The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has won exactly two World Series championships over the course of 137 seasons of play. Those two world titles came in 1980 and 2008.
As part of our season-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of that 1980 team championship, over the next couple of weeks I’ll be comparing those two great Phillies teams to see whether either can legitimately be considered better than the other.
I got to enjoy each of those seasons, the first as an 18-year-old in October of 1980 and the next as a 46-year-old in October 2008. As a huge Phillies and baseball fan who has followed the club all the way back to 1971, I feel extremely qualified to hold an educated opinion on the subject.
Once this evaluation series ends, I’ll do a piece that gives my opinion as to which – if either – of these two Phillies championship teams was the better all-around squad.
There have been other great teams in Phillies history, of course. The 2011 ball club was led by the ‘Four Aces’ rotation and set a franchise record with 102 regular season victories. The 1915 team won the first pennant in franchise history during the Dead Ball Era. The ‘Whiz Kids’ won the National League pennant in 1950.
There were back-to-back 101-win teams in 1977 and 1978. The 1983 ‘Wheeze Kids’ and 1993 ‘Macho Row’ group each won NL pennants, and the 2009 Phillies gave the franchise back-to-back pennants for the lone time in franchise history.
But only two Phillies teams were able to elevate above all the others in Major League Baseball over the course of not only a six-month regular season, but also all the way through the crucible of October postseason baseball. For me, the 1980 and 2008 Phillies teams are the greatest in franchise history.
Now its time to examine whether either version can claim the title of greatest Philadelphia Phillies team of all-time. We’ll start with one of the most important areas of any baseball team, the starting pitching rotation. The hurlers below are listed in the order in which they appeared as a starting pitcher for their respective ball club.
The 1980 Phillies had two primary starting pitchers who took the ball every turn from start to finish of the season. Four more pitchers made significant contributions for a length of time. Beyond that, there were four other pitchers who each took at least one turn. One of those proved to be a September difference-maker. Stats shown are only in their role as a starting pitcher as a few pitched out of the bullpen at one time or another.
Steve Carlton – The best pitcher in baseball in 1980 won his third National League Cy Young Award for a season in which he made 38 starts: 24-9, 2.34 ERA, 1.095 WHIP, 13 complete games, 243 hits over 304 IP with 286 K’s.
Dick Ruthven – 33 starts: 17-10, 3.55 ERA, 1.410 WHIP, 241 hits over 223.1 IP with 86 K’s.
Randy Lerch – 22 starts: 4-13, 4.98 ERA, 1.541 WHIP, 157 hits over 133.2 IP with 52 K’s. Eight relief appearances as well.
Larry Christenson – 14 starts: 5-1, 4.03 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, 62 hits over 73.2 IP with 49 K’s. Had in-season elbow surgery in late-May, returning by mid-August.
Dan Larson – Seven starts: 0-5, 3.19 ERA, 1.473 WHIP, 32 hits over 36.2 IP with 15 K’s. Promoted to help while Christenson was out, also made five relief appearances.
Bob Walk – 27 starts: 11-7, 4.57 ERA, 1.543 WHIP, 163 hits over 151.2 IP with 94 K’s. Rookie promoted to take over Christenson’s spot in rotation and remained with club all year. Finished 7th in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Dickie Noles – Three starts: 1-0, 5.87 ERA, 1.891 WHIP, 23 hits over 15.1 IP with 12 K’s. Reliever who made 45 solid appearances out of the bullpen made all three spot-starts in late June.
Nino Espinosa – 12 starts: 3-5, 3.77 ERA, 1.205 WHIP, 73 hits over 76.1 IP with 13 K’s. Started and finished the season on the DL. Made 11 of his 12 starts in July and August.
Marty Bystrom – Five starts: 5-0, 1.54 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 26 hits over 35 IP with 21 K’s. Rookie promoted in September, made one relief appearance then entered rotation.
Mark Davis – A 19-year-old with just over one year pro experience. He made just two appearances, one in relief. Given the start in the regular season finale after Phillies had clinched NL East the prior night: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. Davis would go on to win the 1989 NL Cy Young Award as a reliever with San Diego.
The 2008 Phillies enjoyed a far more stable starting pitching situation than their 1980 counter-parts. Four different pitchers made 30 or more starts. Two others made significant contributions. There was only one plug-in, and he was still a rookie-eligible.
Cole Hamels – 33 starts: 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 1.082 WHIP, 193 hits over 227.1 IP with 196 K’s.
Jamie Moyer – 33 starts: 16-7, 3.71 ERA, 1.329 WHIP, 199 hits over 196.1 IP with 123 K’s.
Brett Myers – 30 starts: 10-13, 4.55 ERA, 1.379 WHIP, 197 hits over 190 IP with 163 K’s.
Kyle Kendrick – 30 starts: 11-9, 5.47 ERA, 1.616 WHIP, 193 hits over 154.2 IP with 68 K’s. Also made one mid-September relief appearance.
Adam Eaton – 19 starts: 3-8, 5.71 ERA, 1.606 WHIP, 124 hits over 104 IP with 56 K’s. Made two late-July relief appearances after being removed from rotation, where he had begun season and had pitched regularly to that point. Sent to minors after Blanton trade. Returned in September but never got into another game with Phillies.
J.A. Happ – Four starts: 1-0, 2.28 ERA, 1.141 WHIP, 16 hits over 23.2 IP with 15 K’s. Rookie who also made four relief appearances, three of those in September.
Joe Blanton – 13 starts: 4-0, 4.20 ERA, 1.373 WHIP, 66 hits over 70.2 IP with 49 K’s. Acquired in July 17 trade from Oakland for three minor leaguers, none of whom ever panned out for the Athletics.
This one is clear-cut for me. Despite the presence of a Cy Young Award winner on the 1980 club, the 2008 starting pitching rotation was the better all-around group.
Hamels actually had a lower WHIP mark than Carlton. As we know, Hamels would also go on to win both the NLCS and World Series Most Valuable Player honors.
Myers had a solid season in 2008 in his return to the rotation after serving a year as the team’s closer in 2007. He also worked perhaps the most important and inspiring walk in Phillies history against C.C. Sabathia in the NLDS. Moyer at age 45 provided consistently solid outings.
The addition of Blanton was extremely important to that 2008 team, as both Kendrick and Eaton were getting blown up. And who can ever forget his World Series home run against the Rays? Happ gave the club some nice spot starts.
It’s a shame that Christenson had to battle such physical trouble in 1980. At just age 26, ‘LC’ was already pitching in his eight big-league season. He would never make a start in his 30’s. Lerch had been strong the prior two seasons, but just simply fell apart in 1980 at age 25.
The contributions made by Bystrom during the September 1980 stretch drive are well documented. That club never wins the NL East, let alone a World Series championship, without the shot-in-the-arm provided by the 21-year-old during his first exposure to Major League Baseball.
NEXT UP: Phillies 1980 vs. 2008: The bullpens
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