An Anniversary to Forget

Former Philadelphia Phillies Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

If you’re a long-suffering Phillies fan – and is there really any other kind? – you have the Blue Snow of 1964, Black Friday and Joe Carter, among others, stuck in your craw. For us, this day – Aug. 6 – is right up there.

It was on this date in 1981 that major league baseball, having just seen its seven-week players’ strike settled, announced that the season would be split into two “halves” and not merely continued from the point it was suspended. The four first-half division winners (the Phillies among them) would meet the second-half winners (or second-half runner-up) in a best-of-five series to decide the division’s representative in the LCS.

The Phillies, at 34-21, had the second-best record in baseball when play was halted. They were coming off a World Series victory and were playing .636 baseball (77-44) dating back to Aug. 11, 1980.

Gary Matthews, Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and Steve Carlton were leading the way and they looked well on their way to defending their title. But …

The second half became meaningless for the first first-half winners (Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees, Athletics), who were a combined 141-87 (.618) before the stoppage and just 104-101 after it (.507).

Individually, the Phils’ second-half numbers kept pace. Mathews had a super August and Schmidt, en route to his second consecutive MVP season topped a .380 August off with a .337 September. (It would be the only full season in which he hit over .300.)

But instead of running away with the NL East and streaming into what would have been yet another LCS meeting with the Dodgers (they had met in 1977 and ’78 and would meet again in ’83, and later in 2008 and ’09), the Phils had to wait out the second half and deal with the pesky Expos, who would host the first two games of the “division series.” The Phils’ bats did not make it through customs and limped home having scored just twice in two games. They bounced back with a six-spot in each of Game 3 and Game 4 victories, but Steve Rogers out-pitched (six-hit shutout) and out-hit (a fifth-inning two-run single to break a scoreless the) them in Game 5.

The Phillies were the only one of the four first-half winners that did not win their division series. The Dodgers went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

While there is no way to be sure there would have been another parade in South Philly if baseball had decided to just pick up where it had left off, it sure did look promising.

And one wonders, does a second World Series title keep Dallas Green in Philadelphia in some capacity, so he doesn’t head off to Chicago to head the Cubs’ front office and make what would become the worst trade in Philadelphia sports history.

But that is not how it all played out.

Instead, split happened ...

Thirty-two years ago today.