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Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #220, Chris Chambliss (Article 42)

by Paul Semendinger

(Continuing a series…)



It’s interesting how these things work, in our previous installment, we highlighted Tom Underwood who was traded to the Yankees (from the Blue Jays) as part of a deal for Chris Chambliss.

I’m sure the Yankees didn’t want to part with Chambliss, but they needed a catcher and the big prize in the Chambliss trade wasn’t Tom Underwood, it was the Blue Jays’ young catcher Rick Cerone. The Yankees needed a catcher to replace the late Thurman Munson. Maybe the Yankees felt that Chris Chambliss, at 30-years-old was heading to a decline, but in 1979, he put up a typical Chris Chambliss season for the Yankees:

· 149 games played (he averaged 155 games played from 1975-1979)

· .280 batting average (for his Yankees career, he batted .282)

· 18 homers (his best output as a Yankee – he had hit 17 homers in 1976 and 1977)

Maybe the thing that convinced the Yankees to trade Chris Chambliss was his low RBI total in 1979. Stats being what they were at the time, people just looked at the raw numbers and not the factors behind them. Between 1975 and 1978, Chris Chambliss averaged 94 RBI’s a year. In 1979, he managed to collect only 63 runs batted in. Maybe the Yankees thought he was on the decline.

(I always remember Chris Chambliss as a 20 homer/100 RBI guy, but he never hit 20-homers as a Yankee in a season (although he hit 20 exactly on two occasions for the Braves) nor did he ever reach 100 RBI’s.)

The Yankees might also have been looking ahead to a new first baseman, Bob Watson, who they signed on November 8, just about a week after trading Chambliss away. Bob Watson was a lifelong Astro who was traded to the Red Sox in June of 1979. Once he arrived in the American League, he mashed. (The Astros were a National League team back then.) As a Red Sox, Bob Watson batted .337/13/53. He seemed like an upgrade over Chambliss even if he was a few years older. The Yankees also still had left-handed hitting first baseman Jim Spencer on the roster.

But, in sending Chambliss away, the Yankees took away another core piece of the 1976-1978 World Series teams. After 1979, Chambliss, Roy White, and Thurman Munson were no longer on the team.

Thurman Munson (of course) had died.

Roy White was not offered a contract and went to play in Japan.

Chris Chambliss was the one of the first major Yankee from those teams to be traded away. (Sparky Lyle was traded prior to the 1979 season.) A new era was emerging.

Chris Chambliss had been a huge part of the Yankees’ success. He provided quiet, stable leadership, and a necessary calm that was an essential component to offset the other aspects of those Bronx Zoo Yankees.

And, of course, Chambliss’ homer to win the 1976 American League Championship Series remains one of the most iconic Yankees moments of all-time.

***

In the late 1970’s, it seemed that all of the American League Rookies of the Year played for the Yankees.

· 1968 Award Winner – Stan Bahnsen (was a Yankee – although he was traded before the “glory” years)

· 1969 Award Winner – Lou Piniella (became a major player on the 1976-1978 World Series teams)

· 1970 Award Winner – Thurman Munson (he was the Captain of the 1976-78 World Series teams)

· 1971 Award Winner – Chris Chambliss (became a major player on the 1976-78 World Series teams)

After Chris Chambliss, the next A.L. Rookie of the Year to play for the Yankees was Dave Righetti who won the award for the Yankees in 1981. (John Montefusco, who won the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award in 1975, would become a Yankee in 1983.)

***

After leaving the Yankees, Chris Chambliss remained the steady consistent hitter that he had been. He never played for the Blue Jays. They traded him shortly after acquiring him to the Atlanta Braves.

Chambliss played for the Braves for seven years. He helped lead them to the post season in 1982.

In his first few years in Atlanta, Chris Chambliss put up numbers that resembled his typical Yankees season stats. From 1980-1984, he batted .276 and averaged 16 homers and 72 runs batted in per year.

After his playing career, Chris Chambliss returned to the Yankees as a coach.

In 1988, he was activated for a game and had one at bat. He struck out.

But, as a coach, he certainly continued to be the winner he had always been. The following, from the SABR BioProject sums up Chambliss’ coaching career very well:

Chambliss would spend the next 20 years coaching in the majors and managing in the minors. He was named Minor League Manager of the Year by The Sporting News in 1991 when he guided the Greenville Braves of the Southern League to an 88-56 record. Chris was also the hitting coach when the Yankees won the World Championship in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000, and was credited by players and media for developing the Yankees’ famed patience at the plate, getting long at-bats to wear down pitchers and see the desired pitch to hit. Chris also had stops as hitting coach with the Reds, Cardinals, Mets and Mariners.

***

A few years ago, I happened to be at an Atlanta Braves game during their “Homecoming Weekend.” Former players were situated around the ballpark at autograph stations before the game to meet fans and sign some items.

I scanned the program and saw that Chris Chambliss was at one of the stations. That was the one I took my sons with me to visit.

We briefly met Chris Chambliss and told him we were Yankees fans. Chambliss smiled and gave us his autograph.

Even though it was a Braves event, Chris Chambliss was wearing one of his Yankees’ World Series rings.

#ChrisChambliss

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