On the final day of Spring Training in 1977, George Steinbrenner finally got the man he had been pursuing for quite some time. When the Yankees acquired shortstop Bucky Dent from the Chicago White Sox, many in the game believed The Boss had collected the final piece to a championship puzzle he had been working on since taking the reins in 1973.
Prior to joining fellow acquisitions such as Sparky Lyle, Willie Randolph, Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson in the Bronx, Dent had been the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1974 and an All-Star in 1975. And still just 25 years old, Dent was primed to put together his best seasons in pinstripes.
Dent gave the Yankees what they needed during the team's championship campaign in 1977, playing solid defense and consistently getting on base. He finished the regular season with a .247 batting average and a .300 on-base percentage, while committing just 18 errors in 702 chances.
The shortstop, whose greatest on-field accomplishments would come a year later -- when he hit one of baseball's most famous home runs in Fenway Park and later took home World Series MVP honors -- quietly collected five hits in the '77 Fall Classic.
Earlier this year, Yankees Magazine spoke with Dent in Delray Beach, Fla.
What was your reaction to getting traded to the Yankees at the end of Spring Training in 1977?
I was totally excited about it. I had heard about the possibility that I might get traded to the Yankees at the beginning of that spring. I had a friend who worked for 60 Minutes, and they were doing a story on George Steinbrenner. He had heard rumors that the Yankees wanted to make a trade for a shortstop and that The Boss was interested in me.
It got down to the last day of Spring Training, and I got a phone call from Mr. Steinbrenner as I was packing up my stuff to go north with the White Sox. When I answered the phone, he said, "This is George Steinbrenner." I didn't believe it was really him.
When I realized he was on the phone and that I had been traded to the Yankees, I was really excited. I rooted for the Yankees when I was growing up, and it was my dream to someday wear the pinstripes. I was ecstatic.
Had you ever met Mr. Steinbrenner before the trade?
Yes. When I came up to the White Sox in 1973, I went to a Chicago Bulls basketball game with my lawyer. We were sitting a few rows behind the Bulls' bench, and when the game was about to start, a few guys sat down behind us. My attorney looked back at Mr. Steinbrenner and asked me if I knew who he was, but I had no idea. He said, "That's George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees. I'll introduce you."
When we were introduced, Mr. Steinbrenner said, "Bucky, I've been trying to get you." Looking back on that now, it's pretty funny.
What had you read about the team you were going to be joining in '77?
I had no clue what was going on with the Yankees before I was traded there. The media exposure back then was not like what it is today. I wasn't aware of how tumultuous things were for the Yankees that spring. I knew that Reggie was there, and that they had a good team, but that was about it.
The Yankees had acquired players at a feverish pace before you arrived, and in a lot of ways, you were viewed as the final piece of the puzzle. How did you feel about the timing of your arrival in New York?
Mr. Steinbrenner was trying to put together a championship team. They had just gotten swept in the World Series, but he knew that he was close to putting it all together. He went out and got Reggie, and everyone felt that the last position he needed to upgrade was shortstop, and that's why he traded for me. I felt great being able to join the team that I had always wanted to play for, especially when it gave me a chance to win. People told me that I was the "final piece," but I didn't put much stock into those comments.
How were you received by your teammates when you joined the Yankees?
Pretty good. I arrived on an off-day, and I was really nervous. Mickey Rivers, who I grew up with, was one of the only guys I knew on that team. As I walked toward my locker on that first day, [Manager] Billy Martin walked over to me, and said, "Bucky, it's great to have you here. Now go get a haircut."
You immediately picked up where you had left off the year before, consistently getting on base and playing great defense. How were you able to adjust to playing in New York so quickly?
The biggest thing that helped me was that I had already played in a big city. When I was in Chicago, it was a lot like New York. The fans let me know when I was playing well and when I wasn't. Going from Chicago to New York was a plus for me. Also, joining a team that had just gone to the World Series inspired me to pick up my game. When you are surrounded by great players, it makes you want to work a little harder.
How tense were things during the team's 2-8 start that April?
There were a lot of new players, and as everyone knows, not all of the guys on that team got along, especially early on. But even if we all got along, when you have a bunch of new people on a team, there has to be some adjustment period. I think that's why we started sluggishly. So, it was tense, but we knew we could get things turned around.
It helped to have guys like Thurman [Munson], Catfish, Sparky and Reggie on the team. They never lacked confidence, and that's what you need when you are trying to get things going.
How long did it take to get comfortable with your double-play partner, Willie Randolph, on the field that season?
Not long at all. I played with so many different second basemen in Chicago. But Willie was an All-Star second baseman and a true professional. It didn't take me long to get a feel for where he was going to throw the ball or what he was going to do out there.
How good of a second baseman was he?
Outstanding. He could turn a double play as well as anyone in baseball. He was a second baseman with a shortstop's arm. He had a strong arm, great hands and great footwork around the bag. He worked at his craft every day.
How did the June 18 altercation between Reggie and Billy in Fenway Park affect the team?
In the clubhouse, things were different than they were on the field. We were very loose and very confident. All of the things that were going on off the field never took away from what we did on the field. We did what we needed to do on the field.
What was your take on all of the things that were happening in New York City that summer, from the Son of Sam saga to the fires in the Bronx?
Oh, man. It was crazy. It made you afraid to go out. I lived in New Jersey, and I didn't want to spend any time in the city.
How excited were you when the calendar turned to September and you were knocking on the door of your first postseason?
It was awesome. It was everything I had dreamed of. Experiencing a pennant drive when every game means something and every at-bat is magnified is a lot of fun to be a part of. I don't think you can appreciate how intense those games are until you have played in them. You can't have any lapses in concentration during those games.
There haven't been too many deciding games in baseball history that have included a brawl, but before you and your teammates eliminated the Kansas City Royals in Game 5 of the 1977 American League Championship Series, there was quite a scuffle. Were you surprised that things escalated the way they did that day?
No, not at all. After Hal McRae slid hard into Willie Randolph in Game 2 of the series, you could feel how intense things got on the field. The feelings between the two teams went to a different level after that, and we all knew something was going to happen before the end of the series.
After Ron Guidry was injured in that melee, Mike Torrez came into the game and gave the team 5 1⁄3 innings. How important was it for Mike to pitch so well that day?
Mike stepped up throughout the playoffs and the World Series. He was a big-time pitcher for us that season, especially when we needed him the most. We never needed him more than in the deciding game of the ALCS after we lost our ace.
How special was it to play in your first World Series game at Yankee Stadium?
It was everything you dream of. I will never forget standing in the dugout in Yankee Stadium when Bob Sheppard announced my name. I couldn't believe I was playing in the World Series. There are moments in my career that I'll remember forever, like playing in my first Big League game and my first All-Star Game. But standing there, as I was about to play on the biggest stage in baseball, remains at the top of the list for me. I feel fortunate because there are so many great players who never get to experience the feeling of being part of a World Series. It's something I will never take for granted.
You played well in the World Series, collecting five hits and two RBI. How much did it mean to you to contribute throughout that Fall Classic?
That's what I worked so hard for. I wanted to be able to contribute, and when I did, it gave me tremendous satisfaction.
You and Reggie share the distinction of being the two World Series MVPs for the Yankees in the 1970s. What was the vibe like when he hit three home runs in Game 6 of the '77 Fall Classic?
When he hit the first home run, you could feel the electricity starting to build. When he hit the second one, the crowd sensed how close we were to winning a championship, and it got really loud. When he came up the last time, we were all asking each other, "Can he do this again?" And, bang, there it was. We all knew that we were part of a historic game.
How would you describe the seconds after the final out of the World Series?
You live for that moment. It's the most unbelievable feeling ever. Having your dream come true after the long grind that season was exhilarating. But with all of the fans on the field, it was a little scary out there. I wanted to celebrate and get into the dugout as quickly as I could.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.