Forty years ago tonight, all the pain went away for Phillies fans.
The pain of all those one-run losses in the 1915 World Series.
The pain of the Whiz Kids getting swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series.
The pain of blowing a 6½ game lead with 12 to play in 1964.
The pain of not being able to get over the hump in the National League Championship Series in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
Forty years ago tonight — October 21, 1980 — at precisely 11:29 p.m., Tug McGraw whistled a high fastball by Willie Wilson and all the pain caused by decades of just not being good enough vanished for the Phillies and their fans.
Forty years ago tonight, in their 97th year of existence, the Phillies won their first World Series with a 4-1 victory in Game 6 over the Kansas City Royals at Veterans Stadium.
All these years later, the images are fresh in the mind.
Policemen on horseback circling the field waiting for the big stadium, packed with 65,838 hopeful fans, to erupt.
McGraw walking a ninth-inning tightrope.
Dallas Green, the anxious manager, standing in the dugout, taking that huge breath of air and exhaling into the cool October night.
Bob Boone running for what seemed like an eternity in pursuit of that popup in front of the home dugout and Pete Rose being right there to save the day when it popped out of Boone's catcher's mitt.
The bases were loaded. The Royals were an extra-base hit away from tying the game ... Wilson was at the plate ... he led the majors in hits during the regular season ... he was a guy who could break the hearts of Phillies fans once again ... but not this time ... not this October ... Wilson was in a funk, having struck out 11 times previously in the series ... one more time, the huge crowd hoped ... one more time.
Swing and a miss.
Pandemonium on the field, in the seats, in the streets.
McGraw raised his arms in triumph, waiting for Mike Schmidt to leap on him, as they'd fantasized about so many times that October. Larry Bowa, the excitable shortstop, removed his cap and skipped to the mound. Rose and Boone, part of that unforgettable play moments earlier, joined the group embrace. Green pumped his right arm to the crowd as if to say, "We did it, we finally did!" as he plowed through a pack of people on his way to the dugout and the clubhouse for the official coronation.
Green was so central to that championship and to the story of the 1980 Phillies. The teams of that era had talent, but the clock was ticking. They failed to get past the NLCS in 1976, 1977 and 1978 then did not even make the playoffs in 1979, finishing in fourth place.
Paul Owens, the legendary general manager and architect of the franchise's rise throughout the 1970s, made a desperate move late in the 1979 season. He fired nice-guy manager Danny Ozark and replaced him with Green, a hulking, loud, fearless, in-your-face tough guy who had run the Phillies' minor-league system for years.
The veteran players did not like Green, but that didn't matter. Green believed the players had become too comfortable. He believed they were too country club. He believed they'd lost their fight to get over the top. He took over the job in late 1979 and immediately applied some sandpaper to all those shiny egos.
The following spring, the team assembled in Clearwater and Green laid down the law. His way or the highway. And, oh, by the way, Green told them, if we don't win this year, the team would be broken up, out with the old, in with the new. He purposely used the word "we" because he thought there were too many egos and vertical pronouns on that team.
Throughout the season, Green battled with players, sometimes publicly in the newspapers. Nowadays, in a world where players are coddled and their comfort level is prioritized more than a first-pitch strike, there would have been a revolt against Green. Players would have tiptoed upstairs and complained to the head honchos that they couldn't play for this guy.
But in 1980, in Philadelphia, things were different.
Green had the complete backing of his GM and ownership to do whatever the bleep he felt necessary to bring the team to flower before it died on the vine.
He was bulletproof.
But that's not to say things were easy. Late in the season, the 1980 Phillies were closer to dying on the vine than winning a championship. They had lost two in a row in San Diego by a combined score of 15-4 to close out the month of August. It was time for Green to go to the whip and he did that in the form of the man who'd hired him. Before a game in San Francisco on September 1, Owens entered the clubhouse and read the team the riot act. He scolded the club for its sloppy and selfish play. The caustic outburst was perfectly timed and completely effective. The Phillies won 23 of their final 34 to win the NL East by one game over Montreal. That was followed by a tense NLCS victory over Houston in which the Phils had to come from behind to win Games 4 and 5 on the road.
After all those years of not being able to scale the steep NLCS wall, the Phillies finally made it and there was no stopping them now — as the song said — in the World Series.
Years later, Bowa, the feisty shortstop who often locked horns with management, looked back at Owens' chewing-out session in the visiting clubhouse at Candlestick Park as the final kick the team needed.
"That had a lot to do with us winning," he said. "It was the turning point in our season. It was like, 'Wow. Look in the mirror!"
And as for Green's impact in getting the Phillies up and over the previously unscalable mountain ...
"We don't win without him," Bowa said.
The moments from that wonderful night 40 years ago are frozen in black and white photographs. Schmidt leaping victoriously on his teammates. Owens, Green and owner Ruly Carpenter receiving the Commissioner's Trophy during the raucous clubhouse celebration. A tearful Owens embracing McGraw. Bowa, wearing a cowboy hat, pumping up the crowd at the parade.
The pain of 1915, of 1950, of '64, '76, '77 and '78 was finally gone and the headline on the cover of the Daily News confirmed it all in bold print.
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