Review Fix chats with ‘Phinally!’ author Jonathan Daniel, who details his reporting trail and explains why the 1980 Phillies are a special team.
About the Book:
A lot happened in baseball in 1980. After being stabbed with a penknife in Mexico during spring training, the Indians’ “Super Joe” Charboneau captured Cleveland’s heart—and Rookie of the Year. Nolan Ryan became baseball’s first Million Dollar Man, Reggie Jackson twice found himself looking down the wrong end of a gun, and George Brett posted the highest single-season batting average since 1941. The Phillies and Expos battled up to the season’s final weekend while the Dodgers tilted against the Astros in a one-game playoff for the division title. In the American League, Brett led Kansas City past the mighty Yankees and into the Series, where slugger Mike Schmidt and the Phillies awaited. This book covers it all.
About Jonathan Daniel:
J. Daniel has spent more than 20 years working in sports television. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana and works for Indiana University.
Review Fix: What inspired this book?
Jonathan Daniel: I grew up in Southwest Ohio during the heyday of the Big Red Machine but I was a big Phillies fan and the 1980 team was always special to me. It was the first team I rooted for that won a championship and I was at just the right age (12 when the World Series was going on) that those players were larger than life to me. I read a few books about different seasons and thought I’d like to do one, too. I was initially going to do a book about the entire decade of the 1980s but synthesizing a season down to about 25 pages wasn’t something I was interested in doing. I’d found too much cool stuff so I decided to focus on 1980 and hopefully do more books on subsequent 1980s seasons.
Review Fix: What was the writing and editing experience like for you?
Daniel: It was a frustrating and, at the same time, tremendously rewarding experience. I really dove into the research process and fell down a lot of rabbit holes but it was a lot of fun. I lived about an hour from Cincinnati when I was a kid so I would get an early edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer. At that time it wasn’t unusual to get the morning paper and only see a few box scores because many games ended after the Enquirer went to press. I didn’t get cable-tv until I was a sophomore in high school so not seeing scores of Monday games until Wednesday in the “late box scores” wasn’t that unusual. It was just a different era. Along those lines, growing up in Ohio I didn’t get a lot of news about teams in the west or many American League teams except what I read in Baseball Digest and The Sporting News. Add to that the fact that there were only a handful of games on per week and information was tough to get. There was no interleague play so the only chance I had to see great players like Rod Carew was either in the playoffs, all-star games, or when they happened to be on the Saturday Game of the Week or Monday Night Baseball, which used to be a huge deal.
Once I started diving into some of these stories through online newspaper archives and athlete biographies I found some really cool stories I’d never heard before. I’m a pretty big baseball fan and I’ve stayed really close to the game for my entire life so I figured if I hadn’t heard a lot of these stories before there’s a chance many other people hadn’t either. One of the cool things is that I often post things on one of my social media profiles and get responses from people saying, “Wow. I had no idea!” I also get responses saying, “I was at that game!” which I think is great.
As far as the writing process, it was all learning on the fly. I remember when my editor asked me when I could deliver a finished manuscript and my first thought was, “How the hell am I supposed to know? I’ve never done this before.” I figured that wasn’t the answer he was looking for so I just picked a date and delivered on time, thankfully. It was a lesson in discipline and taught me that I could really stick with something if I wanted to. I started researching in early 2013, got a publishing deal in late 2016 and delivered the finished book in late 2017 but the idea was actually hatched in 2010 so it’s something I’d been wanting to do for a long time.
Review Fix: What makes it different from other baseball books?
Daniel: I think one of the things that separates this book from many baseball books is that I tried to weave in some pop culture and world events throughout the book. Nineteen-Eighty was the Who Shot J.R.? summer, Mt. St. Helens erupted that summer and movies like The Shining, Friday the 13th, The Blues Brothers, and Airplane! came out that year so I addressed those in an attempt to kind of anchor the book in the time. I’ve gotten some really nice feedback from readers saying they enjoyed that aspect of the book and in some cases I was able to tie some of those things back to baseball. There’s a baseball-related Easter egg in The Shining, for example, and the part of the co-pilot played by Kareem in Airplane! was originally written with Pete Rose in mind. Those were things I really enjoyed working into the book.
Review Fix: Did you learn anything you weren’t expecting?
Daniel: Lots. Again, I thought I knew a lot about that year but I kept finding things that were new to me. I was really surprised to read about Ozzie Smith taking out an ad in the paper basically looking for a part-time job during the season. I’ve heard different stories about what actually happened in that situation but it was really interesting and not something you’d see today for sure.
One of the biggest challenges was deciding what to keep and what to omit. It was all interesting to me but I knew I couldn’t include every little thing in the finished book. I wanted to keep the narrative flowing and including lots of little tidbits would likely bog things down. Having said that, I still tried to get as much in as I could.
Review Fix: What else makes the two teams featured here so special?
Daniel: There were a lot of similarities between the Phillies and the Royals that season. Each of them had won division titles in 1976, 77, and ’78 but hadn’t broken through. Both teams had first-year managers (Dallas Green took over in Philadelphia in late 1979) and both had star third basemen who would become the MVPs of their respective leagues. I think this World Series bonded Mike Schmidt and George Brett forever. Similar to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in a way. It was the national coming out party for both of them.
The other thing that was great about the season was that three of the four division races came down to the final weekend of the season. The Royals ran away with the A.L. West, but the Yankees were challenged by the defending A.L. East champion Orioles, who won 100 games that season and didn’t make the playoffs. In the National League, the Phillies and Expos faced each other on the final weekend to decide the N.L. East while the Dodgers and Astros had a one-game playoff to decided who won that division. It was a fun season.
Review Fix: How do you think they’d fare in today’s MLB?
Daniel: It’s tough to say because the game has changed so much. Guys like Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage and J.R. Richard were special because they threw so hard. Now every team in the big leagues has 5 guys in their bullpen who throw harder than those guys. The approach to hitting is entirely different now than it was then and, of course, people stole bases during that era. That said, the greats could play in any era. I’m sure Schmidt, Brett, Steve Carlton, Rickey Henderson, and guys like that would be just fine in today’s game.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this book the most?
Daniel: Fans of the Phillies and the Royals will definitely enjoy the book but it isn’t just about those two teams. My hope was to write something that any baseball fan of that era could enjoy. I imagined people sitting down to read and saying, “Oh, I remember that!” No matter who you rooted for there’s something in the book for you and I would hope that it is a good primer for anyone looking to learn more about that era.
Review Fix: What are your goals for this book?
Daniel: I feel like the ’80s kinda get overlooked and one of the goals to point out there there was some great baseball played during that time. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on my Facebook page from people who have fond memories of that era, which has been really great. Before I wrote the book I felt like me and a small group of my friends were about the only ones who cared about that era but I’ve found a large group who really like what I do and that has been tremendously rewarding.
Review Fix: What’s next for you?
Daniel: I’m hoping to do another one soon!
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Daniel: If you’d like to come along with the nostalgia train with me you can follow me on Twitter @jdaniel2033 and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/80sbaseball/.