Good But, Not Great- Part Three
The Off-Season: Good But, Not Great- Part Three
By Tim Kabel
January 29, 2022
So far, I have written two articles about Yankees’ players who were good but, not great. These players were not Hall of Famers. However, they were key components of their teams. In many cases, they were the backbone of World Series Championship teams. I started off with Bernie Williams and stayed in the outfield with a player from an earlier era, Hank Bauer, for the next article. Today, I will move to the infield and write about a good but, not great Yankee from the 70’s World Series Championship teams.
Chris Chambliss came to the Yankees in a trade with the Cleveland Indians in 1974. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1971 and an All Star in 1976 for the Yankees. He won the Gold Glove as a first baseman in 1978. Chambliss was traded along with Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw from the Indians to the Yankees for Fritz Peterson, Steve Kline, Fred Beene, and Tom Buskey on April 26th, 1974. At the time of the trade, the Yankees were criticized for giving up four pitchers while only acquiring two and for not acquiring starting second baseman. Chambliss played for the Yankees from 1974 through the 1979 season. In 1988 as a coach for the Yankees, he appeared in one game, and had one at bat, striking out. As a Yankee, he batted .282 With 79 home runs and 454 RBI.
Who can ever forget his home run in game five of the 1976 American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals’ pitcher, Mark Littell? Chambliss hit his first pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning over the fence in right field, giving the Yankees their first pennant since 1964. Chambliss was the hitting star of the 1976 ALCS, as he also hit a two-run home run in game three to help the Yankees win that game 5-3. He hit an ALCS record .524 with two home runs and eight RBI. In the 1976 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, which the Yankees lost, Chambliss hit.313 with one RBI.
Chambliss played three more years for the Yankees, helping them to win World Series Championships in 1977 and 1978. After the 1979 season, Chambliss was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays with Damaso Garcia and Paul Mirabella for Rick Cerone, Tom Underwood, and Ted Wilborn. The Yankees had targeted Cerone to replace the late Thurman Munson as catcher. Unfortunately, they had to give up Chambliss in order to get him. Chambliss was subsequently traded to the Braves before the 1980 season began.
Chris Chambliss was a solid player. He was not spectacular, and he will never go to the Hall of Fame. Yet, he had a good career as a Yankee and was a key player on their two World Series Championship teams in the 70’s. In 1976, 77 and 78, Chambliss played 156, 157, and 162 games respectively. He was steady and durable, driving in 96, 90, and 90 runs in those three years. In 1976, arguably his best year, he hit .293 with 96 RBI and 17 home runs. Had Thurman Munson had not died in the plane crash, it’s possible Chambliss would not have been traded.
Chambliss was once quoted as saying, “If you’re not having fun in baseball, you miss the point of everything.” He was by all reports, a quiet, laid-back gentlemen. After his most famous moment in pinstripes, when he hit the walk off home run to send them to the 1976 World Series, chaos erupted. Fans stormed onto the field. Chambliss was mobbed on the base paths and did not make an attempt to touch home plate, Instead, he ran straight toward the dugout and the safety of the clubhouse. Chambliss was then asked by Graig Nettles if he had touched home, and he responded that he had not. Nettles told him that home plate umpire Art Frantz was waiting for him to touch home plate so that the home run could be ruled official. Chambliss was escorted back out onto the field, but the plate had been stolen, so he touched the area where the plate had once been. Kansas City manager Whitey Herzog could have appealed the play as the Major League rules stated that a player must touch all bases on any hit or when running the bases, However, Herzog knew better than to do such a thing. As a result of this incident, Major League Baseball changed the rules to allow the umpires to award any baserunner or batter a run when he cannot reach the plate due to fans rushing the field. This is known as the “Chris Chambliss Rule”.
Chris Chambliss is yet another in a long line of good but, not great Yankees’ players who were integral parts of their teams. In many cases, they played key roles in winning World Series championships. That was certainly the case for Chris Chambliss. After he retired from playing, he became a coach and won four more World Series championships as the hitting coach for the Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. As a side note, his uniform number with the Yankees was 10, which was subsequently retired in honor of Phil Rizzuto. I doubt they wore the same size. Chambliss was an important Yankee who provided us all with many great memories.
Previous Articles in This Series:
Good But, Not Great- Part One (Bernie Williams)
Good But, Not Great- Part Two (Hank Bauer)