Tuesday, June 29, 2010

1978 World Series

When the two teams met again the following fall, it was very much an encore of the previous season. Once again, the Dodgers knocked off the Phillies in the NLCS, while the Yankees ended the Royals' season for the third straight year. Of course, the Yankees struggled to even reach the ALCS. The 1978 AL East wasn't the summer long three team dog fight that it had been the previous year, but the Yankees needed a furious late season comeback and one game playoff in Boston to win the division. Oddly enough, the big blow in that game - Bucky Dent's improbable go-ahead homer - was served up by Mike Torrez, who had signed with Boston after winning Game Six of the '77 Series for the Yankees.

Both clubs carried relatively the same rosters as in '77, but for the Yankees there were two major changes: one in the bullpen, one in the dugout. Goose Gossage was signed as a free agent in the off-season, relegating Sparky Lyle to a lesser role in bullpen. Or, as Graig Nettles put it, causing him to go from Cy Young to sayonara. Meanwhile, the ever present tension amongst Steinbrenner, Martin, and Jackson finally boiled over in July. Martin suspended Jackson for failing to follow a bunt sign, then choosing to follow it after it had been taken off. Feeling that Steinbrenner didn't have his back, Martin quipped "The two deserve each other. One's a born liar, the other's convicted", referencing Steinbrenner's earlier conviction for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. Citing his health, Martin resigned before he could be fired, replaced by Bob Lemon. Then, in a move perfectly representative of the Bronx Zoo years, at Old Timers Day, five days after his resignation, it was announced that Martin would return as Yankee manager in 1980, with Lemon being promoted to the general manager's position.


The Series began in L.A. on Tuesday October 10th. Tommy John, who had lost Game Three to the Yankees the year before, started for L.A. The Yankees countered with Ed Figueroa, who had just become the first, and thus far only, native of Puerto Rico to post a twenty win season. The Dodgers chased Figueroa early, with homers from Dusty Baker and Davey Lopes knocking him from the game in the second. Ken Clay, Paul Lindblad, and Dick Tidrow didn't offer any relief, combining to allow an additional eight runs. The Yankees put up five over the seventh and eighth, including another homer from Reggie Jackson, but it was a drop in the bucket as the Dodgers won 11-5.

The Yankees sent Catfish Hunter out to oppose Burt Hooton in Game Two. A two run double from Jackson gave the Yankees the lead in the third. The Dodgers got on the board with a Ron Cey RBI single in the fourth, and took the lead when he hit a three run homer in the sixth. Jackson brought the Yankees within one with an RBI groundout in the seventh, and had a chance to tie it in the ninth. Jackson came up with two outs, runners on first and second, and the Yankees trailing by a run. Lasorda called on fireballing twenty one year old rookie Bob Welch. In a 1-2 hole, Jackson fouled off four pitches in working the count full. On the ninth pitch of the at bat, Welch blew one by Jackson, putting the Dodgers up two games.

Back in New York for Game Three, the Yankees sent Ron Guidry out to avoid falling behind three games. Guidry had just turned in the finest pitching season in Yankee history, going 25 and 3 in 35 starts, his final victory coming in the one game playoff in Boston. He led the league in wins, winning percentage at .893, ERA at 1.74, shutouts with nine, WHIP at 0.946, and hits per nine at 6.1. He also led the league in WAR on his way to capturing the Cy Young Award and a second place MVP finish. He had a convincing victory against Kansas City in the ALCS and with his team in desperate need of win in Game Three, Guidry found a way to dominate without having his best stuff. He struck out only four and worked around eight hits and seven walks, but allowed just one run in nine innings of work. Graig Nettles made no fewer than four outstanding plays at the hot corner to help Guidry work out of trouble. The Yankees got a second inning home run from veteran Roy White, and RBIs from Dent, Munson, Jackson, and Piniella to take a 5-1 victory.

Game Four was a rematch between John and Figueroa. A three run homer by Reggie Smith in the fifth opened the scoring. The Yankees got two back in the sixth. A single by White and a walk to Munson put two on for Jackson. His single scored White to make it 3-1, but his biggest contribution came from his butt rather than his bat. With Munson on second and Jackson on first, Lou Piniella bounced a tailor made double play ball to short. Bill Russell made the force at second, but as his relay throw sailed towards first, Jackson, caught halfway between the bases, not-so-subtly turned his right hip into the path of the ball. The ball bounced off into short right field, allowing Munson to score despite the protests of Tommy Lasorda. In the eighth, Paul Blair led off a with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice from White, and scored the tying run when Munson doubled him home. Welch and Gossage kept the slate clean in the ninth. In the bottom of the tenth White drew a one out walk. Without two outs, Jackson turned the tables on Welch, singling to keep the inning alive. Piniella followed with a base hit, and the Yankees walked off with the Series tied at two.

For Game Five, the Yankees turned to young Jim Beattie, passing over Hunter. The tall 23 year old rookie had made the fourth most starts for the club on the season, but was also demoted mid-season and was skipped on several occasions. He put the Yankees in a two run hole over the first three innings, but his offense soon came to his aid. White, Munson, and Piniella combined to drive in four runs in the third, then Rivers, White, and Munson combined for three more in the fourth. Beattie shut the Dodgers down the rest of the way and the Yankees added five more in the seventh and eighth to take a convincing 12-1 victory and come back from being down 0-2 take a 3-2 lead in the Series.

Back in L.A. the Yankees looked to Catfish Hunter to close it out, while the Dodgers asked Don Sutton to save their season. Davey Lopes' leadoff home run gave the Dodgers a 1-0 first inning lead, but in the top of the second Brian Doyle, subbing for an injured Willie Randolph, doubled home Nettles, and Bucky Dent followed with a single that scored Jim Spencer and Doyle. Lopes made it 3-2 with an RBI single in the third, but it was the last offense the Dodgers would get. Hunter, pitching in the 22nd and final post-season game of his career shut the Dodgers down into the eighth. Doyle and Dent added RBIs in the sixth, and Jackson hit a two run shot off Welch in the seventh to make it 7-2. Gossage retired the final five in a row, and the Yankees had won their second consecutive title and their twenty second overall.


  1. Ah, a very sweet series (pardon the pun) of memories. Lasorda totally lost the plot: If one of his Bums had done the same thing Reggie did, he would have rationalized it away. Like Whitey Herzog in 1985, Davey Johnson in 1996, Mike Scioscia in 2005 and a few others, he lost it, and his team followed his lead. The thing is, the Dodgers were still winning the game after the Sacrifice Thigh, and up 2-1 in games. The odds were still in their favor. Of course, these were the Yankees, and, unlike 1981, George and Bob Lemon decided to play mind games with the opposition, not their own players.

    What really ticks me off is that, 20 years later, at the 1998 Old-Timers' Day, it was a Yanks vs. Dodgers reunion -- remember? Willie Randolph's walkoff homer against Tommy John -- and Bobby Murcer interviewed Lasorda, and he had to bring up 1981, "when we brought that World Championship trophy back to Los Angeles where it belongs." Lasorda, you fat delusional slug, Los Angeles isn't even where the Dodgers belong!

  2. Great post. I went to my first Yankee game in 1978 and this is the first World Series I remember watching.