New York’s off-season signing of slugging free-agent outfielder Reggie Jackson led to a turbulent summer in the Bronx in 1977. Unwanted by Yankee manager Billy Martin, the controversial Jackson feuded with his combative skipper, who also quarreled with team owner George Steinbrenner. Meanwhile, Jackson similarly bickered with several of his new teammates, including Yankee captain Thurman Munson, who the outfielder criticized in a magazine article during Spring Training.
Despite the many distractions, the Yankees overcame a slow start to edge out the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles for the A.L. East title. New York finished the regular season with a record of 100-62, a mere 2 ½ games ahead of both Boston and Baltimore.
Both the Red Sox and Orioles featured several of the American League’s best players. Boston’s powerful lineup finished a close second in the league with 859 runs scored and topped the circuit with 213 home runs. First baseman George Scott hit 33 homers, drove in 95 runs, and scored 103 others. Third baseman Butch Hobson hit 30 homers and knocked in 112 runs. Catcher Carlton Fisk had his finest all-around season, hitting 26 home runs, driving in 102 runs, scoring another 106, and batting .315. Jim Rice established himself as the league’s most dangerous hitter, topping the circuit with 39 home runs, 382 total bases, and a .593 slugging percentage, and placing among the leaders with 114 runs batted in, 104 runs scored, a .320 batting average, and 206 hits.
Although the Orioles finished just seventh in the league in runs scored, their lineup included the dangerous threesome of Lee May, Eddie Murray, and Ken Singleton. May hit 27 home runs and knocked in 99 runs. Murray earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors by hitting 27 homers, driving in 88 runs, and batting .283. Singleton hit 24 home runs, knocked in 99 runs, scored 90 others, and placed near the top of the league rankings with a .328 batting average and a .442 on-base percentage, en route to earning a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting. The Orioles also had the league’s top starting pitcher in Jim Palmer, who finished 20-11, with a 2.91 ERA and a league-leading 319 innings pitched and 22 complete games.
However, having also acquired Bucky Dent, Don Gullett, and Mike Torrez during the off-season, the 1977 Yankee squad was even stronger than the one that represented the junior circuit in the World Series one year earlier. New York posted the second-highest team batting average in the league (.281) and also compiled the third-lowest team ERA (3.61). Ron Guidry excelled in his first full season, finishing 16-7 with a 2.82 earned run average. Ed Figueroa also won 16 games, while Gullett and Torrez each posted 14 victories. Meanwhile, Sparky Lyle earned A.L. Cy Young honors by leading the league with 72 relief appearances, compiling a record of 13-5 and an ERA of 2.17, and saving 26 games.
On offense, Chris Chambliss hit 17 home runs, knocked in 90 runs, scored 90 others, and batted .287. Mickey Rivers batted .326 and led the team with 22 stolen bases. Lou Piniella hit .330 in a part-time role. Thurman Munson hit 18 homers, knocked in 100 runs, and batted .308. Graig Nettles established career-highs with 37 home runs, 107 runs batted in, and 99 runs scored. Despite experiencing a considerable amount of adversity in his first year in pinstripes, Reggie Jackson ended up having a very productive season, batting .286, scoring 93 runs, stealing 17 bases, hitting 32 homers, and leading the team with 110 runs batted in.
While the Yankees battled their way to their second straight A.L. East title, the Kansas City Royals captured their second consecutive Western Division crown, finishing eight games in front of runner-up Texas with a major-league-best record of 102-60. The Royals relied more on speed and pitching than on power to post baseball’s best record. They finished just sixth in the American League with 146 home runs, and their .277 team batting average placed them fifth in the A.L rankings. However, the Royals finished second in the league with 170 stolen bases, and their team ERA of 3.52 led the circuit. Dennis Leonard served as staff ace, tying Jim Palmer and Minnesota’s Dave Goltz for the league lead with 20 victories, compiling a 3.04 ERA, and placing among the league leaders with 244 strikeouts, 292 innings pitched, and 21 complete games. Jim Colborn finished second on the club with 18 wins, while Paul Splittorff posted another 16 victories.
On offense, shortstop Fred Patek led the American League with 53 stolen bases. Hal McRae hit 21 home runs, drove in 92 runs, scored 104 others, batted .298, and topped the circuit with 54 doubles. John Mayberry homered 23 times and knocked in 82 runs. George Brett hit 22 homers, knocked in 88 runs, batted .312, and finished among the league leaders with 105 runs scored. Right-fielder Al Cowens had easily his finest season, earning a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting by hitting 23 home runs, driving in 112 runs, scoring 98 others, and batting .312.
Capturing A.L. MVP honors was Rod Carew, who had a sensational year for a Minnesota Twins team that finished fourth in the division, 17 ½ games behind Kansas City. Carew established career highs with 14 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 351 total bases, a .570 slugging percentage, and a league-leading .388 batting average, 128 runs scored, 239 hits, 16 triples, and .452 on-base percentage.
The Royals and Yankees met in the ALCS for the second straight year, with the two teams again splitting the first four contests. Kansas City took a 3-1 lead into the top of the eighth inning in Game Five, but New York rallied to score four times in the final two frames, to come away with a 5-3 Series-clinching victory.
The Yankees then faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the Fall Classic, before losing Game Five in Los Angeles. Game Six turned out to be “The Reggie Jackson Show,” as Mr. October hit three consecutive home runs, on three straight pitches, to give the Yankees their first world championship in 15 years. Jackson earned Series MVP honors by finishing the Fall Classic with five home runs, eight runs batted in, 10 runs scored, a .450 batting average, a .542 on-base percentage, and a .755 slugging percentage.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• June 8 – Nolan Ryan compiled 19 strikeouts in a game for the fourth time in his career, accomplishing the feat against the Toronto Blue Jays.
• June 18 – Tensions between Yankee manager Billy Martin and outfielder Reggie Jackson finally boiled over during a nationally-televised game that the Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox by a score of 10-4. After Jackson’s failure to properly charge a bloop hit by Jim Rice allowed the Boston slugger to reach second base, Martin pulled Jackson from the game, replacing him in right field with Paul Blair. Upon Jackson’s return to the dugout, the two men exchanged words, with Martin arguing that the right fielder had shown him up by not hustling on the play. Martin lunged at Jackson, prompting coaches Yogi Berra and Elston Howard to forcibly restrain him. NBC cameras showed the entire confrontation to a nationwide audience.
• June 21 – The Texas Rangers fired manager Frank Lucchesi following a 9-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins that left Texas with a record of 31-31. Lucchesi subsequently blamed former Ranger Lenny Randle, with whom he got into a confrontation during Spring Training, for the firing, suing him for $200,000.
• August 27 – During a victory over the New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers’ Toby Harrah and Bump Wills became the first players in major league history to hit back-to-back inside-the-park home runs.
• Mike Torrez earned two complete-game victories for the Yankees in the World Series.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Ernie Banks, Joe Sewell, Al Lopez, Amos Rusie, Martin Dihigo, and John Henry Lloyd.
• The American League expanded to 14 teams, adding to its fraternity of ball clubs the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners.
• Nolan Ryan led the league with 341 strikeouts.
• Chicago’s Chet Lemon established a new American League record for outfielders by making 512 putouts.
• Kansas City’s Jim Colborn threw a no-hitter against Texas on May 14.
• Dennis Eckersley of Cleveland tossed a no-hitter against California on May 30.
• Bert Blyleven of Texas threw a no-hitter against California on September 22.
• Detroit’s Mark Fidrych injured his knee in a spring training game, causing him to alter his delivery and subsequently hurt his arm. He never again pitched successfully in the major leagues.
• Hall of Famers Bucky Harris and Ernie Lombardi passed away.
• Brooks Robinson retired as the holder of many career fielding records, including the top fielding average for a third baseman and the most games played at third base.
• Minnesota’s Larry Hisle led the American League with 119 runs batted in.
• California’s Frank Tanana led the league with a 2.54 ERA.
• Although the Twins finished fourth in the A.L. West, they compiled a league-leading .282 team batting average, and their lineup included the circuit’s top two hitters. Outfielder Lyman Bostock finished second in the batting race to teammate Rod Carew with a mark of .336.
- 1977 ALCS, 1977 World Series, Al Cowens, Amos Otis, Bert Blyleven, Billy Martin, Brooks Robinson, Bucky Dent, Butch Hobson, Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, Chet Lemon, Chris Chambliss, Dave Goltz, Dennis Eckersley, Dennis Leonard, Don Gullett, Ed Figueroa, Eddie Murray, Frank Lucchesi, Frank Tanana, Freddie Patek, George Brett, George Scott, George Steinbrenner, Graig Nettles, Hal McRae, Jim Colborn, Jim Palmer, Jim Rice, John Mayberry, Kansas City Royals, Ken Singleton, Larry Hisle, Lee May, Lou Piniella, Lyman Bostock, Mark Fidrych, Mickey Rivers, Mike Torrez, New York Yankees, Nolan Ryan, Paul Splittorff, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Ron Guidry, Roy White, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph