Party like it’s 1985

The Royals won again last night. The Brewers and Indians both lost.

This is starting to look a lot like 1985. That was the year Kansas City won its first–and only–World Series championship, rallying from a 3-1 deficit vs. St. Louis, thanks in large part, though, to a blown call at first base in the ninth inning of game six by umpire Don Denkinger.

Meanwhile, the Brewers and Indians were in a dog-eat-dog race for sixth place in the American League East. The two teams occupied the bottom rungs of the division in 1984, with Cleveland 75-87 and Milwaukee 67-94. Although the Brewers played the entire 1984 season without their future Hall of Fame third baseman and team leader, Paul Molitor, there wasn’t much hope for the Wisconsinites even with Molitor healthy in 1985. The Brewers, who won the American League pennant in 1982 and came within one win of a world championship, simply didn’t have any pitching, despite Molitor and another Hall of Fame shoo-in, Robin Yount, anchoring the offense.

At least Milwaukee could hit. Cleveland couldn’t hit, nor could it pitch.

Sure enough, when the season ended, Milwaukee found itself 71-90 and in sixth place, a cool 25 1/2 games behind division champion Toronto.

As bad as that was, Cleveland was 11 1/2 games WORSE, going 60-102. The only thing which saved the Indians from the worst record in the Majors was the beyond pathetic Pirates, who were 57-104.

Pittsburgh baseball hit rock bottom in 1985. Numerous Pirates, both on the 1985 team and since departed, were addicted to cocaine, and they were subpoenaed by a grand jury in the Steel City to testify about the rampant use of the illicit drug in Major League Baseball.

Although the 2015 season is not a month old, the Brewers and Indians are in free fall. Through tonight’s games, they are a combined 10-30 (Cleveland 6-13, Milwaukee 4-17), and not surprisingly, own the worst records in their respective leagues.

The Cardinals and Dodgers, the two teams which played for the National League pennant in 1985, lead their divisions. The Mets, whose 98 victories left them three games shy of St. Louis in the NL East, have the best record in the Senior Circuit right now. 1985 AL East champion Toronto is hovering around .500, but it’s early, and the AL East figures to be a mediocre division.

I wasn’t quite nine years old in April 1985, but for some reason, several events from that month stick out in my mind three decades later.

The first came on the night of April Fool’s Day, when Villanova stunned Georgetown in the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game at Lexington’s Rupp Arena.

The Hoyas won the 1984 national championship, and with three-time All-American and 1984 National Player of the year Patrick Ewing back for his senior campaign, John Thompson’s club was the overwhelming favorite to repeat.

Villanova finished fourth in the rugged Big East Conference, finishing behind Georgetown, St. John’s and Syracuse. The Wildcats of coach Rollie Massamino earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, which expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Wildcats, who had not been to the Final Four since All-American Howard Porter starred for the south Philadelphia Catholic school in 1971, were seeded eighth (out of 16) in the Southeast region.

However, once the tournament began, the Wildcats roared to life. They upended top seed MIchigan in the second round, and won regional games at Birmingham over ACC powers Maryland (led by Len Bias) and North Carolina to reach the Final Four, where they would be joined by conference rivals Georgetown and St. John’s, plus Memphis State (now Memphis) from the now-defunct Metro Conference.

Villanova dispatched Memphis State and Georgetown ousted St. John’s to set up the fourth meeting of the season between the Catholic schools, separated by less than 150 miles of Interstate 95.

The Wildcats played what has been called by many the best half of basketball in tournament history in the second half. Villanova hit 22 of 25 field goal attempts, an astonishing 88 percent, and won 66-64.

It was the final game before the NCAA adopted a shot clock for all games. Several conferences had experimented with it in the early 1980s, but it was not universally adopted until the fall of 1985.

Less than 48 hours after Villanova’s amazing victory, my parents, my brother and I departed for an Easter vacation to Walt Disney World.

Let me just say that trip is not one of the most pleasant memories of my life.

In fact, the opposite.

The first night told me this would be trouble. My father insisted on stopping for dinner at a truck stop off of Interstate 10 in the Florida panhandle, approximately 70 miles west of Tallahassee, the state capital and the city where we would stop for the night before completing the trip to Orlando the next day.

The food was terrible. The service was awful, and we got the short shrift since we were not truckers. My dad vowed never to eat at a truck stop again, the only good thing to come out of this trip.

The next day, it went from bad to worse.

One of the tires on our 1978 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon went flat on Interstate 75 near Gainesville, home to the Florida Gators. I already was not enamored with Florida, since it was a rival of LSU’s in the Southeastern Conferenc,e but the tire blowout gave me another reason to loathe Gainesville.

It wouldn’t be the last bad experience with the city.

Since only one tire was damaged, my dad put the spare on and we made it to Kissimmee, where we checked into our hotel.

I found nothing really exciting about the exhibits at Disney World. The lines were way too long. At least a cold front came through central Florida, meaning it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. However, the Saturday before Easter, we were stuck in the hotel most of the day by rain.

We visited Epcot Center the last full day, which was far better in my estimation than the Magic Kingdom. If I had my druthers, I would have far preferred Anaheim to Orlando.

When we left the Tuesday after Easter, my father got lost and we took a circuitous route back to the Florida Turnpike, which led to I-75 south of Ocala. Gainesville was on the horizon.

And more trouble.

Two tire blowouts on one trip is almost unheard of. To have it happen in the same city must mean we did something very wrong to anger God.

This time, TWO tires were blown out in Gainesville, and we spent almost three hours in a Firestone store in Gainesville while the tires were repaired.

I have not looked at photos from this trip. Ever. Maybe they were flooded by Katrina.

Two weeks after the trip to Disney World, New Coke debuted.

There were rampant rumors throughout the first quarter of 1985 Coca-Cola would be changing its formula in order to combat the rapid rise of Pepsi, which had been a rival of Coke’s for nearly a century, yet never could come close to eclipsing Coke’s popularity, especially in the South. Coca-Cola’s world headquarters are in Atlanta, and in the Deep South, when you say “soft drink”, it almost always means “Coke”. Pepsi is frowned upon as “Yankee Cola” by many southerners, although it was invented in North Carolina.

April 23, 1985 was the big day. It wasn’t a day which will live in infamy, like Pearl Harbor Day was, but it certainly will be remembered as the introduction of one of the great marketing flops in American history.

Less than three months after New Coke hit the shelves, Coca-Cola agreed to bring back the old formula as Coca-Cola Classic. You would have thought cancer and AIDS had been cured in one fell swoop.

Nobody had any idea what was in store for the rest of 1985. But April had more than its fair share of hijinks.

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on April 29, 2015, in History, Major League Baseball and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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