1977 Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!

After a stormy season in which he publicly feuded—and nearly personally fought—with manager Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson goes from superstar to instant legend with his home run theatrics in the World Series to earn the New York Yankees a tumultuous championship.

Three pitches, three swings, three home runs: Reggie Jackson becomes World Series legend.

The New York Yankees were missing something. Though developing into a solid, all-around outfit of veteran ballplayers, the Yankees were lacking that beacon, that superstar icon in pinstripes—like Ruth, or DiMaggio, or Mantle, the legend that elevated the team to unconquerable heights. Being flattened by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1976 World Series bluntly proved how badly the Yankees needed such a player.

George Steinbrenner was not one for sitting on his hands. The restless Yankee owner had both the impatience and the money to fill the bill with a headliner; and now, free agency was going to make it easier for him to accomplish his wish.

Reggie Jackson, Steinbrenner’s prize purchase from the free agent supermarket, would manage to alienate just about everyone in the Yankee organization as that iconic final piece to the 1977 championship puzzle. But he would prove his value—ego, warts and all—in the truest tradition of past Yankee greats, playing the hero to the hilt when it mattered most in a purely majestic World Series performance.

Having spent a forgettable year at Baltimore after enduring Oakland A’s owner Charles Finley for nearly a decade, the 30-year-old Jackson made himself available to the highest bidder in baseball’s first free agency auction following the death of the reserve clause. Steinbrenner made his expected pitch, but Jackson also received lucrative offers from Montreal and San Diego that, dollar for dollar, exceeded the Yankee bid.

Perhaps Montreal and San Diego were nice places to be, but New York City had a world-famous persona that intoxicated the flamboyant Jackson. No other place could feed the slugger’s ego better, and no other person went to the mat to stroke it more than Steinbrenner, who Jackson said hustled him like “a girl in a bar” before signing him to a five-year, $3.75 million deal with the Yankees.

Any red carpet rolled out for Jackson in New York might as well have been peppered with land mines by his new teammates. They weren’t thrilled that the new Yankee showed up and immediately began bragging about being the savior of a team that, after all, was the reigning American League champion.

No Yankee stewed worse than catcher Thurman Munson. The nine-year veteran and team captain was already piqued that Steinbrenner’s oral commitment to make him the highest-paid YankeeSteinbrenner denied he ever made such a promise to Munson. was shattered with Jackson’s millions. Then came a Sport magazine interview in which the smooth, self-promoting Jackson raised his own pedestal while bashing Munson’s. “I’m the straw that stirs the drink,” Jackson boasted, adding that Munson “can only stir it bad.” An enraged Munson refused any olive branches from JacksonAs it always seems to be when a player gets into hot water over printed comments, Jackson denied making them about Munson., and the rest of the Yankee players—already cool to Jackson—began avoiding him completely.

If Jackson was to seek solace in the Yankee clubhouse, he certainly wasn’t going to find it with manager Billy Martin. The fiery Yankee skipper never wanted Jackson to begin with; he wanted a soldier, a trustworthy right-handed batter with a good glove—like Joe Rudi, who was also available on the free agent market. Instead, Steinbrenner gave him Jackson, a left-handed slugger on a team already full of them. Add to that Jackson’s cocky nature and deteriorating defensive game, neither of which was ideal for Martin’s want.

The incendiary relationship between Jackson and Martin reached a toxic flashpoint at Boston’s Fenway Park in June. The Red Sox’ Jim Rice popped a short fly to right field that Jackson decided he could not or would not get to—and fearful it would get past him, made a slow, tentative field of the ball, which gave Rice time to reach second.

Seething from the dugout, Martin made the ultimate baseball insult of removing Jackson from the field in the middle of the inning. Approaching the dugout with hands outstretched as to beg why, the two began arguing with an upward spiral in loudness and profanity. Ever the bulldog, Martin had to be restrained by Yankee coaches (and ex-teammates) Yogi Berra and Elston Howard from going after Jackson.

The Saturday afternoon incident was captured by NBC’s Game of the Week cameras for a nationwide audience to see, including an angry George Steinbrenner—who wanted to fire Martin. But it was Jackson, of all people, who talked Steinbrenner out of it for fear that the raucous, overwhelmingly pro-Billy Yankee fan base would take it out on him.

The feuds intensified into the summer, with Jackson, Martin and Steinbrenner battling to claim the center of the Yankee universe. Everything finally got ironed out when Martin acceded to Steinbrenner’s wish to have Jackson bat fourth in the lineup—and in return, Martin could bring in long-time pal Art Fowler as his pitching coach.

With the cast of Yankee characters no longer trying to step on each other’s lines, the team busted out for the third act—winning 41 of its final 54 games, during which Jackson knocked in 50 of his 110 runs for the regular season. The Yankees would need just about every win and every Jackson RBI during the stretch, outlasting both the high-powered Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles by 2.5 games each to win the AL East.

Like the Yankees in the AL East, the Kansas City Royals emerged from a mid-summer dogfight in the AL West and erupted at the end, losing just seven of their last 42 games—all without internal fisticuffs—to post a dominant 102-60 recordThe Royals’ hot stretch run included win streaks of eight, ten and 16 games—the latter being the longest in the AL since 1953. and set up a powerful ALCS rematch with the 100-62 Yankees.

For awhile, it looked as if the Royals would get even with New York for their painful walk-off loss of a year earlier. Instead, they experienced a tormenting recurrence. They won two of the first three games over the Yankees and went home to Royals Stadium with two chances to wrap it up; they couldn’t. After losing 6-4 in Game Four, the Royals sent lefty Paul Splittorff (16 wins, six losses) to the mound for Game Five—and stunningly, Billy Martin kept Reggie Jackson on the benchSome Yankee players believed Martin sat Jackson out of spite, even at the risk of losing a pennant., figuring the left-handed slugger would not match up favorably against the southpaw.

Believing they were being handed a free pass to the World Series, the Royals took advantage by quieting the Yanks for seven innings, 3-1. But Jackson was unleashed in the eighth inning, delivering a pinch-hit, run-scoring single that ignited the Yankee offense; they rallied for three more in the ninth against a Kansas City bullpen that lacked a marquee closer, and then used their own—AL Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle—to shut down the Royals in the bottom of the ninth to nab their second straight AL pennant.

Having first fought off themselves, then the Royals, the Yankees headed to the World Series against their old Fall Classic adversary, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Cut my veins and Dodger Blue will flow.”—First-year Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda.

The big news at Chavez Ravine was twofold in 1977: Unseating the two-time defending world champion Cincinnati Reds, and achieving that accomplishment with new Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda.

After 23 years of leadership under Walter Alston, the Dodger helm was handed over to the 49-year-old Lasorda: The anti-Alston, a non-stop cheerleading chatterbox compared to the emotionally tacit Alston. Lasorda was no stranger to the Dodger family; a pitcher struggling to make it in Brooklyn during the early 1950s, a scout in the 1960s, a minor league manager in the early 1970s, and then third base coach for the parent club. In the minors, he had seasoned most of the players he was now about to manage in Los Angeles, and his enthusiastic streak was enough to get him miked up by NBC while coaching a game at third.

Under Lasorda in 1977, the Dodgers never sneezed. They started out at 22-4 and left the Reds choking in their dust, never allowing the defending juggernaut any closer than seven games throughout the year.

To expel the Reds from the top of the National League West, the Dodgers needed to be strong in almost every facet of their game. They were. On offense they led the league with 191 homers, 125 of which were divvied up between four players—Steve Garvey (33), Reggie Smith (32), Ron Cey and Dusty BakerBaker became the last of the four players to reach 30 when he homered in his final at-bat of the regular season. (30 each)—to became the first foursome to each hit at least 30 in one season. On the mound, the Dodgers’ 3.22 earned run average was best in the NL, individually highlighted by a 20-7 mark and 2.78 ERA by Tommy John—completing a long, successful re-emergence to prominence after having his elbow reconstructed three years earlier.

The Reds’ fall from first place had nothing to do with their prodigious hitting—they were sparked by a monster effort by George Foster, who hit .320 with 52 homers and 149 RBIs—but more with a no-name pitching staff that finally began living up to its anonymity. When they finally did add a marquee starter in Tom Seaver—in an eye-opening midseason trade with the New York Mets—his 14-3 mark in a CincinnatiDissension among the Reds’ all-stars also took a toll as they began to feel restless over the free agency riches achieved by other players. uniform was too little, too late for a staff whose team ERA was third-to-last in the NL.

Despite overwhelming the NL East with 101 wins for the second straight year, the Philadelphia Phillies ended up playing second fiddle once more to the NL West champions at the NLCS. The Phillies had muscled up during the regular season behind “Baby Bull” Greg Luzinski (.309 batting average, 39 home runs, 130 RBIs), Mike Schmidt (.274, 38, 101) and pitcher Steve Carlton (a NL-best 23 wins and a 2.64 ERA). But against the Dodgers, the Phillies were snake-bit by the subpar efforts of Schmidt (one RBI single in 16 at-bats) and Carlton (a no-decision and a loss in two starts). Dodger bats, led by Dusty Baker’s two homers and eight RBIs, were wide awake to give Los Angeles the NL flag in four games.

The last time Tommy Lasorda and Billy Martin faced off against one another in 1956, it was as Kansas City pitcher and Yankee infielder, respectively—and the two had to be separated from starting an all-out brawl after trying to out-heckle one another. Maybe all was forgiven 21 years later, but the two managers—and everyone else, for that matter—would soon take the public eye’s backseat at the World Series to Reggie Jackson.

For the first three games, Jackson was out of the spotlight, usurped by the Dodger homer foursome of Garvey-Cey-Smith-Baker—each of whom had connected once. The Yankees nevertheless felt good, winning two of the three games; they were about to feel even better as Reggie was ready to sound off in the way most everyone wished he would: Not with his mouth, but with his bat.

Jackson homered and doubled in a 4-2, Game Four Yankee victory that put New York within reach of its first Series triumph in 15 years. He homered again late in Game Five, but for the moment it was an insignificant event as the Dodgers stayed alive with a 10-4 rout.

Before Game Six at Yankee Stadium, Jackson took batting practice and couldn’t believe the groove he was in. Practically every ball he swung at cleared the outfield wallThe fans that witnessed Reggie’s 35 BP drives into the seats gave him a standing ovation when he was through.. It was as good as he ever felt before a game.

He would get better when the pitches starting coming in for real.

After walking in his first at-bat, Jackson swung at Dodger starter Burt Hooton’s first pitch and smacked a two-run, fourth-inning blast to knock the Dodgers out of the lead and Hooton out of the game. One inning later, Jackson grandly repeated himself—swinging and homering on the first pitch, another two-run shot that extended the Yankee lead to 7-3 and knocking Elias Sosa, Hooton’s replacement, into the showers.

Jackson had nothing to lose when he returned to the plate in the eighth. The Yankees had the game in hand, the fans were yelling “Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!” and he was facing reliever Charlie Hough, who lived on knuckleballs—a type of pitch Jackson historically had no problem with. The drama was no longer in the score, but in the at-bat; it was now all exhibition for Jackson, who later recalled the situation as “strictly dreamland.”

Seeking the exclamation point, Jackson found it on the first pitch: Right over the plate and clobbered to the distant recesses of the center-field bleachers, where few had ever been hit at the Stadium—original or refurbished. It seemed a miracle that the exuberantly wild Yankee fans decided to contain themselvesEven Steve Garvey couldn’t help but applaud into his glove as Jackson passed him at first base during his home run trot. and wait until the final out to invade the field in celebration.

Jackson’s third home run, on his third swing of the night, made him the first player to hit five in one World Series. Hitting .450 with nine hits in 20 at-bats, he also set Series records with ten runs scored and 25 total bases.

Reggie Jackson had indeed accomplished what he set out to do in New York: He came, he saw, he conquered. He also ticked off just about everyone he crossed paths with. But for one night in October, everyone was willing to forgive, forget and fawn over Reggie.


1978 baseball historyForward to 1978: The Denting of the Red Sox Bucky Dent's improbable 163rd-game heroics cap a feverish late-season comeback by the New York Yankees over the Boston Red Sox.


1976 baseball historyBack to 1976: The Big Leaguer Emancipated Shackled for nearly a century, major leaguers are freed with the death of the reserve clause.


1970s baseball historyThe 1970s Page: Power to the Player Curt Flood's sacrificial stand to win free agency opens the door for the biggest challenge yet to the reserve clause, which is eventually shattered—but not without fans suffering from numerous player strikes and holdouts.


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They Were There: Tommy John
Tommy JohnWhat does Tommy John think of the revolutionary medical procedure named after him? His thoughts on that, his favorite year, 100-pitch counts and Yasiel Puig.


1977 Standings

National League East
Philadelphia Phillies
101
61
.623
---
Pittsburgh Pirates
96
66
.593
5
St. Louis Cardinals
83
79
.512
16
Chicago Cubs
81
81
.500
20
Montreal Expos
75
87
.463
28
New York Mets
64
98
.395
37
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers
98
64
.605
---
Cincinnati Reds
88
74
.543
10
Houston Astros
81
81
.500
17
San Francisco Giants
75
87
.463
23
San Diego Padres
69
93
.426
29
Atlanta Braves
61
101
.377
37
American League East
New York Yankees
100
62
.617
---
Baltimore Orioles
97
64
.602
2.5
Boston Red Sox
97
64
.602
2.5
Detroit Tigers
74
88
.457
26
Cleveland Indians
71
90
.441
28.5
Milwaukee Brewers
67
95
.414
33
Toronto Blue Jays
54
107
.335
45.5
American League West
Kansas City Royals
102
60
.630
---
Texas Rangers
94
68
.580
8
Chicago White Sox
90
72
.556
12
Minnesota Twins
84
77
.522
17.5
California Angels
74
88
.457
28
Seattle Mariners
64
98
.395
38
Oakland A's
63
98
.391
38.5

1977 Postseason Results
NLCS Los Angeles defeated Philadelphia, 3-1.
ALCS New York defeated Kansas City, 3-2.
World Series New York (AL) defeated Los Angeles (NL), 4-2.


It Happened in 1977

North by Northwest
Two new American League franchises—the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays—begin play in baseball’s first expansion since 1969, bringing major league membership to 26. The Blue Jays start off in promising fashion by winning their first-ever game, 9-5, at home over the Chicago White Sox as part of a 5-2 start. But dreams of an inaugural Blue Jay pennant are quickly vanished as the team sinks to a final 54-107 mark, the worst in baseball. The Mariners start and finish as an expansion team should, losing their opener at Seattle, 7-0 to California, and wrapping up at 64-98—but they escape last place on the season’s final day by finishing a half-game ahead of Oakland in the AL West.

Pumping Up
Home run production in the majors jumps an astounding 47% to a record 3,644—a mark that itself will be obliterated over and over again with stronger sluggers, smaller ballparks and, it seems, more delicate pitchers. In 1976, only four players in the majors hit over 30 homers; in 1977 four players from one team alone—the Los Angeles Dodgers—hit 30 or more, among 18 overall in baseball. In all, 55 players hit over 20, and George Foster becomes the only player between 1965 and 1990 to reach 50 by clouting 52 for the Cincinnati Reds.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Whether it’s due to more home runs, better marketing, or just plain falling in love with baseball again, fans pass through major league turnstiles in record numbers. The 38,708,779 tickets sold smash the old record—set just the year before—by seven million; even taking into account the addition of two new teams for 1977, average game attendance is up 14%. Individually, the Dodgers lead the majors with 2,955,087 in home attendance—breaking the 1962 record they set themselves. Only four teams—Atlanta, Cleveland, Oakland and San Francisco—fail to draw over a million at home.

The New Speed King
Lou Brock, 38, breaks Ty Cobb’s all-time career stolen base record when he swipes his 893rd bag during a 4-3 St. Louis Cardinal loss at San Diego on August 29. Before retiring in 1979, Brock will extend the record to 938, which, like most other marks he sets, will eventually be broken by Rickey Henderson.

Thanks, Frank (Part I)
Texas second baseman Lenny Randle loses his starting job to Bump Wills at camp, then loses his mind after claiming to have been called a punk by manager Frank Lucchesi—who nearly loses his life when Randle pummels him bloody and almost into unconsciousness. Randle then heads into the outfield to do sprints as if nothing happened. Lucchesi’s cheekbone is shattered and requires plastic surgery; Randle is first suspended, then fined, then released by the Rangers. In court, Randle accepts a lesser battery charge so long as he pays a $1,000 fine as well as Lucchesi’s medical expenses. Randle ends up with the New York Mets and bats a career-high .304.

Thanks, Frank (Part II)
Lucchesi survives Randle, but not the Rangers. After a 31-31 start, the 51-year-old manager is released by Texas—in part because he’s spending too much time trying to sue the pants off of Randle. Eddie Stanky takes over as Ranger manager, but claims homesickness and decides to retire after just one game—a 10-8 win over Minnesota. Under third manager Billy Hunter, the Rangers will go an impressive 60-33 and overall finish 94-68—by the record, the franchise’s best performance to date.

Hey, If I Can Win the America’s Cup…
In his second year as the Atlanta Braves’ owner, Ted Turner is suspended by commissioner Bowie Kuhn for “tampering” with San Francisco outfielder Gary Matthews before he was eligible for free agency. Turner appeals and has the suspension delayed enough to anoint himself as the Braves’ manager, giving Dave Bristol a paid leave. But after just one performance in the dugout—a 2-1 loss to Pittsburgh on May 11 that extends the team’s losing streak to an Atlanta-record 17 games—Kuhn orders him out of uniform, citing a rule that prohibits owners from managing. Turner will eventually get around to serving his suspension, though he will hardly be idle—using the summer to steer the winning vessel in the America’s Cup, Courageous.

Double Big Mac
Willie McCovey, enjoying a renaissance year at San Francisco, homers twice in one inning at Cincinnati on June 27 to become the first player to accomplish the feat twice in a career. His second blast of the sixth inning is a grand slam that gives him the National League career lead with 17. McCovey’s homers ignite a ten-run rally that boosts the Giants to a 14-9 win over the Reds.

This is Why The Calculator Was Created
On April 10, the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox take a 3-3 tie to the eighth inning. One inning later, the Indians will be leading 16-9—notching 13 of a modern major league record 19 total runs in one inning. They’ll add three more “insurance” runs in the ninth to win, 19-9.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garland
It will work for the New York Yankees with Reggie Jackson, but not for the Cleveland Indians with Wayne Garland. In the first year of modern free agency, the Tribe pays $2.3 million over ten years to Garland, a 26-year-old pitcher with 27 career wins—20 of those with Baltimore in 1976. Garland will go down in history as the first free agency bust, leading the AL with 19 losses. It gets worse. He tears his rotator cuff in 1978 and will have a collective 15-29 record from 1978-81. Garland will spend the last five years collecting checks from his guaranteed contract while out of baseball.

Oh, Okay
Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh becomes the “world home run king” when he hits his 756th career home run. He will retire in 1980 with 868, yet America yawns. Home runs in Japan come easier with smaller ballparks, fewer brushback pitches and, frankly, an inferior level of overall talent.

Keep Those Change-of-Address Letters Comin’
Dave Kingman begins the season in New York playing for the Mets; six months and three teams later, he’ll be back—playing for the Yankees, his fourth team of the year to tie a modern big league record. He plays 58 games for the Mets, 56 for the San Diego Padres, ten for the California Angels and eight for the Yankees. Statistically, it’s a typical Kingman year: Low batting average (.221), many home runs (26) and lots of strikeouts (143 in 439 at-bats).

Cox Rocks Sox with Quick Six
Ted Cox, a September call-up for the Boston Red Sox, becomes the first player to hit safely in his first six at-bats to start a major league career. He’ll finish his 1977 tour of duty batting .362 in 58 at-bats, but any similarities to another Ted of Red Sox fame—Ted Williams—ends there. Cox will become strictly part-time material with three different teams over four big league seasons for a career .245 batting average.

New Ballparks

Olympic Stadium, Montreal After spending years at minor-league worthy Jarry Park, the Montreal Expos move to a facility that, on the drafting table, is a magnificent wonder of stadium architecture—but in reality is all but a disaster. Built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, Olympic Stadium was made adaptable for baseball starting in 1977, inspiring the Expos to finally start hitting the ball and, for a brief while, play winning baseball.

Yet “The Big O” harbored a very public dark side, from its enormous cost—estimates vary but seem to average out at a billion dollars, giving rise to local writers renaming it “The Big Owe”—to its structural problems. Among those: An ambitious, gigantic 556-foot-tall arcing tower that often failed to lift a removable roof (which had the look, feel and color of scuba gear); and the 1988 collapse of a massive concrete beam, forcing the Expos to play their final 13 home games on the road.

Olympic Stadium was built to ensure major league baseball’s survival in Quebec, but ultimately it couldn’t; after 25 years of scorn coupled with the Expos’ penny-pinching ways, Major League Baseball forced a buyout of the team and moved it away from the stadium and the city, to Washington, D.C.

Kingdome, Seattle Baseball second’s enclosed facility, the Kingdome was initially embraced by Seattle as the savior that allowed baseball—and other pro sports, for that matter—to finally flourish in the Emerald City. But fans soon began to focus more on its appearance, which had the look of a giant petrified cupcake with its swirling gray exteriors. Eventually the Kingdome was given a bundle of nicknames, almost all of them derived from the mortuary business. As fans cooled on the Kingdome’s cold, soulless feel, its tenants suffered. And no one suffered worse than the Mariners, who endured losing campaigns in each of their first 14 years at the Kingdome—with pitchers cursing its bandbox dimensions and fast artificial track, while team owners constantly tried to renegotiate leases under threats to leave town.

The Kingdome’s architect said it was built to last 100 years, but it barely made it past 20—satisfying baseball purists everywhere when it was executed by implosion in 2000 to make room for the Seattle Seahawks’ new football stadium.


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