Buoyed by their return to a remodeled and refurbished Yankee Stadium, as well as their off-season acquisitions of Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph, Ed Figueroa, and Dock Ellis, the New York Yankees advanced to the postseason for the first time in 12 years in 1976. The Yankees captured their first A.L. East title, finishing the regular season with a record of 97-62, 10 ½ games ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles.
The American League’s most well-balanced ball club, the Yankees posted a league-leading 3.19 team ERA, and they also placed second in the circuit with 730 runs scored, 120 home runs, and a .269 team batting average. Catfish Hunter anchored New York’s pitching staff, winning 17 games and finishing among the league leaders with 298 innings pitched and 21 complete games. Ed Figueroa led the team with 19 victories and a 3.02 ERA. Dock Ellis gave the Yankees a third reliable starter, compiling a record of 17-8 and an ERA of 3.19. Bullpen ace Sparky Lyle led the league with 23 saves.
On offense, New York unveiled a more aggressive brand of baseball under manager Billy Martin, who replaced the fired Bill Virdon four months into the previous campaign. After stealing only 102 bases as a team in 1975, the Yankees swiped 163 bags in their first full year under Martin. Mickey Rivers and Willie Randolph symbolized the club’s more aggressive approach on offense. Rivers led New York with 43 stolen bases and a .312 batting average, and he also finished second on the team with 95 runs scored. Randolph placed second to Rivers on the club with 37 steals. Veteran left-fielder Roy White swiped 31 bases, batted .286 and led the league with 104 runs scored. Chris Chambliss hit 17 homers, drove in 96 runs, and batted .293. Graig Nettles supplied much of the power, leading the league with 32 home runs, while also knocking in 93 runs and scoring 88 others. Thurman Munson earned A.L. MVP honors by batting .302, hitting 17 home runs, finishing second in the league with 105 runs batted in, and placing among the leaders with 186 hits.
While the Yankees made their first postseason appearance in 12 years, the Kansas City Royals advanced to the playoffs for the first time in their eight-year history. Kansas City ended Oakland’s five-year reign as A.L. West champs by capturing the division title with a record of 90-72. The A’s finished a close second, only 2 ½ games back, while the Twins came in third, just five games off the pace.
Oakland remained a very solid team, finishing fifth in the junior circuit with 686 runs scored, while also posting the third-lowest team ERA in the league (3.26). Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Bill North, and Vida Blue all had solid seasons for the defending champions. Rudi scored 94 runs, Bando hit 27 home runs and drove in 84 runs, and North scored 91 runs and led the league with 75 stolen bases. Meanwhile, Blue won 18 games and led the Oakland staff with a 2.35 ERA, 298 innings pitched, and 20 complete games. But, with Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson playing for other teams, the A's found themselves unable to overcome Kansas City's combination of speed, timely hitting, and solid pitching.
Although the Royals hit only 65 home runs as a team, they finished fourth in the league in runs scored. They also placed second in the circuit with 218 stolen bases, and they finished right behind the Yankees with a team ERA of 3.21.
Dennis Leonard led Kansas City's pitching staff with 17 wins, 259 innings pitched, and 16 complete games. On offense, diminutive shortstop Fred Patek placed among the league leaders with 51 stolen bases. First baseman John Mayberry led the club with 95 runs batted in. Centerfielder Amos Otis hit 18 home runs, drove in 86 runs, scored 93 others, batted .279, stole 26 bases, and led the league with 40 doubles. Splitting his time between the outfield and designated hitter, Hal McRae placed a close second in the A.L. batting race with a mark of .332. Finishing just ahead of his teammate was Royals third baseman George Brett, who won the first of his three batting titles with a mark of .333. Brett also scored 94 runs and topped the circuit with 215 hits, 14 triples, and 298 total bases, en route to earning a second-place finish in the league MVP balloting.
Facing each other for the first of three consecutive times in the ALCS, the Yankees and Royals engaged in a classic best-of-five playoff matchup. The teams split the first four contests, setting the stage for a decisive Game Seven at Yankee Stadium. New York took a 6-3 lead into the top of the eighth inning, but Brett evened the score with a three-run homer off Yankee reliever Grant Jackson into the lower right-field stands. The score remained knotted at six until Chris Chambliss hit Mark Littell’s first pitch of the bottom of the ninth inning over the right field wall, barely out of the reach of a leaping Hal McRae. The homer put New York in the World Series for the first time in 12 years, sending Yankee Stadium into a frenzy.
The celebration turned out to be short-lived, though, since New York proved to be no much for the powerful Cincinnati Reds in the Fall Classic. Cincinnati swept the Yankees in four straight games, outscoring them 22 to 8, and outhitting them .313 to .222. Johnny Bench earned Series MVP honors for the Reds by hitting two homers, driving in six runs, and batting .533. Thurman Munson was New York’s lone bright spot, collecting nine hits in 17 times at-bat, for a .529 batting average.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• January 15 - Seattle was awarded with the American League's 13th franchise, to begin play in 1977.
• April 2 - The Oakland Athletics traded prospective free agents Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman to the Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor and pitchers Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell.
• April 15 – The Yankees christened newly remodeled Yankee Stadium with an 11-4 win over the Minnesota Twins in front of 52,613 fans. Bob Shawkey, winner of the 1923 Stadium opener, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Minnesota’s Dan Ford hit the first home run in the renovated ballpark.
• May 20 - At Yankee Stadium, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees engaged in an ugly on-field brawl that began when Lou Piniella barreled over Carlton Fisk while trying to score in the bottom of the sixth inning. Both benches cleared after Piniella and Fisk subsequently battled one another at home plate. After the fighting apparently ended, Bill Lee and Graig Nettles exchanged words, leading to another altercation that resulted in Lee separating his shoulder and missing most of the season.
• July 20 - Hank Aaron hit the 755th and last home run of his career, connecting off Dick Drago of the California Angels.
• November 9 - The Oakland Athletics released Billy Williams, ending his career with 2,711 hits, 426 home runs, 1,475 RBIs, and a .290 batting average.
• November 29 - Free agent Reggie Jackson signed a five-year deal with the New York Yankees worth $3.5 million.
• December 4 - Aurelio Rodríguez of the Detroit Tigers became the first American League third baseman since 1959 to beat out Brooks Robinson for the Gold Glove Award.
• December 6 - The Boston Red Sox traded Cecil Cooper to the Milwaukee Brewers for George Scott and Bernie Carbo.
• Detroit’s Mark “The Bird” Fidrych (19 wins, 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Baltimore’s Jim Palmer compiled an ERA of 2.51 and led the league with 22 wins and 315 innings pitched, en route to winning his third A.L. Cy Young Award.
• Oakland established a new major league record by stealing 341 bases.
• In June, Charley Finley tried to sell Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed the deals.
• George Brett edged out teammate Hal McRae for the batting title in his last at-bat of the season when Minnesota outfielder Steve Brye seemed to deliberately misplay Brett’s fly ball. McRae subsequently accused Brye and/or Minnesota manager Gene Mauch of racism.
• Hank Aaron retired as baseball’s all-time leader in home runs (755), runs batted in (2,297), and total bases (6,856).
• Blue Moon Odom and Francisco Barrios of Chicago pitched a combined no-hitter vs. Oakland on July 28.
• On September 12, Chicago’s 54-year-old Minnie Minoso became the oldest player to get a hit in a major league game.
• Three members of the A's, Bill North (75), Bert Campaneris (54), and Don Baylor (52), stole more than 50 bases.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Robin Roberts, Bob Lemon, Roger Connor, Fred Lindstrom, Cal Hubbard, and Oscar Charleston.
• Danny Thompson died of leukemia.
• Hall of Famers Earle Combs, Max Cary, and Red Faber all passed away.
• Detroit's Ron LeFlore hit safely in 30 consecutive games.
• Detroit's Bill Freehan retired with a .993 career fielding average - a record for catchers.
• Baltimore's Lee May hit 25 home runs and led the American League with 109 runs batted in.
• Oriole teammate Reggie Jackson knocked in 91 runs, finished second in the league with 27 home runs, and topped the circuit with a .502 slugging average.
• Nolan Ryan led the league with 327 strikeouts.
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- 1976 AL Batting Champ Controversy, 1976 ALCS, 1976 World Series, American League, Amos Otis, Aurelio Rodriguez, Bernie Carbo, Bert Campaneris, Bill Freehan, Bill Lee, Billy Martin, Billy North, Billy Williams, Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, Cecil Cooper, Charles Finley, Chris Chambliss, Dan Ford, Danny Thompson, Dennis Leonard, Dick Drago, Dock Ellis, Don Baylor, Ed Figueroa, Freddie Patek, George Brett, George Scott, Graig Nettles, Grant Jackson, Hal McRae, Hank Aaron, Jim Palmer, Joe Rudi, John Mayberry, Kansas City Royals, Ken Holtzman, Lee May, Lou Piniella, Mark Fidrych, Mark Littell, Mickey Rivers, Mike Torrez, New York Yankees, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Ron LeFlore, Roy White, Sal Bando, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Vida Blue, Willie Randolph