Year In Review : 1981 National League
Off the field...
Pope John Paul II was shot in an assassination attempt by Turkish-born Mehmet Ali Agca. Although wounded badly, he made a quick recovery and soon thereafter resumed his regular travel schedule. The attack gave birth to the infamous "Pope Mobile," a modified Range Rover with the back converted to a large box made of bullet-proof glass which allowed him to ride along, but also stand up and wave to the crowds.
President Ronald Reagan was also shot and gravely wounded by a lone gunman, John Hinckley who was quoted as attempting to impress the actress Jodi Foster. Although the president recovered fully, his press secretary, Jim Brady was wounded in the head and has remained partially paralyzed to this day. Hinckley remains committed to a mental institution.
Sandra Day O'Connor was sworn in as the first female judge on the Supreme Court after being nominated by President Reagan. The courts 102nd appointee served as an Arizona assistant attorney general from 1965 to 1969, when she was appointed to a vacancy in the Arizona Senate. In 1974, she ran successfully for trial judge, a position she held until she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979.
In the American League...
In the first game of an April 19th doubleheader, the Oakland Athletics set a Major League mark for most consecutive wins at the start of the season after running their record to 11-0 with a 6-1 win over the Seattle Mariners.
On Friday, May 15th, Cleveland Indians pitcher Len Barker (the 1980 American League strikeout leader) fanned eleven batters on the way to a 3-0 triumph over the Toronto Blue Jays for the ninth perfect game in 20th century history.
The Milwaukee Brewers' Rollie Fingers became the first relief pitcher ever to win the American League MVP Award, edging the Oakland A's Rickey Henderson 319-308. The lanky right-hander with the handlebar mustache went on to become one of the greatest relief artists in all of baseball, lasting seventeen years and compiling the record for most career saves (three-hundred forty-five) as well as World Series saves (seven).
In the National League...
Philadelphia ace Steve Carlton struck out the side (Tim Raines, Jerry Manuel, and Tim Wallach) in the first inning of a 6-2 Phillies victory over the Montreal Expos on April 29th to become the first lefthander in Major League history (and sixth pitcher overall) to record three-thousand career strikeouts.
Los Angeles Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela became the first rookie ever to win a Cy Young Award after edging the Cincinnati Reds Tom Seaver 70-67 for National League honors. He also became the first rookie since the Cleveland Indians' Herb Score in 1955 to lead his league in strikeouts with one-hundred eighty.
Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt won his second consecutive National League MVP Award, joining Ernie Banks and Joe Morgan as the only National League players to win the citation back-to-back. The perennial Philadelphia All-Star hit .316 with thirty-one home runs and added ninety-one RBIs despite the abbreviated season.
Around the league...
The Executive Board of the Players' Association voted unanimously to strike on May 29th due to the unresolved issue of free-agent compensation. The deadline was extended briefly, however, after the Players' Association's unfair labor complaint was heard by the National Labor Relations Board.
At 12:30 A.M on June 12th, union chief Marvin Miller announced the player's strike beginning the longest labor action to date in American sports history. By the time the season finally resumed on August 10th, seven-hundred six games (38 percent of the Major League schedule) had been canceled.
Due to the two-month strike, Major League owners elected to split the 1981 season into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series. As a result, the Oakland A's, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Los Angeles Dodgers were guaranteed playoff spots as first-half league champions.
Seattle Mariners manager Maury Wills was suspended for two games after ordering the grounds crew to enlarge the batter's boxes by one foot prior to its game with the Oakland Athletics. The request was in response to the A's complaint that Seattle's Tom Paciorek frequently stepped out of the box while hitting.