Back to the Future: 1979

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 "Can we go back to 2008, instead of 1979?"

I've heard quite a few pundits making the case lately that this season is the Phillies' "1979." Not to be confused with the Smashing Pumpkins' "1979" even though it seems like Billy Corgan has produced about the same number of big hits as Chase Utley lately.

They have essentially played about 3 and 1/3 seasons worth of baseball the last 3 seasons. Many players who have played in back to back World Series say it's harder to get back in the 3rd year.  Sometimes many key players just all have bad years in the same campaign due to longer seasons, shorter off-seasons, and probably a tendency to view the schedule as tedious after being in the post-season the last few years.

There are several similarities developing between the 1979 team and the 2010 team. The 1976-1978 Phils had won 3 straight division titles (granted, no championships though). And then in 1979 the Phils went out and signed Pete Rose to help put them over the top, similar to how they went out and acquired Roy Halladay this offseason, even though they of course had already won a championship a few years ago and are just looking to get back on top now.

The 1979 team ended up taking a step backwards and finished 4th with just 84 wins, with many players having down years. The bad seasons by so many key players combined with some bad injury luck so far have created a vibe where it feels like it's just not going to be their year in 2010. Although Mike Schmidt did have his career best HR season up to that point in 1979 with 45 (surpassed in 1980 with 48), so it didn't effect him. And Rose was 2nd in the NL in batting with a .331 average and led the NL with a .418 on base percentage, much like Halladay has been every bit as good as advertised so far. Then they rebounded to win it all in 1980. And I still believe they would have repeated in 1981 if not for the strike. They had the best record in baseball when the season came to a halt in June of that year.

This Phils of 1976-78 and 2007-09 are also similar in that the core of their starting lineups largely remained the same through 3 post-seasons. The Yankees and Braves of the 90's and 00's, who made the playoffs pretty much every season for 12-15 straight seasons, had a handful of core players, but they did a lot of tweaking of their regular position players year to year, adding new blood and players who were still hungry for that 1st title, and that probably helped keep stave off the kind of season the Phillies are in the process of having.

Most of the people who covered the Phillies during that era believe that the 1977 team was the best of all of them, including the 1980 championship team. And if Danny Ozark didn't have a brainfart and had pulled Greg Luzinski for defense in the 9th inning of Game 3 of the NLCS vs the Dodgers, like he had done all season, they very well may have won a championship in 1977. So if 2008 was similar to 1977 and 2010 is going to be like 1979, then hopefully 2011 will be like 1980. That being said, there is still plenty of time left for them to re-take control of the division. Winning 2 of 3 from the Yankees is a step in the right direction.

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2 Comments

  • Chris June 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    …they’re 3 games back and they slump at this time every year? i have fond memories of getting swept by the oakland athletics in interleague play…like every year. we just took 2 of 3 from the yankees (with moyer and kendrick pitching) in their shitty ballpark. we’re not halfway through the season and the phillies are and have been a 2nd half team. it’s not time to panic.

    Reply
  • AndrewJ June 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Interesting comparison — BBRef.com says the ’79 Phils’ high-water mark was a 24-10 record on May 17th (yes, after the 23-22 Wrigley game). Likewise, on May 17th 2010 the Phils were at 24-13. In ’79, Luzinski stopped hitting, much as Ibanez has been cold this season.
    OTOH, there are differences. The 1979 Phils had three pitchers sent to the DL on the same day (the Fourth of July, IIRC), while this Phils’ rotation has thus far been reasonably healthy. The ’79 bench was great (Del Unser, Greg Gross) and their bullpen ace (McGraw) weak, whereas the 2010 Phils have that in reverse. The ’79 Phils had an team ERA+ of 92 (even with Steve Carlton winning 18 games), while the ’10 Phils are 14 points higher.
    The 2010 Phils have an offensive black hole at short with Castro (37 OPS+) and Valdez (53). If Rollins comes back soon and performs at his typical level, the offense will come back to life.

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