When center fielder Ken Landreaux caught Bob Watson’s fly for the final out of the 1981 World Series, Yankee Stadium fell silent.
Years of anguish came to an end. The Dodgers had finally beaten the New York Yankees on the World Series stage, and it was time to smash champagne.
Forty years later, former reliever Tom Niedenfuer remembers the silence that filled the Bronx stadium as Game 6 concluded. He remembers celebrating in the dressing room with his teammates. However, he does not remember when the night turned into tomorrow, but the champagne on the plane to Los Angeles is still a good memory. But that’s to be expected when his team wins its first World Series title in 16 years.
Niedenfuer and his former teammates heard the roar of the crowd in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon as the Dodgers honored the 1981 team for the 40th anniversary of the organization’s fifth World Series title.
Players from the 1981 team stood along the third base line at Dodger Stadium as the club celebrated and honored the team members who died, including legendary manager Tommy Lasorda.
“With Tommy, you had to believe with him. You thought you would win every day, ”Niedenfuer said. “But it was very different for me because it was my first year. The older guys lost to the Yankees in ’77 and ’78. He was just a new kid on the block, but those guys had something to prove.
And it showed something that they did. The comeback boys overcame three-series deficits during the 1981 postseason, battling elimination with veterans and rookie power. Their endurance was on full display when they prevailed after falling 2-0 to Houston in a best-of-five series, 2-1 to Montreal in the best-of-five NL Championship Series and 2-0 to New York in the World Series to the best of seven.
“I call it the championship of destiny,” said former first baseman Steve Garvey.
Facing the Yankees was familiar to Los Angeles’ long-running infield. As a group, they had played the Yankees in the ’77 and ’78 Fall Classics, and each time they saw the Bronx Bombers lift the World Series trophy after Game 6.
Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey knew their time as teammates was in its final days. The Longest Running Infield, headlines together since 1973, missed eight weeks of playing together due to the 1981 player strike. They wanted to win it all in their final season together, and it had to be against the Yankees.
«It was our last year. We tried it together, and it was against the Yankees. We finally beat the Yankees, “Russell said. “Even in Brooklyn, when we got here to Los Angeles, they had trouble beating the Yankees.”
When New York took a 2-0 lead in the series, Los Angeles was potentially two games away from losing to the Yankees for the third time in five seasons.
The energy in the clubhouse was tangible, as Niedenfuer described. The team knew what it was capable of, and Game 3 was in the hands of rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela with Fernandomania in full force.
«See Fernando’s success at the beginning of the year before I got here [me ayudó], because if such a young boy could do it, it makes you feel, ‘Why can’t you go up?’ ”Niedenfuer said. “… It made us feel much more comfortable that the step is not so great from the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues”,
After Valenzuela pitched a complete game to win Game 3, the Dodgers’ offense led the way in an 8-7 comeback in Game 4. Jay Johnstone’s two-run homer in the sixth inning sparked the comeback.
That’s when the Dodgers knew they were going to be the 1981 World Series champions.
“Just the name, the ‘Yankees,’ knowing that tradition there and the many times they’ve been to the postseason and the World Series,” Russell said. “I think everyone wants to beat the top team.”
The Dodgers won all three games in Los Angeles to take a 3-2 lead in the series back to New York for Game 6. Pedro Guerrero drove in five runs in the deciding factor for the Dodgers to achieve a 9-2 victory. .
Forty years later, the feat of the World Series comes to mind from time to time. Some of the 1981 players thought back to their Fall Classic when the Dodgers hit the World Series stage in 2020. Like 39 years before, the Dodgers won in six games after years of heartbreak.
«[Los Dodgers] They are really lovely, to get all the boys back together, ”Garvey said. “Obviously when you retire, regardless of age, you go through all walks of life and then you have the opportunity to come together and remember and renew those ties that possibly made the best collaborative moment in our history.” (LA Dodgers.com)