Dodgers v. Yankees
I wanted to beat the Yankees so badly that my hate for the putrid pinstripes was palpable. They had beaten us in the 1977 World Series, and again in 1978, and all I could think about was having one more chance to beat them.
While they were hoisting trophies and taking champagne showers, we were grimacing with the thought that we were better.
While they were getting fitted for rings, we were getting suited for revenge.
But while they were partying, we were working hard to get better. While they were on the links, we were in the batting cages taking swing after swing after swing trying to wipe away the pain of Mr. October hitting three home runs to win the last game of the 1977 Fall Classic. And the pain of watching that same villainous Hall of Famer stick his hip out to obstruct a double play throw in the ’78 Classic that would give the Yankees the game. And the pain of knowing we were up two games to none just to have them win four straight.
So in 1981, my prayers were answered. As fate would have it, we found ourselves matched up against the Yankees in the World Series, and as fate would have it, we won that World Series.
How sweet it is; the fruits of victory!
This victory meant more than being the champions of the world, which is hard to do. This was a culmination of winters of hard work and summers of glory, vigorous competition coupled with bitter defeat, childhood dreams and the hopes and prayers of grown men playing a boys game.
My Yankee oddessy started when I was a young boy. Growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania, when the Yankees would come to town to play the Philadelphia Athletics, my four brothers and I, along with every other kid in our neighborhood, would cram against and old fence at Shibe Park at peer through a hole to catch a glimpse of the Yankees. My heroes were all Yankees. I wanted to play the game with the same determination and grit as guys like Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio; and, of course, the Babe.
I eventually played at Yankee Stadium with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954 and ’55 as a pitcher, and came out of the bullpen to face guys like Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.
When I returned to Yankee Stadium in October, 1977, I returned in style. It was my first season managing the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the two biggest teams in the history of baseball would meet in the Fall Classic. We lost that series, and lost again to the Yankees in 1978. I was heartbroken each time, but proud of my guys.
My 1981 Dodgers were an exciting team. They played baseball the way it should be played, with passion, hustle desire and determination. Of course, those values were instilled into them as they developed in our farm system. Twenty one of the 25 guys on our roster were Dodger products. I managed them in the minors when they were youngsters right out of high school. I was there when Garvey made the transition from third to first, when Lopes changed from an outfielder to a second baseman, when I put Joe Ferguson behind the dish for the first time.
By 1981 these guys had been together for years, had lived together for years, had played together for years, had won together, and had by now lost to the Yankees together in two World Series. As the old baseball metaphor goes; three strikes and you’re out.
The Series was electric. We dropped the first two games but came back to win the next four in a row. In game 3 Fernando was in trouble in the fifth inning he was in a jam with the bases loaded. Everybody thought I was going to take him out. I went out to the mound and in my very best Spanish I said, ‘Oye Fernando, escuchame. Si tu no le das a este equipo no mas carreras nosotros vamos ganar este juego 8-4.’ In English it said, ‘Listen Fernando. If you don’t give up any more runs to this team we’re going to win this game 8-4.’
Fernando looked at me and said in perfect English, ‘Are you sure?’
The pitching was tremendous, and so were the position players, as we had an unprecedented tri-MVP award handed out to Steve Yeager, Ron Cey and Pedro Guerrero for their outstanding, unselfish performances. The team was more than a collection of ballplayers; it was a group of brothers.
There is a saying around baseball: It’s great to be a Yankee. But Branch Rickey indoctrinated us with our own saying: I’m proud to be a Dodger. Every day managing the Dodgers I tried to instill that pride in my players, and that pride shined bright during those 6 games in the Fall of 1981. I couldn’t have been any happier for our success, or any prouder of the tremendous effort given by each player who wore a Dodger uniform that season. They earned the title Champion, and they earned it as a team.