There was a poignancy to the victory party last Friday afternoon in Dodger Stadium, a poignancy that suffuses any gathering at which old friends get together for what may be the last time. Indeed, for many guests at the lavish shindig in the Stadium Club, where the wine flowed freely and the band played on, the joy was tempered with the knowledge that this could be more of a farewell party than anything else. The mood was: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you could be traded to San Diego.
Not even this undercurrent of fatalism could douse buoyant spirits, though. The Dodgers had come home as World Series champions for the first time in 16 years, and they had soundly beaten the Yankees, the team that had humiliated them in 1977 and '78. Somehow, an estimated 80,000 Angelenos got off the freeways long enough to salute the Dodgers in a victory parade to City Hall. And now the players were celebrating in relative privacy, savoring this sweet victory. Tomorrow was another day.
The Dodgers had every right to toast themselves. As they had in the two National League playoffs, they had come battling from behind to win. They won the Series exactly as the Yankees had in '78, losing the first two games on the road, winning the next three at home and finishing up with a lopsided win in their rivals' park. And they made the Yankees look every bit as bad as they themselves had looked in that earlier Series. In several of their losses, New York base runners more nearly resembled guys trying to crowd into a subway train than the cool professionals they usually are. Fifty-five of them were left on base, a record for a six-game Series. One Yankee who wasn't left on much was the $23 million man, Dave Winfield, and for the good reason that he had just one hit in 22 at bats.
George Frazier of New York's vaunted relief corps set another record by losing three of the six games. The only other pitcher to lose that many was Chicago's Claude (Lefty) Williams in an eight-game Series in 1919, and he is remembered as one of the Black Sox fixers. Frazier lost all his on the up-and-up, but he had help from Yankee Manager Bob Lemon, who saw fit to lift starter Tommy John in the fourth inning of the final game for pinch hitter Bobby Murcer, who then lined deep to right, typically leaving two runners stranded. John and most of the 56,513 fans in Yankee Stadium were baffled by this apparently panic-induced strategy in what was then a 1-1 game. "I couldn't believe it," said John. "I said, I hope you've got somebody in the bullpen who can hold 'em.' Logically, it wasn't a good baseball move."
Lemon's choice was Frazier, who got into the record books by quickly giving up three runs in the Dodger half of the fifth, two of them scoring on a Pedro Guerrero triple. The rout was on, to be culminated by a Guerrero homer in the eighth that delivered his fifth RBI of the game. Relievers Ron Davis, Rick Reuschel, Rudy May and Dave LaRoche couldn't stem the flood of runs, although LaRoche did strike out Davey Lopes with his LaLob, providing at least a measure of comic relief.
The Yankees played badly in that 9-2 defeat, but not nearly so badly that they deserved owner George Steinbrenner's tasteless public apology to the people of New York for his team's performance. He may ultimately have lost his credibility, though, when he alleged that he "clocked" a couple of louts in a Los Angeles hotel elevator. But if nothing else, Steinbrenner should be credited with selecting the most original venue for fisticuffs in baseball history. George may very well be the first brawler to ask his antagonists to step inside. Knocked down going up? Floored between floors? Out, please.
The Yankees showed little skill and little class in this Series. The Dodgers showed lots of character, as they ceaselessly reminded one and all. "It's never easy to come back," said Lopes, "but we've done it so many times before that we never lost confidence." Said Rick Monday, "If we had listened to what people were saying—that we didn't have a snowball's chance in hell—we'd have mailed in the scores. But we have guys who are just stubborn enough not to listen." Steve Garvey, who aspires to a career in politics, paraphrased another politician in describing L.A.'s victory as one of "blood, sweat and tears." The Dodgers also made no secret of their satisfaction in finally beating the Yankees. Three years ago, when they emerged as whining soreheads after the Yankees whipped them, the New York fans taunted them and the New York press laughed at them. Now, the worms had turned. "You don't know how sweet it is to beat New York in New York," said Lopes. "We wanted the Yankees. If somebody has kicked your butt twice, you want the chance to kick his."
The Dodgers had perhaps an even stronger motivation than revenge—the realization that for many of them it was now or never. "A lot of guys felt they weren't going to be here next year," said Jay Johnstone, whose pinch-hit two-run homer in Game 4 was called the "turning point" of the Series by many of his teammates. "A lot of them thought this would be their last chance to get that ring. I looked over in the dugout and there were Rick Monday and Reggie Smith sitting together with about 30 years in the bigs between them and no championships. Now they have a ring." Said Monday in agreement, "You don't know how many times you can go to the well."
For Johnstone, who won his first ring with the Yankees in '78, Monday and Smith there may never be another time. They're all more than 34, and their Dodger contracts all expire this year. They are aging outfielders on a team that has swarms of youngsters ready to take their places. The infielders, who have played as a unit for eight seasons and are now all more than 32, are on only slightly less shaky ground. In the '78 Series they were ridiculed as jugglers and scatter arms. This time, they were much better, although Lopes set a Series record for second basemen by committing six errors. "The infield wanted this one bad," he said.
Added Shortstop Bill Russell, "It was a silent feeling that this might be our last chance. We didn't mention it, but it was there. I'm glad it was against the Yankees. Not that we felt we owed them one, but it was just nice. Of course, we're too old to win it. We're over the hill. We've only been doing it for eight years. I think we dispelled any doubts."