The 1983 season was one of great change for a Philadelphia Phillies organization that had achieved tremendous success over the previous decade. The Phillies had won the 1980 World Series, four NL East division crowns, and earned a postseason berth in a 1981 campaign split by a work stoppage.
As longtime 1980 World Series-winning stars Mike Schmidt (33), Garry Maddox (32), Steve Carlton (38), Ron Reed (40), and Tug McGraw (38) aged, the team looked to both get younger and continue to contend against tough competition.
Already gone were slugger Greg Luzinski, sold to the Chicago White Sox in March of 1981. Long time shortstop Larry Bowa was traded to the Chicago Cubs in January of 1982 along with an infield prospect named Ryne Sandberg in exchange for shortstop Ivan DeJesus. A month later, Bake McBride was dealt away to the Cleveland Indians for reliever Sid Monge.
In December of 1982, popular 2nd baseman Manny Trillo was part of a five-player package sent to the Cleveland Indians for young outfielder Von Hayes. That same month, the club dealt a pair of good arms in Mike Krukow and Mark Davis as part of a package to the San Francisco Giants for veteran 2nd baseman Joe Morgan and reliever Al Holland.
Morgan was 39-years old, and was now reunited with his old Cincinnati buddy Pete Rose, now 42-years old and in his final season of a five-year contract with the Phillies. The ‘Big Red Machine’ Reunion would be completed when the Phillies signed Tony Perez as a free agent at the end of January 1983.
With the exception of the 24-year old Hayes, every Phillies positional starter was at least 30 years of age, as were three members of the season-opening starting pitching rotation, and the majority of the bullpen. The club was so long in the tooth that they were given the nickname the “Wheeze Kids”, a nod to the 1950 NL champs who had been so young that they had become the “Whiz Kids” in team lore.
While they did not have youth in common with that 1950 ball club, the 1983 Phillies had the most important thing in common with that team of 35 years earlier, they were winners. They overcame an 0-3 start to win 16 of the next 22 games, and take first place into mid-May.
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Playing in the franchise’ Centennial season, the early winning stretch included a victory on May 1st, the exact 100th anniversary of the franchise’ first game. In early June, lefty Steve Carlton passed Nolan Ryan to become the all-time MLB strikeout king.
The club began to struggle, and from May 11th through June 29th, they fell into a horrid 16-26 stretch that dropped the team into 3rd place. They battled back into a tie for the division lead, but following a 4th loss in 5 games on July 13th, manager Pat Corrales was fired.
It was a fairly unusual move, since the Phillies were in first place. However, just three games over the .500 mark, GM Paul Owens and ownership believed that a change was needed. Owens himself decided to don a uniform and take over as the field general.
The Phillies would lose his first two games and five of their first seven games with Owens as the skipper to fall below the .500 mark and down into 4th place. However, during a season in which no team wanted to take charge in the NL East race, the floundering Phils were still just two games out.
It appeared that all it would take to win the division would be for any of the teams to go on a hot streak. The Phillies would on two, sandwiched around another cold stretch. An 11-4 stretch in the first half of August pushed the Phils back into first place. The team then proceeded to lose 13 of 17 to drop back to 3rd place. Yet still, they were only a half-game off the pace.
That was when the veteran Phillies finally decided to take charge, take the NL East by the scruff of the neck, and win the darned thing. From September 6th through the end of the regular season, the club would finish on a torrid 21-5 roll. Still tied for the division lead as late as September 17th, the Phils won 14 of their last 16 to finish with a six game cushion.
At Wrigley Field on Wednesday, September 27th, the Phillies clinched the National League East crown with a big 13-6 win. The losing pitcher that day for the Chicago Cubs was Dick Ruthven, one of the 1980 World Series heroes who had begun this ’83 season still in the Phillies rotation, but who was dealt to the Cubbies in late May for reliever Willie Hernandez.
In the NLCS, the Phillies would face a familiar foe in the Los Angeles Dodgers. In wiping away the ghosts of the ’77 and ’78 losses, this Phillies team would win the series 3 games to 1, blitzing LA by identical 7-2 scores in the 3rd and 4th games.
That sent the Phils into the World Series to face the American League champion Baltimore Orioles. The O’s had pulled away in the AL East during the month of September, winning 98 games and taking the division by six. In the ALCS, Baltimore lost the opener to the Chicago White Sox, but stormed back to win the next three straight, two by shutout.
That was the setup for Game One of the 1980 World Series, which would take place at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The Orioles manager Joe Altobelli was in his first season succeeding future Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, and selected 29-year old righty Scott McGregor for the start in the opener. McGregor had gone 18-7 and thrown 260 strong innings during a season in which he would finish 6th in AL Cy Young voting.
For the Phillies, Owens would send out 30-year old righty John Denny, who had come to the Phils from Cleveland in September of 1982 in exchange for three prospects, none of whom would ever really pan out. Denny had by far the best of his 13 career MLB seasons with the Phillies in 1983, going 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA over 242.2 innings for which he would win the National League Cy Young Award.
Denny was outstanding for the Phillies in that Game One. He would throw 109 pitches, 73 for strikes, over 7.2 innings in which he would allow just four hits and one run. That lone Orioles run scored on the 7th pitch that he threw, when the 2nd batter in the Orioles’ order, right fielder Jim Dwyer, ripped a solo home run deep into the right field stands.
That 1-0 Orioles lead held into the top of the 6th, when the Phillies finally got to McGregor with a long ball of their own. With two outs and on a 1-2-pitch, Morgan blasted his own solo shot to deep right, tying the score at 1-1.
The game continued as a match between McGregor and Denny into the 8th, and there in the top of the 8th came the game’s decisive blow. Maddox, a 12-year veteran and notorious first-pitch swinger who was not known as a big home run threat, took a first-pitch fastball and rifled it out to deep left field for another solo homer, pushing the Phillies on top 2-1.
In the bottom of the 9th, Holland would have to face the Orioles’ 3-4-5 hitters with the Phillies clinging to that 2-1 lead. First up was a 2nd year shortstop by the name of Cal Ripken Jr. The 1982 AL Rookie of the Year, Ripken had quickly become one of the best players in baseball.
In that 1983 campaign, Ripken had hit for a .318/.371/.517 slash line with 27 homers and 102 RBI. He led the Al in runs (121), doubles (47) and hits (211), and would be named the American League Most Valuable Player. On an 0-2 pitch, Holland got Ripken to pop into foul territory behind 3rd base, and DeJesus camped under it for the first out.
Next up was the Orioles cleanup hitter and, like Ripken, a future Baseball Hall of Famer. 1st baseman Eddie Murray was a 27-year old, 7-year veteran who hit for a .306/.393/.538 slash line with 33 homers, 111 RBI, and 115 runs scored in 1983. On a 2-2 pitch, Holland struck him out swinging. Two major threats to the one-run lead down.
The Orioles last hope would be pinch-hitter Gary Roenicke. With Holland a left-hander and lefty John Lowenstein due up, Altobelli made the move to the dangerous Roenicke, who had banged 19 homers in just 366 plate appearances as a platoon outfielder. On a 3-2 pitch, Roenicke drove a ball deep to left field. But Gary Matthews went back to the wall and camped under it, cradling the final out of a Phillies win.
The Phillies had a 1-0 lead in the 1983 World Series, with 3 of the next 4 games scheduled to be played in front of their home fans at Veteran’s Stadium. Unfortunately, this one wouldn’t go their way. The ‘Wheeze Kids’ would finally run out of gas, with the Orioles sweeping the next four straight.
In all, the Phils would score just nine total runs over the five games of the 1983 World Series. A pair of future Hall of Famers, Carlton for the Phils, Jim Palmer for the Orioles, would get the decisions in Game Three at The Vet. McGregor would bounce back to shutout the Phillies in the decisive Game Five in Philly just five days after this opener.
The series MVP was Baltimore catcher Rick Dempsey, who hit .385 with a homer and four doubles, and who played flawless defense and was a zen master to the O’s pitching staff. It would be 14 years before the Orioles would return to the postseason, while the Phillies would not return for a decade. When this Phillies Fall Classics series continues, it will be with that magical 1993 team as the surprising stars.