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A Look Back at Brian Doyle

By Sal Maiorana

February 2024

***

Sal Maiorana, a friend of the site, shares some of his thoughts on the Yankees.


For honest, unfiltered analysis on the New York Yankees, you can subscribe to Sal Maiorana's free Pinstripe People Newsletter at https://salmaiorana.beehiiv.com/subscribe.

***

On the evening of Sept. 29, 1978, the final weekend of the season, Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph pulled a hamstring while beating out an infield single at Yankee Stadium against Cleveland, an injury that ultimately ended his season.


That unfortunate mishap set in motion a whirlwind two weeks for Brian Doyle that transformed him from middling Yankees prospect into one of the most unlikely World Series heroes MLB has ever seen.


“I wasn’t a good player; all you got to do is look at my bubble-gum card,” Doyle once said when asked, for about the millionth time, to recollect his moment in the MLB spotlight. “It was definitely not because of my ability. It was being blessed at the right place, at the right time and having the mental capacity to block everything out and be focused.”


Before the Randolph injury, Doyle was slated to return home to Bowling Green, Kentucky where he had procured an offseason job at a clothing store. Instead, when the Yankees and Red Sox finished tied atop the AL East at 99-63, forcing the one-game playoff at Fenway Park, Doyle - who had appeared in just 39 games and made 54 plate appearances during his rookie season - was the man playing second base that day.


He contributed nothing as he went 0-for-2 and did not handle a chance in the field, but once the Yankees’ 5-4 victory was secured and the postseason began, Doyle enjoyed the best couple weeks he ever spent in the majors. He entered into a second base platoon with Fred Stanley, but because he was a lefty swinger, he saw more action which turned out to be a very good thing for the Yankees.


Doyle started Game 1 of the ALCS in Kansas City and went 2-for-5 with an RBI - after having none in the regular season - in New York’s 7-1 victory, started Game 4 and drew a walk as the Yankees clinched the pennant with a 2-1 victory.


The 24-year-old - whose more accomplished brother, Denny, had just retired from the game in 1977 - made his first World Series start in Game 2 and had a single as the Yankees lost 4-3 to fall into a two games to none hole.


They flew home to New York and that’s when everything changed. Doyle went 0-for-4 but handled nine chances in the field as the Yankees won Game 3, the game where Graig Nettles put on a fielding clinic at third base that Brooks Robinson would have been awed by. And after sitting out Game 4 when the Yankees evened the Series on Lou Piniella’s walk-off RBI single in the 10th, Doyle started the final two games and delivered three hits in each as the Yankees won 12-2 and 7-2 to successfully defend their 1977 World Series title.


“Who would figure that Bucky Dent and Brian Doyle (17 hits) would get more hits combined than Steve Garvey and Ron Cey (16),” said Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes. Doyle finished with a .438 average, highest of any player in the Series, though Dent and his .417 average earned the MVP award.


“It was the greatest thrill of my life in baseball,” Doyle said as the champagne was spraying in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. “I won’t be able to comprehend everything until three or four days from now after I sit down and think about it.”


Nobody in Hollywood would have tried to produce a script that would end like this.”

Yankees manager Bob Lemon on Brian Doyle’s unlikely star turn.


Thanks to the World Series bonus he earned, Doyle announced that his offseason was going to change. “All I know is I’m not going to sell clothes this winter,” he said.


Doyle never came close to reaching these heights again. Randolph was entrenched at second base and Doyle played only four more seasons, most of that spent in the Yankees’ minor league system. He finished his career in 1981 with the A’s having played in just 110 regular-season MLB games, batting .161 with one homer, 13 RBI, and an on-base of .201.


But for two weeks in 1978, Doyle - who survived Leukemia and now has been battling Parkinson’s Disease for nearly a decade - was the toast of the biggest town in the world.


“There are a lot of guys on a ballclub that every pitcher, every manager says you don’t want this guy to beat you. And I wasn’t that guy,” Doyle said. “So you get good pitches to hit. It seems like in the playoffs and World Series, someone is going to have a big game that you are not expecting and the reason you are not expecting is this: Every pitch is so important and the guys that might beat you, you’re going to not give them a pitch to hit and you’re going to give the other guys pitches to hit. And if you are focused, it’s right there for you.”

5 commentaires


Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
15 févr.

I used to think Doyle should have been the World Series MVP, and Dent won it simply because of hangover from the playoff home run against the Red Sox. Doyle led in OPS with .938 to .898, but Dent had half-again as many ABs as Doyle, so he was doing more at the plate. Dent also has the better Win Probability Added and Championship WPA: 0.36 and 18.43% vs. 0.22 and 14.93%. So I now think the MVP voters had it right. But, boy, Doyle had one, great Series!

J'aime
Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
15 févr.
En réponse à

I still remember the joke we always told after Bucky Dent won the World Series MVP, which included winning a brand new Chevrolet. We used to joke that the World Series MVP won a car but there was already a Dent in it.

J'aime

etbkarate
14 févr.

Doyle was the Yankee's version of a hot goalie. He had 2 weeks that cemented his place in NYY folklore. Loved every minute of it! Tommy Lasorda did not know what to do with him in the 78 WS. I was booked at his camp in 1980/81, but broke my wrist and had to cancel. I still remember his ads in the back of Baseball Digest. I think Larry Bowa was also an instructor, but I might be wrong. But he stepped up at the right time!!

J'aime

Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
14 févr.

Brian Doyle is a prime example of the importance of depth on a ballclub. He was obviously not a great hitter in his career, but he was a very intelligent and knowledgeable one, as evidenced by his comment that players who are "not expected to beat you" get better pitches to hit. That intelligent baseball knowledge was how he, and his twin brother Blake, and his older brother Denny Doyle would go on to run a very successful Baseball Academy. I can't help but wonder, though, if Doyle's health issues in more recent years were in any way related to his affinity for chewing tobacco. Brian Doyle was one of many players in the 1970's and early 1980's who, …

J'aime

Alan B.
Alan B.
14 févr.

These are the stories that make you smile. Shane Spencer in 1998, Aaron Small in 2005, or even Andrew Velasquez in 2021. Or even a catcher hitting .161 in AA, then hitting something like .293 up here, as the Yankees win the WS with him catching a significant amount of playing time. Will there be another Yankee story like that in 2024? I nominate rookie lefty Edgar Barclay to be that strange, happy story this year.

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