The book “1984,” by George Orwell, was published in 1949 and takes a look at the futuristic world of the year 1984. The book centers on a totalitarian world split into three separate groups; Eurasia, Eastasia, and Oceania. It’s a dark look into the future (at the least the future as seen in 1949). Obviously things did not quite work out as they did in the book, but strange things did happen, including a World Series run by the San Diego Padres.
With a team ERA of 3.48 and a collective triple slash of .259/.317/.371, the Padres did the improbable. Under the dedicated control of the late Dick William, the Padres managed 92 wins, took the division, and marked on to the 1984 World Series. They did so in heroic fashion, legendary fashion, and heart-stopping fashion. It’s a year San Diego fans will never forget, perhaps the best year in franchise history (with apologies to the 1998 season).
San Diego Padres pinch-hitting specialist Kurt Bevacqua, who has been dreaming of a National League or world championship, says he started thinking about his ring size when he learned the Padres had reached a contract agreement with one of baseball’s most accomplished relief pitchers, former Yankees start Rich (Goose) Gossage.
The predictions came early on. The above quote was pulled from a January 1984 article in the sporting news. The Padres were entering the ’84 season with a confidence not previously seen in San Diego. With a lineup that included Tony Gwynn, Steve Garvey, Garry Templeton, and Graig Nettles, the Padres may have thought they’d have a shot at the division by focusing on offense. Instead, it was the surprise performance of the pitching staff that hoped carry them.
The team had five pitchers with at least 10 wins, five starters (with at least 10 starts) with an ERA under 4.00, and they boasted the fifth ranked pitching staff in all of baseball. This, of course, isn’t to say their offense wasn’t helpful.
By the end of April, after 23 games, Tony Gwynn led all of baseball with a .434 batting average. Garry Templeton was second on the team with a .338 average. Gwynn and company cooled off in May – one of just two months that season with a losing record – but they quickly recovered with Gwynn still hitting .361 by the end of June. Steve Garvey had 17 RBI that month, and Graig Nettles had 6 home runs and 19 RBI.
By the end of June the team was two and a half games up on the Atlanta Brave. By the end of July, that lead was extended to eight and a half games. During that fateful month of July, Gwynn hit .398 and Garvey had 14 RBI. The Padres capped the month off with a gem of a pitching performance against the hated Dodgers. Dave Dravecky tossed a one-hitter on July 30th as the Padres beat Los Angeles 12-0.
August saw the team extend their first place lead to 10 1/2 games now over the Houston Astros despite just a 15-14 record in the month. Nettles had 8 home runs and Goose Gossage split time between long-relief and closing duties, going 3-1 in the month. August also marked one of the most infamous baseball brawls in Padres history.
In fact, according to ESPN, the brawl was the second worst brawl in baseball history.
This was more like a slugfest and beanball war that was occasionally interrupted by a baseball game. It all started on the first pitch of the game, when Atlanta’s Pascual Perez hit Alan Wiggins. Payback came for Perez in the second inning, when Ed Whitson threw behind his head. When Perez waved his bat at Whitson, the benches emptied in for the first brawl of the game. That one would be followed by fights in the fifth, eighth and ninth innings, some started when the Padres continued to throw at Perez every time he came to bat. When the dust had cleared, 14 had been ejected, including Braves manager Joe Torre and Padres manager Dick Williams. Five fans who’d joined in the fun in the late innings were arrested.
Some say brawls like this unite a team, but the Padres were under .500 to finish out the season after the brawl. Despite the less than stellar record, the Padres were able to clinch the division on September 20, 1984, and they finished the season 12 games ahead of both the Braves and the Astros. San Diego benefited from a down year in the National League West. They were the only team to finish with a record over .500.
The National League East was a different story. The Cubs, the Mets, and the Cardinals all finished with records above .500. The Cubs ultimately won the division by 6.5 games over the Mets and lined up an NLCS match-up pitting the lovable losers of Chicago against the Swingin’ Friars of San Diego.
In Game One, played in Chicago, the Padres got smoked. The Cubs scored 13 while shutting out the Padres over the course of nine strong innings. The Cubs launched five home runs off the Padres pitchers in Game One, and they carried that confidence into Game Two.
Played the following day, the Cubs again took the game. This one was closer, but the outcome just the same. The Cubs won 4-2 on sound pitching. They jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and just would not let the Padres come back.
The following day (there were no travel days built into the play-offs like there are today), the Padres hosted the Cubs from the comforts of home, the comforts of Jack Murphy Stadium. Over 58,000 showed up to cheer the Padres on. On the brink of elimination, the Padres stormed back in Game Three. Trailing 1-0 leading into the fifth, the Padres put up 3 in the bottom of the inning and four in the bottom of the sixth. They went on to win 7-1 and force a Game Four.
Game Four was a closer match. It was a back and forth affair. Both teams were awarded their first day off since the postseason began, and they returned to Jack Murphy fresh. The Padres scored two in the third to take the lead, but the Cubs came back with three in the fourth. The Padres tied it in the fifth, then took the lead in the seventh. In the eighth, the Cubs scored two of their own to knot the game up at 5 a piece. Then in the bottom of the ninth, the most memorable moment in Padres history occurred.
After a single from Tony Gwynn in the bottom of the ninth, Steve Garvey stepped to the plate. The first pitch from Cubs’ closer Lee Smith was a ball. The next was a two-run game winning home run. Garvey smashed the 1-0 pitch to keep the Padres alive for Game Five. It was one of the greatest home runs in baseball history, and it propelled the Padres while deflating the Cubs.
In Game Five, the Padres once again hosted the Cubs. The Cubs took an early 3-0 lead and held that into the sixth inning when the Padres scored two. Still down by a run, the Padres needed some magic. In the bottom of the seventh, they got that magic and scored four times. They took a 6-3 lead and never gave it up. Goos Gossage got the save, and the Padres moved on to the franchise’s first World Series.
Facing the Detroit Tigers, and clearly outmatched, the Padres struggled mightily in the World Series. The 1984 Detroit Tigers won 104 games. They had players like Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammel, and Kirk Gibson. They were good. Too good.
The Padres dropped the first game 3-2. It was pretty even match up. San Diego, playing at home for the first two games, managed to take Game Two by a score of 5-3. But that would be it.
The series shifted to Detroit and the Tiger won the next three games and sent the Padres home. But the team could hold their heads high. Just 14 years into their existence, the Padres had won a National League Pennant and been to the World Series. They can always look back and remember one of the greatest home runs in baseball history, and remember the celebration the city had when they beat the Cubs and headed to the World Series.
1984 was a special season, perhaps the team’s best.