After a one-year hiatus, the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals returned to the top of their respective divisions in 1980. Kansas City breezed to the A.L. West title, while New York overcame a very strong Baltimore Orioles team to finish first in the East.
Coming off a tumultuous 1979 campaign during which they tragically lost their team captain Thurman Munson in a plane crash, the Yankees regrouped under new manager Dick Howser in 1980 to post a major-league best 103-59 record that left them three games ahead of the runner-up Baltimore Orioles. An extremely well-balanced ball club, New York finished second in the American League with 820 runs scored, 189 home runs, and a team ERA of 3.58.
Tommy John and Ron Guidry anchored New York’s starting rotation. John finished 22-9, with 16 complete games and six shutouts. Guidry finished second on the club with 17 victories. Rudy May excelled in his role as spot-starter/long reliever, posting a record of 15-5 and leading the league with a 2.46 ERA. Meanwhile, bullpen ace Rich Gossage earned a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting by leading the league with 33 saves, compiling a 2.27 ERA, and striking out 103 batters in 99 innings of work.
Rick Cerone, Bob Watson, Willie Randolph, and Reggie Jackson paced New York on offense. Taking over for the late Thurman Munson behind home plate, Cerone hit 14 homers, drove in 85 runs, and batted .277. Watson led the club with a .307 batting average. Randolph hit .294, scored 99 runs, topped the circuit with 119 walks, and placed second in the league with a .429 on-base percentage. Jackson had his best year in pinstripes, leading the league with 41 home runs, knocking in 111 runs, scoring 94 others, and batting .300 for the only time in his career. His outstanding performance earned him a second-place finish in the MVP voting.
The Yankees needed to play as well as they did in order to capture the A.L. East title since the Orioles followed up their pennant-winning 1979 campaign with another outstanding year in which they won 100 games themselves. Baltimore had two of the league's top pitchers in Steve Stone and Scott McGregor. Stone earned A.L. Cy Young honors by finishing 25-7 with a 3.23 ERA. McGregor compiled a 20-8 record and a 3.32 ERA. Meanwhile, Eddie Murray and Al Bumbry led the Orioles on offense. Murray batted .300, scored 100 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 32 home runs and 116 runs batted in. Bumbry batted .318, scored 118 runs, collected 205 hits, and stole 44 bases.
Playing for the third-place Milwaukee Brewers, who finished 17 games off the pace, Cecil Cooper posted numbers that compared favorably to those of anyone else in the division. The Brewer first baseman hit 25 home runs, scored 96 runs, topped the circuit with 122 runs batted in, and placed second in the league with a .352 batting average and 219 hits.
Cooper’s exceptional mark of .352 likely would have been better appreciated had it not fallen 38 points short of the league-leading .390 figure George Brett compiled for the Western Division champion Kansas City Royals. With Brett leading the way, Kansas City finished the campaign with a record of 97-65, 14 games in front of the second-place Oakland Athletics.
The Royals possessed solid pitching, a very strong lineup, and exceptional team speed. Dennis Leonard and Larry Gura headed Kansas City’s starting rotation. Leonard posted a record of 20-11, while Gura finished 18-10 with a 2.95 ERA, 283 innings pitched, and 16 complete games. Dan Quisenberry anchored the K.C. bullpen, winning 12 games, tying Rich Gossage for the league lead with 33 saves, and appearing in a league-leading 75 games.
On offense, Kansas City topped the circuit with a .286 team batting average and 185 stolen bases. Designated hitter Hal McRae batted .297 and knocked in 83 runs. First baseman Willie Aikens hit 20 homers, drove in 98 runs, and batted .278. Centerfielder Willie Wilson provided exceptional speed at the top of the batting order, hitting .326, stealing 79 bases, and leading the A.L. with 133 runs scored, 230 hits, and 15 triples.
However, McRae, Aikens, and Wilson merely served as members of George Brett’s supporting cast. The third baseman had a truly remarkable season in which he nearly became the first player in 39 years to hit .400. Despite appearing in only 117 games, Brett hit 24 home runs, knocked in 118 runs, scored 87 others, and led the league with a .390 batting average, a .461 on-base percentage, and a .664 slugging average. His phenomenal performance earned him A.L. MVP honors.
Brett continued his magnificent play in the ALCS, leading the Royals to a three-game sweep of the Yankees that helped remove some of the bitter taste that still remained from New York’s three straight playoff victories over Kansas City. After winning the first two games at home, Kansas City entered the top of the seventh inning in Game Three trailing New York by a score of 2-1. Stepping to the plate with two men out and two men on base, Brett deposited a Goose Gossage fastball into Yankee Stadium’s upper right-field deck, all but clinching Kansas City’s first league championship. Nevertheless, ALCS MVP honors went to teammate Frank White, who batted .545, homered once, and drove in three runs.
The Royals subsequently came up short against Philadelphia in the World Series, dropping the Fall Classic in six games. Brett again played well for Kansas City, batting .375, hitting a homer, and driving in three runs. Amos Otis also performed at an extremely high level for the Royals, hitting three home runs, knocking in seven runs, and batting .478. But White and Willie Wilson faltered. White collected only two hits in 25 trips to the plate, for a batting average of .080. Meanwhile, Wilson batted just .154 and established a new record for futility in Series play by striking out 12 times in his 26 plate appearances.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• November 3 – An era ended for the Oakland Athletics when flamboyant owner Charlie Finley finalized his sale of the team to Walter A. Haas.
• November 25 – Yankee owner George Steinbrenner replaced manager Dick Howser with Gene Michael. Howser lost his job even though he led the team to its best record in almost two decades.
• Cleveland’s Joe Charboneau (23 home runs, 87 RBIs, .289 batting average) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• On August 25, Fergie Jenkins became the first major league player to be arrested on a drug-related charge.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Al Kaline, Duke Snider, Chuck Klein, and Tom Yawkey.
• Free agent Dave Winfield signed with the Yankees in December.
• Yankees coach Ellie Howard died.
• Oakland’s Rick Langford led the major leagues with 28 complete games, becoming in the process the last pitcher to post more than 25 complete games in a season.
• Oakland teammate Mike Norris finished 22-9 and placed second in the league with a 2.53 ERA, 24 complete games, and 284 innings pitched.
• Oakland’s Rickey Henderson batted .303, scored 111 runs, and led the league with 100 stolen bases.
• Oakland’s Tony Armas batted .279, hit 35 home runs, and knocked in 109 runs.
• Milwaukee’s Ben Oglivie tied Reggie Jackson for the league lead with 41 home runs and placed second in the circuit with 118 runs batted in and 333 total bases.
- 1980 ALCS, 1980 World Series, Al Bumbry, American League, Amos Otis, Ben Oglivie, Bob Watson, Cecil Cooper, Charles Finley, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Winfield, Dennis Leonard, Dick Howser, Eddie Murray, Elston Howard, Fergie Jenkins, Frank White, Gene Michael, George Brett, George Steinbrenner, Hal McRae, Jim Rice, Joe Charboneau, Kansas City Royals, Larry Gura, Mike Norris, New York Yankees, Reggie Jackson, Rich Gossage, Rick Cerone, Rick Langford, Rickey Henderson, Ron Guidry, Rudy May, Scott McGregor, Steve Stone, Tommy John, Tony Armas, Willie Aikens, Willie Randolph, Willie Wilson