The Philadelphia Phillies joined the National League in 1883, and nearly a century later they were still looking for their first championship. They had won pennants in 1915 and 1950 before losing the World Series to the American League champions. They had won NL East Division titles from 1976 through 1978 before losing the National League Championship Series to the NL West champs. Since the inception of the modern World Series in 1903, the Phillies were the only club of the original 16 without a championship.
In 1980 everything fell into place in Philadelphia. A hard-earned division title, clinched with a dramatic extra-inning home run by MVP and major-league homer king Mike Schmidt on the next-to-last day of the season. A thrilling NLCS win over the Houston Astros punctuated by back-to-back series-tying and series-winning extra-inning victories in Houston’s Astrodome. Three wins over the Kansas City Royals in the first five games of the World Series, leaving the Phillies just one win from rewarding their fans and ownership with that elusive trophy as the Series moved to Philadelphia for Game Six on October 21.
Ace pitcher Steve Carlton was tabbed to start for the Phillies. A mainstay of Philadelphia’s rotation since 1972, Carlton had a stellar year, leading the National League with 24 wins. He was the winning pitcher in Game Two, but because he threw 159 pitches in that outing, Phillies manager Dallas Green decided not to start him on regular rest in Game Five. By holding him back, coupled with the scheduled offday, the Phillies were hoping for a stronger, dominant Carlton.1
Opposing Carlton on the mound was 26-year-old Rich Gale, who had won 13 regular-season games and started Game Three of the World Series, departing in the fifth inning in a game the Royals eventually won in 10 innings. Despite his struggles in Game Three, Gale was chosen to start over veteran left-hander Paul Splittorff because Royals manager Jim Frey’s scouting reports showed it was more prudent to throw a right-hander against the Phillies lineup.2
With a crowd of 65,838 packing Veterans Stadium, Carlton breezed through the first three innings, striking out four batters while holding the Royals scoreless. He walked Amos Otis and Willie Aikens with one out in the second but induced John Wathan to ground into a double play. Gale was just as efficient in his first two innings, allowing only a first-inning single to Pete Rose and a second-inning double to Garry Maddox.
The Phillies broke through in the third. Leadoff batter Bob Boone – like Carlton, a Phil since 1972 – walked on four pitches. Lonnie Smith hit a bouncer to second baseman Frank White. White’s throw to second pulled shortstop U.L. Washington off the bag, and both runners were safe.
Attempting to move both runners into scoring position, Rose pushed a bunt down the third-base line, and infield defense again let the Royals down. Neither Gale nor George Brett fielded it, and the bases were loaded for Mike Schmidt. “It was his play, said Brett. I’m supposed to cover third.”3 “I screwed up,” said Gale. “It’s that simple.”4
Schmidt had followed his 48-homer regular season with a Game Three home run off Gale and a two-run shot off Larry Gura in Game Five. The 31-year-old slugger, who like Carlton and Boone had joined the Phillies during their 59-win 1972 season, took a ball, fouled the next pitch back, then lined a single to right-center.
Boone scored easily, but Smith stumbled around third, with Rose right behind him. But Smith recovered quickly and scooted home for the second run. Rose ended up on third, Schmidt on first, and Gale was replaced by Renie Martin.
Martin got three quick outs, stranding Rose and Schmidt, but the Phillies were on top, 2-0. When Schmidt was asked after the game how that hit compared to others in his career he said, “I can’t think of one bigger than that.”5
Martin was still on the mound in the fifth inning when the top of the Phillies order batted again. Smith led off with a double to left-center, and Rose’s fly to center was deep enough to advance him to third. Schmidt followed with a walk, and that was all for Martin. With the left-handed-hitting Bake McBride due up, manager Frey summoned Splittorff from the bullpen. McBride hit a slow roller toward shortstop. Washington charged and threw to first to retire McBride, but Smith scored on the play, pushing the lead to 3-0.
Splittorff remained in the game to start the sixth inning. With two outs, Larry Bowa doubled to deep left field. The 34-year-old Bowa, who signed with the Phillies for $2,000 as an amateur free agent in 1965, and had been Philadelphia’s shortstop since 1970, was the oldest home-grown player on the team. He was having an excellent series, hitting .375 and fielding flawlessly. Boone singled to center, and Bowa scampered home with the Phillies’ fourth run.
Carlton cruised into the seventh inning, having surrendered only two groundball singles and two walks. Dallas Green had expected a great performance from his ace pitcher. “I knew he had it tonight,” the manager said after the game. “He went with the fastball more than usual. I know the extra rest made Lefty a power pitcher again tonight.”6 Brett singled to right to start the inning but Carlton retired Hal McRae, Otis, and Aikens in order, leaving Brett stranded at first.
In the eighth inning, Wathan walked and Jose Cardenal stroked a single to left. At that point, Green removed Carlton and brought fireman Tug McGraw into the game. The 36-year-old McGraw, a veteran of the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series champions and the Phillies’ postseason teams of the 1970s, had pitched two innings in Game One, the 10th inning in Game Three, and three innings in Game Five. Now he was tasked with holding the four-run lead over the last two innings of Game Six.
McGraw retired White on a foul pop to first baseman Rose but walked Willie Wilson – a .326 hitter during the regular season but struggling with 11 strikeouts in the World Series – to load the bases. The tying run was at the plate for Washington. He hit a fly to deep center, scoring Wathan, to put the Royals on the scoreboard. Brett hit a grounder to deep second between Manny Trillo and Rose. Trillo fielded it as Rose raced back to the first-base bag, but Brett beat the throw and the bases were loaded again.
Cleanup hitter McRae stepped to the plate. McGraw threw three straight balls, and on the 3-and-0 pitch McRae took a fastball for a strike. On the next pitch, he lofted a foul ball to the seats behind first that Rose could not reach. McRae fouled off two more pitches, then grounded to Trillo to end the inning. When asked after the game about his eighth-inning at-bat, McRae said, “I was thinking home run. When it was 3-and-2, I just wanted to make contact. He threw me a high fastball away, it might have been out of the strike zone.”7
After Dan Quisenberry retired the Phillies in order in the eighth, McGraw strolled to the mound to start the ninth. McGraw said, “The eighth inning was fun but my arm was so tired in the ninth, all I wanted was for the Royals to please hit the ball at one of our guys.”8
Otis struck out on McGraw’s trademark screwball for the first out, but Aikens walked. Wathan singled up the middle and Cardenal lined a sharp single in front of Maddox in center to load the bases.
White lofted the first pitch in front of the Phillies dugout. Catcher Boone and first baseman Rose raced over and both reached to catch the ball. It popped out of Boone’s glove and fell right into Rose’s for the second out. Recalling the catch after the game, Green said, “It gave us a tremendous lift. I’m grateful for that play.”9 Rose grinned at the reporters and said, “Oh yeah, we practiced that play last week.”10
The Phillies were one out away with Wilson due up. He took a called strike, then fouled a pitch for strike two. After taking a pitch out of the zone, Wilson swung and missed for strike three and the game was over. Lamenting lost chances, Frey said, “We had base runners on and chances to put them away. A ground ball in the hole here, oh well …”11
Knowing the magnitude of the Phillies’ first World Series championship, McGraw said, “This is truly monumental.”12 Schmidt, who won the Series’ Most Valuable Player Award, smiled at the sportswriters and said, “People are looking at the world champions … and that’s a good feeling.”13
This article was fact-checked by Bruce Slutsky and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball Reference and Retrosheet for pertinent information, including the box score and play-by-play. Also consulted was Rich D’Ambrosio’s SABR Baseball Biography Project article on Larry Bowa.
1 Jayson Stark, “The Ace Is Rested and Ready,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 21, 1980: 1-B.
2 Jay Greenberg, “Can Royals Win with Gale Force,” Philadelphia Daily News, October 21, 1980: 67.
3 Jay Greenberg, “Don’t Color Losers a Royal Blue,” Philadelphia Daily News, October 22, 1980: 73.
4 “Don’t Color Losers a Royal Blue.”
5 Lewis Freedman, “Hero Schmidt: Amid Storm, Calm,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1980: 3E.
6 Warren Mayes, “Royals Exhibit Class in Defeat,” Springfield (Missouri) Leader & Press, October 22, 1980: E1.
7 Larry Eichel, “They Wanted to Spoil Phils’ Party,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1980: 3E.
8 Tom Cushman, “A Tale of Two Lefties,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1980: 3E.
10 Jayson Stark, “Phillies Kings of Baseball! Carlton, Tug KO Royals,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 22, 1980: E1.
11 Eichel, “They Wanted to Spoil Phils’ Party.”
13 Freedman, “Hero Schmidt.”