Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How Long It's Been: The Yankees Won a World Series Without the "Core Four"

Down three games to none in the American League Championship Series. This, with Andy Pettitte having given his all but losing through little fault of his own, Jorge Posada retired, and Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera unavailable through injury.

The Yankees have now won a World Series without Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Chuck Knoblauch, Scott Brosius and David Cone. That was in 2009. 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 see 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 1st 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.

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.

The Colorado Rockies, Miami Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays did not yet exist. The Marlins, Diamondbacks, Philadelphia Phillies, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins since moving from Washington, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves since moving from Milwaukee, California Angels (as they were then called), and San Francisco Giants since moving from New York, had yet to win their 1st World Series.

The Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Rays, Blue Jays, Royals, Braves since moving to Atlanta, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers had yet to win their 1st Pennant. The Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Rays, Angels, Royals, Astros, Brewers, Padres, Blue Jays, Rangers, Montreal Expos and Seattle Mariners had yet to make the Playoffs for the 1st time.

The Expos were still in Montreal. The Brewers were still in the American League. The Astros were still in the National League. There was no Interleague play, no retractable roofs, and, with 1 exception back in the mid-1960s, no Asian players.

All of those facts are no longer true.

Only 6 MLB ballparks in use in 1978 are still in use in 2012: Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium in Kansas City, the Oakland Coliseum, and both Los Angeles-area stadiums: Dodger Stadium and Anaheim Stadium (now Angel Stadium of Anaheim).

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, David Ortiz 2, and Johan Santana, Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Tim Linecum 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 Yankees, of course, succeeded themselves as World Series winners. The Cowboys had won the calendar year's Super Bowl. The Washington Bullets were the 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. 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, who thus won 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 Gold Medalist 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 current Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, had just started high school. Terry Collins of the Mets was managing in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league system. Tom Coughlin of the Giants was the offensive coordinator at Syracuse University. Mike D'Antoni of the Knicks was playing in the Italian basketball league. John Tortorella of the Rangers was at the University of Maine. Rex Ryan of the Jets was in high school. Avery Johnson of the Nets and Jack Capuano of the Islanders were in junior high. Peter DeBoer of the Devils was 10 years old.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America 4 times, Canada twice, and once each in Russia, Bosnia, Korea, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Britain. The World Cup had recently been won on home soil by Argentina, and has since been held in America, Spain, Mexico, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Germany and South Africa.

There were then 26 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. 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, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 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?

The Governor of the State of New York was Hugh Carey, the Mayor of the City of New York was Ed Koch, and the Governor of New Jersey was Brendan Byrne. Andrew Cuomo was attending Fordham University, Mike Bloomberg was a general partner at investment bank Salomon Brothers, and Chris Christie was a junior at Livingston High School in Essex County, New Jersey, which had also recently produced sportscaster Bruce Beck and Seinfeld actor Jason Alexander.

There were still surviving veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippine Campaign, and the Russo-Japanese War. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was Archbishop of Munich. The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau, and of Britain, James Callaghan. The head of state of both nations was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed. There have since been 6 Presidents of the United States, 6 Prime Ministers of Britain and 2 Popes. (More on that last count later.)

Nottingham Forest, of the East Midlands, had won the Football League for the 1st 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 Suffolk club 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!"

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, which, in 1955, made stars of Roddy McDowall and Don Knotts. Douglas Adams hadn't yet published any of his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books. George R.R. Martin was best known for writing science fiction and fantasy short stories. J.K. Rowling was 13 years old.

No one had yet heard of Jason Bourne, Hannibal Lecter, Celie Harris, Kinsey Millhone, Jack Ryan, Forrest Gump, John McClane, Alex Cross, Bridget Jones, Robert Langdon, Bella Swan, Lisbeth Salander or Katniss Everdeen.

Major films released in October 1978 included Midnight Express, the original Halloween, and, well, this wasn't exactly "major," but it has become legend: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Roger Moore was still basking in the glow of perhaps the best James Bond film of them all, The Spy Who Loved Me, released late the previous year, and was now killing his momentum by filming Moonraker, the attempt to link Agent 007 with the sci-fi movie craze.

Christopher Reeve was about to debut as Superman, and Lynda Carter was still starring on TV as Wonder Woman, but Adam West was still the last live-action Batman. Tom Baker was The Doctor. Gene Roddenberry was filming Star Trek: The Motion Picture, trying to show everyone enamored with Star Wars that the future in our own galaxy was better than "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." On that occasion, he did not succeed.

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-themed TV show ever.

That week, the panelists on Match Game 78 were: Country singer Bill Anderson, regular Brett Somers, regular Charles Nelson Reilly, actress Donna Pescow, Brett's ex-husband Jack Klugman, and actress Betty White.

Robert Kardashian had just married Kris Houghton. Bruce Jenner was trying to turn his Olympic Gold Medal into an acting career, and hadn't yet met either one of them.

That month, the Number 1 song in America was "Kiss You All Over" by Exile. 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 1st solo album. Billy Joel released 52nd Street, containing "Big Shot," "Honesty" and "My Life."

Paul McCartney was still having hits with Wings. George Harrison's and Ringo Starr's runs of hits seemed to be over. John Lennon was still in self-imposed "househusband" exile. Priscilla Presley was busy trying to put her late ex-husband Elvis' estate back together. Bob Dylan was in the process of converting to evangelical Christianity -- temporarily, as it turned out. A week after the Yankees won the World Series, a film version of The Wiz, the all-black musical based on The Wizard of Oz, premiered, with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.

Inflation has been such that what $1.00 would buy then, $3.45 would buy now. A U.S. postage stamp cost 15 cents, and subway ride in New York 50 cents. The average price of a gallon of gas was 65 cents, a cup of coffee 74 cents, a McDonald's meal (Big Mac, fries, shake) $1.65, a movie ticket $2.33, a new car $4,645, and a new house $66,400. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed that day at 866.34.

The tallest building in the world was the Sears Tower in Chicago. Desktop computers and mobile telephones had been developed, but hardly anybody had them, and they were both still very bulky and very slow. There was not much of an Internet, and hardly anybody knew about it. America was in the middle of a 6-year spaceflight drought. Automatic teller machines were still a relatively new thing, and many people had never seen one. The leading home video game system was the Atari VCS (later renamed the Atari 2600). There were heart transplants, liver transplants and lung transplants, and artificial kidneys, but no artificial hearts.

In the early Autumn 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. The day before the Yankees won the Series, it was announced that Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, would be the 1st non-Italian Pope in over 450 years: Pope John Paul II. 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.


Kyle McGuire said...

Pretty awesome until your Liberal Democrat came out and used this fun walk down memory lane to bash Romney.

Uncle Mike said...

I'll answer this in a separate post. The short answer is, If you don't like it, get lost. America trusted your kind, and it almost destroyed us. No more.