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THE 80's: - 1981
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1981 World Series

"For First Baseman Garvey, a .417 hitter in this Series, the win represented, 'the end of a very sentimental journey. Our infield that has played together so long may not be together much longer. What better way to finish than with a world championship.'" - Sports Illustrated (November 9, 1981)

PINSTRIPE PERSPECTIVES: Events off the field

Pope John Paul II was shot in an assassination attempt by Turkish-born Mehmet Ali Agca. Although wounded badly, he made a quick recovery and soon thereafter resumed his regular travel schedule. The attack gave birth to the infamous "Pope Mobile," a modified Range Rover with the back converted to a large box made of bullet-proof glass which allowed him to ride along, but also stand up and wave to the crowds.

President Ronald Reagan was also shot and gravely wounded by a lone gunman, John Hinckley who was quoted as attempting to impress the actress Jodi Foster. Although the president recovered fully, his press secretary, Jim Brady was wounded in the head and has remained partially paralyzed to this day. Hinckley was later deemed ill and committed to a mental institution.

Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in as the first female judge on the Supreme Court after being nominated by President Reagan. The courts 102nd appointee served as an Arizona assistant attorney general from 1965 to 1969, when she was appointed to a vacancy in the Arizona Senate. In 1974, she ran successfully for trial judge, a position she held until she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979.

FALL CLASSIC: Los Angeles Dodgers (4) vs. New York Yankees (2)

One of the greatest postseason rivalries (dating back to 1941) was reset for the Fall Classic of 1981. The New York Yankees had been in the hunt for more World Series Championships than any other team in professional baseball and the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers were their favorite prey. In the ten Series meetings between the two clubs, New York had prevailed as champs on eight occasions (6-1 against the Brooklyn Dodgers and 2-1 against the Los Angeles version). Both teams had last met in 1978 when the Yankees lost the first two outings then rebounded to beat the Nationals in four consecutive games for the crown. After a new two-tiered playoff system was introduced (due to a players strike that interrupted the regular season) the Yankees had won a tight divisional playoff over the Milwaukee Brewers (3-2) and went on to sweep the Oakland A's in the American League Championship Series.

As Game 1 started, New York showed the hometown crowd why they still were "The Greatest Show on Earth." Bob Watson opened it up with a three-run homer in the first inning (off Jerry Reuss) and his teammates collected single runs in the third and fourth innings, for a 5-1 lead going into the eighth. A confidant Yankees skipper, Bob Lemon replaced starter Ron Guidry with Ron Davis, who unfortunately walked the only two batters he faced. Attempting to divert a comeback, Goose Gossage was brought in, but he also yielded a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Jay Johnstone and a sacrifice fly to Dusty Baker. Despite the setback, he managed to get out of the inning thanks to third baseman Graig Nettles who made a clutch diving-grab of a Steve Garvey line drive that appeared headed for the far left field corner. After Ron Cey followed with a groundout, the nervous bullpen leader and his amazing infielder emerged as 5-3 winners.

Tommy John (a former Dodger who had crossed to sign with the Yanks after the '78 season) was given the start against his former mates in Game 2. Together with Gossage, he managed to hold Los Angeles to four meaningless hits on the road to a 3-0 victory. Shortstop Larry Milbourne garnered New York's only extra-base hit, (a fifth-inning double that drove in the first run) as the Yankees extended their Series-winning streak against the Dodgers to six games.

Having played ten postseason games before the World Series ever started (five against the Houston Astros in the divisional playoffs and five more against the Montreal Expos in the Championship Series) Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda's team had come too far to give up now. Their postseason marathon was nearing the home stretch and they were falling behind fast. The skipper had been eagerly awaiting the chance to introduce their new rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela to the Yankees and Game 3 provided the perfect opportunity. A good fit to face the Bombers, the lefty had pitched five shutouts in his first seven games and wound up with eight total in a 13-7 season. Despite his outstanding numbers, the inexperienced twenty-year-old surrendered nine hits (including homers to Watson and Rick Cerone) and seven walks. But somehow he managed to hold on for the 5-4 win on Cey's three-run blast in the first inning, Pedro Guerrero's RBI double in the fifth and Mike Scioscia's run-producing double-play grounder that followed.

Bob Welch drew for the start for Game 4, but failed to retire a single batter, as Los Angeles fell behind 6-3 early on. The Dodgers managed to tie it up in the sixth inning, after Jay Johnstone hammered a two-run pinch-homer and Davey Lopes (who reached second on a rare Reggie Jackson error) stole third and scored on a Bill Russell single. The comeback ignited a spark in LA's lineup and they continued to burn the Yankee rotation in the seventh inning on Steve Yeager's sacrifice fly and Lopes' run-scoring infield hit that put them ahead 8-6. "Mr. October" who was attempting to make amends for the costly fielding error in the sixth inning, erased the memory with a beautiful home run to right-center in the eighth. Although it shortened the gap, it was all the Yanks could muster and the home team went on to tie the Series up with an 8-7 victory.

Guidry and Reuss returned to face each other again in Game 5, with Reuss coming out on top 2-1 after Guerrero and Yeager both slugged back-to-back homers in the seventh inning. As the Series shifted back to the Bronx, both teams remained deadlocked in a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Lemon elected to use a pinch-hitter in place of starting pitcher John. The decision proved devastating as New York failed to score in the inning and John was rendered ineligible for the rest of the contest. As reliever George Frazier came in to pick up the pieces, he was quickly taken for three runs in the fifth inning. Guerrero later added a two-run single and a bases-empty home run while his five runs-batted-in highlighted the Dodgers' Series-clinching 9-2 triumph. Losing pitcher Frazier had suffered his third consecutive defeat, equaling the Series record established by Claude Williams of the 1919 Black Sox. Just as the Yanks had done to them in '78, the Dodgers had come from a 2-0 deficit to defeat New York in four straight games. Many Yankees fans blamed Lemon for sacrificing John so early in the game and as a result, the Series. The decision proved costly on many fronts and his tenure with the "Pinstripes" soon ended.


The '81 Classic was the eleventh time in Major League history where the New York Yankees faced the Dodgers franchise in World Series play.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the first National League team in World Series history to lose the first two (2) games, and then sweep their opponent during the next four (4) contests.

The 1981 World Series Most Valuable Player Award was the first in Fall Classic history to be awarded to more than one (1) player. It was split between Ron Cey (who went seven-for-twenty, hit .350, and drove in six runs), Pedro Guerrero (who went seven-for-twenty-one, hit .333, hit two home runs, and drove in seven runs), and catcher Steve Yeager (who went four-for-fourteen, hit .286, hit two home runs, and appeared behind the plate in all six games).

END 80's


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