It was a memorable year. George Brett almost hit .400, the National League had two gut-clenching pennant races, San Francisco's Willie McCovey retired, and the players and owners narrowly averted a strike. At times the mood got ugly on the field as pitchers threw at hitters and the hitters took their anger to the mound. But an early season attendance slump, amid the threat of a player walkout, cost baseball another record ticket-selling season. Even so, Los Angeles set a single-season mark by drawing 3,249,287 fans to Dodger Stadium, the Yankees set a record for road attendance (2,461,240), and for the first time every National League team passed the one-million figure at home. Led by the A's Ricky Henderson, three runners stole more than 90 bases, a feat accomplished by only three other players since 1900. The major league total of 3,290 was the highest since 1911.
KC's Brett batted 38 points higher than anyone in baseball and drove in 118 runs in 117 games. Not since Walt Dropo's 144 in 136 games for the 1950 Red Sox has a player had more RBIs than games played. In addition to leading the league in runs and hits, Willie Wilson became the first player to break the 700 at-bat barrier, and he batted .326. Dan Quisenberry (12-7, 3.09) was the stalwart of the Royals' bullpen.
Charlie Finley sold the A's, and Billy Martin managed them to a surprising 83-79 season with a daring brand of "Billy Ball." Highlighting the A's leap from last to second was Henderson's base running (he broke Ty Cobb's league mark of 96 steals), .303 average and 117 walks, and Mike Norris' 22 wins. Although Mickey Rivers (210 hits), Al Oliver (209) and Buddy Bell all batted better than .300, Texas had a 31-46 record in one-and two-run games. The Twins dropped out of contention so quickly that Manager Gene Mauch resigned, forfeiting his $100,000 salary for 1981. Then Minnesota ran off a 12-game winning streak in the final weeks of the season, the longest in the majors this year. Ken Landreaux of the Twins had a 31-game hitting streak but was fined in the middle of it for wearing his socks too high. Flamboyant White Sox President Bill Veeck left baseball, but not before reactivating 57-year-old coach Minnie Minoso to make him the second player to perform in five different decades. Minoso was hitless in his two plate appearances. Seattle Pitcher Rick Honeycutt was given a 10-game suspension for taping a thumbtack on the forefinger of his glove hand to deface the ball. The rest of the team couldn't cut it either, even though the front office fired Darrell Johnson and hired peppery Maury Wills as manager. The Mariners finished with the majors' worst record (59-103). Those who picked California to repeat in the West no doubt expected Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Brian Downing and Dan Ford to have outstanding years again. But because of injuries, they had almost no years at all, and the 1979 Western Division champs didn't even reach .500.
The Yankees won the East after leading from May 14. New Catcher Rick Cerone batted .277 and threw out 47% of the opposition's base stealers. Other stars were Reggie Jackson (.300, 111 RBIs) and Reliever Goose Gossage (28 consecutive perfect innings over one span).
Baltimore fell short despite Ken Singleton's 19 game-winning hits, Steve Stone's 25 victories and Eddie Murray's .300 average, 32 homers and 116 RBIs. Boston's bat-or-bust attack went for naught when Jim Rice slumped and Fred Lynn was injured. At season's end Don Zimmer, a proponent of Boston's one-dimensional approach, was fired as manager. Overshadowed by the headline-grabbing performances of Milwaukee's Cecil Cooper (.352) and Ben Oglivie (.304, 118 RBIs) was the extraordinary play of Brewer Shortstop Robin Yount, who got his 1,000th hit at an earlier age (25) than anyone but Ty Cobb and Al Kaline. The Tigers didn't live up to the preseason hype of Manager Sparky Anderson, who at the end called this "my most disappointing season ever." The Indians prospered with newcomers Joe Charboneau (23 homers), Jorge Orta (.291) and Miguel Dilone (.341, 61 steals). Toronto started fast and, with a 67-95 record, finally finished a season with fewer than 100 losses.
As the players raged against the fans and press and compared rookie Manager Dallas Green to a Gestapo chief, Philadelphia won its fourth Eastern Division title in the last five years. The world-champion Pirates suffered on several fronts—Bill Madlock's 15-day suspension for poking an umpire with his glove, injuries to Dave Parker and Willie Stargell and an off season by Reliever Kent Tekulve—and finished third. Newcomer Ron LeFlore's base stealing and 95 runs helped the Expos give Philadelphia a run for its money. The Cubs dropped to last place in the East as Dave Kingman missed most of the season with a shoulder injury. Five .300 hitters and four different managers couldn't atone for dreadful Cardinal pitching. The Mets turned quite a trick in dropping from .500 and four games out in July to 28 games under and 24 back at season's end. Still, they finished out of the cellar for the first time since 1976.
Houston could have lost hope when Pitcher J.R. Richard (10-4) suffered a stroke on July 30. Instead, Vern Ruhle came from oblivion to win 12 times, Joe Niekro added 20 victories and the bullpen saved 41 games. The Dodgers got stalwart performances from Jerry Reuss (18-6) and Dusty Baker (.294, 29 homers, 97 RBIs). One of the Reds' few boasts was Johnny Bench's career home-run record (356) for catchers. Atlanta's season began with a 1-9 record and laggard attendance; it ended with an 81-80 record and an attendance of more than one million for the first time since 1971. In San Francisco, Giant Third Baseman Darrell Evans made three errors in one inning and Manager Dave Bristol blackened the eye of Pitcher John Montefusco. San Diego broadcaster-turned-manager Jerry Coleman signaled for a relief pitcher and then attempted to reverse himself. No wonder that at season's end he was sent back to the broadcasting booth.