Friday, September 30, 2011

1977 New York Yankees

Call them what you like:  The Bronx Bombers, The Evil Empire...it doesn't matter, because when the day was done in 1977 you had to once again call them World Champions.  It had been a long time in coming since their last championship in 1962 (15 seasons), but the wait was worth it.  The previous season saw them return to post season action for the first time in 14 years, but after a walk off Chris Chambliss homer in the LC vs KC it all went downhill and the Reds swept them in the fall classic in 4 straight.  How do you solve this ?  If you're George Steinbrenner you open up your checkbook and purchase the best free agent out there, Reggie Jackson.  At first both Jackson and his manager (Billy Martin), known in these parts as the FLG (Firey Little Genius), had a bit of trouble getting along.  Reggie's ego was larger than the Empire State Building and Billy's dictatorial managerial style was just a tad less intrusive than Benito Mussolini's.  Both were like water and oil, so every day their saga played out in the back pages of the New York tabloids and appropriately became known as "The Bronx Zoo".  This was no ordinary zoo from ownership down to Gene Monahan (their trainer), this was a team built around veteran players who were ready to win now.  Thurman Munson was the captain of this team. Coming off an AL MVP season and a World Series where he hit over .500 "the captain" was ready to do battle.  Once he an his minions decided to let "Reggie be Reggie" (sorry Manny fans, but it was said here first), the team got on a roll and eventually over took the Red Sox and Orioles to win the AL East by 2 1/2.  Once again they did battle with the Royals and once again they came out on top.  In the World Series they once again renewed their interleague rivalry with the Dodgers.  A classic 6 game series took place with Reggie putting the final touches on a New York win with 3 consecutive homers, on 3 consecutive pitches vs 3 different pitchers.  Reggie was the Series MVP and all was well in the Bronx !  Coach Yogi Berra put it the best, "It don't get no better dan dis".

This updated set of players includes 14 new cards for New York.

Topps issued one of the worst ever BHNH cards for Catfish for the '77 set.  No way were we going to use that card here.  Catfish was one of the classiest competitors ever and a man who tragically died so young.  He was the first big time free agent signed thanks to Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley botching thing up and sending him his bonus payment 2 weeks late.  When he signed with the Yankees he signaled that the franchise was ready to awaken from a decade long decline.  Catfish didn't have one of his better seasons in '77.  His 9-9 record and 4.71 ERA doesn't tell the story of how his veteran leadership helped put this team over the top.  Fatigue could have been a huge factor considering that he threw over 600 innings in the past 2 seasons + age was catching up to him.  Some said he was an "old 31".  

In his final season in the "biggs", Loclear would get just 5 AB's for the Yanks, but he would make the most of it.  Going 3 for 5 means a .600 average and that means that we will probably see him come in as a late inning pinch hitter with the game on the line at least 6 or 7 times.  His best years were in San Diego where he was a .270 hitting platoon corner outfielder.

The "Z-man" was a utility infielder who in 65 AB's managed to hit a sweet .323.  Zeber backed up Nettles at 3rd, Dent at short and Willie Randolph at second.  He returned in '78 and played just 3 games and was never heard of again (in baseball terms).  The Zeber mystery has still never been answered ?  How does a guy go from .323 to oblivion in just 2 year ?  With so many other storylines going on in the Bronx, this one is truly the untold/unheard one.

Perez was acquired from the Giants in the off season for the immortal Terry Whitfield.  He got into one game and went 2 for 4.  His career in pinstripes ended in April when he was dealt along with others to the A's, who were having another fire sale, for Mike Torrez.

Not exactly the greatest name to have if you want to be known as a graceful utility infielder.  Klutts was a Billy Martin favorite due to his hustle and grit.  When Martin moved over to Oakland in the early 80's, Klutts followed him over to the Bay Area.  In 15 games during the '77 season he hit .267 and didn't make a single error in the field.  Not too bad for a Klutts ?

After going 0 for 17 in 1975 Bergman found himself back in AAA for the full '76 season.  He made a cameo in '77 playing in 5 games and getting 4 AB's with 1 hit.  He would go on to have a solid 17 year career mostly with Houston and Detroit.  Interestingly he was the player to be named later in a deal with Houston that sent Cliff Johnson to the Yankees.  Bergman was chosen as that player after the season ended, so he actually got to play with the guy he was traded for !

"Kong" played for 4 different team during the '77 season.  He started with the Mets and was part of the "Midnight Massacre" which saw the Amazin's liquidate their team down to nothing.  Kingman and Seaver were the key players sent packing.  Facing free agency and not willing to sign with anyone until after the season, Kingman kept packing his bags.  He wound up in pinstripes for the September run and contributed 4 key homers down the stretch, but was not eligible for the post season since he wasn't on the roster before 9/1.  I could not find a color photo of Kingman in pinstripes since he basically spent just 2 weeks in the Bronx.  For the updated card I used a Black & White wire photo and colorized it.  I hate the BHNH photo, but since his is the only one I had to work with...beggars can't be choosy.

Alston had 40 AB's and hit .325 for the Bombers as a part time outfielder / DH.  With an outfield of Jackson/Rivers and Piniella Alston wasn't going to see much time tracking down fly balls in "Death Valley", so after the '78 season he was dealt to Oakland, where he lasted just 1 season before moving on to Cleveland.

Known more for his days in Baltimore as one half of a great catching platoon that won 4 pennants in 6 years and 2 World Championships, Hendricks was purely a backup guy in the Bronx.  In essence he was Fran Healy's backup and Healy was Munson's backup, which explains why he saw action in just 10 games.  Most of his time was spent out in the pen warming up pitchers and acting more like an assistant to the pitching coach.

Acquired in April as a backup plan for catcher and first, Johnson split time between those positions and DH.  He hit 12 homers in just 142 AB's.  He also hit .400 in the ALCS as the Yankee DH, but did not see much action in the World Series.

McCall pitched in 2 games and compiled a 7.50 ERA during the '77 season.  He wasn't much better in '78, so he was dealt to Texas in a deal that brought back future Yankee legend Dave Righetti.  This B&W photo was colorized and cropped carefully to fit on this card.  It's poor quality is quite reminiscent of the poor airbrush quality that Topps included in the original set.  It also didn't pay to work too hard in making a card for a guy who might see an inning or two of action :) !

Amazingly Stan won a game in '77 even with his inflated 7.11 ERA and just 3 opportunities on the hill.  I took his '77 Mariners card and replaced his airbrushed Mariner cap with Don Gullet's airbrushed Yankee cap.  I call this a fair trade, wouldn't you ?  At the end of the season he would be dealt to the Chisox as part of a deal that returned Jim Spencer.  Chicago cut him in Spring Training and he would never again pitch in the majors.

Was the 7th overall pick in the 1975 baseball draft.  Patterson came highly touted and sky rocketed through the Yankee chain right to the Bronx in just 2 years.  He made his debut at the age of 21 and impressed right from the start.  Yaz called him, "the best pitching prospect I've seen in the AL in years".  Not too shabby a comment from a man of Yaz' stature.  Unfortunately it all came crashing down just as quick as it started.  Arm injuries would derrail Patterson's career immediately.  After a failed rotator cuff surgery in '77 and failed rehab in '78 Gil resorted to trying to throw lefty in Spring training. It just didn't work out.  Today he is a well respected pitching coach.  His 1-2 record and 5.40 ERA in 10 games during the '77 season amounts to his MLB career resume.

Clay spent 3 seasons, starting in '77, in pinstripes as a long man out of the pen and a spot starter.  He wasn't overpowering or dominant, but he found a way to get the job done.  This updated card has a signed photo taken while the Bombers were on the road.  He was dealt after the '79 season to Texas for future HOF'er Gaylord Perry.

NOTE:  Thanks to the good folks at Topps and Burger King a mid season 23 card set was issued for the Yankees.  I collected that set during the season and saved the cards in a special album.  34 years later it would pay dividends, because I was able to scan the cards for:  Reggie, Dent, Blair, Torrez, Wynn and Gullett, so I did not have to create them from scratch like this mini set.  On a side note, the Burger King set was originally 22 cards, but Lou Piniella was ticked off (now that's a shock) that he wasn't included, so Steinbrenner had to call Sy Berger up at Topps and demand his inclusion.  This ensured that their would be a "limited" supply of Piniella cards in circulation, which was why it was hard to complete the full set back when we were collecting them !

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