The 1980 AL East race was a two horse challenge between the two teams who dominated the division during the 70’s. In one corner you had the fine pitching, slick fielding, wait for the 3 run homer Earl Weaver Orioles. The other corner had the retooled “Bronx Zoo” dysfunctional, but we’ll beat you down New York Yankees. Baltimore had the advantage on the managerial front, with Weaver firmly acknowledged to be the dean of all AL managers. New York tapped rookie skipper and former coach Dick Howser to lead a veteran laden team that was trying to recover from mediocre 1979, a year where they underachieved and lost their captain, Thurman Munson, in a tragic plane crash.
To start the season it didn’t take too long for the cream to rise to the top as the Bombers took over sole possession of 1st place on April 23rd. By mid July they had built an 8.5 game lead and looked to be on cruise control. Bad move, because Weaver’s O’s who were the 1979 AL Champs, were not going to roll over and play dead. After losing to the Angels on August 22nd the Bombers found themselves just a half game up on the O’s. Panic was setting in on the back cover of the New York tabloids. George Steinbrenner was itching to make a managerial move, but he couldn’t because his favorite whipping boy, Billy Martin, was all ready employed in Oakland. While he was looking for Howser’s replacement Steinbrenner got sidetracked as the men in pinstripe suits rattled off 18 wins in the next 20 games to gain a 5 1/2 game lead over the O’s who played well, but couldn’t sustain that pace. By the time the final weekend approached the Yanks locked up the division and dropped their final 3 games and still managed to win 103. The O’s, who won 100 games were on the outside looking in, which was par for the course in the pre-wildcard era of baseball.
The BrewCrew, Sahx and Tigers all finished slightly above .500, but had different reactions to their respective finishes. Milwaukee expected big things in 1980 after winning 95 games in 1979. Somehow their core of power hitters and young stars failed to take the next step and actually regressed. Managerial change was inevitable. Boston began to realize that their snakebit teams of the 70’s missed their window of opportunity as age and health were not on their side. The Tigers, however, gave their fans a lot to hope for by finishing in the black for the first time in a long time. Their rebuilding process and the miracles that Sparky Anderson began to perpetrate were starting to pay huge dividends.
The Tribe finished 2 games under .500, but no one seemed to care as the team was mired in the middle of a 35 year slump. The Jays, 3 years removed from expansion, started to replace their band of retreads with young players who would be future stars. Still the lost 95 games and finished dead last 36 games out of the money.