The 1989 baseball season turned out to be a year filled with dark moments. In August, newly-appointed commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose from baseball for life following months of investigation over allegations that the Reds manager had bet on his own team. Giamatti died of a heart attack just one week later. Stars Wade Boggs and Steve Garvey made scandalous headlines when they were sued by women with whom they had affairs. Billy Martin died in an automobile accident in December. And an earthquake ravaged the San Francisco Bay area shortly before Game Three of the World Series was scheduled to begin, postponing indefinitely the contest between the Oakland Athletics and the host San Francisco Giants. Nevertheless, the campaign provided a number of memorable moments and outstanding individual performances.
Although the Oakland Athletics failed to dominate the American League to the same extent they did the previous year, the A’s remained the junior circuit’s premier team, capturing their second straight Western Division title by compiling a regular-season record of 99-63. The Kansas City Royals finished second, seven games back, while the California Angels came in third, eight games off the pace.
Oakland continued to excel at all aspects of the game, placing high in the circuit rankings with 712 runs scored, 127 home runs, and 157 stolen bases, and leading the league with a 3.09 team ERA. Oakland’s deep starting rotation featured four hurlers who surpassed 17 victories. Dave Stewart led the staff with a record of 21-9 and 258 innings pitched, and he also compiled a solid 3.32 ERA. Mike Moore and Storm Davis each won 19 games, and Moore finished third in the league with a 2.61 ERA. Bob Welch finished 17-8 with a 3.00 ERA. Meanwhile, Dennis Eckersley saved 33 games, won four others, compiled a 1.56 ERA, and allowed only 32 hits in 58 innings of work.
On offense, Carney Lansford stole 37 bases and finished second in the league with a .336 batting average. Dave Parker hit 22 homers and drove in 97 runs. Although Mark McGwire batted only .231, he hit 33 home runs and knocked in 95 runs. After being reacquired from the Yankees in June, Rickey Henderson performed brilliantly during the second half of the season, batting .294, compiling a .425 on-base percentage, scoring 72 runs, and stealing 52 bases. He ended up leading the league with 113 runs scored, 126 walks, and 77 stolen bases.
Still, the runner-up Royals, fourth-place Rangers, and fifth-place Twins all featured players who performed better than any member of the division champions over the course of the regular season. Bret Saberhagen had a tremendous year for Kansas City, earning A.L. Cy Young honors by leading all league hurlers with a record of 23-6, a 2.16 ERA, 262 innings pitched, and 12 complete games. Ruben Sierra performed extremely well for Texas, hitting 29 home runs, scoring 101 runs, batting .306, and leading the league with 119 runs batted in, 14 triples, 344 total bases, and a .543 slugging average. Kirby Puckett also had a big year for Minnesota, topping the circuit with 215 hits and a .339 batting average.
While the Athletics repeated as Western Division champions, the Red Sox failed to do so in the East, placing third in the division behind both Toronto and Baltimore. The Blue Jays posted the division’s best record, finishing the campaign with a mark of 89-73 that left them just two games ahead of the second-place Orioles, who won 87 games after losing 107 times the previous year. The Red Sox finished third, six games back, while the Milwaukee Brewers came in fourth, eight games off the pace.
Although three other teams finished ahead of Milwaukee in the highly-competitive East, the Brewers featured the American League’s Most Valuable Player in Robin Yount, who earned the honor for the second time in his career. Yount hit 21 home runs and placed among the league leaders with 103 runs batted in, 101 runs scored, 195 hits, a .318 batting average, and a .511 slugging average.
The first-place Blue Jays were led on offense by the slugging duo of George Bell and Fred McGriff. Bell hit 18 home runs, drove in 104 runs, and batted .297. McGriff topped the circuit with 36 homers, knocked in 92 runs, and scored 98 others. Meanwhile, Dave Stieb anchored Toronto’s pitching staff, finishing the year with a record of 17-8 and a 3.35 ERA.
Oakland made short work of Toronto in the ALCS, defeating the Blue Jays in five games. Dave Stewart won two games and Dennis Eckersley saved three of Oakland’s four victories. But ALCS MVP honors went to Rickey Henderson, who delivered a memorable performance by hitting two homers, driving in five runs, scoring eight others, stealing eight bases, batting .400, and compiling a .609 on-base percentage and a 1.000 slugging average.
The A’s subsequently redeemed themselves for their poor performance in the previous year’s World Series by sweeping the San Francisco Giants in the Fall Classic. Oakland dominated the first two games, outscoring San Francisco by a combined margin of 10-1. Although the earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay area postponed Game Three for 10 days, the A’s continued their onslaught when the Series resumed, posting 13-7 and 9-6 victories in the final two contests played at Candlestick Park. Dave Stewart earned Series MVP honors by winning Games One and Three. But the award could just as easily have gone to Rickey Henderson (.474 average), Carney Lansford (.438 average), or Terry Steinbach (seven RBIs).
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• May 7 - Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley presided over the groundbreaking of the new Comiskey Park.
• May 28 - George Bell ended the Toronto Blue Jays' 12-year stay at Exhibition Stadium with a walk-off home run to give the Jays a 7-5 win over the Chicago White Sox.
• June 5 - Just eight days after leaving Exhibition Stadium, the Toronto Blue Jays opened their new home – SkyDome (now known as Rogers Centre) - the first stadium in major league history with a functioning retractable roof.
• August 24 - Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti announced in a press conference the banning of Pete Rose from baseball for life, in the wake of evidence that came to light regarding Rose's gambling history.
• September 1 - Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti unexpectedly died of a heart attack.
• October 17 - Game Three of the World Series was postponed due to the Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck immediately before the game was set to begin. The contest was rescheduled for 10 days later, October 27.
• Although Wade Boggs failed to win the batting crown for the first time in five years, he hit .330 and led the league with 113 runs scored, 51 doubles, and a .430 on-base percentage.
• Boggs collected 200 hits for a 20th-century record seventh consecutive year.
• Nolan Ryan reached the 5,000 strikeout plateau.
• Ryan led the league with 301 strikeouts, making him, at age 42, the oldest strikeout king in major league history.
• Baltimore's Gregg Olson (27 saves) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• The American League won the All-Star Game 5-3 at Anaheim, giving the junior circuit consecutive wins in the Midsummer Classic for the first time since 1958.
• Toronto's Tony Fernandez committed just six errors, setting in the process a new major league record for shortstops by compiling a .992 fielding average.
• California’s Jim Abbott, the first one-handed pitcher since the 1880s, won 12 games and struck out 115 batters.
• Billy Martin died in a truck crash.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Red Schoendienst, and Al Barlick.
• Former Angels reliever Donnie Moore committed suicide.
• Hall of Famer Bill Terry died.
• The Yankees dealt Rickey Henderson back to Oakland for Luis Polonia, Eric Plunk, and Greg Cadaret.
• Henderson tied an American League record by topping the circuit in stolen bases for the ninth time.
• Minnesota traded ace lefthander Frank Viola to the Mets for Rick Aguilera and four pitchers.
• Bo Jackson hit 32 home runs and knocked in 105 runs for Kansas City.
- 1989 ALCS, 1989 World Series, American League, Billy Martin, Bo Jackson, Bob Welch, Bret Saberhagen, Carney Lansford, Dave Henderson, Dave Parker, Dave Stewart, Dave Stieb, Dennis Eckersley, Donnie Moore, Fred McGriff, George Bell, Gregg Olson, Jim Abbott, Jose Canseco, Kirby Puckett, Mark McGwire, Mike Moore, Nolan Ryan, Oakland Athletics, Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Roger Clemens, Ruben Sierra, Storm Davis, Terry Steinbach, Tony Fernandez, Toronto Blue Jays, Wade Boggs