For episode 4, TWIB abandons its retro-looking opening title sequence full of outdated footage and switches to teasers of this week's action. And boy, was there a lot of action to tease for the week ending June 21, 1977. I won't detail what is covered in it, since that would be chock full of what we call now call spoilers. Suffice to say, the pain is coming.
We start with the Cincinnati Reds, who Mel Allen tells us "have really been moving" after a lousy start to their season. The two-time defending world champs just swept a three game set against the visiting Phillies, prompting one fan at Riverfront Stadium to display hubristic confidence.
As is often the case on TWIB, the Reds' surge is attributed to...yup, speed. Allen chirps about the Reds' wheels because they finish out their sweep thanks to a two-out rally in the 10th that begins with a single and a stolen base. Never mind that the batter (Bill Bailey) hadn't stolen a base in two years. That's what you call sneaky speed! Pete Rose knocks in the winning run shortly thereafter, and somehow Allen resists the obvious "Won't you come home, Bill Bailey?" reference. He won't miss many puns in this episode, however, as we shall soon see.
TWIB begins with the Reds this week because they've just made a major acquisition at the trading deadline (which was June 15 in these days). Allen tells us many big names changed locker rooms at the deadline this season, and lists guys like Bake McBride and Rawley Eastwick. None were bigger than the one we're about to discuss, however. I think you know where this is going.
We are taken briefly to Houston, where Tom Seaver, per usual, pitches a complete game win. Right after the last out he is hugged by catcher John Stearns, then Buddy Harrelson, then virtually the entire team. It's not because he pitched a no hitter, as we know too well. It's because his teammates see the writing on the wall. They are full aware that this, in all likelihood, is his last game in a Mets uniform.
That likelihood soon becomes a reality, as Seaver is sent to the Reds for a quartet of prospects. Next, we see Seaver (dressed in a snazzy vest) cleaning out his Shea Stadium locker. His Mets duffel bag with 41 emblazoned on it slumps on the ground; by today's equipment standards, it's promotional giveaway quality. Seaver attempts to deliver a farewell address to reporters, but loses his composure, so he writes down a few words for New York Times scribe Joe Durso to share on his behalf. An odd touch, made even odder when the camera pulls back to show that as Durso reads Seaver's words aloud to the crowd, Seaver is standing right next to him.
Soon after, Seaver climbs into a town car and is seen speeding off toward Roosevelt Avenue, while a seemingly oblivious dude hangs onto a police sawhorse. Anyone curious about what 1970s New York looked like, here it is in a nutshell. Huge cars, and guys with mustaches like this, everywhere.
We do get a report from Seaver's first start for the Reds, with some shots of him carving up the Expos (he did not allow a runner to reach second) while getting two hits and driving in two runs. I hope you'll understand if I do not share shots of this with you. Allen's commentary on this event is somewhat dispassionate, though he does concede seeing Seaver in a Reds uniform is "a strange sight." TWIB being an MLB product, we don't get any glimpse of how Seaver was hounded out of town by team president M. Donald Grant and the Daily News' Dick Young. Mel Allen knows how to play ball.
From here, we travel to Chavez Ravine, where Steve Garvey is asked (seemingly before the trade went down) what the impact of Seaver coming to the Reds would be. Here's your reminder that Steve Garvey was kind of an enormous jerk.
He's the best right-handed pitcher in baseball, and for any team he goes to, he's gonna be both a physical and psychological asset, and of course Cincinnati needs that right now, being anywhere from 5 to 10 games behind us.
The Dodgers host Chicago, who are once again referred to as "the Cinderella Cubs," as they lead the NL East by 6.5 games at week's end. The Cubs take game one when Manny Trillo knocks in the winning runs on a ninth inning triple. But the Dodgers rebound to take the next game, 2-1, behind the pitching of Tommy John. John's victory ends on a strike-em-out-throw-em-out DP, in which Cubs runner Bobby Murcer is nailed by possibly the largest margin in any professional sport ever. This screenshot doesn't quite capture it, as the second baseman caught the ball a full second before he got into frame, and as you can see, Murcer is still several miles from the bag. Speed!
The Dodgers than snag the finale, 3-1, thanks largely to Don Sutton (not ejected for scuffing the ball this time). "The Dodgers figure to be ready to face the Red Menace in a big series this weekend in Cincinnati," Allen assures us, "which figures to help to tell everyone which way the wind is gonna blow this summer."
Though the Cubs took a bit of a hit in LA, the Pirates fare far worse up north, where they are swept in a four game series against the lowly Giants. Though we're well into June, Candlestick Park crowds are always wrapped up well. What there is of them, anyway; another shot of the stadium as the Giants run onto the field shows the place to be virtually empty. But the fans who do show up are certainly into it, like this man who came down with a case of Happy Feet and felt compelled to Hustle on top of the visiting dugout.
SF's surprising sweep of the Bucs is credited to the "baby Giants" who have emerged of late, like rookie Jack Clark, who belts three homers in this series, including a game-tying blast in the bottom of the 11th of game two. The Pirates skulk out of the Bay Area reeling, 7 games behind the Cubs in the NL East. Perhaps they are distracted by their uniforms? I know I've harped on these before, but something about the yellow pillbox hat (as opposed to their usual black one) adds another level of hideousness. (Screencap not recommend for people with epilepsy.)
TWIB leaves the Pirates behind to bring us a conflict of a non-fashion sort. "Fireworks flare at Fenway!" Allen trumpets. While the Yankees and Red Sox battle it out in Boston, Reggie Jackson pursues a bloop to shallow right field a bit too leisurely, turning a Jim Rice single into a double. When he returns to the dugout, manager Billy Martin gives Jackson an earful and then some. Jackson gives it right back, and soon the two men are screaming at each other from opposite ends of the dugout. As you'll see in this pic, though, Jackson is being barely restrained by one teammate, while it takes a dugout of millions to hold Billy Martin back.
To make matters worse, the ugly incident was broadcast during NBC's Game of the Week, so the entire nation got to see Billy Martin pick a fight with The Straw that Stirs the Drink. The ensuing brouhaha in the New York media overshadowed something even uglier: a sweep of the Yankees so one sided that Allen terms it "1977's version of the Boston Massacre." The Sox' own big free agent signing, Bill Campbell, saves two games, while Ferguson Jenkins goes the distance in the third. But mostly, the Sox let their bats do the talking, as they wallop an MLB-record 16 home runs in the three game set. Carl Yastrzemski hits 4 all by himself, prompting the Boston faithful to reward him with this nigh-unintelligible sign. My best guess is "GTFO Massachusetts loves Yaz".
The other significance of this series is it allows Mel Allen to channel his inner John Sterling, as he punctuates shots of outstanding plays by Boston players with cutesy rhymes and puns. A diving catch in the outfield becomes "a Bernie Carbo carpet sweep!", a great play in the hole is "a Denny Doyle spoil!" and a sharp spear of a screaming line drive at first prompts, "Great Scott! By George Scott!"
Boston ends the week 4.5 games ahead of the Yanks and the Orioles, with a showdown in the Bronx set for next week that has Allen licking his lips. "I wouldn't miss that party for all the British tea in Boston!" he assures us.
The puns continue on the left coast, where the Angels sweep the Brewers and to pull within 3.5 games back in the AL West. Allen credits this surge to a few off season acquisitions, like ex-Oakland A Joe Rudi. "The Angels invested money to get him and they're not complaining! They also invested in Bonds--Bobby Bonds!"
But the biggest, newest asset the Angels have in 1977 is young fireballer Frank Tanana. "So far this season, Frank has been the best pitcher in the American League," Allen says, alongside footage of Tanana's wicked curve. The curve is so wicked, in fact, it fools the umpire into calling it strike three even though it's a good foot off the plate.
The Angels are now pursuing the Chicago White Sox, who took over first place in the AL West after taking three of four from the A's. The most notable game of this series came on June 19, when Lamar Johnson singlehandedly beat Oakland by belting two solo homers and accounting for all three of Chicago's hits in a 2-1 win. Not only that, but he started the game by singing the National Anthem. Here's a curious shot of Lamar crooning "The Star Spangled Banner" to the flag, the Comiskey Park crowd, and one patriotic shirtless dude. Not sure why this guy is at the game, as he strikes me as the kind of guy whose favorite sport is Dungeons and Dragons.
After a break, Allen returns with "oddities and entities for your enjoyment." The first submission is more of a horror show, however. It might, in fact, be the worst baseball play in the history of time.
During the aforementioned Giants-Pirates series, Giants batter Larry Herndon hits a ball to right field that Dave Parker dives for and misses. Center fielder Omar Moreno tries to scoop the ball to second baseman Richie Stennett on the run, but the ball skips well beyond his reach. Somehow, Stennett tracks down the ball, but he then hurls an awful throw that bounces toward third base on a thousand hops, by which point Herndon is already barreling home, hoping for an inside-the-park home run. Third baseman Bill Robinson heaves the ball at catcher Ed Ott in plenty of time to to nail the runner. Ott doesn't catch the ball, though; he only stabs his glove at the thing and watches it fall in front of him.
Home plate umpire Joe West decides he wants a slice of this juicy incompetence and calls Herndon out anyway. Amazingly, when the Giants scream in protest, West reverses his call. I can't imagine Pittsburgh was too happy about that, but they couldn't complain too much, considering the ball was on the ground, and not in Ott's glove, for all the world to see. If you've seen more dumb converge on one play, please let me know, because I cannot think of an example. This might be the gold standard.
Compared to this weapons-grade stupid, the rest of this week's "weird" plays are mere child's play. We see the Braves' Jerry Royster swing at a third strike, then try to run to first when the catcher drops the ball. He attempts to aid his cause by booting the ball out of his way, which is a no-no, and he is called out for interference.
Next, we are treated to a scene from a Phillies-Reds game, wherein a Phils batter lays a perfect bunt down the third base line. Pete Rose inches toward the ball and commands it to roll foul, screaming at the ball and pounding the glove. Just to be a jerk, the ball comes to a dead stop on the line. Almost as funny: the frustrated pitcher picks up the ball and slams it on the Riverfront Stadium Astroturf, at which point it bounces several feet above his head. Artificial surfaces, ladies and gentlemen.
Then, an assortment of great plays from the past week. Pint-sized Royal Freddie Patek steals home to score the winning run in a game against the Twins, "tightening that whole division race" in Allen's words. We see Ted Sizemore of the Phillies make a great leaping catch, and we also get a diving catch by Fred Lynn, though this one does not inspire in Allen the same ecstatic heights he got from Lynn's glovework in episode 2. The best one of the bunch is a running catch by Ken Griffey of the Reds, as he manages to grab a ball on the fly in full sprint while also contending with the bullpen mounds in foul territory. Allen compares it to "playing a cow pasture." I'll take your word on that, Mel.
We finish off with Brewers outfielder Sixto Lezcano robbing a homer at the fence in County Stadium. "Way to go, Sixto!" Allen adds. This play is especially impressive when you consider that Sixto looks like he was constantly baked.
But the play of the week--which has been rebranded The Gillette Special, for those of you who think naming every damn thing in a baseball broadcast after a corporate sponsor is a new thing--goes to Carl Yastrzemski, for his 4 homers, 10 hits, and 9 RBIs in the series against the Yankees. And that's why LMFAO, Massachusetts loves him.
This week, Allen concludes the program with his lengthiest shill yet:
[F]ans loved baseball like never before this whole weekend. record numbers came out to the game, an average of 28,000 fans per game in all the major league parks. they saw a lot of great action this week. Friends, why don't you join them this week? Your ballpark is the place to be, for fun, for drama, and for great excitement.
That ad copy was might swell, Mel! (Sorry, I'm new at this.)
Coming up in episode 5: the Yankees turn the tables, lo-fi scoreboard hijinks, and nobody wants to manage the Rangers. Be there!