We’re over eight weeks into our worldwide attempt to “flatten the curve” and have been offering daily escapes into the sporting events of yesteryear through our “Filling The Void” series. We’ve looked back on the inspiring, mind-boggling, and remarkable events as well as the ordinary, daily games we’ve been missing in our lives. We here at The Turf Sports sincerely hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy and being safe through these trying days. Every night at 7pm in New York City, the streets are filled with the sounds of cars honking and people cheering out their windows to honor the front-line folks keeping society going. NYC is resilient and has faced many tough challenges before. One such time came back in the late 1970s when social and economic crises were at an all-time high. But on one special night in 1977, a baseball game made people believe that everything was going to be okay.
A City on Fire
To say 1977 was an exciting time in New York City is like saying Mariano Rivera is a pretty good closer. That summer, the city was on fire. Parts of the Bronx were literally burning. There was a citywide blackout in July that fanned the flames of a hotly contested mayoral election. That election featured incumbent Abraham Beame, as well as challengers Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo, and eventual winner, Ed Koch. David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer was arrested on August 10, 1977. But perhaps the hottest topic that year was the New York Yankees. With a talent-laden roster that added prized free agent Reggie Jackson in the offseason, the Bronx Bombers blazed their way back to the World Series.
A Familiar Foe
The Yankees opponent in the series was the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was the ninth meeting all time between the two clubs in the Fall Classic. The Yankees were 7-1 against the Bums of Brooklyn but lost the 1963 World Series to the now Los Angeles Dodgers. The series featured three Hall of Fame players and two Hall of Fame managers. Yankees Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Don Sutton of the Dodgers would all end up in Cooperstown. As would Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda and Yankees third base coach Bobby Cox. The latter, of course, going in as the manager of the Atlanta Braves.
In 1977, the Yankees were looking for their first championship since 1962. The fourteen year drought was the longest the Yankees had gone without winning. In fact, since their first win in 1923, no more than three years ever passed without a banner flying in The House That Ruth Built. After coming up short against the Cincinnati Reds in 1976, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner went out and caught the biggest free agent fish in the sea. Slugger Reggie Jackson signed a then record five-year $3 million dollar contract to be New York’s right fielder. The self-proclaimed “straw that stirs the drink” would indeed be the most important ingredient of the Yankees’ championship mix.
A Modest Start
Through the first two games of the 1977 World Series, Jackson was 1-6. With the Yankees leading 3-2 in Game 1, Manager Billy Martin brought in Paul Blair as a defensive replacement for Jackson. The Dodgers would tie the game and Blair would end up hitting a game winning single in the bottom of the 12th. This was a much more positive outcome of Blair replacing Jackson than one that took place earlier in the regular season in Boston. Game 2 saw Reggie go 0-4, striking out twice. After that, Jackson heated up, going 5-11 in the next three games with 2 home runs. This set the stage for one of the most memorable single game performances in World Series history.
A Classic Contest
After the first five games of the ’77 World Series, the Yankees held a 3-2 series lead. The Game 6 starters were Burt Hooton for the Dodgers and Mike Torrez for the Yanks. Hooton got the win in Game 2 by hurling a complete game 5 hitter to even up the series. The most significant game in Yankee lore that Torrez would pitch came a year later. Following the 1977 season, Torrez would sign with the Boston Red Sox. In a one-game playoff in Boston, Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent hit a huge home run off Torrez and earned himself a notorious nickname from the Fenway faithful.
But this night belonged to Reggie Jackson. He walked and scored on Chris Chambliss’ home run in the bottom of the second inning. He then hit three home runs on three consecutive pitches off of three different pitchers. His third homer in the bottom of the 8th was a no doubter against knuckleballer Charlie Hough. The blast landed with fury into the batters eye seats at the old Yankee Stadium. The three home runs in a single World Series game tied a record set by Babe Ruth. It put the Yankees in position to bring the World Series trophy back to the Bronx.
A Raucous Celebration
After Jackson’s third round tripper in the bottom of the eighth inning, the outcome of the game and the series had become a foregone conclusion. As the ninth inning began and Jackson made his way toward his position in right field, the fans on the first base line gave him a standing ovation. The fans in right field were sitting atop the fence, legs dangled over in fair territory ready to charge the field. Earlier in the broadcast, Keith Jackson said that the bullpens were covered because fans had been throwing things in them.
With two outs in the ninth, the fans were now launching firecrackers on to the field. This chased Reggie back to the dugout to pick up a batting helmet for safety. However, all of the equipment had been moved back to the clubhouse already in anticipation of a Yankee victory. The brief delay was just that and Jackson made his way back to the outfield. Dodgers’ pinch hitter Lee Lacy popped out to Torrez and the Yankees had clinched their 21st championship, and Jackson cemented his place in Yankee and postseason history – as Mr. October.
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