Snapshots from the 1980s: Chris Chambliss

Three years ago I did a series of short interviews, focusing on baseball in the decade of the 1980s, for a book that was never published. Starting today they will begin appearing here, perhaps on a weekly basis. First up is Chris Chambliss, who played 18 big-league seasons with the Indians, Yankees and Braves from 1971-1988.


Chambliss, on why was there so much competitive balance in the 1980s [nine different teams won a World Series]: “It’s hard to say, but maybe free agency, which began in 1976, had something to do with it. A lot depends on clubs’ payrolls, and maybe the payrolls were a little closer to equal compared to now, where there is a huge difference between the high-end clubs and the low-end clubs as far as revenue and how much money they spend on salaries. Sometimes that has a lot to do with the competitive balance.”

On how the American League and National League compared: “In those days, the strike zone was different. The umpires are the same in each league now, where before it used to be American League and National League umpires. Basically, when I played it was a low strike zone for the National League and a higher strike zone for the American League. That was pretty much the biggest difference. And, of course the DH made each league different, as it still does today.”

On the percentage of African American players being much higher than it is today: “There’s no doubt that‘s the case and my thoughts are that we’re not developing the young people at an early enough age to get them interested in the game. There’s much more glamour in basketball and football. There are programs that are trying to address that problem, but we need to reach them at a much earlier age than we do. When I was young, I played every sport there was. I played football, basketball, baseball, track – but baseball was certainly a part of it; I played baseball from about the time I was five years old. So it’s all about exposure to other sports. Today, parents are trying to clone their kids into a certain sport. To me, I got a complete variety of sports that I could have chosen; I played college football as well as baseball.”

On 1980’s attitudes toward drug use, especially cocaine: “I never used that stuff, but drugs have been wrong for sports for a long time, and everybody feels that way. If you get caught… it usually comes out in the end if you’re using that kind of stuff. What everybody thought about it was that it didn’t belong in the game. It’s just like it is now: drugs don’t belong in any professional or amateur sports, period.”

On the steroid era: “Steroids weren’t an issue, and weren’t talked about, when I played. They really weren’t a big deal. There have always been teams that police themselves and teams that don’t. The atmosphere of the game is completely different than when I played. The guys are different, but that’s because people are different. It’s just a different era. It’s a waste of time to go back and forth and compare, because you can’t put everything in the same perspective. You’re not under the same conditions as you were in my era.”

On playing for Joe Torre: “He was wonderful. He was a first-class individual and a professional, and he demanded that from his players. That’s what has made him a great manager. He did a great job with the Yankees, and continued to do a great job, because he’s the kind of guy that makes you take responsibility for what you’re doing on the field.”

On playing with Dale Murphy: “Dale Murphy was probably one of the nicest individuals I’ve ever been around. He was a wonderful teammate and a great player. Had his knees not hurt him as badly as they did late in his career, I think he had a chance to be in the Hall of Fame. He was a great ballplayer who hit for a high average and power, he was a clutch hitter, and he was an outstanding outfielder. I don’t know if you know his history, but he became an outfielder in the 1980s, and within a few years he was one of the best in the game.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

6 Responses to “Snapshots from the 1980s: Chris Chambliss”

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  1. Detroit Michael says:

    Well that’s got to be incredibly frustrating. Sorry that the book was never published.

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  2. Justin Bailey says:

    “It’s just like it is now: drugs don’t belong in any professional or amateur sports, period.”

    Hah, tell that to Wade Boggs.

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  3. Raf says:

    9 different teams may have won a World Series, but it was the same handful of teams that were contending; There were several repeat division champions.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      With less teams in the playoffs, it’s still pretty impressive that there weren’t more repeat champions. Today, the Yankees make the playoffs every year and “only” win twice in a decade. Mostly because there are more teams in the crapshoot known as the playoffs.

      There is a correlation between payroll and winning. If you were to look at MLBs gini coefficient, it’s pretty bad. Cap and floor please.

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  4. The 80s were my favorite decade, both because it was the baseball of my youth and because of the different types of teams that were successful.

    My cardinals were speed & defense, the Twins were power, as was OAK. There were big market teams like the Mets and Dodgers but also the Royals. DET had an all-time great start, and The Cubs were even good for a year.

    The 90s and beyond is where the big clubs like ATL and NYY sorta took over. Our perception now is clouded by the extra divisions and wild card births.

    There have still been good underdog stories like CLE, FLA, TBR, and even BO’S to a degree with those pesky Twins winning a title.

    If MLB still had just 4 divisions it might be even more dominated by the East.

    Also, it didn’t seem like baseball players had a undies opposition to cocaine in the 80s, but that was also prevalent among those with money.

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  5. Undies = unified, sometimes the auto fill feature of posting from your phone makes a bit of humor.

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