Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Bronx Zoo

Welcome to the Bronx Zoo.  A team that had more subplots than any other World Champion in major league history.  Playing .700 ball from mid July through October is a good way to win a championship.  In the Yankees case all it guaranteed them was a 1 game playoff in Fenway Park on October 1st.  Massive injuries and the implosion of skipper Billy Martin left the Bombers all but dead in the water as the Red Sox built a huge double digit lead by July.  A managerial change brought in the steady Bob Lemon to replace the volatile Martin and all of a sudden the atmosphere changed.  Don't discount the fact that the troops got healthy and Ron Guidry was in the midst of a season for the ages, and all off a sudden the Yankees had the formula.  Slowly but surely they chipped away at the Red Sox lead.  Entering September they were 6 1/2 back, just within earshot of making a run.  Heading into a key 4 game set in Boston on September 7th the Bombers were 4 games behind the Red Sox.  All Boston needed was a split to keep the status quo.  Even 1 win would allow them to keep a 2 game lead.  Instead the Yankees blew the doors off the Red Sox in a 4 game sweep know in the Big Apple as "The Boston Masacre".  New York didn't just win those 4 games they pummeled the Red Sox by scoring 15, 13, 7 and 7 runs.  Just like that both teams were tied atop the AL East and the Yankees owned all of the momentum.  4 days later the two teams would again do battle, this time for a 3 game weekend set in the Bronx.  Before sellout crowds over 55,000 the Yankees won the first 2 games, then lost the finale.  The Yankees were now up by 2 1/2 games and the baseball world knew that the Red Sox were dead.  Unfortunately, the baseball world forgot to inform the Red Sox of their funeral.  Boston, to their credit, rallied back and tied the Yankees by winning on the final day of the season, while the Yankees dropped a 9-2 stinker to Cleveland.  That set the stage for the 1 game playoff in Boston on October 2, 1978.  The rest they say, "is history".

New York's strength was a veteran lineup that knew how to win.  When the New York tabloids went into full panic mode that summer the team never wavered   Bob Lemon was the right guy at the right time.  As the team suffered through stagnant play and injuries the fiery Martin made things worse.  Lemon's patience paid off as New York executed one of the greatest comebacks in modern baseball history.  31 year old Thurman Munson was the heart and soul of this team.  Playing on 2 gimpy knees, which reduced his homer outpu to just 6, he was able to lead his team to the promised land one final time.  "Sweet" Lou Piniella (.314) was the only regular to hit over .300.  Reggie and Craig Nettles both had solid seasons hitting in the .270's with 27 homers.  A cast of minor leaguers helped cover for the injured Willie Randolph, including Brian Doyle who had a post season to remember.  Steady veteran Roy White was injured hobbled most of year.  Dent, the hero in Fenway, missed 39 games.  Unheralded first baseman Chris Chambliss played in all 162 games and knocked in 90 runs.  Guidry (25-3, 1.74) dominated AL hitters better than any lefty before or since.  Louisiana Lighting fanned 248, including 18 Angels on an otherwise forgettable May night vs the Angels, up at the Stadium.  Ed Figueroa (20-9, 2.99) was an outstanding #2 starter, who logged 253 innings and somehow doesn't get the credit he deserved.  Led by Guidry the Yankee staff led the AL in ERA.  Due to injuries to anticipated starters Don Gullett and Andy Messersmith, swingman Dick Tidrow was moved into the rotation and he gave Lemon 185 solid innings.  Rookies Jim Beattie and Ken Clay filled the gap as well.  Ancient 32 year old future HOF'er Catfish Hunter (12-6, 3.58) was on his last legs.  Still he found a way to log 20 starts.  The pen had superstar free agent signee Goose Gossage logging 134 innings and notching 27 saves.  His setup man was former closer Sparky Lyle, who won the 1977 AL Cy Young Award.  Graig Nettles joked that Lyle, "went from Cy Young to Syanora".  Gossage was just that good in '78.  He was worth every penny of George Steinbrenner's millions that it took to get him to the Bronx.

I added 17 new cards to complete the Yankees 1978 set.

Messersmith was a 4 time All-Star and Cy Young runner up who was suffering from arm trouble by the time he came to New York in 1978.  The Yankees hoped he could rekindle the form that helped him win 20 games twice, but he just had nothing left.  Only 3 years earlir he pitched a career high 321 innings for the Dodgers and won 19 games.  He would never be the same pitcher after that.  In 5 starts (6 games) he was a pitiful 0-3, 5.64.  His complete Yankee career would last just 22 innings.  The following season he returned to the scene of the 300 inning crime (LA) and rebounded slightly.  After the season he hung it up at the ripe old age of 33.  I found this spring training photo while doing a Google search.
Hoping to find someone who could eat up innings the Yankees called Kammeyer up from Triple A Tacoma where he was 12-2, 4.59.  In 21 innings he posted a 5.82 ERA for New York and did not get a decision   He would play in just 1 more major league game in 1979 and not record an out while allowing 8 runs.  He spent both '79 and '80 back at Triple A before being released.  His major league debut was on Monday Night Baseball vs the Red Sox.  Four of the AAA teams that he played on won championships.  After leaving baseball he became a CPA.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.
Doyle's claim to fame was his outstanding 1978 World Series performance in place of the injured Willie Randolph.  In six World Series games, he batted .438 with 7 hits in 16 at bats, 1 double, 4 runs scored and 2 RBI's, helping the Yankees to their second straight World Series victory.  Many thought that he should have been the series MVP, but because he was a fringe player he wasn't going to be honored. During the regular season he played in just 39 games and hit only .192 with no power numbers whatsoever.  In parts of the next 2 seasons as a spare part he hit .125 and .173 respectively before getting his final chance in 1981 with Oakland.  In 7 seasons at Triple A he hit just .259.  His 15 minutes of fame could not have come at a better time.  I found this photo while doing a Google search.
García made his major league debut in 1978 with the New York Yankees He played in 29 games over the following two seasons before being traded with Chris Chambliss and Paul Mirabella to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tom Underwood, Rick Cerone and Ted Wilborn prior to the 1980 season.  In 18 games this 21 year old future All Star hit just .195.  Once in Toronto he would become a 2 time All-Star.  He finished 4th in the ROY voting in 1980.  I took his Yankee minor league photo and added the interlocking NY to the jersey.  His cap logo isn't visible, so that wasn't an issue.
Rajsich appeared in 4 games (2 starts) for the Yankees in 1978.  He had a 4.05 ERA without a decisions.  At the end of the season he was part of a blockbuster deal with the Rangers that netted the Yankees future standout Dave Righetti.  He spent 2 seasons with Texas and saw limited action.  Most of his time was spent on the AAA level.  To his credit he never surrendered the dream as he bounced from one organization to another on the minor league level until 1988 when he was 6-8, 2.86 with Louisville (STL-AAA).  this photo was taken during his minor league years in the Yankee chain.
Sherrill spent 5 seasons in the Yankee farm system before getting called up to the big club in 1978.  At the time he was playing at West Haven (AA) and hitting .292.  New York needed middle infield help due to injuries to Dent and Randolph and they were willing to try anyone in the organization. In 2 games Sherrill got 1 at bat and scored 1 run without getting a hit.  In 1980 he returned for 3 games and collected his one and only hit. This photo came from his 1979 Columbus Clippers card.  I changed the logo and go got rid of the Clippers red.
The 20 year old Ramos was summoned from Triple A Tacoma for 1 game to help out the Yankees middle infield situation.  He would never play another game for New York.  At the end of the season he was part of the previously mentioned blockbuster deal with Texas, who he never played for either.  Instead he was sold to the Blue Jays where he played a handful of games before being a rule 5 draftee by the Mariners.  From 1982-1987 he found his niche as a utility infielder in Seattle.  He would move on to 3 more organizations in that same roll.  His best sesaon (1987) saw him hit .311 in 42 games.  This card came from the same minor league set that the Damaso Garcia photo came from.  The same airbrush job was done on the jersey.
Thomasson played his whole career for California based team minus the 55 games he played for the Yankees in 1978.  He started the season in Oakland and arrived in New York on June 15th in exchange for Dell Alston and Mickey Klutts.  Thomasson did a great job as the Yankees 4th outfielder and late inning defensive replacement.  He caught the final out of the 1978 Series.  He hit .276 in 116 at bats for New York  I found this autographed photo on ebay.
By 1978 Johnstone was a well traveled veteran lefty bat that contenders coveted.  Having arrived in the majors as a 20 year old in 1966 with the Angels, Johnstone was in his 13th big league campaign in 1978.  He began the season with the Phillies and was traded along with Bobby Brown to the Yankees for a beat up Rawly Eastwick.  In 36 games in the Bronx as a pinch hitter and part time DH he hit .262 with 6 RBI's.  He would get traded exactly 1 year to the day later to the Padres.  He ended his career with a .267 lifetime average and 1,748 games played over 20 big league seasons.
Fun Fact:  Johnstone was know as one of the games greatest pranksters.  He is credited with stuffing his shirt, graying his hair and walking around Dodgertown pretending to be Tommy Lasorda.  You can read about his exploits in one of his 3 books or by clicking here and reading a neat article by SABR.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.
Beattie was considered "the jewel" of the Yankee farm system in the late 70's, but he and other phenoms Ken Clay and Gil Patterson were frustrated when the Yankees kept signing veterans like Gullett, Eastwick, Messersmith and Gossage.  Thanks to injuries he made the big club right out of Spring training and won his first start in a battle vs future HOF'er Jim Palmer.  He won his next start then fell into a rut dropping his next 7 decisions in a row.  He finally righted the ship and won two key games vs Boston down the stretch as well as a win in the ALCS and World Series.  He finished the season 6-9, 3.73 in 22 starts.  After a sub-par '79 season he was packaged in a deal to Seattle that brought Ruppert Jones to the Yankees.  He would put together 7 successful seasons in Seattle until arm trouble hit.  He moved into the front office as a GM for both Montreal and Baltimore.  This autographed photo came from ebay.
Only George Steinbrenner would trade for a gold glove 1st Baseman like Spencer, when he already had his carbon copy in Chambliss.  Spencer who won 2 gold gloves was now relegated to the role of DH.  If he was that stout a hitter he wouldn't have been a guy who consistently played just vs righties and had a lifetime .250 average.  Such was the logic in the Bronx.  Spencer was a good soldier and did not complain  He played in 71 games and hit just .227 in 1978 with 7 homers.  With increased playing time the following season he hit .288 with 23 homers, which was by far his best season in the biggs.  The Yankees rewarded him by trading Chambliss, which should have paved the way for him to start at first.  Instead they went out and signed Bob Watson and once again Spencer was a part time / platoon player.  Pictured here is his 1978 Burger King mid season update card.
Desperate for arms, due to injury, the Yanks dug deep into their minor league system and brought up Larry McCall, who pitched in 5 games (1 start).  McCall had a 1-1, 5.63 record in 16 innings of work.  He would get a second cup of coffee in '79 then disappear back into the minors where he bounced from the Yankees to the Rangers to the Indians and then finally the Blue Jays organization.  His final season in professional ball was 1981 at Syracuse (AAA-TOR).  This photo came from that same minor league set that I found Garcia's.  This was the only one that required the interlocking NY to be added to the cap.
Klutts was a hard nosed utility infielder, who was a favorite of Billy Martin who managed him in both New York and Oakland.  He batted a perfect 1.000 in 1978 (2-2) in his one game in the Bronx, which was an April 15th win over the Chisox at the Stadium.  After being traded to Oakland in the Thomasson deal he played the rest of the season in Vancouver (AAA), where he hit .293.  He spent parts of the next 4 seasons in Oakland and hit .269 in almost 200 AB's in 1980 and .370 in 46 AB's during the strike shortened 1981 season. I found this autographed photo on ebay.
Heath was destined to be Munson's backup for a long time to come.  The Yankees figured that they were set at the catcher's position for at least the next 5 years, so they included heath in the Righetti deal with Texas.  He spent the balance of the '78 season in AAA then was traded to Oakland where he blossomed into a front like catcher for the next 10-12 years.  During the '78 season he hit .228 in 92 at bats, which encompassed 33 games behind the dish.  I found this autographed photo while doing a Google search.
Lindy arrived mid season from Texas in the hopes that his 38 year old body had one more stretch run left in it.  Having pitched out of the A's pen during their dynasty years he was a known commodity for getting lefties out.  He pitched in just 7 games for the Bombers posted a 4.42 ERA, which did not instill confidence by management.  1978 would turn out to be his 14th and final season in the majors.  Pictured here is his Burger King update card.
The extent of Eastwick's career in the Bronx was 8 relief appearances early in the season before being dealt to Philly for Jay Johnstone.  In just under 25 innings of work Eastwick had a 2-1, 3.28 record.  He would not be as successful in Philly.  He had an amazing 2 seasons in 1975 and 1976 as the Reds closer, where he lead the league in saves twice and won two championships.  This is his Burger King update card taken in Spring Training.
Davis had two call-ups to the Bronx during the '78 season.  First in late July where he pitched in 1 game vs Minnesota and gave up 2 runs without recording an out.  As part of the September call ups he was thrown right into the fire and got the final out on September 8th vs Boston.  His 2 subsequent outings saw him pitch 2 more innings and give up 2 runs (1 earned).  While in the minors that season Davis was having an amazing year at Double A West Haven where he went 9-2, 1.50 with 5 saves.  1979 would mark an amazing season for Davis (14-2, 2.85, 9sv), who replaced Sparky Lyle as Gossage's setup man.  After 2 more seasons setting up Gossage he requested a trade and was sent to Minnesota for Roy Smalley, where he became the Twins closer for the next 4 seasons.  Davis, ever the competitor refused to quit baseball when his stuff began to disappear in his early 30's.  He took an assignment to AAA Phoenix (SFG) for 2 years and then back with the Yankees Columbus team before hanging it up in 1990.  His claim to fame today is that his son is Ike Davis, the Mets slugging 1st baseman.

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