Baseball heads back to the future
LCS takes on '80s look with AL, NL foursome
Bring back the designer jeans, Ray Ban shades, Space Invaders, breakdancing, MTV veejays, Ferris Bueller and VHS vs. Betamax. Play some Madonna or Michael Jackson and lip-sync some Milli Vanilli.
It's Retro '80s Week in Major League Baseball.
Four teams are now all set for the League Championship Series, with the Tigers opening Tuesday at Oakland in the American League and the Cardinals headed for New York to face the Mets on Wednesday in the National League.
Each of those teams last won a world championship in the 1980s -- a decade remembered for the "Me generation," a geeky programmer named Bill Gates, music videos, Space Shuttles, compact discs, the fall of Communism, and, of course, really big hair. The Cardinals last won it all in 1982, the Tigers in 1984, the Mets in 1986 and the A's in 1989.
After the Red Sox won for the first time since 1918 and the White Sox for the first time since 1917, there is not going to be another of those monster drought-busters in 2006. But for many fans in roughly the 17-24 age group, it doesn't matter -- a lifetime without a title is still a reality and a hunger for them. Here is how past meets present as the Road to the World Series continues:
1982: The Year of the Cardinals
Life back then: "E.T.", Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the Falklands War, Rubik's Cube, Pac-Man, The Weather Channel, David Letterman instead of Johnny Carson, "Cheers" and "St. Elsewhere," Vanna White turning over her first letter, the beginning of Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak, the Tylenol scare, Epcot's grand opening, John Cougar, Human League, Cal-Stanford and "The Play," John Belushi's drug overdose, Barney Clark and the first artificial heart, the Vietnam Memorial, and a computer winning Time magazine's "Man of the Year."
How they last won it all: St. Louis played "Whiteyball," relying on speed under manager Whitey Herzog against "Harvey's Wallbangers" from Milwaukee in the World Series. It went seven great games, and 2006 Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Sutter closed it out at old Busch Stadium in the clincher. Catcher Darrell Porter was named Series MVP.
The 2006 story: The Cardinals are in the longest title drought in their rich history, and now they open their third straight NLCS on Wednesday at Shea Stadium against the Mets team that became their heated rivals in the '80s (remember Pond Scum?). St. Louis is bidding for the rare feat of winning it all in the first year of a new ballpark. A sluggish regular season finish and the loss of regular closer Jason Isringhausen have left questions, but anything's possible when Albert Pujols is in your lineup.
1984: The Year of the Tigers
Life back then: Trivial Pursuit, Madonna's "Like a Virgin," Apple's first Macintosh, Culture Club, breakdancing and parachute pants, "Miami Vice," Baby Bells, "Ghostbusters" and "Footloose," Wham!, space walks, Michael Jackson's hair catching fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, "Starlight Express" opening in London, Indira Gandhi's assassination, Cabbage Patch Kids, Bishop Desmond Tutu's Nobel Peace Prize, Doug Flutie's "Hail Mary," Michael Jordan's first Nike shoe contract, and Prince's "Purple Rain."
How they last won it all: It was all Detroit in '84, from start to finish. The Tigers won 104 games, led by their "Trammaker" combination up the middle with Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Sparky Anderson, who had led Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to two titles, became the only manager in history to win it all in both leagues. Jack Morris hurled two complete game victories, and Kirk Gibson hit two homers in the Game 5 clincher.
The 2006 story: People are beside themselves in Motown. It was an unreal scene at Comerica Park over the weekend as the Tigers trounced the heavily favored Yankees behind brilliant pitching and timely hitting, the club's first postseason series victory since '84. Now Detroit is the hope of the Wild Card era, bidding to make it five consecutive Fall Classics featuring at least one of those. They open Tuesday night at Oakland, where they won two of three in April after manager Jim Leyland's clubhouse tirade to stimulate his troops. In July, they lost two of three in Oakland and then took two of three from the A's at home. Leyland now will try to do what Sparky did, having already managed a winner at Florida in 1997.
1986: The Year of the Mets
Life back then: "Top Gun," Reaganomics, Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, the first federal Martin Luther King Day, Halley's Comet, Chernobyl, Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach," the Mir space station, Ferdinand Marcos fleeing the Philippines, FOX becomes fourth network, Geraldo Rivera finding only moonshine in Al Capone's Vault, "Hands Across America," Pee-wee's Playhouse, Steve Winwood's "Higher Love," Oliver North and the Iran-Contra Affair and Whitney Houston.
How they last won it all: Just like Detroit two years earlier, the Mets entered the '86 World Series as huge favorites. They had won 108 games in the regular season, behind youngsters like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and veterans like Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. Everyone remembers how they survived Game 6 against Boston when Mookie Wilson's dribbler to first went through Bill Buckner's legs for the winning run in the 10th, and then the Mets came from behind to win Game 7 as Jesse Orosco recorded the final out.
The 2006 story: There are obvious similarities on this 20th anniversary. New York didn't just end Atlanta's divisional reign, but outclassed the entire NL East and won by 12 games. They swept the Dodgers in an eventful NLDS, and now open at home on Wednesday against the Cardinals. The Mets have a stacked lineup that will be a test for Cardinals pitching, but the million-dollar question the rest of the way is whether New York can continue to pick up the slack for Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, both lost this month due to injury. The Team. The Time. Now the NLCS.
1989: The Year of the A's
Life back then: "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons" debut, the fall of Communism, Tiananmen Square, Madonna's "Like a Prayer," Time Warner merger, Exxon Valdez oil spill, "Batman" and "The Little Mermaid," the first GPS satellite, Milli Vanilli, Ted Bundy execution, George H.W. Bush's inauguration, Dilbert is syndicated, Salman Rushdie, Nintendo's Game Boy, Janet Jackson, SkyDome's opening, Pete Rose agrees to lifetime ban from MLB, and the Loma Prieta earthquake.
How they last won it all: An earthquake will forever be the lasting image of the 1989 World Series, which was also known as the Bay Bridge Series. Oakland reached the World Series each year from 1988-90, and the middle year of that run marked their last title. They swept the Giants behind the "Bash Brothers" and star pitchers Bob Welch, Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley. The A's easily won the first two games, and then the earthquake struck moments before Game 3 was about to begin at Candlestick Park, delaying the Fall Classic for 10 days. Tony La Russa managed the A's to that title, and now that he is the Cardinals' skipper, there is the intriguing possibility of a reunion.
The 2006 story: The "hump" is history. The AL West champs finally shed the 1,000-pound gorilla and got the job done in an LDS, withstanding a perceived big home-field advantage for Minnesota to sweep that series. Barry Zito, who won a magnificent pitcher's duel with Johan Santana in the ALDS opener, will be on the mound against Detroit Tuesday night in Oakland as the A's try to carry home-field advantage right through the World Series. Ready for a Frank Thomas vs. Joel Zumaya at-bat? There are some hungry fans in Oakland, just like there are in Detroit.
So they're going all retro this week in Major League Baseball. Bring back the parachute pants and legwarmers, the "Madonna look," a little Springsteen and Michael Jackson's moonwalk. It's Bad. It's baseball. It's four teams and one victory parade that's a long time coming.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.