Philadelphia Phillies' reliever Tug McGraw looked past Kansas City Royals' left fielder Willie Wilson and saw the final sign that Bob Boone flashed to him. "Boonie" called for a fastball on the inside part of the plate.
That's the point where most Phillies' fans naturally begin to replay the night of October 21, 1980.
Ruly Carpenter (team owner), Paul Owens (general manager) and Dallas Green (assistant farm director, director of player development, and scouting director) were three of the main people who worked through the 1970s to create that 1980 World Series' season. Three consecutive National League Championship Series' losses (to the Cincinnati Reds in 1976 and to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977 and 1978) were followed by a fourth place National League East finish in 1979.
It was during that 1979 season that I had the unexpected opportunity to be taken into the Phillies' locker room during an exhibition game rain delay in Reading, Pennsylvania. The ball that McGraw signed for me in the spring of that year obviously remains a priceless memento. As I stood with my baseball heroes inside that cramped room and watched Tug finish his signature, it was impossible for me to know what famous game he would complete just one season later.
World Series Game 6, 1980
The Phillies' 1980 roster is filled with many iconic names. Lonnie Smith (left field), Pete Rose (first base), Mike Schmidt (third base), Bake McBride (right field), Greg Luzinski (designated hitter), Garry Maddox (center field), Manny Trillo (second base), Larry Bowa (shortstop) and Boone (catcher) were in manager Dallas Green's starting lineup in Game 6 of the Fall Classic.
That batting order gave Steve Carlton a 4-0 lead as he worked into the eighth inning. That's when "Lefty" allowed a leadoff walk to Royals' catcher John Wathan. After former Phillie Jose Cardenal (right field) singled, Green replaced Carlton with McGraw.
The "Tugger" got second baseman Frank White to fly out, but walked Wilson to load the bases. Shortstop U.L. Washington clenched a toothpick between his teeth as he hit a sacrifice fly that allowed Wathan to score.
Third baseman George Brett, who hit .390 during the regular season, slapped a single that loaded the bases. McGraw got designated hitter Hal McRae to ground out, which ended the threat in that inning.
Maddox, Trillo and Bowa made three quick outs in the bottom of the eighth.
After center fielder Amos Otis struck out to lead off the ninth, first baseman Willie Mays Aikens walked. Pinch-runner Onix Concepcion moved to second base after a single by Wathan. Cardenal, who retired after the season ended, got the last hit of his career as he singled to load the bases.
Rose caught White's foul pop, that tipped off Boone's glove in front of the Phillies' dugout, for the second out of the inning.
Wilson came to the plate with the bases loaded and the game's fate hardly secured. After a called first strike, he fouled off a second pitch. McGraw's third offering was a modestly high fastball that moved the scoreboard count to 1-2.
This is your story to end
Some souls who were alive during that game, including McGraw, have left us since that October night. So, it's great that Tug's first-person narrative about those moments has been preserved.
As with all collective celebrations, individual experiences offer the best recollected tales. I'm going to stop this game description at an appropriate point, so that readers can complete the story within their own minds. Those who aren't old enough to remember (or who weren't alive) should ask a seasoned baseball fan to share personal details about that special occasion with them.
On with the story: The fans in Veterans Stadium were standing as McGraw made his final windup. Across the Philadelphia region and at other Phillies' points around the world, family members and friends watched as number 45 released his last pitch. The baseball that he threw rotated through space and time as Wilson began to swing.
Sean O'Brien is based in the Philadelphia region. He began his professional career in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons' front office (the Philadelphia Phillies former Triple-A affiliate), later worked as a freelance sports writer and is currently a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo Contributor Network! You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and also read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
Other features from the Yahoo Contributor Network:
- Sports & Recreation
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Tug McGraw
- Willie Wilson
- Kansas City Royals