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Traces: 1979
Phils' Howard among stars born in banner year
By Doug Miller /

The United States and the People's Republic of China established diplomatic relations on the very first day of 1979, kicking off a year that would have Major League implications for the 2008 baseball postseason.

For example, the same year in which ESPN first hit the cable airwaves and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in Iran also gave us the births of six members of the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies teams that met in the 2008 World Series.

The Phillies' Carlos Ruiz (Jan. 22), Jayson Werth (May 20) and Ryan Howard (Nov. 19) were born in 1979, as were the Rays' Akinori Iwamura (Feb. 9), Gabe Gross (Oct. 21) and Jason Bartlett (Oct. 30). And 29 years after their births, all six players did their part to make 2008 a memorable season.

For Philadelphia, Ruiz notched a walk-off hit in the Game 3 of the World Series and provided a steady hand behind the plate throughout the 2009 postseason. Werth joined the 20-20 club with 24 homers and 20 stolen bases, and Howard put up his usual monster power numbers, blasting 48 long balls with 146 RBIs and a .543 slugging percentage.

The Rays enjoyed solid years from their 1979 boys, too. Iwamura hit .273 with a .349 on-base percentage and scored 91 runs, mostly out of the leadoff spot. Gross hit 13 homers in 302 at-bats, including a few game-winners in the heat of a pennant race. Bartlett batted .286 and provided a fantastic glove at shortstop to help the Rays become of the Majors' most improved defensive teams.

Bartlett also doesn't have a problem dropping the name of his favorite classic TV show that debuted not long after he was born.

"I didn't really watch a lot of TV growing up because I was always playing sports," he said. "But if I had to go with one, it'd be 'Knight Rider.'"

Visions of a young David Hasselhoff notwithstanding, many more significant sights were seen around the world in 1979:

*Pluto moves inside Neptune's orbit for the first time.

*Snow falls in the Sahara Desert for 30 minutes.

*The nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, Penn., suffers a partial meltdown.

*Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT II agreement.

*The Susan B. Anthony dollar is introduced in America.

*The Chrysler Corporation asks the U.S. government for $1 billion to avoid bankruptcy.

*The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.

In the film industry, American movies had a banner year with "Alien," "The Amityville Horror," "Apocalypse Now," "Breaking Away," "Escape from Alcatraz," "The Jerk," "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Rocky II," "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and "The Warriors" all hitting the big screen.

In music, the disco craze lived on with "Le Freak" by Chic, "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer" and "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, but rock took the top spot on the charts with "My Sharona" by the Knack topping the singles chart.

Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.