Although the Yankees captured the American League pennant for the first time in 12 years in 1976, their four-game sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series left a bitter taste in their mouths heading into the off-season. The manner in which Cincinnati thoroughly dominated New York during the Fall Classic caused Yankee players and fans alike to feel embarrassed and dejected. To be sure, the Yankees were a very solid team that featured strong pitching and a deep lineup. Yet, their World Series loss to the Reds clearly indicated they were one dynamic player away from being a truly dominant team.
The Yankees found the man they needed in the person of Reggie Jackson. The prize of the 1976 free agent class, Jackson became available to the highest bidder when he chose not to sign a contract extension with the Baltimore Orioles at the conclusion of the season. Refusing to be outbid by anyone else, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner ended up signing the charismatic slugger to a record five-year deal worth almost $3 million. Shortly after signing with the Yankees, the self-absorbed Jackson announced, "I didn't come to New York to be a star...I brought my star with me."
Jackson's boastful manner alienated him from several of his new teammates before he even joined them in Spring Training. Particularly resentful of the slugger was New York's emotionally fragile manager Billy Martin, who viewed Jackson as a threat to his relationship with Steinbrenner. Jackson continued to add fuel to the fire when he made several ill-advised comments during a supposedly off-the-record conversation with a writer for Sport magazine prior to the start of the season. The ensuing article that appeared in the magazine shortly after the regular season got under way quoted Jackson as saying, "This team, it all flows from me. I'm the straw that stirs the drink. Maybe I should say me and (Thurman) Munson, but he can only stir it bad."
Although the signing of the controversial Jackson was certainly the biggest move the Yankee front office made during the off-season, the team made several other significant additions to its roster prior to the start of the 1977 campaign. George Steinbrenner opened his checkbook again, signing Cincinnati left-hander Don Gullett to a free-agent contract. New York also dealt outfielder Oscar Gamble and two minor league pitchers to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Bucky Dent. The team made its final move of note in late April, sending Dock Ellis and two minor leaguers to Oakland for right-hander Mike Torrez.
Despite the many additions, the Yankees started off the season slowly, trailing the Boston Red Sox in the standings by several games during the early stages of the campaign. Adding to New York’s woes was the fact that Catfish Hunter missed a significant amount of time due to an ailing pitching shoulder. The former Cy Young Award winner ended up posting a record of only 9-9, with a 4.71 ERA on the year.
Further compromising New York’s chances of repeating as American League champions was the inner turmoil that developed on the team as the result of Jackson’s signing. The slugger’s braggadocio made his first several months in New York extremely difficult ones, especially since it further intensified manager Billy Martin's feelings of resentment towards him. Martin refused to bat Jackson in the prestigious cleanup spot in the batting order, choosing instead to place him in either the fifth or sixth slot. The relationship between the two men grew increasingly contentious over the course of the season, until their anger finally boiled over on June 18 during a 10-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox in a nationally-televised game at Fenway Park. Feeling that Jackson failed to properly charge a bloop hit by Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, Martin immediately replaced his right-fielder with Paul Blair. When Jackson arrived at the Yankee dugout, Martin confronted him at the top step, yelling that Jackson had shown him up. As the two men continued to argue, the irate Yankee manager lunged at the superstar outfielder, prompting coaches Yogi Berra and Elston Howard to quickly restrain him.
Even though Jackson and Martin never developed a fondness for one another, they somehow learned to coexist, putting their differences aside long enough to allow the Yankees to mount a second-half comeback that earned them their second straight A.L. East title. New York finished the campaign with a record of 100-62, 2 ½ games ahead of both the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite experiencing a great deal of adversity during his first year in pinstripes, Reggie Jackson ended up having a very productive season, batting .286, scoring 93 runs, stealing 17 bases, and leading the team with 32 home runs and 110 runs batted in. Thurman Munson had another outstanding year as well, hitting 18 homers, knocking in 100 runs, and batting .308, en route to earning a seventh-place finish in the league MVP voting. Chris Chambliss hit 17 home runs, drove in 90 runs, scored 90 others, and batted .287. Mickey Rivers stole 22 bases and finished among the league leaders with a .326 batting average. Lou Piniella batted .330 in a part-time role. Meanwhile, Graig Nettles had the most productive season of his career, placing second in the league with 37 home runs, knocking in 107 runs, and scoring 99 others, en route to earning a fifth-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting. He also won the first of two consecutive Gold Gloves for his exceptional defensive play at third base.
New York’s pitching staff also performed extremely well, finishing third in the league with a 3.61 team ERA. Mike Torrez and Don Gullett each won 14 games, while Ed Figueroa and Ron Guidry topped the staff with 16 victories apiece. Guidry also led the starters with a 2.82 ERA. Sparky Lyle posted a 2.17 ERA, won 13 games coming out of the bullpen, and finished second in the league with 26 saves, en route to earning a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team and league Cy Young honors. Teammates Jackson, Munson, Nettles, and Randolph joined him on the A.L. All-Star Team. Nettles and Randolph were also named to The Sporting News All-Star Team.
The Yankees subsequently faced the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS for the second straight year. After falling behind two-games-to-one in the series, the Yankees won the final two contests in Kansas City to capture their second consecutive American League pennant. They 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 finished the Series 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. By being named MVP of the Series, he became the first player to be so honored as a member of two different teams.By Bob_Cohen
- 1977 ALCS, 1977 World Series, Billy Martin, Bucky Dent, Catfish Hunter, Chris Chambliss, Dock Ellis, Don Gullett, Ed Figueroa, Elston Howard, George Brett, George Steinbrenner, Graig Nettles, Jim Rice, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Lou Piniella, Mickey Rivers, Mike Torrez, New Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees, Oscar Gamble, Paul Blair, Reggie Jackson, Ron Guidry, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph, Yogi Berra