As a 20-year-old starting pitcher in 1981, Fernando Valenzuela helped lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to World Series championship, while racking up individual honors such as NL Cy Young, NL Rookie of the Year, and Silver Slugger. The mania even inspired some tribute songs, such as Ole Fernando.
2. Ozzie Smith Backflips
The Wizard of Oz executed backflips in other decades, but his acrobatics officially arrived on the national stage during the 80s. Luckily for fans, Ozzie’s sweet signature entrance was a prelude to the poetry of his glove work. If you’re wondering if Ozzie still does backflips, the question has been asked via Twitter.
3. Father and Sons
Cal Ripken Sr. (center) became the first in MLB history to manage two sons on the same team. Billy (left) and Cal Jr. (right) played for their dad in 1987. Toward the end of decade, Billy earned further fame due to a fairly infamous baseball card, while Cal Jr. powered toward the all-time consecutive game streak.
4. George Brett’s Passion
Sports Illustrated penned an excellent oral history of the Pine Tar Game, but, let’s be honest, no one is talking about that game years later, if not for the indelible image of George Brett storming out of the dugout. The boxscore is also a friendly reminder that Mike Armstrong ended up getting the win.
5. The Bash Brothers
Before Jose Canseco found Twitter and Mark McGwire became a batting coach, they were known as the Bash Brothers. Their signature move, sadly, did not involve playing the harmonica after warning-track pop-ups, but they did forearm bash a lot. In other news, the duo was nearly named the Blast Brothers.
Sports Illustrated touted Cleveland as 1987’s best team in American League. The Tribe finished 61-101. Cory Snyder would never appear on the cover again. Other moments, amongst many, include no New York Yankees championships (for first time in a decade since 1910s) and Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, which featured a fan parachuting on the field and Bill Buckner’s error (sorry, Bill!).
7. Base Stealers
Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman stole more headlines, but Tim “Rock” Raines was part of the “best player in baseball” conversation for half of the decade. In an era of prolific cocaine use, Raines admitted to addiction. Random Raines stats, however, speak for themselves (.955 OPS in 1987, 90 steals in 1983), providing a case for Cooperstown.
8. Magnum, P.I. Cameos
Tom Selleck’s Magnum character regularly wore a Detroit Tigers hat in episodes. The cap was an endearing tribute to Magnum’s hometown. In a special season four scene, Lou Whitaker and Allan Trammell, who were popular infielders for the Tigers, hooked Magnum up with tickets.
9. The Movies
When debating or ranking baseball films, it’s hard to skip the crop of quality films released in the 80s. Still pertinent decades later, The Natural (1984), Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Field of Dreams (1989), and Major League (1989), each uniquely portray the game, whether it’s a nod to the past, tale of minor-league ball, or the eccentrics of a relief pitcher and his zany teammates.
10. Kirk Gibson’s Trot
The decade had a flair for dramatics, however, the walk-off, pinch-hit home run by Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series stands out. Gibson was not only hurt, but facing formidable Oakland A’s closer Dennis Eckersley.
11. The Rolly Coaster Pitch
Knuckleballer Phil Niekro’s pitch from a game in 1985 has a drop reminiscent of an eephus pitch. The New York Yankee at the time, though, could have delivered the most effective knuckle ever recorded. Anyway, it would be easy to understand if Lou Thornton, the Toronto Blue Jays hitter, wanted a redemption hack.
12. Bo Knows Moments
The ESPN 30 for 30 film about Bo Jackson masterfully juxtaposes the savvy marketing and athletic dominance of his two-sport playing career. If not for injury, Jackson may have ended up in two hall of fames. A legacy moment, however, was his home run and MVP win in the 1989 All-Star Game.
13. Early Era of Video Games
Gamers can pick from decades of quality baseball games. However, 1987’s R.B.I. Baseball (MLBPA license; only eight teams!) and 1988’s Major League Baseball (MLB license; no player’s names!) contribution to the future was significant. They lacked full licensing, but batted leadoff, arguably, as the first semi-enjoyable baseball video games. R.B.I. Baseball lives on nostalgically thanks to emulators and an annual tourney in Chicago.
14. Griffey Jr. Rookie Card
The story behind why Upper Deck would put a kid, with no majors experience, on the No. 1 card of its 1989 inaugural set is well-known in collecting circles. The decision paid off, once Griffey Jr. landed in the majors and showcased his burgeoning skill set, leading to a frenzy of collectors and kids trying to nab one of the more widely recognizable cards of a generation.
15. “Three True Outcome” Legend
Before players such as Jack Cust and Adam Dunn carved out their lore, Rob Deer shined as a model of consistency. Deer’s brand of baseball, specifically in 1987, ignited the future creation of Three True Outcomes by Baseball Prospectus, which consists of home runs, strikeouts, and bases on balls. For that alone, Deer is a legend.