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1980s

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The 1980s were a generally low-scoring decade in baseball and filled with the usual range of dynasties, upsets and memorable moments.

In Major League Baseball, it was a time of parity, as almost every team was competitive at some point in the decade. The most famous teams of the decade were generally one-year entities like the 1986 Mets. The 1988-1989 Athletics were perhaps the closest any team came to a dynasty, but they lost the 1988 World Series to the 1988 Dodgers in a stunning upset highlighted by Kirk Gibson's pinch-hit home run off Dennis Eckersley when Gibson could hardly walk.

The 1980s were a decade notable for stolen base records. In 1980, Rickey Henderson set an American League record with 100 stolen bases, and Ron LeFlore and Omar Moreno finished first and second in the National League with 97 and 96 respectively. In 1981, Tim Raines set a rookie record with 71. In 1982, Henderson set a major league record with 130 stolen bases. Juan Samuel broke Raines' record for rookies with 72 in 1984, and then Vince Coleman broke it again in 1985 by swiping 110 bases, the first of three consecutive seasons in which he would steal over 100 bases. Coleman had set the minor league stolen base record a couple of years earlier, with 145 for the Macon Redbirds, one year after Jeff Stone had set a record with 122 steals for the Spartanburg Traders. The 100-steal feat has not been repeated since the last of Coleman's consecutive 100+ seasons, in 1987, although the stolen base remained a popular offensive weapon until the early 1990s.

Other notable feats of the 1980s in the majors included Pete Rose setting the all-time hits record and Orel Hershiser breaking Don Drysdale's record for most consecutive shutout innings. The 1987 season was considered a fluke as "The Year of the Home Run" as homer levels rose drastically for one season before falling again. "The Year of the Balk" followed as enforcement of the balk rule was made more stringent. Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton fought for the all-time strikeout record with Ryan winning the duel and continuing on into the 1990s while Carlton had retired. The decade was also notable for the introduction of a new statistic, the game-winning run batted in, which was supposed to identify the best clutch hitters in the game. Contrary to the save, introduced in the 1970s and which quickly became a staple of the game, the GWRBI never caught anyone's imagination and was quietly dropped at the end of the decade.

Scandals in the 1980s centered around drugs, with the 1985 drug trials affecting several big-league stars. Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Steve Howe were among others battling addictions, with cocaine the drug of choice. Rose become bogged down in a scandal involving his having bet on games in which he managed; he would deny allegations until the early 21st Century before he admitted his error. Rose was banned from baseball indefinitely by Commissioner Bart Giamatti in August of 1989.

The 1980s were also a time of labor strife. The 1981 season was amputated by a third because of a strike, and over the rest of the decade, owners complained bitterly about rising player salaries and the supposed ill effects of free agency. This led to self-imposed restrictions on spending, such as cutting major league rosters from 25 to 24 players from 1986 to 1989, and collusion to prevent free agents from signing with other teams following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. This action was the subject of a grievance by players, and led to the owners being forced to pay significant monetary compensation to a number of players who had been free agents during those years.

The Cuban national team dominated international competition, with young stars like Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan joining established players such as Lourdes Gourriel and Luis Casanova. Cuba had not yet been rocked by the defections that would start in the 1990s. Baseball was reintroduced to the Olympics as a demonstration sport in 1984 and future stars like Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Atsuya Furuta, Will Clark and Jin-woo Song appeared in the 1984 Olympics and 1988 Olympics.

In Nippon Pro Baseball, the Seibu Lions were easily the team of the decade, led by star performers like Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Koji Akiyama, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Hiromichi Ishige, Osamu Higashio, Hisanobu Watanabe and Tetsuya Shiozaki. Sadaharu Oh broke Hank Aaron's all-time international home run record while Sachio Kinugasa topped Lou Gehrig's Consecutive Games Played mark.

In college baseball, Pete Incaviglia set a new home run record with 48 in a season. Through 2007, this remains the standard in NCAA Division I. Robin Ventura had a 58-game hitting streak.

Years American League National League Postseason Japan
1980 1980 AL 1980 NL 1980 Postseason 1980 in Japan
1981 1981 AL 1981 NL 1981 Postseason 1981 in Japan
1982 1982 AL 1982 NL 1982 Postseason 1982 in Japan
1983 1983 AL 1983 NL 1983 Postseason 1983 in Japan
1984 1984 AL 1984 NL 1984 Postseason 1984 in Japan
1985 1985 AL 1985 NL 1985 Postseason 1985 in Japan
1986 1986 AL 1986 NL 1986 Postseason 1986 in Japan
1987 1987 AL 1987 NL 1987 Postseason 1987 in Japan
1988 1988 AL 1988 NL 1988 Postseason 1988 in Japan
1989 1989 AL 1989 NL 1989 Postseason 1989 in Japan

[edit] Further Reading

  • Dan D'Addona: "Baseball's Forgotten Era: The '80s: Decade Saw Lowest Individual Power Since Home Runs Emerged With Ruth", The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 40, Number 2 (Fall 2011), pp. 66-68.
  • Daniel A. Gilbert: Expanding the Strike Zone: Baseball in the Age of Free Agency, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA, 2013. ISBN 978-1-55849-997-3
  • Bill James: "The 1980s", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, pp. 296-305.

[edit] Related Sites

  • [1] Article examining the depressed offensive statistics of star hitters in the late 1980s and early 1990s in The Hardball Times, part 1.
  • [2] Article examining the depressed offensive statistics of star hitters in the late 1980s and early 1990s in The Hardball Times, part 2.
  • [3] Article examining the depressed offensive statistics of star hitters in the late 1980s and early 1990s in The Hardball Times, part 3.
  • [4] Article examining the depressed offensive statistics of star hitters in the late 1980s and early 1990s in The Hardball Times, part 4.


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