Thursday, January 20, 2011

PTWSW #74: The 1977 New York Yankees

Manager: Billy Martin
Record: 100-62
Ballpark: Yankee Stadium
Owner: George Steinbrenner
GM: Gabe Paul
Coaches: Yogi Berra, Cloyd Boyer, Bobby Cox, Art Fowler, Elston Howard, Dick Howser

Future Hall of Famers: Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson

All-Stars: Reggie Jackson, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph

Team Leaders, Batting

BA: Mickey Rivers, .326
OBP: Reggie Jackson, 375
SLG: Reggie Jackson, .550
OPS: Reggie Jackson, .925
2B: Reggie Jackson, 39
3B: Willie Randolph, 11
HR: Graig Nettles, 37
RBI: Reggie Jackson, 110
BB: Roy White, 75
SB: Mickey Rivers, 22

Team Leaders, Pitching

W: Ed Figueroa, Ron Guidry, 16
SO: Ron Guidry, 176
ERA: Ron Guidry, 2.82
IP: Ed Figueroa, 239.1
CG: Mike Torrez, 15
SHO: Ron Guidry, 5
K/BB: Ron Guidry, 2.71
SV: Sparky Lyle, 26


Oldest Player: Elrod Hendricks (b. December 22, 1940)

Youngest Player: Gil Patterson (b. September 5, 1955)

First to Leave Us: Thurman Munson (d. August 2, 1979). The Yankee family received a shock just two years later when their team captain, a licensed pilot, met an untimely end by crashing his private jet.

Last Survivor: Most are still living as of the date of this post.

First in Majors: Jimmy Wynn (debut July 10, 1963)

Last in Majors: Dave Bergman and Willie Randolph both played their final games on October 4, 1992.

First to Play For the Franchise: Roy White (September 7, 1965)

Last to Play For the Franchise: Willie Randolph played his last game for the Yankees on September 30, 1988, three days after Ron Guidry played his.

Pre-union Team: The 1972 Indians (Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles, Fred Stanley, Dick Tidrow) and 1976 Orioles (Paul Blair, Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman, Reggie Jackson) with four each.

Reunion Team: The 1979-80 Rangers (Ken Clay (1980), Dock Ellis (1979), Ed Figueroa (1980), Sparky Lyle, Larry McCall (1979), Mickey Rivers) and 1981 Athletics (Ed Figueroa, Cliff Johnson, Mickey Klutts, Fred Stanley) with four each.

Other: Yankee Stadium hosted the All-Star Game that year, the third time the World Series winner was the All-Star host.


Sparky Lyle, AL Cy Young
Graig Nettles, AL Third Base Gold Glove

Season Summary

After the Reds romped over the Yankees in the 1976 World Series, owner George Steinbrenner vowed his team would be back stronger next year. He made good on his promise; first he signed Don Gullett away from the Reds to solidify the top of their rotation, then he landed Reggie Jackson from the Orioles to play right field and strengthen the heart of their lineup. Veteran outfielders Jimmy Wynn and Paul Blair were brought on as well, and two days before Opening Day the Yanks traded surplus outfielder Oscar Gamble to the White Sox for shortstop Bucky Dent. With a well-balanced roster and their talent level clearly upgraded, the Yankees began the season heavily favored to repeat as AL Champions. The question remained though, how well combative manager Billy Martin, the strong-willed Steinbrenner and this collection of large egos would be able to coexist.

As it turned out, the lack of chemistry wasn't enough to prevent the Yankees from winning, though they didn't run away with the pennant as many thought they could've. They spent less than half the season in first place, never with a sizable lead, and it was only a late hot streak that allowed them to make the playoffs. True to expectations, the clubhouse was a tumultuous environment. Catcher Thurman Munson was officially the team captain, but his star was often overshadowed by the charismatic and controversial Reggie Jackson. In May, Sport magazine published an interview where Jackson referred to himself as "the straw that stirs the drink" (speaking metaphorically about the Yankees) and said that Munson "could only stir it bad," a quote that did little to endear him to his new teammate.

Billy Martin's job security was called into question throughout the year due to strained relations with the front office and the sense that the team was underachieving, but he always managed to avoid the axe. The hard-nosed Martin was constantly at odds with the egotistical Jackson, and their feuding boiled over on June 18, when Martin pulled Jackson in the sixth inning of a loss to Boston for a lack of effort, prompting a dugout brawl. It wasn't until the last two months that the Yankees finally started playing to their highest capabilities. On August 6 they were 59-49, in third place and five games out of first; they finished the season on a 41-13 tear, pulling them ahead of the Red Sox and Orioles for another division title.

The ALCS rematched the Yankees with the Kansas City Royals, who they'd beaten en route to the pennant the year before. In 1976 the Yankees had won in five games when Chris Chambliss hit a walkoff blast; for the second year in a row, it came down to the ninth inning of Game 5. In the top half, with the Royals holding a one-run lead, the Yankees tallied three runs, taking the lead on Willie Randolph's sacrifice fly. Sparky Lyle followed by pitching a scoreless bottom half, punching the Yankees' tickets back to the World Series.

The Fall Classic presented a modern twist on the 1950's New York baseball scene, as what was once a perennial battle of the boroughs became a study in coastal contrasts. The National League Champion was the Los Angeles Dodgers, now representing the glamor of Hollywood rather than blue-collar family atmosphere of Brooklyn. As frequently happened two decades earlier, the Dodgers put up a good fight, but didn't have enough to knock off the men in pinstripes. After the Yankees won Game 1 on Paul Blair's twelfth-inning RBI single, the two teams split the next four games, setting up the most memorable performance of the Series.

Game 6 itself wasn't particularly close, but that night Reggie Jackson earned the nickname for which he'll always be remembered: "Mr. October." In three official at-bats against three different pitchers, Jackson sent the first offering into the seats, making him only the second player in history to notch three homers in a World Series game. The Yankees won it 8-4 to clinch their first title in 15 years, with Jackson's heroics earning him the MVP. In spite of all the drama behind (and in) the scenes, the Bombers had come together as a championship ballclub.


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