Phillies Time Machine: 1981

The 1980 season provided Philadelphia baseball fans with euphoria. Just one year later, Major League Baseball would shoot itself in the foot with a players strike and an ill conceived split season plan. In some bit of irony, the Phillies went into the strike coming off a game where Pete Rose tied Stan Musial's National League hits record. After the strike, the Phillies weren't quite the same team.

It was June 10th and the Phillies were facing Nolan Ryan. Pete Rose tied Stan Musial as the all-time leader in hits in the National League. For one brief moment, the pending baseball strike was forgotten or at least pushed to the back burner. It was also a night when the Phillies celebrated first place after a three-run homerun by Garry Maddox gave them a 5-4 win and first place in the NL East with a 34-21 record.

It would be exactly two months later, on August 10th when Pete Rose would finally break Musial's record with a single off Mark Littell. While Pete Rose was back to hitting and breaking records, the Phillies weren't really back. The 50 day strike had seemed to deflate the Phillies balloon and the defending World Champions weren't the same team that went into the strike on a high note.

The strike also contaminated what might have been Mike Schmidt's best season of his career. Schmidty would finish the year with 31 homeruns, 91 RBI and a .316 average. There is no telling what he might have done without losing games to the strike. If you project Schmidt's stats, he could have finished with 45 homeruns and 130 RBI in a full season. While the strike only affected Schmidt's final stats and not how he played in the post-strike portion of the season, Steve Carlton's season fell apart. Going 9-1 before the strike, Carlton would go just 4-3 the rest of the way.

Gary Matthews proved to be a key addition to the Phillies. Matthews came over from the Atlanta Braves during spring training in exchange for pitcher Bob Walk. Matthews – nicknamed "Sarge" – became a fan favorite and clubhouse inspiration. In his first season in Philadelphia, Matthews hit .301 for the Phillies. The combination of Matthews, Garry Maddox and Bake McBride gave the Phillies one of the best outfields in baseball. The infield with Schmidt, Rose, Larry Bowa and Manny Trillo was also among the best in the game.

Perhaps because they had been deemed first-half champions, the Phillies seemed disinterested in the second-half of the season. They finished that half in third place in the NL East, but were set for a playoff series with the Montreal Expos, who won the second-half. The Expos too would be a team dramatically changed by the strike. Fans in Montreal quickly became disenchanted with baseball when one of the finest seasons in franchise history was interrupted. As for bad luck, the St.Louis Cardinals actually finished with the best overall record in the division, but were shutout from any postseason play by the failed playoff format.

The first two games of the series went to the Expos. Then, the series moved to Philadelphia and the Phillies roared back to even the series. With Carlton on the mound for the deciding game, the Phillies figured to have an edge. Steve Rogers though was up to the task and shutout the Phillies 3-0 to send the Expos to the NLCS, where they would lose to the Dodgers in five games.

Somewhat disappointing seasons from Dick Ruthven (12-7, 5.14) and Bake McBride (2-21-.271) who battled a sore knee throughout the season, helped to slow the Phillies. Manager Dallas Green seemed disinterested in the second-half of the season and perhaps, had his mind on what he deemed bigger and better things. After the season, Green would leave the Phillies to become the general manager of the Cubs.

With key members of the 1980 World Series team still intact, 1981 figured to be another big year for baseball in Philadelphia. Whether it was the strike or just the choice of the Baseball Gods, baseball in Philly was dealt a setback in 1981.

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