August 17, 2019

These Are a Few of My Fav-o-rite Teams

May 29, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Don’t worry, there will be no singing during the writing or reading of this article; Julie Andrews I’m not.

As a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation you’d think my favorite teams are all Carmine Hose, but that’s far from being the case.  Of course, my favorite team of all-time is the 1977 Red Sox squad that finished in a second-place tie with Baltimore, 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees, mostly because as an impressionable 10-year-old, I loved the pyrotechnics display the Sox laid down on opposing pitchers on a daily and nightly basis.  Led by Jim Rice’s 39 circuit clouts, my boys blasted 213 homers that season, far more than any other team in baseball.  They had five players with at least 25 homers—Rice, George “Boomer” Scott (33), Butch Hobson (30), Yaz (28), and Carlton Fisk (26)—and two players—Bernie Carbo (15) and Dewey Evans (14)—who split time and belted 29 between them in only 458 at-bats.  They most likely would have had a sixth 20+ homer man in Fred Lynn, but Lynn was sidelined for the first month of the season with a severely sprained ankle and hit only 18 the rest of the year.

They scored more than 5.3 runs a game, led the majors with a .465 slugging percentage, and posted the only OPS above .800 at .810.  I was always bigger than most kids my age and even those who were older, and I wanted to grow up to be just like George Scott, blasting long taters into the night then slowly trotting around the bases to the adulation of my hometown fans.  It didn’t quite happen that way, though.

Don’t get me wrong, I grew up to be a strapping young man, standing 6’2″ tall and weighing in at a solid 215 pounds, and my glove work was Scott-like, as was my power.  I once belted a 415-foot shot in batting practice that almost cleared the tennis courts and landed in my high school’s parking lot, and, in a summer league game, I launched a 425-foot shot to left that almost cleared the rocks that separated the field from the parking lot.  Alas, there was no fence and I had already homered and tripled earlier in the same game, so the left fielder was playing so far back at that point that he actually caught my drive for an out.  The first base umpire told me that that was the farthest he’d ever seen anyone hit a ball.  But I couldn’t translate that ability enough in games or past high school so here I sit writing and waxing nostalgic about what might have been.

But I digress.  Other than the obvious Red Sox teams of the past that hold a special place in my heart (I’m talking to you 2004 and ’07 squads), here’s a list of teams I most enjoyed rooting for over the years.

In chronological order:

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates:  Somewhere along the way, I decided to adopt a National League team as my very own.  Some would do it scientifically and study the numbers, while others may choose based on geography, or familiarity with a specific player.  But I was only eight years old in 1975 when I discovered a Pirates seat cushion in the cellar of the duplex in which my family lived in Framingham, Massachusetts, and it was then that I became a Pirates fan.  Don’t ask me what a Pirates seat cushion was doing in a Massachusetts cellar, but there it was in all of its black and gold glory.

I couldn’t name one player on the Pirates at that time, but I recall being upset that the Red Sox chose to play the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series that year.  It wasn’t until my father explained the playoff system that I realized my Sox didn’t have a choice and that the Reds earned the right to be in the Fall Classic.  When Cincinnati beat my beloved Carmines, it made me dislike them even more.

Fast forward to 1977, the first season that I recall being a diehard, obsessed baseball fan—I remember going to Fenway Park in 1975; Luis Tiant, Yaz, Freddie Lynn; the Oakland A’s, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson; Jackson going to the Orioles in ’76 and Bowie “F***ing” Kuhn voiding the deal that would have brought Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to Boston.  I remember Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito and debating with my best friend who was better; hating the Montreal Canadiens even more than the Yankees; and hoping Foreman would knock Ali on his ass in Zaire in ’74.  But it wasn’t until ’77 that I was a fully functioning baseballaholic.

From 1977-1979 I had the best of both worlds but still lacked a championship.  The Sox averaged just shy of 96 wins a year but had only two seconds and a third to show for it.  The Pirates averaged 94 wins a season and finally broke through in 1979 with a stunning come-from-behind victory in that year’s Fall Classic.

There are several things I remember about that season—”We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, Willie Stargell’s “Stargell Stars,” the pillbox caps and seemingly infinite number of uniform combinations, and the Bucs’ comeback in the World Series from a three-games-to-one deficit.  I loved that Stargell wore the same number as my favorite player, Carl Yastrzemski, and he became my favorite N.L. player for a while.  The ’79 Pirates are also one of those teams whose lineup I can recite off the top of my head; Stargell, Dave Parker, Bill Madlock, Bill Robinson, Omar Moreno, and Phil Garner particularly stand out (don’t worry Ed Ott, Tim Foli, Rennie Stennett, and John Milner, I remember you too).

Amazingly the team’s leading winner was John Candelaria with only 14 victories, but they also boasted five other hurlers who won 10, including closer Kent Tekulve, who went 10-8 with 31 saves that year (and also looked like he should have been teaching chemistry at the local high school).

Up to that point in my young life, that was the most fun I’d had watching a team.  Thanks, “Pops!”

1980 Houston Astros: No sooner had the Pirates won the ’79 Fall Classic than I jumped off their bandwagon.  They clearly no longer needed my mojo, or so I thought (sorry Pirates fans; who knew they wouldn’t win another World Series since?), so I adopted the Houston Astros in 1980.  I honestly don’t remember if I claimed them as my own before the season started or once I realized how good they were going to be.

The Astros were the antithesis of a team I’d typically root for—they played in a spacious domed stadium on fake grass that neutralized home run hitters and all but demanded they play small ball, and they wore uniforms that an Emerald City munchkin wouldn’t be caught dead in.  But what Houston lacked in power at the plate—they finished 10th in homers with only 75 and eighth in slugging at .367—they more than made up for on the mound with Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard.  Joe Niekro and his knuckleball led the squad with 20 wins but he fanned only 127 in 256 innings.  Ryan, on the other hand, went only 11-10 but fanned 200 in 233 2/3 innings; and Richard was outstanding, going 10-4 with a 1.90 ERA and 119 whiffs in 113 2/3 innings before suffering a stroke in July that ended what could and should have been a fantastic career.

Regardless of their lack of explosiveness, the Astros were fun to watch.  They stole 194 bases, good for fourth in the league, and were led by Cesar Cedeno with 48, and five others who stole at least 20—Jose Cruz (36), Terry Puhl (27), Joe Morgan (24), Rafael Landestoy (23), and Enos Cabell (21).  Thanks to Ryan and Richard, Houston led the majors in strikeouts with 929, and their bullpen-by-committee led by Joe Sambito (17 saves, 2.19 ERA), Frank LaCorte (11, 2.82), and Dave Smith (10, 1.93) saved 41 games, good for third in the N.L.

Alas, they lost against the Phillies in heartbreaking fashion in the NLCS, dropping Game 5 at home when the Phils scored five runs in the eighth and one in the 10th for an 8-7 victory.  As an historian I should have been happy that the Phillies won their first championship in franchise history, but I was only 13 in 1980 and was very disappointed that the ‘stros didn’t go to the World Series that year.

1981 Montreal Expos: If I was disappointed in the Astros in 1980, I was about to be crushed by the Montreal Expos in 1981 (or at least by Rick Monday).  By the time ’81 rolled around, Gary Carter had usurped Stargell as my favorite N.L. player, and looking back on it it makes perfect sense.  Carter wore number 8 like Yaz and Stargell and was a catcher, the same position I’d been playing since I was 12.

Gary Carter tags out Jim Rice during the 1986 World Series. Little did I know my former favorite NL player would eventually become the enemy. (Getty Images/T.G. Higgins)

At first glance, it doesn’t look like the Expos had the power I so craved—they hit only 81 homers as a team and boasted only two players, Andre Dawson (24) and Carter (16), who hit more than 10 round-trippers—but 1981 was a strike season and the ‘spos played only 108 games that season.  In actuality their 81 four-baggers were good for second in the league. They also boasted speed and paced the senior circuit in steals with 138, thanks mostly to Tim Raines’ league-leading 71 thefts.

The Expos were also solid on the mound and in the field, finishing with a 3.30 ERA that ranked fourth in the N.L. and a .981 fielding percentage that was tied for first.  Only one hurler, Steve Rogers (12), won more than nine games but the rest of the rotation— Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, Ray Burris, and Charlie Lea—was very good, posting a 3.21 ERA in just over 655 innings.  And the bullpen was mostly outstanding, led by Woodie Fryman (7 saves, 1.88 ERA), Jeff Reardon (6, 1.30), Bill “Spaceman” Lee (6, 2.94), and Elias Sosa (3, 3.66).

Those of us who are old enough to remember 1981 also remember the debacle that transpired when it was announced that the season would be split into two halves (although it sort of foreshadowed what the wild card would bring to the postseason 15 years later).  The Expos finished in third place in the first half and took first in the second.  The Phillies did the opposite and also landed in the postseason.  In the N.L. West, the Dodgers made the playoffs on the strength of a major league best .632 first half winning percentage, even though they finished fourth in the second half, and the Astros advanced to the playoffs when they took first in the second half.  Meanwhile the Cincinnati Reds, who finished with the best winning percentage in all of baseball at .611, got screwed because they failed to take first place in either half, finishing second both times.

Regardless of the format, the N.L. playoffs were exciting all the way around; the Astros took a two-games-to-none lead against the Dodgers in the division series, but Los Angeles roared back and won the next three to advance to the NLCS.  The Expos also took a two-game lead over the Phillies before the Phils won Games 3 and 4 to force a Game 5 won by Montreal behind a six-hit shutout by Rogers.  The NLCS proved to be a seesaw battle—the Dodgers took Game 1, 5-1; Montreal won Games 2 and 3 behind a five-hit shutout by Ray Burris, and a one-run gem by Rogers; L.A took Game 4, 7-1, and set up a thrilling Game 5 in Montreal.

The Expos “jumped on” eventual Cy Young Award winner and Rookie of the Year Fernando Valenzuela in the first and plated a run courtesy of a Raines lead-off double, a bunt, and a run-scoring double play grounder by Dawson.  But Valenzuela settled down and allowed only two hits the rest of the way.  Burris was almost as good, allowing only two hits through four before surrendering a run in the top of the fifth on two hits, a wild pitch, and a Valenzuela ground out to tie the game at 1-1.

Both pitchers buckled down and left the contest in the hands of relievers in the ninth.  Jim Fanning, who led Montreal to a 16-11 finish after replacing Dick Williams, who was fired after leading the team to a 44-37 mark, tabbed his ace Steve Rogers to pitch the top of the ninth.  Rogers had no relief appearances that year and only two in 289 games to that point in his career, but the Expos bullpen had been awful against the Dodgers, having allowed 7 earned runs in only 2 2/3 innings.

Fanning looked like a genius when Rogers retired Steve Garvey on a popup to second base and Ron Cey on a long drive that Raines corralled in the left field corner, but Monday took Rogers deep for the go-ahead run before he struck out Pedro Guerrero to end the frame.  Valenzuela issued consecutive two-out walks to Carter and Larry Parrish in the bottom of the ninth before Bob Welch came in and coaxed Jerry White to ground out to Davey Lopes at second.

Even though the Astros lost in 1980, it was the first time a non-Red Sox team had broken my heart and it still stings to this day.

1984 Chicago Cubs: 1979, 2004, and 2007 notwithstanding, the 1984 season was and still is my favorite.  Actually it all began a year earlier when we got cable television for the first time.  My dad pulled me aside and asked a simple question: “Braves or Cubs?”  Had I given it much thought, I probably would have gone with the Braves due to their long history in Boston, but the Braves were boring and being a Red Sox fan, the lovable loser Cubs seemed to be the obvious choice—they played day games in Wrigley Field and had Harry Caray.  Besides, I’m a glutton for punishment.

But it all paid off in 1984 when the Cubs won 96 games and posted their best winning percentage since 1945.  What made it so fun was that my friends also adopted the Cubs and we hung out all summer and at the start of the school year watching our Cubbies march toward the postseason.  In fact, I remember skipping classes to watch them play on the TV in my films class.  Ryne Sandberg, who formed the second half of the “Daily Double” with Bob Dernier, became my new favorite player.  Their lineup of Jody Davis, Leon Durham, Sandberg, Ron Cey, Larry Bowa, “Sarge” Mathews, Dernier, and Keith Moreland was a blast to watch and it seemed like one of them was always coming up in the late innings with a chance to win the game.

Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1 for the Cubs in 1984 and won the NL Cy Young Award. (Newscom/mark Cowan)

The Cubs were already playing well through June 12, winning at a .576 clip, but they improved even more with the acquisition of righthander Rick Sutcliffe on June 13.  Sutcliffe went 16-1 for the Cubs, his only loss coming in his third start.  After that he reeled off 14 straight wins, then took Game 1 of the NLCS with a convincing 13-0 win over the Padres.  He also homered in that game, along with teammates Cey, Dernier, and Mathews, who belted two.

It looked like the series with San Diego was over by the fifth inning of Game 1, then when Steve Trout beat the Pads, 4-2, in Game 2, my friends and I started making plans for a Cubs/Tigers World Series, a rematch of the 1945 Fall Classic.  But the Padres won Game 3, 7-1, behind Ed Whitson, and held a 5-3 lead going into the eighth inning of Game 4, before the Cubs tied it on two singles and a Jody Davis double off Goose Gossage.  Jim Frey brought closer Lee Smith into the game and he survived a single and a Sandberg error to escape the bottom of the eighth.  Unfortunately the bottom of the ninth was a different story.

Craig Lefferts loaded the bases in the top of the ninth, but Cey grounded out to second to end the threat.  That set up a dramatic finish that I’ll never forget.  Smith fanned Alan Wiggins to lead off the inning then gave up a single to Tony Gwynn, bringing up Steve Garvey.  Garvey was one of my best friends’ favorite players and, frankly, I couldn’t stand him.  So what happened next was even more painful.  Garvey drove Smith’s second pitch over the right field wall for a game-winning two-run homer to tie the series at two games apiece.

Still my buddies and I were hopeful going into Game 5, especially knowing Sutcliffe would be taking the bump.  When the Cubs jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead on a Durham two-run shot in the first and a solo blast by Jody Davis in the second, we started counting down the innings.  But Sutcliffe finally wavered in the sixth and the Padres cut the lead to 3-2.  Then Durham gave back the runs he’d earned with his first-inning four-bagger with shoddy defense in the seventh that led to four Padres runs.  With runners at first and second, pinch hitter Tim Flannery bounced a grounder to first that scooted between Durham’s legs and into right field.  Martinez scored to tie the game at 3-3, then Wiggins, Gwynn, and Garvey followed with hits that plated three more to give San Diego a 6-3 lead that they’d never relinquish.

Of course, something similar would happen to Boston first baseman Bill Buckner in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, forcing me to suffer through two crucial E3’s in two years.  The ’84 playoff loss by the Cubs still remains the most painful non-Red Sox postseason meltdown of my life and I wonder how much better a Cubs/Tigers Fall Classic would have been than the dreck the ’84 Series actually was.

1987 Minnesota Twins: The ’87 Twins are the only team on this list that I didn’t adopt prior to the season for obvious reasons—I’m a Red Sox fan; the Twins are an A.L. team; and after the Sox came within one strike of beating the Mets in the ’86 Series, I had no reason to believe they wouldn’t be in the postseason again the next year.  Boy, was I wrong.  The Sox finished with a .481 winning percentage, only the second time they’d finished under .500 since 1966.  Still it wasn’t until the playoffs rolled around that I decided to jump on the Twins’ bandwagon.

Of course, the decision was a no-brainer—the Twins were a junior circuit club that didn’t play in the A.L. East (I just can’t root for division rivals); they had three 30-homer guys and one, Kirby Puckett, who just missed with 28; they finished third in the league in slugging at .430; and they were charismatic, featuring a roster that included Puckett, Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Joe Niekro, and Jeff Reardon.

The Twins were the antithesis of teams that win championships, finishing 10th in ERA at 4.63, and boasting only two pitchers—Viola (17) and Blyleven (15)—with double-digit win totals.  Minnesota’s third starter, Les Straker, went 8-10, and the remaining starters went 10-24 with a 6.43 ERA.  So much for the old axiom that good pitching beats good hitting.

Sticking with the theme of rooting for players who wore number 8, I gravitated toward third baseman Gary Gaetti and my allegiance paid off when Gaetti went off during the postseason, belting three homers with nine RBIs and a .574 slugging percentage in 12 games and winning the ALCS MVP award.  And even though the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome goes against everything I believe a stadium should be, it played a large role in the Series and caused rumors of unsportsmanlike conduct when opponents accused Twins management of using the dome’s ventilation system to their advantage, having the fans blow out to the outfield when the Twins were at bat, then having them blow in towards the plate when opponents batted.

In 2003, Dick Ericson, former Metrodome superintendent, admitted to manipulating the ventilation system and insisted the fans were blowing out when Kirby Puckett hit his 11th-inning, game-winning  home run off Braves hurler Charlie Leibrandt in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.  Whether the ventilation fans actually had an impact or not is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is how the human fans motivated the Twins with their ear-shattering crowd noise and “Homer Hankies” frantically waving all throughout the dome.

During the regular season, the Twins won more than 69% of their home games (56-25), but won only 36% of their games on the road (29-52).  That trend continued during the postseason when the Twins went 6-0 at the Metrodome but only 2-4 on the road.  When they fell behind three games to two after Game 5, I wasn’t worried because I had confidence that the Twins would win Games 6 and 7 at home, and I was right.  They took Game 6, 11-5, then won Game 7, 4-2, to cop their first championship since moving to Minnesota in 1961 and first in Washington/Minnesota franchise history since the Walter Johnson/Goose Goslin-led Senators beat John McGraw’s New York Giants in 1924.  Not quite as good as an ’86 title would have meant to me, my Red Sox and the city of Boston, but still a lot of fun to watch.

1993 Philadelphia Phillies: This is the one team on this list that I adopted not so much because I liked them but because I expected them to win.  Of course, I came to love them, and I was right about them winning, although they lost a heartbreaker to the Blue Jays in that year’s World Series.  Prior to the season, a friend called and asked who I was picking to win the Series.  When I told him I was riding the Phillies from beginning to end, he was shocked and accused me of bailing on the Red Sox.

I wasn’t bailing on the Sox as much as I was confident that the Phils would have a breakout season.  Looking back on it, there was little reason to believe that a team who’d suffered through six straight losing seasons would be any better in 1993.  In fact, The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, and All-Star Baseball had the Phils finishing in sixth place, mainly because that’s where they finished in 1992 with a 70-92 record.  Only Baseball Illustrated, among my collection of baseball preview magazines, had Philadelphia finishing anywhere near the top of the division (third place).

SI called Philly’s offseason acquisitions of outfielder Pete Incaviglia and pitcher Danny Jackson “insufficient” and “infinitesimal,” yet Inky led the team with 24 homers (tied with Darren Daulton) and a .530 slugging percentage, and Jackson won 12 games and posted a solid 3.77 ERA in 32 starts.  The rest of the team was made up of castoffs and misfits, like Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams, and Jim Eisenreich, who batted .290 in a 15-year career despite suffering from Tourette syndrome.

Dykstra predicted he’d win the N.L. batting title, but fell 65 points short of Andres Galarraga.  Still, he led the league in at-bats, plate appearances, runs, walks and hits, and was arguably the senior circuit’s second best player behind only Barry Bonds.

Curt Schilling posted a 2.59 ERA in the 1993 postseason en route to becoming perhaps the greatest pitcher in postseason history. (Getty Images/Craig Melvin)

Daulton drove in 105 runs and walked 117 times, and finished seventh in MVP voting; Kruk hit .316 with 14 homers, 85 RBIs, and 111 walks, and made his third straight All-Star team; third baseman Dave Hollins drove in a career-best 93 runs and earned his only All-Star berth; and Eisenreich batted .318.  The pitching staff was led by future Red Sox hero and friend Curt Schilling, who won 16 games in the regular season, then sliced and diced the Braves in the NLCS to the tune of a 1.69 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 16 innings.  Former Braves prospect Tommy Greene went 16-4 with a very good 3.42 ERA.  Southpaw Terry Mulholland led the staff with a career-best 3.25 ERA, and Williams saved a career-high 43 games while taking manager Jim Fregosi on a nightly, hair-raising roller coaster ride, getting himself into jams with his 6.4 walks per nine innings before getting himself out of them.

The Braves and Phillies locked horns in an NLCS that featured three one-run games, two of which went 10 innings, before Philadelphia put Atlanta away with a 6-3 win in Game 6.  Schilling was named series MVP thanks to his dominance over Atlanta’s batters, and Dykstra and Hollins led the Phillies with two homers each.  Meanwhile the Blue Jays took out the White Sox in six games to reach their second straight World Series.

The Jays and Phils split the first two World Series games before the Jays spanked Philadelphia in Game 3, 10-3, then took a thrilling seesaw battle in Game 4 that featured 29 runs, 32 hits, and a six-run Toronto eighth inning that took the Blue Jays from a 14-9 deficit to a 15-14 win.  Williams was saddled with his third blown save of the postseason and things wouldn’t get better from there.  Schilling was brilliant in Game 5, tossing a five-hit shutout to pull the Phils to within one game, but “Wild Thing” blew his fourth save in historic fashion in Game 6 when he lost a 6-5 ninth-inning lead on a walk to Rickey Henderson, a single by Paul Molitor and a three-run, game and Series-winning blast by Joe Carter that barely cleared the left field wall on a line.

It was only the second time in World Series history that the Fall Classic ended with a home run, the first being in 1960 when Bill Mazeroski’s homer defeated the Yankees.  Williams went 0-2 with two blown saves and a 20.25 ERA in three appearances.

I wasn’t as devastated about the ’93 Phils’ World Series loss as I was about the Expos and Cubs’ playoff losses, but I was really hoping I’d be able to brag about my preseason prediction for the rest of my life.  Oh well, they still made it farther than most experts expected and I was ahead of the curve.

Comments

3 Responses to “These Are a Few of My Fav-o-rite Teams”
  1. Rick Canale says:

    Great insight. Thanks for sharing. Ironically, I share many of the same. But I prefer the ’78 Red Sox and the ’83 White Sox.

  2. Paul Gotham says:

    There must be something about being eight years old. I can recite the ’73 Mets team without batting an eye: Jerry Grote behind the dish. Milner at first. Millan at second. Harrelson at short. Garrett manning the hot corner. Staub, Hahn and Jones in the outfield. Seaver, Matlack, Koosman and Tug McGraw. “Say Hey” came back to New York. After listening to my father’s stories about the “Say Hey” kid, I now had the chance to see him on East Coast time. I loved that team.

    Until the age of 11, I spent summers with my grandma in the bustling metropolis of Ogdensburg, New York. I had two choices for baseball: WPIX and the Yankees or listening on the radio to the Montreal Expos. I chose the radio (sometimes in French – Mon Dieu!). That Expos team does not get enough credit.

    Thanks for the read. I might steal this idea. ;)

  3. Jeff Polman says:

    Your beloved ’77 Bosox are a scant half game behind Kansas City in my Strat replay blog. Yaz did all the damage early, but now Jim Ed Rice is coming on. It took him 13 or so games to get his first RBI and he’s now close to 40 as they enter June. A sizzling race lies ahead!

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