This Week in Baseball Season One Recaps: Episode 3

This is what an athlete looked like in the 1970s, guys.

In episode 3 of This Week in Baseball '77, the Phillies surge, Don Sutton scuffs, and everyone at Wrigley Field forgets how to run the bases.

First off, thank you to AAer StorkFan who responded to an open query in episode 2. I was puzzled by Comiskey Park's outfield walls having distance markers in meters as well as feet, and wondered if this was done in anticipation of the oft-threatened but never executed switch to the metric system that loomed over the decade of the 70s. According to StorkFan, this was the case. In his recollection, meters were also found on the interchangeable walls of Three Rivers and Riverfront Stadium. Thank you for soothing my worried mind.

And now we move on to the next chapter. We begin episode 3 (week ending June 14, 1977; YES, STILL A TUESDAY) with the Phillies, who won the NL East convincingly in 1976, powered by the 1-2 punch of sluggers Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski. In 1977, however, Allen tells us "the power has been slow to explode." TWIB demonstrates their offensive futility with a few slo-mo shots of Phillies getting thrown out at the plate, because nothing looks more futile than The Bull trying to score from second.

However, the Phils have begun to turn things around with what Allen terms "some extra effort," and demonstrates this with shots of the outstanding outfield play of Gary Maddox. Ralph Kiner once said that water covers 3/4 of the earth's surface and Maddox covers the rest. That praise is borne out by this footage, but there's only so much earth even Maddox can cover, as we see when he chases down a fly ball to center, makes an outstanding catch, and then crashes into Veteran Stadium's outfield wall. Like virtually all outfield walls of the era, this one is unpadded and made of plywood, cinderblocks, and swine fle. Allen assures us Maddox is alright, which is good, because the clip makes it look like he might be dead.

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Also back from the dead are the Phillies' power bats. Schmidt had been struggling because he was attempting to go to the opposite field more in an effort to increase his batting average. "Last week he was told to forget it," Allen reports. I assume that counsel went something along the lines of WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? YOU'RE MIKE SCHMIDT. HIT DINGERS. After abandoning his quixotic quest for a better BA, Schmitty's power returns. Luzinski breaks out, too, clubbing a grand slam and driving in 7 runs in a game in Atlanta.

A return to slugging has reversed Philly's fortunes somewhat, although they remain in fourth place in a crowded NL East at week's end. Allen emphasizes the contributions of the Phils' scrappy new second baseman, 1969 rookie of the year Ted Sizemore. When shown in profile, Sizemore bears a striking resemblance to his teammate Schmidt, although they are somewhat different players. Schmidt clubbed 5 homers in the last week after changing his approach at the plate, while Sizemore will hit just 4 all season.

The Kansas City Royals are "another divisional winner with problems," according to Allen. At week's end, they are two games under .500, ahead of only the expansion Seattle Mariners in the standings in the AL West, and have just split a two-game set with the division-leading Twins, who "have been hitting all year." All may not be lost, however, thanks to the increasingly hot bats of George Brett, Hal McRae, and John Mayberry, and slick fielding by the same. You have to be a slick fielder in 1977, since there are so many Astroturf playing surfaces. TWIB shows us several shots of Brett and McRae stabbing bouncers that would have otherwise taken off their heads.

The Royals also just dropped two out of three in Milwaukee, but were encouraged by a fine outing from their their ace, Dennis Leonard, who struck out slugger Cecil Cooper four times in a complete game shutout. Here's what your ace pitcher looked like in 1977. You will notice very little difference between his appearance and that of the other quintessential 70s superstar archetype, The Long Haul Trucker. 10-4, good buddy.

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This leads us into a segment on the world of pitching itself, a world in which the great Sandy Koufax's strikeout marks are being challenged right and left. First, Nolan Ryan is threatening his mark of 97 10-strikeout games; just in the last week, he has fanned 10 or more batters in a game twice, including a 19 K, 10 inning affair against the Blue Jays, to bring his career total to 93. Curiously, this accomplishment is barely mentioned by Allen, and we are shown no footage of the feat; instead, we get what appear to be clips from an All Star Game instead (Ryan is shown striking out several Dodgers hitters).

Then, Tom Seaver struck out 10 in a game against the Reds, and in the process passed Koufax on the all-time strikeouts list. We get a few brief clips of Seaver pitching against the Reds, but the film stock differs wildly from TWIB's usual video fare, and so it's unclear if this is footage of Seaver's feat or it was taken from some other random appearance. Maybe it was too much to ask for Major League Baseball to get footage from Major League Baseball games?

Now, another hurler has left Koufax behind on the K rolls: Ferguson Jenkins. That fact in and of itself is not strange, considering his Hall of Fame résumé. What is remarkable--to me, anyway--is the fact that he achieves this fear for the Red Sox. When I think of Jenkins, I think of him as a Cub or a Ranger. I had no idea he even pitched for Boston before seeing him in this clip at Fenway, surpassing Koufax no less.

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Also enjoying a fine year on the mound is Montreal's Steve Rogers (not to be confused with Captain America). After losing 17 games in 1976, Rogers now leads the senior circuit in strikeouts. This has not translated into a gate attraction for the Expos, however, as we see in this wide shot of one of his starts at Olympic Stadium. I think the attendance number at this game might be negative. This doesn't reflect well on the fans of Montreal, but at least we get a nice shot of Carter being congratulated post-start by a young Gary Carter.

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From Montreal, we travel south to Boston, where the Red Sox lay a beating on Baltimore, sweeping a two-game set. They hammer Orioles pitching for 11 runs in the second inning of the series opener. Though we do not get to see any of that mess, we do get to see Jim Palmer try to stop the bleeding with his off-kilter delivery (see below). He adds to the hemorrhaging instead, allowing homers to Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, and Jim Rice, who belts two. And yet, Palmer goes the distance, pitching all nine innings despite giving up 7 runs.

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His opposite number, Bill Lee, only manages to pitch five innings, leaving the last four frames to the Sox' big free agent acquisition, Bill Campbell. He dispatches the Orioles with ease, and the Sox leapfrog Baltimore, then New York, to climb into first place.

Allen notes Campbell's hefty price tag by saying he "cost the Sox a million dollars, but he keeps paying dividends." This is his 11th save of the year already, and all but two of them were multi-inning outings. We tend to think of relief aces as a modern invention, but the 70s were all about Crazy Closers. There were two major awards given out to relief pitchers in those days: the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year and the Sporting News Fireman of the Year. Campbell won both awards in 1976, and would double-repeat in '77.

We've had three episodes of TWIB so far, and we've seen three segments on the Chicago Cubs, which is befitting their status as "baseball's Cinderella team." The Cubs enjoy another fine homestand this week, taking two of three from the Dodgers, then sweeping four from the Giants to stay 4.5 games up in the NL East. Wrigley Field is jammed once again with shirtless bleacher bums, and with people ready to crush Ernie Banks in their pursuit of an autograph.

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The Cubs are powered by Bobby Murcer, league-leading hitter Manny Trillo, Bruce Sutter ("perhaps the best reliever in the game right now"), and the player Allen cringe-ingly calls "little shortstop Ivan DeJesus." There does, however, seem to be a fair bit of dumb luck at play. For instance, Trillo hitting a ball that causes Dusty Baker to cower in fear. Then, the Cubs win one against San Fran when the only run of the game scores in the bottom of the 11th on a bases loaded squeeze play. The play at the plate is very close, with Giants catcher Mike Sadek arguing the runner was forced out, and TWIB's own replay seems to think he has a case.

Throughout the series thus far, TWIB has emphasized speed. That's why it's so odd to see footage from this series, where it appears that absolutely no one can run. Every shot of a runner "tearing" around the bases makes it look like he's trying to do a tire run in a field of Nutella. The runners don't just run slow; they run gingerly, as if they're playing some kid's game and touching the ground for too long will make it turn to lava, or something. And there's no sign of rain in this footage, either, so a muddy track is not to blame. Was Wrigley's infield filled with itching powder? Explanations if you have them, please.

After a break, we return to Wrigley, though this time the focus is on the opponent. Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton is seen tying his shoes on the mound. After doing so, he grabs the baseball (which he left resting on the pitching rubber, for some reason) and seems to press it against the dirt, hard--perhaps impressing it with a foreign object. The umpires deem it suspicious and throw him out of the game. Tommy Lasorda argues with the umps in his usually restrained manner, while teammates hold Sutton back. Watch both scenes happen at once through the wonders of split-screen technology!

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It's unclear from this footage exactly what Sutton did to the ball, but it definitely looks fishy. In his day, Sutton was regarded with suspicion by opposing teams. He did not cheat with the brazenness of Gaylord Perry, but it was open secret that he scuffed the ball with regularity. Oh, and he's in the Hall of Fame, guys, because at least he never cheated with steroid pills!

From here, it is on to goofier transgressions. The Royals are the victims of thievery during their series in Milwaukee when someone swipes their uniforms right out of the County Stadium locker room. Their accommodating hosts allow Kansas City to wear their away uniforms for the day. That's how we get this shot where the Brewers are battling it out against...the Brewers.

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We then receive evidence that Rod Carew is not just a singles hitter, as he is seen clubbing a home run into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. Yes, that Rod Carew. Yes, that Yankee Stadium.

Allen notes a few old timers who are nearing historic marks. First, Lou Brock, who is quickly closing in on Ty Cobb's all time steals mark. Then, Willie McCovey, who just bashed home run #475, tying him with Stan Musial, during the Giants' series at Wrigley. Watching a 39-year-old Stretch trying to trot around the bases is a bit painful, but only slightly more painful than watching everyone else run the bases during this series. Allen closes this segment out with a note that 1977 marks the 30th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn has declared that All Star week "will honor that event, and that man." This is accompanied by the famous clip of Robinson stealing home in the World Series.

The plays of this week are divided into AL and NL divisions. For the former, Carl Yastrzemski making an amazing leaping catch against the Green Monster. Allen manages to restrain himself far more than he did for Fred Lynn's catch in episode two.

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The NL's play of the week is Greg Luzinski's 7-RBI game in Atlanta. Here's The Bull just before belting a grand slam, looking every bit the prototypical 1970s slugger, a guy who's idea of "taking it easy" is only having two tallboys for lunch. Here, he looks like a cross between John Kruk, Meat Loaf, and that guy who was probably The Zodiac Killer.

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Once again, Mel Allen closes things out by begging us to go to baseball game. "Wherever Major League baseball is played, it's always a thrill to go out and see a game. So plan on it. There's nothing else quite like it." Thanks, Mel!

Coming up in episode 4: Billy picks a fight with Reggie, the Sox can't stop hitting home runs, and (*gulp*) The Franchise is shown the door by his franchise.

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