NEW YORK -- All Yankees teams have their own flair and personality, but the back-to-back World Series winners of 1977-78 had the most guts.They battled among themselves, they battled the media, they battled with the manager and particularly the owner. They battled the Red Sox long before this era's big
NEW YORK -- All Yankees teams have their own flair and personality, but the back-to-back World Series winners of 1977-78 had the most guts.
They battled among themselves, they battled the media, they battled with the manager and particularly the owner. They battled the Red Sox long before this era's big rivalry and won.
For those of us lucky enough to cover them early in our careers, those Yanks were an exhilarating team to be around even with all the warring factions.
"Those were really fun years, the 'Bronx Zoo' years," said Steve Marcus, then a 25-year-old reporter for Newsday who still covers baseball for the newspaper. "You really got charged up going every day, seeing what was going to happen and who was going to say what."
The Yankees celebrated the 40th anniversary of that 1977 World Series victory over the Dodgers in six games during annual Old-Timers' Day festivities at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. The '78 team duplicated that World Series feat against the Dodgers after trailing the Red Sox by as much as 14 games on July 19.
The incredible comeback occurred while New York's metro newspapers were all on strike. And it culminated with the Bucky Dent Game, No. 163, for the American League East title. The light-hitting shortstop smacked a seventh-inning, three-run homer into the net that then nestled above the monster at Fenway Park to upend the Red Sox.
"They were a very methodical type of a team," Marcus recalled. "They knew they were going to win. I don't think people were particularly surprised when [the 1978] team came back. They were gutty and gritty and particularly methodical in that year."
The core team of Dent, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, Lou Piniella, Mickey Rivers, Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter, Ron Guidry and Sparky Lyle was feisty enough. And then in 1977, Reggie Jackson was added to the mix.
The Yankees had been swept by the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series and principal owner George Steinbrenner wasn't about to stand pat.
He added Jackson as a free agent to a menagerie run by Billy Martin, the former Yankees second baseman who led them to their first World Series title since 1962 and was replaced by Bob Lemon midway through the following season. The fun began in Spring Training when Jackson told a reporter from Sport Magazine that he was now, "the straw that stirs the drink," thus infuriating Munson, an All-Star catcher, team captain and leader.
Chambliss, the first baseman who hit the walk-off homer against the Royals to win the AL Championship Series and pennant in 1976 at the just renovated Yankee Stadium, wasn't too thrilled with Jackson, either.
These guys were funny, egocentric and acerbic.
"I think they got a kick out of the media," Marcus recalled. "Guys came in, they sat at their locker and they talked to you whether they liked it or not."
The Yankees' first home game in 1978 coincided with the release of a candy bar that had Jackson's name on it, leading Hunter to quip: "When you unwrap a Reggie Bar it tells you how good it is."
Lyle, the team's closer in 1977, pitched in a league-high 72 games, finished 60, had 26 saves, threw a now unheard of 137 innings, and won the AL Cy Young Award. But that didn't stop the Boss from signing Rich "Goose" Gossage to finish games in '78.
"I went from Cy Young to sayonara," said Lyle, who was ultimately traded after the '78 season to Texas.
Jackson capped the 1977 festivities by hitting three homers on consecutive pitches off three different Dodgers pitchers to win Game 6 and the World Series. Afterward, he thanked God and Fran Healy, the backup catcher, who Jackson claimed gave him solace during the turbulent season.
Steve Garvey, the first baseman on that Dodgers team, was awed by Jackson's World Series MVP performance.
"He hit the ball into the black tarp in center, and just as he goes by, I think he peaked at me," Garvey recalled. "And I just go like this [clapping] in my glove. I mean if you can't recognize greatness, you really can't appreciate the game."
That's the way those Yankees rolled.
Jackson was an oversized figure even though his 6-foot, 195-pound frame paled in comparison to Aaron Judge's 6-7, 282. He's now 71.
After his five homers during the '77 World Series earned him the nickname, "Mr. October," he added two more in the '78 Fall Classic.
"It feels like 100 [years ago]," Jackson quipped Sunday.
But there was always turmoil. Martin, Reggie and the Boss constantly clashed. In a June 18, 1977, loss at Boston, Jackson loafed after a ball to right that Jim Rice hit for a single. Moments later, Martin pulled him off the field in favor of Paul Blair.
The ensuing argument in the dugout between manager and player was transmitted far and wide on national TV.
"If you don't hustle, I don't accept it. If a player shows up the club, I show up the player," Martin said after that game.
The Red Sox knocked the Bombers out of first place that weekend. But the two teams battled all season and the Yanks prevailed by 2 1/2 games.
A year later, Martin melted down and was dismissed after making a caustic remark that referred to Jackson and Steinbrenner.
Jackson still feels like he was unfairly represented.
"I worked hard," he said years later. "I answered the bell. I never was sick. I was never late to the ballpark. I was never hurt."
And in the end, along with Hunter and Gossage, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Jackson always rose to the occasion. In the Bucky Dent Game, Jackson homered high into the center-field bleachers in the eighth inning for the run that actually made the difference in what turned out to be a 5-4 win.
On his way back to the dugout, he and Steinbrenner exchanged a high-five in front of everyone. It was a rare showing of public affection between the two men and so emblematic of those Yankees.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.