Can Phils Make History Repeat Itself?

If you were to open the sports pages 24 years ago today, you would have noted that the Phillies were six games behind Pittsburgh in the National League East. If you open the sports section today, you'll find that the Phillies are six games behind Atlanta in the National League East. Back in 1980, you would have also read about an event that you aren't reading about today. You would have read about a turning point to the Phillies drive for the World Series.

"He pointed fingers; he named names. It was a good one." – Phillies manager Larry Bowa.

On August 10, 1980, the Phillies were in Pittsburgh.for a double-header. They came into the night with a record of 55-50, but were not an impressive team. They had gone 29-28 through June and July and were 3-4 in the early part of August. Game one of the double-header wasn't pretty. Jim Bibby shut down the Phillies and recorded his 14th win of the season. Meanwhile, Randy Lerch fell to 3-13.

That's when it happened.

Manager Dallas Green closed and locked the clubhouse doors. Nobody would enter and nobody would leave. There was a message that needed to be delivered. "He started just in general terms," remembered Bowa. But then, the message became personal. "He pointed fingers; he named names," said Bowa jabbing his finger in the air to mimic his mentor. "It was a good one." The tirade went on almost until it was time for the Phillies to take the field for game two. Few escaped the wrath and the language wasn't very proper, but Green wasn't worried about that. One line seemed to ring in the ears of Phillies players. "You're not as good as you think you are," yelled Green.

The stunned and somewhat shaken club took the field for game two and showed little to no improvement. Bake McBride homered for the Phillies only run of the game as Don Robinson (4-5) and two relievers shut down the Phillies. The Pirates had swept not just the double-header, but had swept a four-game series with the Phillies in Pittsburgh. A somber Phillies team moved on to Chicago.

While Green's tirade didn't show an immediate impact, the Phillies manager sat back and watched. He repeated some of his words – although, very few – to the media. That one singular line that his team wasn't as good as they thought they were rang true. Little did anyone know that Green's words would inspire his team to play at a higher level. The players took on a sort of us against him mentality as they set out to prove Green wrong. Proof was needed and proof was given.

The Phillies took two out of three in Chicago and rolled into Shea Stadium for a five-game series with the Mets. When the Phillies left, the Mets were losers of all five games and the Phillies had suddenly won seven of eight and had lost just twice since Green's sermon. The Phillies were suddenly nine games over .500 and were 3 ½ games behind Pittsburgh and just 1 ½ games behind Montreal for second place. The Phillies continued to show improvement although they cooled off from their post-tirade streak. As August ended, the Pirates went into a slump of their own and the Expos and Phillies were both just ½ game behind Pittsburgh. On September 1st, the Phillies moved into a three-way tie with Pittsburgh and Montreal at the top of the division.

Just about one month after the underachieving Phillies had gone into Pittsburgh, the Pirates came to Veterans Stadium for two games. With memories of the four-game sweep in Pittsburgh still burning, the Phillies returned the favor and took both games. The Pirates were a team on the down swing, while the Phillies and Expos continued to battle for top spot in the division.

The season ended in Montreal and as the series started, the Phillies and Expos were tied at the top of the division. The Phillies won the opener on a dramatic homerun from Mike Schmidt – his 47th of the season. In the second game of the series, the Phillies scored two in the top of the 11th to pick up a 6-4 win and clinch the division.

As the celebration began, players talked openly about Green's message. They talked about what it meant to have been called out like that. They talked about the looks that they had taken in the mirror to see what was wrong with them and their club. They talked about the headlines that screamed failure on the morning of August 11, 1980 and how they had turned that around.

Today, the Phillies stand six games behind Atlanta. They have lost three of their last four while the Braves look unbeatable and have won five straight. There was no repeat of the Pittsburgh Sermon and there likely won't be. The Veterans Stadium mirrors that showed the 1980 Phillies their shortcomings are smashed and the ones at Citizens Bank Park go unused. Many around the Phillies organization fail to see just how this club has underachieved. They speak of injuries and disappointments, but they don't speak of just getting it done. The Phillies of today have a manager who has been accused of being too much like Dallas Green, but yet, they haven't truly seen the likes of Dallas Green. "You couldn't do that now," says Bowa, referring to Green's tirade. "It's a different era."

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