[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was a fine summer evening in Detroit. 70 degrees and cloudy, 11,412 Detroit faithful came out to see their 67-61 Tigers, 11.5 games back in the AL East, take on the 55-72 White Sox, 27 games back in the AL West. While this game featured, 38 years later, what might have been just another run-of-the-mill late-season tilt between two teams out of the pennant race, it was a pre-game accord between White Sox reliever Ed Farmer and Detroit rightfielder Al Cowens that puts this game in the history books.
Let’s back up one year, to May 8, 1979, when Ed Farmer was pitching for the Rangers and Al Cowens was in the batter’s box for the Royals. It was the fifth inning (ol’ Farmio started this game) and Cowens took a pitch inside which ended up hitting him in his face, breaking his jaw, and forcing him onto the DL for nearly a month. After the game, Cowens intimated he thought the pitch was hardly innocent:
“I have to say he was throwing at me, maybe not (trying to hit me) in the face, but it was intentional.”
The Rangers then traded Farmer to the White Sox a month later, while Cowens went to the Angels in the offseason, and onto the Tigers the next May. Thus, Cowens and Farmer found themselves facing each other once again on June 20, 1980. Farmer got Cowens to groundout, but, instead of running to first Cowens instead ran at Farmer and punched him in the face. A brawl ensued that saw Cowens ejected, suspended 7 days, and fined.
That might have been it, except that Farmer pressed criminal charges (assault and battery) against Cowens, and Bill Veeck, with his usual hyperbole backed him up, stating, “It was an attack on an unprotected man, Cowens should be banned for the rest of the year.” With criminal charges pending, the Tigers decided against playing Cowens the rest of that series.
Ultimately, Ed Farmer dropped the charges against Cowens under conditions that the rightfielder agreed to an apology and a handshake. Thus, this game –September 1, 1980 — saw each man bring out his team’s respective lineup card, shake hands, and make peace. Thus ended the hostilities.
Cultural Trivia and Baseball Miscellany
On the radio occupying the top spot was Christopher Cross’ popular soft rock single, Sailing, which would be displaced the very next week by Diana Ross’ Upside Down.
At the box office, one could pay $2.69 to see, um, well…Smokey and the Bandit 2, starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Jackie Gleason, and Dom DeLuise. How that replaced either Caddyshack or The Empire Strikes Back –both in theaters at the time– in the top spot for a few weeks is beyond me, and critics agreed, with Roger Ebert giving it 1 out of 4 stars. Here’s the trailer…
Around baseball, the New York Mets selected Darryl Strawberry with the first overall pick in the 1980 June amateur draft. The White Sox had the #8 overall pick, which they used to take Cecil Espy out of San Diego, California. While Espy never played for the White Sox, he did bring back Rudy Law in a trade with the Dodgers in March of 1982. Law, of course, would go on to have some productive seasons with the Sox, including a good ALCS (one of the few for Chicago) which saw him bat .389/.389/.444. The White Sox pretty much whiffed on the 1980 draft, and looking at names from that draft’s entirety, there are listed that went on to have remarkable careers.
Finally, and perhaps most notably: on this date, George Brett went 1-4 against Milwaukee to keep his batting average above .400, the first time that had happened this late in a season since Ted Williams’ .400 season in 1941. Brett would battle gamely, but ultimately fall short, dropping below .400 on September 20 and finishing the season at .390.
Umpires for this game
- HP Dan Morrison
Morrison was an umpire from 1979-2001. He worked the 1992 World Series and the 1988 All-Star game, in addition to several other playoff series throughout the late 80s and 90s. More notably, Morrison was asked to become a major league umpire during the 1979 umpire strike and turned it down (at the time he was a minor league ump), which, according to this article from SI in 1979 earned him the respect of the other umpires on strike. For an interesting perspective from the other side of a minor league umpire who agreed to work, I recommend this article.
- 1B John Shulock
As it happens, Shulock, if you read the SI article linked above, did cross the picket line during the 1979 strike. He went on to have a lengthy career, though, working until 2002. He worked both the 1985 and 1992 World Series, and saw Nolan Ryan’s sixth career no-hitter as the second base umpire. This is his third appearance in this series.
- 2B Terry Cooney
Cooney was an umpire from 1974-1992, and worked both the 1981 World Series and multiple American League Championship Series. Of those ALCS games, Cooney worked as the home plate umpire during the 1990 series where he ejected Roger Clemens for arguing balls and strikes:
- 3B Bill Kunkel
Kunkel was a multi-talented umpire, with both a baseball career prior to working in blue and as an NBA referee (1966-1968). From 1961-1963 he pitched for the Kansas City Athletics and New York Yankees. After retiring as a player, he worked as an American League umpire from 1968-1985, and was the first base umpire for Nolan Ryan’s third career no-hitter on September 28, 1974. Kunkel’s career was cut tragically short after he passed away from cancer at the age of 48, in 1985.
|Chicago White Sox||Detroit Tigers|
Play by play
With Farmer’s and Cowens’ treaty formally ratified, it was time for some baseball! Starting for the Tigers was Jack Morris. In his second full season with the Tigers, Morris entered this game with a 13-11 record and a 4.31 ERA. Against the Sox he had been a workhorse, going at least 8 ⅓ in three starts, though he had struggled logging clean innings, giving up plenty of hits and/or walks along with limited strikeouts.
Leading off for the White Sox was Chet Lemon, who would become Morris’ teammate in just a couple of years. Lemon walked to get the game underway, while first baseman Mike Squires bunted him over to second on a sacrifice. After Wayne Nordhagen tapped back to Morris for the second out, Lamar Johnson was next. The DH picked up Nordhagen with a smash to left to put the Sox on the board first. A Jim Morrison strikeout ended the first half of the inning with the Sox in front, 1-0.
On the mound for the White Sox this evening was Britt Burns, who was in his first full season with the White Sox, and would finish fifth in Rookie of the Year voting despite leading all vote-getters with 7 WAR. Like Morris, Burns had acquitted himself well against the Tigers on the season, going into the 8th in all three previous starts and a 2.69 ERA against. Tonight would prove to be another sparkling effort. Alan Trammell walked with one out, and after a flyout by Tigers DH Steve Kemp, Detroit first baseman John Wockenfuss threatened to put some runs on the rookie’s tab with a double to center that put runners at second and third. Burns was up to the challenge, though, stranding both runners with a strikeout of Lance Parrish to end the inning.
After a quiet second for both pitchers, the Sox got things going again in the third. Sox shortstop Todd Cruz singled to left, and after a Chet Lemon flyout, Mike Squires imitated Cruz with another single to left to put runners at first and second with one out. Wayne Nordhagen then came through with the third single in a row to left field, scoring Cruz. The throw was offline to home, and so both runners were able to advance, putting runners at second and third with just the one out; an intentional walk to Lamar Johnson loaded the bases, but alas, Morris was able to avoid any further trouble, inducing a popup to second and a smashed lineout to first to get out of the inning.
While the Tigers were able to scatter a couple of singles throughout their half of the second, Burns got all three outs by way of flyballs and popups, and so the Sox found themselves once again up to bat in the third. Morris walked Glenn Borgmann to begin the inning, and the Sox were once again able to cash in on the dreaded lead-off walk. After a Kevin Bell strikeout (who replaced Fran Mullins at third for some reason), Todd Cruz singled to put runners at first and second, then both runners advanced on a passed ball with Chet Lemon up to bat. The Jet came through with a single to right, scoring both runners and giving the Sox a 4-0 lead. By this point, Detroit manager Sparky Anderson had seen enough from the young Morris, and called on lefty Bruce Robbins to limit any further damage. For the time, Robbins answered the bell, inducing a popup off the bat of Squires and a flyout from Nordhagen.
Another quiet fourth from Burns put the Sox offense right back out there for the fifth, and this is where things fully unraveled for the Tigers and their relief corps. Robbins was back on the mound to start the inning and started things off well enough, getting a 5-3 groundout from Lamar Johnson for the first out. With Robbins hoping for a second out, Sox second baseman Jim Morrison disinclined to acquiesce to his request; a home run off his bat brought home the fifth run for the Sox, and Harold Baines followed with a single to left. After a wild pitch that allowed Baines to advance to second, Glen Borgmann brought two more runs home with the second dinger of the inning, and the lead was 7-0.
The Sox weren’t done, though. Robbins then allowed another single to Kevin Bell, and he was replaced by righty Dave Tobik. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Tobik wasn’t able to staunch the bleeding, either. After striking out Todd Cruz for the second out, Tobik walked Lemon, then gave up a triple to Mike Squires to score two more, giving the Sox a 9-0 lead and a five run inning. Nordhagen popped up to second to end the top of the fifth.
Burns continued his domination of the Tigers with two quick outs in the bottom of the frame, striking out Sweet Lou Whitaker looking for the first out, then getting Rick Peters to fly out to center for the second. Alan Trammell extended the inning with a walk, though, and Steve Kemp made Burns pay with a two-run shot to put the Tigers on the board, 9-2. Kevin Bell got Burns out of the inning with a pop out along the first baseline in foul territory for the third out.
From there, the Sox answered every one of Detroit’s runs with a run of their own:
- Top of the sixth: back-to-back singles with just one out allows Borgmann to drive in a productive run on a slow roller to second– Sox 10, Tigers 2.
- Top of the seventh: after a Stan Papi single scored Lance Parrish (who reached on an E1) in the bottom of the sixth, Wayne Nordhagen doubled in Chet Lemon– Sox 11, Tigers 3.
Ultimately, Britt Burns went seven innings, giving up three runs (2 earned), while striking out four. Dewey Robinson took the Sox the rest of the way, allowing just two baserunners on walks but otherwise closing off any attempt at a rally.
And so, the final tally: White Sox 11, Tigers 3.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat I like about this particular game from a White Sox perspective is that it acts almost as a bridge from the exciting 1977 team to the next playoff team in 1983. Chet Lemon, Lamar Johnson, Mike Squires, Kevin Bell…they were all on the 1977 team, and, outside of Squires (who would be chosen to hoist the pennant flag in ’83), none would be on the 1983 team. Meanwhile, the 1980 roster had a young Harold Baines and Britt Burns, plus LaMarr Hoyt and Richard Dotson in the rotation. It was a vision of the past mixed with the promise of the future: while the ‘81 season was cut short due to the work stoppage, ‘82 saw a great improvement before the breakout 1983 season.
Meanwhile, the Tigers were in a similar situation. They had one of the best 6-4 combos in baseball history with Trammell and Whitaker, and the foundations of the 1984 pitching staff in Jack Morris, Milt Wilcox, and Dan Petry. While 1982 was a bit of a step back from the shortened 1981 campaign, the Tigers finished in 2nd in the AL East in 1983, followed by their victorious World Series season in 1984.
Random Box Score White Sox Record: 5-3
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And if I’m not mistaken, Lemon played for that 1984 Tigers team. Congratulations on picking a box score from 1980 in which Morrison didn’t make an error
I remember being very excited about Burns that year, which was otherwise valedictory as the shadows got longer. The week of this game, ON TV began taking the evening signal from Ch. 44, so the Sox’ longtime TV home was going away. Bill Veeck had just agreed to sell the Sox to Edward DeBartolo. It was clear big changes were coming, though of course we had no idea about Reinsdorf-Einhorn, Carlton Fisk, or SportsVision at this point.