Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #411-413, World Series Cards (Article 76)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
Note – This article was also published in the IBWAA’s Newsletter, “Here’s The Pitch.”
The story goes that the Yankees needed Reggie Jackson to take them from a World Series-losing team in 1976 to World Champions in 1977. In many ways, that story is true.
The Yankees lost the 1976 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, AKA the Big Red Machine, and then won the 1977 World Series on the back of Reggie’s spectacular performance.
Reggie was a difference maker. He came to the Yankees and then they immediately won the World Series. His heroics might have won the Yankees the World Series, but they also might have made some poor managerial decisions by manager Billy Martin go overlooked as all looked to the glory of Reggie circling the bases time and again.
I grew up with the Reggie Yankees. 1977 was when I became a fan. Reggie was a superhero to me. He still is, in many ways. (Our childhood heroes stay with us.)
I decided to look back at the 1976 World Series, at one aspect of the myth (or legend), and see how the Yankees’ right fielders (Reggie’s position) performed in the 1976 World Series the season before Reggie arrived. Along the way, I learned some new things about a team I thought I knew (almost) everything about.
Game 1: Reds 5, Yankees 1
The score for this game looks a little lopsided, but not too bad. The Reds put this away later in the game. Heading into the bottom of the 6th inning, the score was just 2-1 in favor of Cincinnati.
The Yankees’ right fielder in this game was Elliott Maddox. He had a fine game, reaching base twice in three plate appearances with a triple and a walk. Late in the game, as late as can be with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Oscar Gamble pinch hit for Maddox and popped out to third to end it.
Game 2: Reds 4, Yankees 3
Isn’t it funny, the narrative is that the Reds just crushed the Yankees in this World Series. That narrative seems to be much too simplistic. The Yankees were not crushed in Game 1, and Game 2 was a close one-run affair, won by the Reds in walk-off fashion.
Fred Stanley, the Yankees’ shortstop, made a throwing error with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with no one on base. Making matters worse, it was a two-base error that allowed the batter, Ken Griffey, to reach second base with the winning run. If Stanley made that play, the game would have gone into extra innings.
Following his error, Joe Morgan was intentionally walked, and then Tony Perez, the 40th batter Yankees starter Catfish Hunter faced, walked it off with a single. Catfish went all the way in taking the loss as Sparky Lyle, the Yankees’ stopper, sat in the bullpen. (Imagine if that took place today. Oh, how times have changed.)
The Reds won this game on an unearned run.
Due up in the top of the tenth inning that never was for the Yankees were Roy White, Thurman Munson, and Lou Piniella. Those three batters were a combined 4-for-11 that game. Chris Chambliss, who was 2-for-4, was up next, followed by Graig Nettles who also had a hit. Oh, what might have been!
In right field that game was the afore-mentioned Piniella. He went 2-for-4 with two singles.
Game 3: Reds 6, Yankees 2
In the second inning, the Reds went up 3-0 and the Yankees never seemed to be in it. Gamble played right field for New York and went 1-for-3 with an RBI single.
Game 4: Reds 7, Yankees 2
Yeah, the Reds did have their way with the Yankees. But wait, was this game as lopsided as the score makes it seem?
The Yankees went up 1-0 in the first inning. The Reds then got three runs in the fourth inning. The Yankees got one run back in their half of the fifth inning. Heading into the ninth inning, it was a 3-2 game. The Yankees were in it!
The Reds then scored four runs in the top of the ninth to put it away. Ed Figueroa, the starting pitcher, walked two batters and threw a wild pitch. Dick Tidrow then came in and threw gas on the fire. By the time Tidrow left the mound, it was 7-2. The game was over.
It was at that point that Lyle came in and retired the only two batters he faced.
The Yankees then went down, and the World Championship and all the glory went to the Reds. In four games, the Reds outscored the Yankees 22-7. It looked like a thrashing, and it was, in many respects, but the Yankees were in two of the games, right into the last inning.
One has to wonder… What if Stanley had made that out? Or, what if Lyle came in and retired Morgan? Or what if Lyle had started the ninth inning for the Yankees in Game 4? The games were closer than the final scores seemed to indicate.
The Yankees’ right fielder in this game was Gamble. He didn’t help matters, going 0-for-4. All told, the right fielders for the Yankees in this series went a combined 4-for-13 with one walk, one triple, and one RBI.
The next year in the World Series, Reggie Jackson went 9-for-20 with 5 home runs, 8 runs batted in, and 10 runs scored. Yeah, I guess Reggie did make a big difference. The Yankees needed a great player to get them over the top in the 1977 World Series. Reggie came in and did just that.
The legend is true, Jackson was the difference maker that took the Yankees over the top.
Yet still, I have to wonder. . .
Lyle pitched in just two games in the 1976 World Series. He pitched 2 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit and no walks. He struck out three. Why wasn’t he used more?
During the regular season, Lyle had pitched 103 innings, appearing in 64 games and saving 23 of them. He pitched to a 2.26 ERA. He was an All-Star. He even earned MVP votes after the year. Yet, in two big spots, two huge spots, Sparky was left waiting in the pen. The ace in the pen, left on ice.
As we look back, Martin deserves some blame here for not using his best relief pitcher when it could have mattered. In two big spots, he left his starting pitcher in the game long enough to lose it, both times pitching into the ninth inning.
I know the argument, “They didn’t use relief pitchers like that back then.” Except, they did.
In Game 1, Sparky Anderson, the Reds’ manager, used Pedro Borbon in relief for the final 5 outs.
In Game 2, Jack Billingham was brought into the game in the seventh inning.
In Game 3, Will McEnaney came in to record the final seven outs.
In Game 4, McEnaney also came in to record the final seven outs.
The Yankees may not have just been outplayed. It seems like Billy Martin may have been out-managed. His refusal to go to a ready Sparky Lyle might have made all the difference in the World Series.
The narrative is that the Yankees were overmatched in the 1976 World Series — that the Reds had their way with them from start to finish. That wasn’t necessarily true. With better managing, the Yankees may have won at least two of the games. Rather than going to his ace relief pitcher, Martin pushed his starters into the 9th inning in two close games and lost them both.
The Reds’ manager didn’t use that approach. He won the series.
What’s also interesting is that the next year, in the 1977 World Series, Martin stayed stubborn and again rode his starters hard.
Don Gullett pitched into the 9th inning in Game 1. Mike Torrez pitched complete games in Games 3 and 6. Ron Guidry went the distance in Game 4. Martin was known to push and push his starting pitchers. It worked out in 1977, not necessarily because it was a good strategy, but because Jackson put the team on his shoulders and carried them to their World Championship.
Martin came out on top in 1977, but he might have owed more to Reggie Jackson than he ever realized.