This Date In Royals History – October 9, 1980
For a 42 year-old life long Royals fan it is too much for me not to return to the 1980 American League Championship Series for another look back on today’s date. This one is extra special because of the reaction shot of George Steinbrenner captured on the TV broadcast following a key eighth inning play at the plate (if you saw it then you know exactly what I’m taking about).
Game 2 of the 1980 ALCS took place on Thursday, October 9 at Royals Stadium and was the final game to be played in Kansas City. It seemed imperative that the Royals get the Yankees down two games and go to New York only needing to capture one of a possible three to finally get to the World Series. The scoring was confined to two innings with the Royals getting on the board first.
With one out in the third Darrell Porter and Frank White singled and Willie Wilson followed with a triple to score them both. UL Washington then drove Wilson in with an RBI Double and the Royals were out front 3-0. The Yankees plated two runs in the top of the fifth including an inside-the-park HR off the bat of Graig Nettles. The play of the game came in the eighth when Willie Randolph was thrown out at home to end the inning on a great relay from Willie Wilson (LF) to George Brett (3B) to Darrell Porter (C) on a Bob Watson double. This is the play that got Steinbrenner’s goat, but it wasn’t the Yankees last scoring chance.
Manager Jim Frey sent Dennis Leonard to the mound to start the ninth inning. After a lead-off Reggie Jackson single he called to the bullpen for Dan Quisenberry. With one out Rick Cerone singled and the tying run was in scoring position. Then Quiz induced a groundball double play from Graig Nettles – game over. The Royals had a 3-2 win and more importantly, as Denny Matthews said on the radio broadcast, they had pushed the Yankees to the end.
Just A Bit More: It actually pushed the Yankees owner over the edge. The eighth inning play at the plate in Game 2 of the 1980 ALCS was important in Royals history for even more than saving that game itself. Steinbrenner was furious with the play and placed the blame squarely on third base coach Mike Ferraro. In fact you can read his lips in the reaction shot shown on TV…”Ferraro!”
Despite the 103 win season, the series loss to the Royals (and the play in Game 2 particularly) stuck in Steinbrenner’s craw so much that he insisted Ferraro be replaced (some say he asked that Ferraro be relieved before ALCS Game 3 was to be played). Howser refused and weeks later left the Yankees in order to ‘pursue other business opportunities’ – which is Steinbrennerese for your fired. One of those unspecified opportunities came in late August of 1981 when Howser became the manager of the Kansas City Royals.
Our eternal thanks to George Steinbrenner for his petulance…
(Curt Nelson, Director – Royals Hall of Fame)