Groundhog Day: What could have been in 1983

White Sox remember misstep that kept them from World Series

Groundhog Day: What could have been in 1983

CHICAGO -- A single thought ran through the minds of the White Sox as they approached Game 4 of the 1983 American League Championship Series, sitting on the brink of elimination against the Orioles. Somehow get to Game 5, and they would be on their way to the franchise's first World Series appearance since 1959 and possibly their first title since 1917.

"Everybody was very confident that if we could get to Game 5, we would be in the World Series," said Britt Burns, who currently serves as pitching coach for Double-A Birmingham, but started Game 4 for the White Sox in '83. "I think [the Orioles] knew that for that matter: 'If these guys take us to Game 5, we're in trouble.'"

"We choose to believe if we could have won the game, we would have won the next game," said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, whose ownership group was in its third year at the helm in '83. "La Marr was unbeatable that year."

The "La Marr" being referred to by Reinsdorf is La Marr Hoyt, the 1983 AL Cy Young Award winner with a 24-10 record, and a pitcher who went 15-2 with a 3.16 ERA after the All-Star break. Hoyt also topped the Orioles with a complete-game, 2-1 effort in Game 1 of the ALCS, so the White Sox felt comfortable with the right-hander finishing Game 5 in Chicago.

Hoyt never got the chance. Baltimore claimed a 3-0 win in 10 innings to earn a 3-1 ALCS victory, with Tito Landrum connecting on a fastball up from Burns on his 150th pitch for the game-winner. If not for an earlier baserunning gaffe by Jerry Dybzynski, this game might never have gone to bonus baseball.

Greg Walker singled off of Storm Davis and Vance Law singled off of reliever Tippy Martinez to open the seventh of a scoreless game. Pinch-runner Mike Squires was thrown out at third on Dybzynski's sacrifice attempt on a 3-1 count, but Julio Cruz followed with a single to left that would have loaded the bases.

There was just one problem. When third base coach Jim Leyland held Law at third, Dybzynski went too far around second. The ensuing rundown finished with Law getting thrown out at the plate. So, when Martinez balked with Rudy Law hitting, runners moved to second and third instead of scoring a run. Rudy Law flew out to end the threat.

To blame Dybzynski, a solid contributor on that 99-win team, for the failure to face Philadelphia in the World Series wouldn't be fair. Yet, pause for thought exists as to whether one run would have been enough for Burns and if a Game 4 win would have started the road to the end of a title drought.

During the '05 championship run, the breaks went in favor of Reinsdorf's second 99-win team. There was the dropped third strike in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS against the Angels with A.J. Pierzynski at the plate, with the White Sox already down one game, and there was Tony Graffanino's fielding error in Game 2 of the ALDS against Boston, contributing to a five-run fifth inning for the White Sox, to name a few.

A.J. takes first

These what-ifs ultimately can "make you crazy," as Reinsdorf pointed out, as in: 'What if the White Sox survived Game 4 in '83?'

"Dyber was just being aggressive. It's hard to fault the guy with being aggressive," Reinsdorf said. "But '05 was better because we didn't win it in '83.

"It just added another 22 years. The only thing I know for sure is we won it in '05. All the bad things were behind us, and we got all the good things in '05."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.