A few unpleasant events tarnished the 1985 baseball season. A brief players’ strike in August halted play for two days. In September, several players – including Keith Hernandez and Dave Parker – testified in court that they had used cocaine. And, in their quest for additional revenue, the owners expanded the playoffs to a best-of-seven format. Nevertheless, with three of the four divisional races going right down to the wire, 1985 turned out to be a banner year for Major League Baseball.
After finishing a distant second in the A.L. East to the eventual world champion Detroit Tigers the previous year, the Toronto Blue Jays captured their first division title, concluding the campaign with a record of 99-62, just two games ahead of the second-place New York Yankees. The Tigers slipped to third, 15 games off the pace. The Yankees pursued the Blue Jays throughout the summer, but Toronto’s superior team balance proved to be too much for New York to overcome.
Toronto had a solid lineup that posted the second-highest team batting average in the league (.269) and finished fourth in the circuit in runs scored (759). The outstanding outfield of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield led the Blue Jays on offense. Bell hit 28 home runs and knocked in 95 runs. Moseby hit 18 homers, scored 92 runs, and stole 37 bases. In addition to leading all A.L. outfielders with 22 assists, Barfield homered 27 times, knocked in 84 runs, scored 94 others, and batted .289.
However, the advantage the Blue Jays held over the Yankees in pitching was the thing that ultimately determined the outcome of the division race. Featuring a starting rotation that included Doyle Alexander, Dave Stieb, and Jimmy Key, Toronto’s pitching staff compiled a league-leading 3.31 team ERA. Alexander led the club with 17 victories and threw 261 innings. Stieb and Key each won 14 games, and Stieb led the league with a 2.48 ERA and finished third with 265 innings pitched.
Although the Yankees lacked Toronto’s pitching depth, they finished a very respectable third in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 3.69. Ron Guidry and Phil Niekro served as their top two starters. Guidry compiled a 3.27 ERA and finished 22-6, to lead all A.L. hurlers in victories. Niekro placed second on the club with 16 wins. Meanwhile, Dave Righetti saved 29 games, won 12 others, and posted an ERA of 2.78.
The Yankees’ greatest strength lay in their offense, which scored a league-leading 839 runs and finished third in the rankings with 176 home runs and a .267 team batting average. Dave Winfield hit 26 homers, drove in 114 runs, and scored 105 others. Rickey Henderson had a phenomenal year, batting .314, compiling a .419 on-base percentage, hitting 24 home runs, and leading the league with 146 runs scored and 80 stolen bases. He finished third in the A.L. MVP balloting. Winning the award was Yankee first baseman Don Mattingly, who also had a magnificent season. Mattingly hit 35 home runs, batted .324, collected 211 hits, scored 107 runs, and topped the circuit with 145 runs batted in, 48 doubles, and 370 total bases.
Wade Boggs and Eddie Murray also had big years for their respective teams. Boggs scored 107 runs and led the league with a .368 batting average, 240 hits, and a .452 on-base percentage. Murray hit 31 homers, placed second in the league with 124 runs batted in, scored 111 runs, and batted .297. But Boggs’ Red Sox finished fifth in the division, 18 ½ games out of first, while Murray’s Orioles came in fourth, 16 games back.
The A.L. West featured an equally thrilling race, with the Kansas City Royals barely edging out the California Angels by a single game to claim their second straight division crown. The Royals finished the season with a record of 91-71, while the Angels registered a mark of 90-72.
California remained in the pennant race the entire year largely because of the hitting of Reggie Jackson, Brian Downing, and Doug DeCinces, the running of Gary Pettis, and the pitching of Donnie Moore. Jackson led the team with 27 homers and 85 runs batted in. Downing homered 20 times and tied Jackson for the team lead with 85 RBIs. DeCinces hit 20 homers and drove in 78 runs. Pettis finished second in the league with 56 stolen bases. Meanwhile, Moore saved 31 games, won eight others, and compiled a 1.92 ERA.
The Royals perhaps had less overall talent than the Angels. However, three of the league’s very best players graced Kansas City’s roster. In just his first season as a full-time starter, 21-year-old Bret Saberhagen captured A.L. Cy Young honors by going 20-6 with a 2.87 ERA. Dan Quisenberry won eight games, saved a league-leading 37 others, and posted a 2.37 ERA. George Brett carried a mediocre Kansas City offense that finished just 13th in the league in runs scored by putting together one of his finest seasons. The third baseman hit 30 home runs, knocked in 112 runs, scored 108 others, batted .335, compiled a .436 on-base percentage, and topped the circuit with a .585 slugging average, en route to earning a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.
Brett continued to perform brilliantly against Toronto in the American League Championship Series, leading his team to victory after the Blue Jays grabbed a commanding 3-1 Series lead after the first four contests. Brett earned ALCS MVP honors by batting .348, hitting three homers, driving in five runs, and scoring six others.
Brett and the Royals displayed their resilience again in the World Series when they overcame a three-games-to-one deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first world championship. After a blown call by first base umpire Don Denkinger helped Kansas City mount a ninth-inning rally that resulted in a controversial 2-1 victory in Game Six, the Royals knocked out Cardinal ace John Tudor in just the third inning of Game Seven, en route to posting an 11-0 win. Brett batted .370 during the Fall Classic. But Series MVP honors went to Bret Saberhagen, who won both his starts, compiled a 0.50 ERA, and allowed only 11 hits in 18 innings of work.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• April 28 - Only hours after being swept by the Chicago White Sox in a three-game series at Comiskey Park, the New York Yankees fired Yogi Berra as manager 16 games into the season. Instead of firing Berra personally, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner dispatched general manager Clyde King to deliver the news for him. Billy Martin replaced Berra at the helm, beginning his fourth of five stints as Yankee skipper. Berra subsequently vowed never to set foot in Yankee Stadium again as long as Steinbrenner remained owner of the team.
• August 4 - The New York Yankees celebrated "Phil Rizzuto Day" at Yankee Stadium, retiring Rizzuto's number 10 during the ceremonies. Chicago’s Tom Seaver subsequently recorded his 300th career win over New York.
• August 4 – California’s Rod Carew collected his 3,000th career hit.
• August 6 - The players went on strike for two days. All missed games were made up before the season ended.
• October 27 - George Steinbrenner dismissed manager Billy Martin for the fourth time, replacing him with rookie manager and former Yankees player Lou Piniella
• Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. batted .282, hit 26 homers, drove in 110 runs, and led all A.L. shortstops in putouts and double plays.
• In the ninth inning of Game Six of the World Series, umpire Don Denkinger ruled Kansas City pinch hitter Jorge Orta safe at first base, although TV cameras showed him to be out.
• The Royals parlayed Denkinger's miscue into two runs, winning the game by a score of 2-1 and evening the Series at three games apiece.
• Cal Ripken Jr. broke Buck Freeman's record for consecutive innings played, reaching 5,342 innings without respite.
• California’s Bobby Grich's set a new major league record for second basemen by compiling a .997 fielding average.
• Phil Niekro notched his 300th win on the season’s final day.
• Darrell Evans became the first player to hit 40 or more homers in a season in each league, cracking a major league-leading 40 round-trippers for Detroit.
• Bert Blyleven, traded by Cleveland to Minnesota at mid-season, led all A.L. hurlers with 24 complete games, 294 innings pitched, and 206 strikeouts.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Hoyt Wilhelm, Lou Brock, Arky Vaughan, and Enos Slaughter.
• Chicago's Ozzie Guillen earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Chicago's Carlton Fisk set an American League record for catchers with 37 homers.
• Smokey Joe Wood, Roger Maris, and Burleigh Grimes all passed away.
• Yankee manager Billy Martin had his arm broken during a fight with Yankee pitcher Ed Whitson.
- 1985 ALCS, 1985 World Series, American League, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Bobby Grich, Bret Saberhagen, Brian Downing, Cal Ripken, Jr., Carlton Fisk, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Righetti, Dave Stieb, Dave Winfield, Don Denkinger, Don Mattingly, Donnie Moore, Doug DeCinces, Doyle Alexander, Ed Whitson, Eddie Murray, Gary Pettis, George Bell, George Brett, George Steinbrenner, Jesse Barfield, Jimmy Key, John Tudor, Jorge Orta, Kansas City Royals, Lloyd Moseby, Lou Piniella, Ozzie Guillen, Phil Niekro, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Rod Carew, Ron Guidry, Tom Seaver, Toronto Blue Jays, Wade Boggs, Yogi Berra