Garry Maddox and the Long Winter of 1978

You’d think that someone like myself who loves LAD history more than most would be enjoying all these historic games being broadcast, or all the great blogs trying to find an angle to write about from the best player that wore a Dodger number to the best Dodger player for each position but truth be told I have thought very little about baseball over the past two months. It wasn’t just that Covid-19 had put a halt to the 2020 MLB season, I can’t seem to get past the upcoming election and how if things stay the same, this country will continue down a path I don’t want to be part of. I won’t say it consumes me, but it has changed my perspective.

Last night I noticed that game four of the 1978 NLCS was going to be on so I recorded it for late night viewing and when I settled into watch this particular game something changed, all my memories of this sport I love came flowing back. I imagine a good part of it, was this specific team. The 1973 – 1981 Dodgers were my hey day, as I watched the core grow from kids and turn into a team that could have legitimately won four World Championships instead of just one. It wasn’t just the infield of Garvey/Lopes/Russell/Cey but also Reggie Smith/Rick Monday/Dusty Baker/Lee Lacy/Joe Ferguson/Manny Mota/Steve Yeager/Burt Hooten/Tommy John/Don Sutton/Terry Forster. This was a fun and loaded team to root for.

In 1978 the Dodgers were facing a formidable Phillies team that had won the East three years in a row. The Dodgers had dispatched the Phillies in 1977 and had won the first two games of the 1978 NLCS , but after losing game three, they needed to win game four so they wouldn’t have to play a game five. The Phillies boasted HOF Mike Schmidt in his prime, the Bull Greg Luzinski, the best CF in baseball in Garry Maddox, relief expert Tug McGraw, and of course HOF Steve Carlton.

The Dodgers were no slouches, having perhaps one of the best Dodger teams to not win the World Series. They did not have any HOF position players but you could have almost fielded a complete Hall of the Very Good with a lineup of Garvey/Cey/Lopes/Reggie Smith/Dusty Baker/Rick Monday. Missing from that list is Bill Russell because Bill Russell just wasn’t that good. He could however, do one thing very well, hit singles, and in 1978 Bill had 140 of them. None of his singles were more important to Dodger history than the one he would hit in the 10th inning to send the Dodgers to the 1978 World Series.

About this game:

The Announcers were an extremely young Al Michaels, a living Don Drysdale, and a still playing Johnny Bench. I had forgotten how good a baseball play by play person, Al Michaels was. He did an excellent job in this game, and I can’t remember wincing at anything he said. He even got in a nice playful jab regarding the Sutton/Garvey hubbub that had happened earlier in the season.

The Managers were Tommy Lasorda and old friend Danny Ozark who used to coach the Dodgers. Still alive at the time was Walter Alston as they showed him in an upstairs box with what looked like four ladies who had just had their hair done in the their best Queen Elizabeth mode.

The starting pitchers were Doug Rau and Randy Lerch, not exactly the best for either team but will suited for this particular matchup. Neither was over powering, relying on finesse to get outs.

The game starts off strange enough, with HOF Mike Schmidt leading off, which made me wonder how many times did Mike Schmidt lead off? Not very many. In 1978 he lead off seven times, in his whole career he lead off eight times, so outside of 1978, you could say he never led off, but here he was leading off in the most important game of the season. Maybe Ozark knew something because Schmidt led of with double down the line. Bowa walked, and Garry Maddox blooped a single in front of Smith. Schmidt did not attempt to score and you could see he was annoyed with himself when the ball bounced away from Smith. He should have tried to score because with the bases loaded, no outs, and Luzinki/Cardenal/Martin coming up, the Philllies failed to score anyone. That inning would haunt the Phillies the rest of winter.

Jose Cardenal was batting fifth and playing 1st base for the Phillies. I have no memory of this. I remember Cardenal as a good but never great outfielder who was playing LF the day that Rick Monday ran in from CF and saved the flag from being burnt. I remember this because I was at the game, and I’ll always remember that after Monday scooped up the flag, Cardenal stayed with the guy who tried to burn the flag until security showed up. Cardenal played 1778 games in the outfield and only 58 game at 1st base, but in 1978 he played 50 of those 58 games for the Phillies. He also had a big Afro, and I loved all Afro wearing baseball players. Just something about trying to keep that hat on a big ass Afro that made me smile.

Speaking of Rick Monday. Rick didn’t start game four, Bill North did. Rick was only playing against RHP and Lerch was left-handed. When Monday came on to pinch-hit they posted his season totals and they were ok, but nothing to get excited about. Al mentioned that Rick had won the April Player of the Month which left me wondering if he had such a torrid April, and he had such pedestrian overall numbers, he must have had a really tough season after April but that isn’t quite right. Rick also had a great May, and ended April/May with an OPS of 1.096. From June 1st – August 31st he really struggled. Over that three month span, Rick only had 7 extra-base hits in 153 plate appearances.

In the bottom of the 2nd Garvey leads off and they put up stat saying that his five NLCS home runs are a record. Put a pin in that. Cey hits a double, and Dusty Baker drives him home with blooper just over Schmidts head. Cey can score because there were two outs and it wasn’t hit hard enough for anyone to throw him out. Dodger lead 1 – 0.

When Randy Lerch comes up they mention several times about his two home runs against the Pirates the previous Saturday. Those two he hit on Sept 30th, 1978 were half his career total. Lerch did drive Billy North to the wall in his last at-bat of the 1978 season in the 4th with Ted Sizemore on 3rd base. Sizemore had hit a generous triple when Reggie Smith tried to catch a sinking line drive and it skipped past him.

Al Michaels mentions that Doug Rau hasn’t give up a run yet, but every out has been a fly ball. Big D says that is OK as long as those fly balls stay away from the blue walls. A few seconds later Greg Luzinki parks a two-run blast beyond the blue walls and Johnny Bench asks Big D what was that you were saying.

Phillies now lead 2 – 1 but Ron Cey crushes a high fastball into the middle of the left field pavilion. Baker follows with his 2nd hit but Russell hits into a DP.

With the score 2 – 2, Rich Rhoden replaces Doug Rau and gives up a pinch hit home run to Bake McBride in his 2nd inning of work in the 7th. It would be the only bad pitch Rhoden would throw while getting twelve outs pitching the 6th-9th innings.

Down 3 – 2 in the bottom of the 7th, that pin I was talking about comes due. Steve Garvey launches his fourth home run of the NLCS into the exact same spot as Ron Cey and ties the game at 3. Johnny Bench cackles that Garvey just broke Garvey’s records and as he doffs his cap before heading into the dugout announces that Steve Garvey is one prime time player. Bench was right, more times than not, Steve Garvey would get the big hit. The one time he didn’t, it was because Graig Nettles was turning his rockets into outs. Garvey would win the 1978 NLCS MVP award, and he earned it, hitting four home runs in four games, six extra-base hits out of seven, and a staggering 1.611 OPS for the series. Garvey would finish second in the MVP voting but I bet you’d never guess who finished 3rd. Not without watching this game you wouldn’t.

Every time Larry Bowa would come up, one of the announcers would mention that he was in the running for the MVP. I thought they were just being silly but damn if he didn’t finish 3rd and before you say what a joke that a guy who had an OPS+ of 92 could be in the MVP conversation, let me just say, that Larry Bowa put up a bWAR of 5.8. Yup, which would have been the 5th highest bWAR in the NL in 1978 just a tick behind Jack Clark, so not so crazy. Which also made me wonder, how many players have been so defensively dominating that they could put a 5 plus bWAR while having an OPS+ below 95? Mostly SS except for two CF, hey put a pin that.

                                                
Player              OPS+ WAR/pos Year  OPS   Pos
Andrelton Simmons     90     5.8 2013 .692  *6/H
Larry Bowa            92     5.8 1978 .689    *6
Craig Counsell        89     5.5 2005 .726 *4/H6
Michael Bourn         89     5.5 2010 .686  *8/H
Gene Alley            91     5.2 1968 .628 *64/H
Maury Wills           93     5.2 1965 .660  *6/H
Ozzie Smith           84     5.1 1982 .653  *6/H
Ozzie Smith           71     5.1 1980 .589    *6
Garry Maddox          95     5.0 1979 .729  *8/H
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2020.

In the bottom of the 7th, Davey Lopes singles and the best basestealer of his generation is on 1st base. They show a quick graphic, Lopes is 45 for 49 in stolen bases and of the four catchers to catch him, one is Johnny Bench doing the color analyst, and the other is Bob Boone the catcher for the Phillies. The Philllies throw back to back pitchouts but the wily Lopes does not run on either pitchout but does run on the next pitch and steals 2nd easily and continues to 3rd when the ball goes into CF. Lopes wouldn’t score but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that between 1978 and 1979 Davey Lopes would steal 89 bases and be caught only nine times. No one was ever as good as Davey Lopes at stealing a large number of bases successfully. At the age of 40, Lopes would steal 47 bases for the Cubs and be caught only 4 times. At the age of 40.

With the score tied 3 – 3, Terry Forster pitches the 10th and Tug McGraw goes for his 2nd inning in the bottom of the 10th. Tug gets Smith to lead off the 10th. Reggie Smith was voted by the booster club as the Dodgers MVP in 1978 but he had a dismal NLCS. Reggie went three for sixteen with no walks and two of the three hits were singles. He also didn’t look good in RF. Normally an excellent RF, he bobbled a single in the 1st that should have scored Mike Schmidt, and gave Ted Sizemore a gift triple that didn’t hurt the Dodgers. Garvey made the 2nd out but Ron Cey was up and Tug McGraw walked the underappreciated Penguin bringing up Dusty Baker. Did I mention the CF for the Phillies was one of the greatest defensive players of his generation? Garry Maddox would win seven gold gloves in a row from 1976 – 1982 and was one of the most beautiful center fielders I’d ever seen play. His long legs would run down everything but on this day he simply dropped a Dusty Baker fly ball that hit him just below the hip. He just dropped it. He wasn’t done, Bill Russell hit a single up the middle and Maddox charged knowing Cey was the runner but he couldn’t come up with it cleanly and Cey scored without a play. The Dodgers were going to the 1978 World Series because the best CF in the game, dropped a fairly routine fly ball.

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