The Yankees have now won a World Series without Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius and David Cone. But without the "Core Four"?
The last one was 34 years ago today, October 17, 1978, in Game 6 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Reggie Jackson got revenge on Bob Welch for Game 2, Catfish Hunter pitched well, Graig Nettles made yet another key defensive play, and Goose Gossage closed it out, by getting Ron Cey to pop up behind the plate, where Thurman Munson caught it.
October 17, 1978: 34 years. How long has that been?
We didn't know it yet, but it was the last Yankee title for 18 years. Munson would never seen another October Yankee game. He would never see another October. Or September. He barely saw another August.
The Yankees had gotten to that title by overcoming both internal strife, in the form of the feud between manager Billy Martin and star slugger Reggie Jackson, leading to Billy’s firing and the hiring of Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon as manager; and a 14-game lead over them by the Boston Red Sox. This led to a Playoff for the AL Eastern Division title, which we know as the Bucky Dent Game or the Boston Tie Party. Then came a 3rd straight defeat of the AL West Champion Kansas City Royals, before the Yankees dropped the first 2 World Series games in L.A., and then won the next 4 straight, thanks to the fielding of Graig Nettles, Reggie’s “Sacrifice Thigh” play, and the unexpected hitting of Dent and Brian Doyle.
In spite of the Pennant, the Yankees averaged 28,661 fans per home game, the club’s highest total since 1949. Apparently, in spite of the New York crime wave, people liked braving it all to come to a comfortable new (or, rather, renovated) Stadium to watch championship baseball, just as they risked everything to get their entertainment at places from Broadway theaters to Studio 54 to CBGB.
The record would be topped in 1979 and ’80, when a team –record 32,437 per game would come out. That record would stand until 1988, and that would stand until 1998, broken in ‘99, 2001, ‘02, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, and, in the last year of the old Yankee Stadium, 2008, top out at 53,069, a City record now unbreakable, given the current capacities of the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.
Some of the stars of the 1960s were still active: Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Lou Brock, Willie McCovey, Rusty Staub, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich, Tom Seaver, and the Yankees’ own Bobby Murcer – still in his “exile,” playing for the Chicago Cubs.
Rivera was 8 years old, Posada 7, Pettitte 6, Jeter 4, Alex Rodriguez and R.A. Dickey 3, and Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander weren't born yet.
There was an NFL team in Baltimore, but it was the Colts, not the Ravens. There was one in St. Louis, but it was the Cardinals, not the Rams. There was one in Houston, but it was the Oilers, not the Texans. The NFL was still a League where the high-profile teams were the Oakland Raiders, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Washington Bullets were defending NBA Champions, having beaten the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals. This result would be reversed in the season about to start, and neither team is known by that name anymore – and these would be the only titles, through 2012, that either franchise has ever won. The Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers would be back, however. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Elvin Hayes were the big names. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were still in college, and had yet to face each other in the National Championship Game that made them legends without ever playing an NBA game. and Julius "Dr. J" Erving were the big names. Michael Jordan was cut from the basketball team at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. The Knicks and Nets were both nondescript teams, although the Knicks still had Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, with Willis Reed as their coach. Walt “Clyde” Frazier was playing out the string with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The New York Rangers were about to start a season that would end with them in the Stanley Cup Finals, having beaten the nearby Islanders in a thrilling series to get there. But the Rangers would lose to the Montreal Canadiens, winning their 4th straight Stanley Cup. The Islanders hadn’t yet won any. The Edmonton Oilers of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier were still in the World Hockey Association. The Devils were still the NHL version of the Colorado Rockies, and had just made the franchise’s only appearance in the Playoffs between their 1974 establishment and their 1988 trip to the Conference Finals.
The heavyweight champion of the world? In February, Muhammad Ali lost the undisputed title to Leon Spinks, but the WBC, seeing that the 1976 Olympic champion didn’t have enough pro fights, recognized Ken Norton as champ. Norton was then beaten by Larry Holmes. Ali beat Spinks in September, to regain the title, then retired. The WBA then recognized Holmes as well.
The President of the United States was Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan had run for President in 1976, but lost the nomination to incumbent Gerald Ford, who then lost to Carter. Reagan was now 67, and the idea of him ever becoming President was considered to be ludicrous. George H.W. Bush was out of public office, teaching at Rice University in Houston. Ford, Richard Nixon, their wives, and the widows of Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all still alive.
Bill Clinton was the Attorney General of the State of Arkansas, and was about to be elected Governor at age 32. George W. Bush was running for Congress from a district in north Texas, but would lose. Barack Obama was attending the Punahou school. In his native Honolulu. Native Honolulu. Mitt Romney was already working for Bain Capital. That year, the Mormons allowed black men to become priests in their faith. Romney would later say he heard the news on his car radio – no word on whether he had a dog strapped to the roof of the car – pulled over, and wept. Of course, for 32 years, he knew his church was discriminating against black people. Did he ever weep over that?
John Irving published The World According to Garp, Stephen King Children of the Corn, Richard Matheson What Dreams May Come, Ken Follett Eye of the Needle, and, a book many would come to regret by 1995, William Luther Pierce published The Turner Diaries. Ira Levin moved away from the grimness of Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys from Brazil and The Stepford Wives, and wrote Deathtrap, a comedy like his first play, No Time For Sergeants.
In the television season that had just begun, ABC had premiered Taxi, Mork & Mindy and the original version of Battlestar Galactica; NBC would soon premiere Diff’rent Strokes; CBS had premiered WKRP in Cincinnati, and would soon premiere The White Shadow, probably the best sports-theme TV show ever.
That month, Sid Vicious, formerly bass guitarist (I’m being loose with the language here) of the Sex Pistols murdered his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, at Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones pleaded guilty to a heroin possession charge. Dire Straits released their debut album. Chaka Khan released her first solo album. Billy Joel released 52nd Street, containing “Big Shot,” “Honesty,” and “My Life.”
The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, and of Britain, James Callaghan. Nottingham Forest, of the East Midlands, had won the Football League for the first time, still their only title ever – completing the comeback of their manager, Brian Clough, who had previously won the 1972 title with Forest’s nearby arch-rivals, Derby County, before a disastrous spell in charge of Yorkshire’s Leeds United. Liverpool FC had won the European Cup, but Forest were about to take it away. Arsenal had lost the FA Cup Final to Ipswich Town, managed by Bobby Robson, but were about to take it in the season that had just begun – and along the way, 2 days before Christmas, would travel to their North London arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, and beat them 5-0, on a hat trick by Alan Sunderland, and Liam Brady feeding a header to his Dublin childhood pal Frank Stapleton and then scoring a goal that made broadcaster John Motson yell, “Look at that! Oh, look at that! What a goal by Brady!”
Desktop computers and mobile telephones had been developed, but hardly anybody had them, and they were still very bulky and very slow. There was not much of an Internet. America was in the middle of a 6-year spaceflight drought.
In the early fall of 1978, President Carter convinced Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to sign the Camp David Peace Accords, ending the 30-year official state of war between their countries. Begin and Sadat would share the Nobel Peace Prize; Carter would have to wait a bit longer. Pope John Paul I died of a heart attack after only a month on the job, to be replaced by John Paul II, formerly Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, the first non-Italian Pope in over 450 years. Britain granted independence to their South Pacific colony of the Ellice Islands, which became Tuvalu.
Jacques Brel (no longer “alive and well and living in Paris”), and Norman Rockwell, and Gene Tunney died. Usher Raymond IV (the singer Usher), and Jason Bay, and 2012 Masters Champion Gerry Lester “Bubba” Watson were born.
October 17, 1978. The New York Yankees won a World Series. And Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada had nothing to do with it.
Doing it again in 2012, even with the possibility of another Pettitte start, seems unlikely. Maybe in 2013, 3 of the 4 (all but Posada) can try it one more time.