The Baltimore Orioles miraculously win the last 5 games of the season to qualify for the 1982 MLB playoffs over the Milwaukee Brewers, who for failing to get the spot become known as “Harvey's Chokers”. The O's beat the California Angels 3-1 to qualify for the World Series, and then swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win the championship.
IOTL: The Orioles lost the very last game to the Brewers, aka “Harvey's Wallbangers”, and thus were kept off the postseason by one point. Milwaukee beat the Angels in 5 before losing the World Series in 7, also to the Cardinals.
Following the World Series title, Earl Weaver stays one last season. Weaver's promoted minor leaguers such as Ken Dixon and Drungo Hazelwood fail to repeat the magic, and the Orioles fall in the 1983 ALCS to the Chicago White Sox, who in turn lose the WS to the Atlanta Braves (who had beaten the Philadelphia Phillies). Following Weaver's retirement, Orioles third base coach Cal Ripken, Sr. took over as manager, and the roster is overhauled, highlighted by struggling reliever Mike Boddicker sent to Toronto for third baseman Rance Mulliniks, and free agent Dave Parker, signing for nearly $1 million per season. In 1984, Boddicker is MVP for the Blue Jays, and the Chicago Cubs break their 77 year drought by beating the Tigers in the World Series.
IOTL: Weaver retired following 1982, and passed the O's to hand-picked new coach Joe Altobelli (who ITTL goes to the Yankees in 1984), who in turn leads Baltimore to the World Series riding Boddicker's strong play (who'd remain in Baltimore until 1988); they beat the Sox, and then the Phillies (who beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, that had narrowly surpassed the Braves on the NL West). Dave Parker signed a $970,000 deal with the Cincinnati Reds, and Ripken, Sr. became the O's coach in 1986. 1984 had the Tigers beating the Phillies in the World Series (winners of the Cubs' NL East). The Cubs saw their drought extend to over a century, with the next title only in 2016.
On April 1st, 1984, the Baltimore Colts move to Phoenix, leaving all their equipment behind - the players and managers had left the state in the middle of the night by taking dozens of cabs and limos to neighboring airports in Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Richmond, Virginia, where charter flights were waiting to take all of them to Arizona. In response, the Maryland legislature passed a bill they’d voted down just a few days earlier – it essentially gave the state the right to “seize” the team under something called “eminent domain,” just like the state can take your house if it needs to build a road or something so long as it pays you for it.
IOTL: The bill had passed on March 27, making the Phoenix group give up on the offer. This made Colts owner Bob Irsay to call the next day the other interested city, Indianapolis, whose mayor offered a $12.5 million loan, a $4 million training complex, and the use of the brand new $77.5 million, 57,980 seat Hoosier Dome. Irsay agreed, and then called the Mayflower Transit, who sent a fleet of 15 moving trucks to the Baltimore training facility. All the Colts' equipment was then brought to Indiana overnight on March 29, with each truck taking a different route to avoid drawing suspicions.
The 1984 Summer Olympics happen in Los Angeles. The breakout star is boxer Evander Holyfield, gold in the light heavyweight category. Mary Lou Retton is only silver in the gymnastics all-around for a slight mistake. The naturalized South African Zola Budd wins the women's 3000m over local girl and world champion Mary Decker, to loud boos. Maricica Puică of Romania gets the bronze.
IOTL: Retton, gold in the all-around with a perfect 10, becomes a huge star, promoted to hell and back. Holyfield was only bronze, having lost the semifinal in a controversial decision even the winner disagreed on, but went on to become world heavyweight champion. Puică was gold, while Decker and Budd infamously stumbled upon each other's legs, with the former falling and being unable to finish, and the latter losing her rhythm and finishing seventh.
Defending IBF Heavyweight champion Larry Holmes equalled Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 consecutive victories by defeating Michael Spinks by a unanimous, but narrow, 15-round decision in 1985. Spinks, the reigning IBF Light Heavyweight Championship, had never fought in the heavyweight division prior to the match; following the defeat, he would drop one pound and box in the cruiserweight class, setting up the highly-anticipated 1986 championship match against Evander Holyfield. Holyfield knocked him out, Spinks would retire from boxing afterwards, while Holyfield would go on to fight WBC heavyweight champ Trevor Berbick, beginning Holyfield’s 1987 “Unite the Belt!” promotion.
IOTL: Spinks won in a controversial decision, becoming the second fighter after Bob Fitzsimmons to win titles at both light heavyweight and heavyweight. A rematch in 1986 had Holmes losing again. Afterwards Spinks defeated European Heavyweight Champion Steffen Tangstad to defend his title, was stripped of the belt in 1987 by refusing to fight Tony Tucker, and accepting a higher offer to fight Gerry Cooney instead, and then retired after the infamous 91 second defeat in 1988 to the first Undisputed Heavyweight Champion since Spinks: Mike Tyson. Tyson had gotten the distinction - as well as being the youngest heavyweight champion ever - after beating Berbick in two rounds in 1986. Holyfield stayed at the cruiserweight level until 1988, uniting the cruiserweight belts before moving up to heavyweight; in his first heavyweight fight, Holyfield beat the crap out of James “Quick” Tillis.
Patrick Ewing reports to the 1984 NBA Draft. As expected, the Georgetown prospect is the top pick by the Houston Rockets, followed by Akeem Olajuwon going to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Rockets also aggressively sought another top 5 pick hoping to draft UNC standout Michael Jordan as well, and they do so by getting #3 from the Chicago Bulls, sending reigning rookie of the year Ralph Sampson and also getting Ennis Whatley. The Rockets become a powerhouse from the get-go, trouncing the Western Conference before beating the Boston Celtics in the 1985 Finals. The Bulls miss the playoffs, and the Blazers upset defending Western champion Los Angeles Lakers before falling to Houston in the conference finals.
IOTL: Ewing promised his mom he'd finish college, so he only applied for the NBA in 1985 (#1 pick, New York Knicks). The 1984 draft goes Olajuwon (Houston), Sam Bowie (Portland), Jordan (Chicago). MJ wins Rookie of the Year, both Chicago and Houston go to the playoffs only to fall in round 1. Portland falls to the Lakers in Round 2, and the finals are Lakers-Celtics, with L.A. winning. During the 1990s, Jordan won six titles with the Bulls, Olajuwon got two with the Rockets, and Ewing qualified for two finals with the Knicks but lost both.
The 1985 Chicago Bears manage the first perfect season in the 16 game era. During the bye week preceding the postseason, the “Black-N-Blues Brothers” recorded novelty rock single “Perfect Season”, which would precede three playoff wins, culminating in a tough 21-3 Super Bowl over the Miami Dolphins.
IOTL: The Bears lost week 13 to the Dolphins, and afterwards recorded a rap song, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” (which credited them as Chicago Bears Shufflin' Crew). The Super Bowl was won by Chicago in a 46-10 laugher over the New England Patriots (who had beaten Miami in the AFC Championship). New England won the 16 regular season games in 2007, the first team to do so; but given they lost the Super Bowl, the last fully perfect season is still Miami in 1972.
Pete Rose breaks the all-time hit record previously held by Hall of Famer Ty Cobb in 1985, but the underwhelming Cincinnati Reds campaign (80-82) leads to his dismissal from the team as both manager and player. In 1990, Rose voluntarily agreed to be placed on baseball’s permanently ineligible list, with no possibility of reinstatement, in connection with a confidential settlement entered in the Rose v. Giamatti case then pending in federal court in Ohio.
IOTL: The Reds were 89-72, second in its division. Rose remained one more year as player-manager at the age of 45, and kept as coach until 1989. That year, incoming MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti retained attorney John M. Dowd to investigate allegations that Rose had bet on major league baseball. Dowd’s findings – the “Dowd Report” – show unequivocally that from 1985 to 1987 (the period Dowd investigated), Rose bet on Cincinnati Reds games while he was managing the team. Pete Rose filed a lawsuit in state court attempting to block MLB from releasing the Dowd Report. This turned out to be a spectacularly stupid legal strategy; MLB successfully transferred the case to federal court, and, to defeat the injunction issued by the state court, was prepared to argue in open court on the merits of the underlying allegations. Knowing this, in 1989 Rose accordingly quickly agreed to voluntarily accept both the maximum sentence MLB could impose – a lifetime ban from baseball – and to allocate that MLB had a “factual basis” supporting such a ban in exchange for MLB’s agreement that it would drop the case and make no formal finding regarding his gambling.
In 1986, the Oakland Athletics go to the playoffs riding a stellar season by outfielder Stanley “The Hammer” Burrell, who helped them win 10 games in September to claw back nine and a half games back of first place to win the AL West.
IOTL: The A's finished 76-86, fourth in the division (won by the California Angels, 92-70). Stanley Burrell, a former A's batboy nicknamed “Hammer” by Reggie Jackson (to which Burrell added the title MC, “Master of Ceremonies” following many performances on the road clubs), dreamed of being a professional baseball player but did not make the final cut at a San Francisco Giants tryout. Instead, MC Hammer borrowed money from two A's players to finance his debut album Feel My Power in 1986, leading to a successful rap career highlighted by the diamond seller Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em (1990) and its hit single “U Can't Touch This”.
The United States Football League decides to be a direct competitor to the National Football League, a move led by New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump: they moved schedule to the fall, and the league reorganized itself to focus on NFL-less cities. An antitrust lawsuit against the NFL is put in Baltimore, and the USFL wins, the jury verdict awarding nearly $1.7 billion in damages. To settle matters, the NFL accepted a merger, accomodating for the 1986 season four teams in NFL-less markets (Birmingham Barons, Indianapolis Panthers, Jacksonville Bulls, Memphis Showboats, Orlando Bandits); two in cities which had recently lost their franchises (Baltimore Stars, Oakland Invaders); and Trump's Generals, relocated to New York's Yankee Stadium (making the league refer to them as New York, while Jets and Giants were “New Jersey” name as they play in that state); the Generals go all the way to the league semifinals, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs. KC in turn is victim to a Bears repeat, a near perfect 17-1 season.
IOTL: Phoenix, who backed out on the Baltimore Colts before they moved to Indiana, had USFL teams, including one of the league's last reminders, the Outlaws. The USFL attempted to play the also won its antitrust suit against the NFL; however, the New York-based jury in that suit accepted the NFL’s mitigation arguments and reduced the USFL’s damages to a “nominal” sum of $1, which was then tripled by law to $3, and increased to $3.76 with the application of prejudgment interest. Part of the phyrric defeat is because Trump made the case be put in a New York court, where the NFL is also headquartered. The USFL folded before the 1986 season even started, but the NFL absorbed players, innovations, and would even put teams where the other league was present (the St. Louis Cardinals moved to Arizona and the Houston Oilers to Tennessee; Baltimore got a team back through a controversial move by the Cleveland Browns and the L.A. Raiders returned to Oakland; and Jacksonville earned an expansion team in 1995). The 1986-87 NFL Playoffs culminated in the New York Giants winning Super Bowl XXI over the Denver Broncos - the Chiefs lost the AFC Wild Card Game, the Bears lost the Divisional Playoffs to the Washington Redskins (who in turn were trounced by the Giants in the NFC championship).