Do you remember the 1977 New York Yankees? Have you ever heard “The Bronx is Burning?” 1977 was a statement season for New York, not just the Yankees. However, the story behind the 1977 New York Yankees transcends generations.
Part of this is because the story can focus on the team, but it’s really about a city. Billy Martin was recently named Manager for the Yankees, Reggie Jackson comes to town, and the battle between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo for the city’s mayoralty fueled a city desperate for “a victory.”
Johnathan Mahler wrote a book about the team and city during this year called Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City. The book covers way more than in this article, so I recommend you pick it up. It was wildly popular, garnering New York Time’s Best Seller notoriety, so ESPN made a movie about it.
This post and podcast episode recount the events of the 1977 Yankee team from the host, Mark Morthier.
Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond. He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training.
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My Introduction to the Yankees
I started watching MLB baseball in 1969, when I was seven years old. The miracle Mets had just defeated the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, winning four games to one.
Since I lived right across the river in New Jersey, I was glad to see a New York team win, but it didn’t matter all that much to me since I was not a Mets fan–but a Yankees fan. My father was a life long Yankees fan, and he regaled my brother and me with all the stories about how great the Yankees were when he was a youth. He was born in 1932, so he had seen all the great Yankee teams of the 1940s, 1950’s and early 1960s.
He told us about all the great players they had in the past, so naturally, my brother and I became Yankees fans too. But there was also another reason we became Yankee fans.
My Second "Yankee House"
There was a bowling alley not very far from our home–close enough that we could ride our bikes there. The name of this bowling alley was Rizzuto/Berra bowling lanes. Former Yankee greats Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra were both residents of New Jersey, and they owned the bowling alley. When you walked into the entrance, there were two glass cases– one to the right and one to the left.
These glass cases displayed items from their playing days. Bats, baseballs, gloves, spikes, trophies–they had it all. We didn’t always have enough money to go bowling, but sometimes we would go there with our friends only to look at those cases. It didn’t matter how many times we saw them.
We kept going back.
New York Yankees Low-Times
But let us get back to 1969. Mickey Mantle had retired before the start of the season. The Yankees had just suffered through another dismal season, finishing with an 80-82 record.
In the last five years, they had only one season where they finished with a winning record, and they had not appeared in the World Series since 1964. They had not won the World Series since 1962 (the year I was born), which was unacceptable in Yankee land. But there was hope on the horizon.
New York had two good pitchers in Fritz Peterson and Mel Stottlemyre. They also had Roy White and youngster Bobby Murcer in the outfield, and 1970 rookie of the year, catcher Thurman Munson. They finished the 1970 season with a 93–69 record, but with the powerful Baltimore Oriels in the same division, that wasn’t nearly good enough to reach the playoffs.
From 1970–1975, they had only one losing season, finishing 80–82 in 1973. By the time the 1976 season started, they had added a lot of new faces to the team. Gone were Fritz Peterson, Mel Stottlemyre, and Bobby Murcer. New additions to the team were pitchers Ron Guidry, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Ed Figueroa, and reliever Sparky Lyle.
They also had a new manager in Billy Martin, who took over as the Yankee skipper midway through the 1975 season. Not to mention a newly remodeled stadium.
Turning The Corner
The future looked bright. They finished the 1976 season with a 97–62 record, their best record since 1964. Catcher Thurman Munson was named American League MVP, and they finished first in the American League Eastern Division, earning them a trip to the Championship series against the A.L. Western division champs, the Kansas City Royals.
It was a hard-fought series, but the Yankees prevailed, winning the Series 3 games to 2. Who can forget Yankee’s first baseman Chris Chambliss and his dramatic 9th inning home run that broke a 6–6 tie, and sent the Yankees to their first World Series since 1964. The Yankees were going up against the defending World Series Champions, the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds were so stacked with talent; they were given the nickname “the big red machine” because of how easily they defeated their opponents.
It was no contest. The Reds swept the Yankees four games to zero, and catcher Johnny Bench was named series MVP. It was a disappointing defeat, but the Yankees had come a long way, and we Yankee fans had high hopes for the 1977 season. The Yankees had acquired shortstop Bucky Dent and pitcher Mike Torrez during the offseason to add to their already talented roster.
But the biggest news was that they had also acquired free agent Reggie Jackson. Jackson was a perennial All-Star player. Many considered him the “missing piece” the Yankees needed to win the World Series. But Jackson alienated Yankee fans and players alike when he made his infamous “straw that stirs the drink” comment during a pre-season interview.
He started the season off slow and got booed by Yankee fans. But by seasons end, he had a .286 batting average, 110 RBI’s, and 32 home runs.
The Yankees finished the season in first place with a 100–62 record, and once again played the K.C. Royals in the A.L. Championship series. It was another hard-fought series with the Yankees prevailing three games to 2.
Game five featured a bench-clearing brawl, with the Yankees once again scoring the winning run in the final inning. Next up were the Los Angeles Dodgers. It would be the Yankees 31st World Series appearance.
The Yankees and Dodgers had regularly met each other in the World Series during the 1940s and 1950s, but this would be only the second time they had played each other since the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to LA in 1958. The Yankees won the seven-game Series 4 games to 2 and had finally brought the trophy back to New York for the first time since 1962.
Reggie Jackson was named series MVP after belting three home runs in the sixth game of the Series. Three months later, me and my brother’s favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys won their second Superbowl.
We had much to celebrate as sports fans.
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