calling of a game late in the 1997 season, no one mourned more deeply than Harry, and for the rest of his career there would be fond, sentimental references to Whitey woven into many Phillies broadcasts.

As many fans did, I had my own moment with Harry Kalas. It came during a late-1990’s bus trip to see the Phillies play the Baltimore Orioles at the beautiful new Camden Yards ballpark.

My group had rented out a party room for some pre-game food and drinks, and at one point I had to use the men’s room located down the hall from our party room. As I exited that men’s room, there walking out of the doorway of another party room at the same moment was none other than Harry the K himself.

I was startled at seeing the man so closeup, and he seemed startled just from the timing of our entry into the hallway at the same moment. I just blurted out “Hey, Harry!” and his reply was something that I can still hear ringing in my ears today: “Hey, How are ya?” in that typically friendly but signature voice as he ducked into the bathroom that I had just left.

Harry Kalas had just personally addressed me with that voice. As stupid as it sounds to some of you, it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. That’s how big a Phillies fan, and a Harry Kalas fan, I had become, and still am to this very day.

In the fall of 1980, the Phillies gave their fans what they had been waiting for over a century to see, a championship. But for we Phillies fans there was something missing.

The rules of Major League Baseball at that time did not allow hometown broadcasters to call the games on radio or television, and so there were no broadcasts of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn calling those games in a live format for our fans.

That lost opportunity made what happened in 1993 with those ‘Macho Row’ Phillies even more special, getting to hear Harry and Whitey call those World Series games together.

But the Phillies lost that series in dramatic fashion thanks to the walk-off home run by Toronto’s Joe Carter, and so Harry still had never called a championship. Through any number of tough seasons in the late 1990’s you wondered whether an aging Kalas would ever get that opportunity again.

In 2002, Harry was honored with the Ford Frick Award for baseball’s immortal broadcasters, and subsequently with enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame, joining both his long-time Phillies pals Whitey and Schmidt among the games legends.

With a coming new ballpark, Phillies management and ownership began to loosen the purse strings and brought in some high-caliber free agent talent such as Jim Thome and Billy Wagner. The team began to win again as one of baseball’s most beautiful facilities opened at Citizens Bank Park.

Over the early through mid-2000’s, a group of young homegrown players including Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley was developed. That group finally brought the Philadelphia Phillies back to the World Series stage.

On the night of October 29th, in the culmination of a game that had taken two days thanks to weather conditions, the Phillies were just one strike away from finally winning another World Series title when Harry finally was able to make the live call for which he had waited his entire life:

One strike away; nothing-and-two, the count to Hinske. Fans on the their feet; rally towels are being waved. Brad Lidge stretches. The 0-2 pitch — swing and a miss, struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball!”

It was a moment long overdue, and a shining moment that Harry Kalas deserved as much as anyone who has ever broadcast any sporting event.

This past Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were in our car, driving home from having spent Easter Sunday down at the Jersey shore with some family members. We are both big Phillies fans now, and got to enjoy that unforgettable 1993 season and World Series heartbreak and the 2008 World Series victory celebration together.

On the ride home we were enjoying the 39th season of listening to Harry Kalas call Phillies games, and the team was putting the finishing touches on a victory over the Rockies out in Colorado.

As we drove along we heard Harry make the call: “Bouncing ball to Chase Utley, this should be the game… Chase throws him out, and that will be it as the Phil’s win two out of three here at Coors Field, coming back to take this one by a score of 7 to 5.”

Little did we know that it would be the final time that we would ever get to hear Harry close out a Phillies game.

There is an old saying that all good things must come to an end. Every one of those 1971 Phillies, the 1980 world champions, and the 1993 NL champs saw the ending of their careers come. Richie ‘Whitey’ Ashburn saw the end of his life come, as did popular Phillies players like John Vukovich and Tug McGraw. This one carries perhaps the deepest sting and hurt, more so than even with the Tugger, himself a truly beloved figure in town.

For almost four decades, Harry Kalas came into all of our living rooms and our cars, into our places of work, our back yards, our front porches, and down on to the beaches with us.

He brought a magical, story-telling quality to Philadelphia Phillies baseball games with a unique signature of a voice, and with a love and passion for both the team and the game that if you listened long enough made you incapable of turning it off before falling in love with it as well.

Now, Harry is reunited with his good friend Whitey, calling games in heaven, which gives me something even more to look forward to in the hereafter.

The words ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ are tossed around sometimes with too much ease. ‘Harry the K’ was truly an iconic legend here in Philadelphia, someone who will never, ever be forgotten.

One great thing is that so much of his brilliant career has been recorded. We will hear that voice at various times over the rest of our lives. Perhaps the best way to end this tribute would be with one personal indulgence.

Far from being disrespectful, I believe the man that I met in that Camden Yards hallway a decade ago would love it. One final call, this time for Harry instead of by him: “It’s a long life, deep affection left at the field, Harry Kalas is….Outta Here!”

Three Thrilling Innings

Embed from Getty Images

Manuel holds the World Series trophy in the victorious Philadelphia Phillies locker room at Citizens Bank Park

 

Unable to get into Citizen’s Bank Park at anything close to resembling a reasonable price, my wife, Debbie Veasey, and I ultimately decided to hunker down in the comfort and warmth of our family room to watch the conclusion of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series.

The 52-inch TV, our dog Petey, our home cabinets and refrigerators with drinks and treats, my cellphone to text friends and family during the game, and our new video camera would be our companions through the night.

Nowhere else that I would rather be, or anyone else that I would rather have been with, than Deb. She is a huge Phillies fan in her own right, and we enjoy watching games on TV and attending them together in person all spring and summer.

Pre-game we decided to head out to a local Chinese buffet where we talked some about what we thought would happen when the game re-started. With Game 5 having been suspended after 5 1/2 innings by incredibly torrid rain and cold on Monday night, the first time in history that an MLB post-season game was ever suspended, some unusual situations were set.

The Phillies original starting pitcher, Cole Hamels, was scheduled to be leading off the bottom of the 6th inning. But since he would not be available to pitch on such short rest (two days of the delay), Hamels would certainly be replaced with a pinch-hitter.

Local radio sports talk hosts had speculated that the Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would go with either pinch-hit king Greg Dobbs or slugging Matt Stairs. But I told Deb that I felt the choice would and should be Geoff Jenkins.

It was silly to use Dobbs that early, you might need his clutch bat at the end. And Stairs is a one-trick pony whose big bat you simply had to preserve, just in case you needed that one trick, a home run, at some late stage.

This situation called for someone left-handed, since the Rays would have a righty on the mound. Jenkins was the only one left, and was the obvious choice to me.

Apparently it was the right choice by Manuel as well. Jenkins it was to lead it off, and he drove a 3-2 pitch to deep right-center field for a double. A sacrifice bunt by Jimmy Rollins and a humpback single to center by Jayson Werth made it 3-2 Phillies right off the bat.

But that was only the beginning, as this suspended three innings of play would pack in as much drama as most full games.

In the top of the 7th, the Rays tied it on a solo home run from Rocco Baldelli off Ryan Madson. Later in the inning it would be up to second baseman Chase Utley to provide the heroics with his glove, arm, and head.

With two outs and Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett on second base, Akinori Iwamura sent a ball bouncing up the middle. Utley ranged nicely to his right and behind the bag, fielded the ball cleanly in his glove, transferred the ball to his bare hand, and pivoted as if to throw to first base.

As Utley likely knew, there would be no chance to get the speedy Iwamura on this play. But he made it seem as if he was going with the throw, fooling Bartlett, who never stopped in rounding third and heading for home with the potential go-ahead run.

Instead of actually throwing to first, Utley double-clutched, turned his body slightly, and fired a one-bounce strike to catcher Carlos Ruiz just slightly up the third base line. Ruiz took the throw and dove out after Bartlett, who was himself diving around the tag attempt in trying to get to home plate.

Ruiz stretched out and nailed Bartlett three feet short of the plate, and the Phillies were out of the inning still tied. Utley’s heady play will go down in history as one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, defensive plays in the history of Philadelphia sports. And a nice assist to Ruiz on the other end as well.

In the bottom of the 7th, the longest tenured Phillies player, left fielder Pat Burrell, would lead things off. Burrell was the only Phillies player to not get much involved thus far in the Series as he was hitless to that point. This could also well be the final at-bat in his career with the club since he is a free agent this coming off-season.

Almost every Phillies fan that I heard talking in the time leading up to the game was rooting for Burrell to do something special, and Pat didn’t let us down. He got a hold of a fastball and drove it deep to center field, the farthest part of the park, for what looked like it was going to be a dramatic go-ahead home run.

Instead, the ball crashed high off the center field fence in the deepest park of Citizens Bank Park, missing that homer by just a couple of feet. As the ball bounced back to the turf, Burrell rolled into second base, and the Phillies had led-off their second straight inning with a double.

Eric Bruntlett came in to pinch-run for Burrell, who left to a tremendous ovation, and Bruntlett quickly moved over to third base on Shane Victorino’s bouncing ground out.

Up to the plate stepped third baseman Pedro Feliz, who delivered the biggest hit of his career with a line-drive single right back through the box, scoring Bruntlett and putting the Phils back on top by 4-3 heading into the 8th.

Again in the top of the 8th, the Rays kept coming. With a runner on first, Phils reliever J.C. Romero induced young Rays star B.J. Upton to ground a ball right to Rollins at shortstop who flipped it over to Utley at second for the force out. In the same motion, Utley pivoted to turn the double play as the runner barreled down on him to break it up. The Phils all-star hung in under fire and made a strong throw, nailing the speedy Upton by a step to complete the twin killing.

The Phillies were held off the board in their half of the 8th, and so the game went into the top of the 9th with the team just three outs away from just the second World Series title in their 125-year history.

Manuel gave the ball to closer Brad Lidge, who had become known as ‘Lights-Out’ by not blowing a Save opportunity all year. Lidge got the first batter, but then gave up a hit and a stolen base to put the Rays tying run at second with one out.

Nothing ever comes easy in Philadelphia. The next batter sliced a ball to the opposite field that looked off the bat as if it could be a game-tying single. But the rocket hung in the air and went directly at right fielder Jayson Werth for out number two.

Rays skipper Joe Maddon then sent up slugger Eric Hinske top pinch-hit. Hinske, a big lefty bat to go up against the right-handed Lidge, had homered in his lone at-bat of the series back in Game 4.

Lidge quickly got ahead, and as the center field clock at Citizen’s Bank Park reached exactly 10:00 pm, the Phillies closer fired a slider that dove down under Hinske’s swinging bat and into the glove of catcher Ruiz for a series-ending strikeout.

As Ruiz charged the mound in celebration, Lidge dropped to his knees and looked prayerfully skyward. The catcher grabbed the closer in a bear hug, and the two were immediately tackled to the ground by big first baseman Ryan Howard.

The rest of the team was in hot pursuit, and the pile-on crushed those three as the rest of the players joined in the celebration.

The Phillies fans in the stands waved their ‘Rally Towels’ with glee, jumped up and down, hugged one another, roared, cried, and generally exploded with joy at the city’s first professional sports championship in a quarter century.

Back at home, Deb and I had been videotaping our evening and the game as it progressed, and we were jumping around our living room with that same joyfulness. Deb grabbed a pot and big spoon, and ran out front to clang them in celebration with some neighbors.

We watched the post-game shows both on Fox and local Comcast Sportsnet, as well as all the local news angles. The street celebrations quickly grew, and Deb and I decided to get dressed and head out.

We drove around in Northeast Philly hot spots, honking our horns and cheering out the windows with other drivers and pedestrians, and even stopped at a local sporting goods store at 1:00 am to buy some Phillies world championship shirts.

The three innings which began with Jenkins’ double, that included Werth’s RBI blooper, Burrell’s heroic double, Feliz‘ winning RBI single, Utley’s defensive brilliance, the Rays’ persistence, and finally closed with Lidge’s strikeout, were three of the most unusual but greatest innings in World Series history.

And then, those three dramatic innings ended with the Philadelphia Phillies, as their legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas called it on radio, “2008 world champions of baseball!”

It just does not get any better than this for a baseball fan. Ever. As Deb said, thank you Tug McGraw in Heaven! And let me add to her sentiments both John Vukovich and John Marzano, who were surely watching over and rooting us on from above along with the Tugger.

And thank you, sweet Jesus! Thank you, God in Heaven! And last but not least, thank you to the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, from World Series MVP Cole Hamels, to all the players and coaches, up to the top of ownership, and down to the lowest employees on the organizational ladder.

Today, you are all my heroes. No one who was around to enjoy them will ever forget those three thrilling innings, or this magnificent championship ball club. Thank you!

Uncle Frank and I go to the World Series

Embed from Getty Images

Mike Schmidt delivers key RBI double during the 8th inning of Game 2 in the 1980 World Series

 

The 1980 World Series holds a special place in the hearts of all Philadelphia Phillies fans, and none more so than myself.

First of all, it is the only world championship the Phillies have won thus far in their 125-year history. It is also special to me because I got to see it in person, having attended Game #2 at Veteran’s Stadium with my Uncle Frank LoBiondo.

How it was that my Uncle Frank and I attended a World Series game together is a part of the story.

It’s not that we were ever particularly close, though he is a great guy and someone who I have always liked and enjoyed being in the company of at family events and such. He is my father’s sister’s husband, so my uncle through marriage.

At the age of 18, I had plenty of friends and family who would normally have been ahead of Uncle Frank in the pecking order for my extra ticket. In fact, that I even had an extra ticket is it’s own story.

Back in those days which may seem somewhat ancient now, there was no internet, and few of the types of ticket brokers that you find today. Most tickets to events were purchased either by standing in line at the box office or by procuring them at the venue on the day of the event from a scalper.

When the Phillies won the 1980 National League pennant by defeating the Houston Astros in one of the most dramatic pennant battles ever, I knew that I just had to attend what would be the first Philadelphia Phillies appearance in the World Series in my lifetime.

I was a huge baseball and Phillies fan, as I remain today, and I went out to Veteran’s Stadium in order to stand on line waiting for tickets. I got up to the box office and there was a maximum limit of eight (8) tickets which each individual could purchase at $20 per seat. So, I bought my allotted maximum, shelling out $160 in the process.

Believe me, that sounds like chump change to most of you here in 2008, and the fact is that it would cost you ten times that amount to get into Citizen’s Bank Park for this years Fall Classic. Well back then it was a lot of money to me and my young family.

As I mentioned already, I was only 18-years-old at the time. But I already was married with an eight-month old baby. I worked for First Pennsylvania Bank as a messenger clerk, a job that I had just begun a year earlier right out of high school. Needless to say, it barely paid the rent and other necessities.

But I had a plan in buying those eight tickets, and it worked wonderfully. At the bank, I put out word that I had extra seats. As anticipated, I was quickly besieged with offers for my tickets. I sold two for $100 apiece, and another two for $50 each.

Happy at having done so well, I sold the next pair on the cheap on the day of the game for $25 each just to get rid of them. I had sold six of the tickets, with a face value of $120, for a total of $360, putting a couple of hundred needed dollars into my family pocketebook. And I still had two remaining seats to enjoy the game for myself.

My ex-wife, with whom I was supposed to attend the game, couldn’t get off from work. So, I was left to scramble at the last minute for someone to go with me.

You wouldn’t think it would be a problem, but remember, it was 1980. No cell phones, texting, or personal computers. The only way to get in touch with anyone was in person or by land-line phones.

With little time before I should be leaving for the game, I began to make some phone calls. No luck. No one was answering their phones, or those friends whose homes that I reached were still not home from work or school.

Unbelievably, my brother, father, grandfather, and my closest friends were all out-of-pocket in that short time that I had to find a game partner.

After trying about a dozen or so people, I thought of my cousins, and I started out by calling the house of my cousin Donna LoBiondo (now Mooney), who lived just a few blocks away. Donna and I were the same age, and I had always gotten along well with her.

When I phoned, my Uncle Frank, her father, answered the call. Much as everyone else that I tried, Donna was not yet home from work. Sensing an opportunity, Uncle Frank volunteered that he would go with me if I wanted. Well, there you have it.

I walked over to their home, and Uncle Frank and I then walked to the route 79 bus on Snyder Avenue, took it westbound to the Broad Street Subway, and took the subway down to The Vet.

What excitement there was in what was then still a showplace venue of a stadium. The Phillies had held off George Brett and the Kansas City Royals the previous day for a thrilling 7-6 win, and so took a 1-0 series lead into our game.

For this Game 2 of the 1980 World Series, the Phillies manager Dallas Green would send their future Hall of Fame ace, Steve Carlton, to the mound.

Carlton was cruising along, and the Phillies took a narrow 2-1 lead into the 7th inning when suddenly there was some type of ruckus down on the field. It seems that the Royals manager believed that Carlton had a foreign substance on his hands. The umpires went out and checked, and whatever they found, they made Carlton stop and wash his hands. That may have rattled Lefty, as he proceeded to walk three batters.

The Royals’ star outfielder Amos Otis then ripped a two-run double. Kansas City added another run, and thus took a 4-2 lead in the game into the bottom of the 8th inning.

The Phils started to put their own rally together, and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Del Unser eventually tied it at 4-4. Then up came outfielder Bake McBride

The man known as ‘Shake-n-Bake’ rapped a go-ahead single through a drawn-in infield to put the Phillies back on top. The crowd of more than 60,000 roared, including Uncle Frank and I from our seats way up in the 700 level, the highest point in The Vet, directly behind home plate.

Then up to the plate stepped the Phillies MVP, superstar third baseman Mike Schmidt. The future Hall of Famer drove a double off the wall to score McBride with an insurance run, and The Vet was literally rocking from all of the fans jumping up and down and the roar of the crowd.

With normal closer Tug McGraw unavailable, tall veteran right-hander Ron Reed came in for the save situation in the top of the 9th inning. He set down the Royals, and the Phillies along with we fans celebrated a 2-0 lead in the World Series.

That lead would evaporate quickly. Kansas City won the next two games back at their home park to tie the Series at two games apiece. But the Phillies won a dramatic Game 5, and came back to The Vet exactly 28 years ago tonight.

On October 21st, 1980, the hopes and dreams of all Phillies fans were finally realized when the Tugger slipped a fastball past Willie Wilson with the tying run at the plate, and the Phils took the 6th game by a 4-1 final score.

No one who was around this town back then will ever forget that season, team, victory, and the ensuing parade. And in particular, I will never forget my first and only visit to the World Series, with my lucky long-shot ticket winner Uncle Frank right there beside me.