I regret nothing!
In episode 5 of This Week in Baseball '77, Rod Carew chases .400, the Yankees exact revenge, and nobody wants to manage the Rangers.
After spoiler-filled opening credits, TWIB starts its review of the week ending June 28, 1977 in the Land of 10,000 lakes, where Rod Carew continues his bid to bat .400. Mel Allen assures us, "It's not sorcery; just more pure hitting talent than anyone's seen in a long time." I don't think anyone said it was sorcery, Mel, or even implied it, so I'm not sure what you're getting at. We won't be swayed by your witch-huntery.
The largest crowd in Twins history turns up for a Sunday matinee against the White Sox, assured that their hero is not dabbling in the dark arts. Carew goes 4 for 5 with a double and 6 RBIs, pushing his batting above the lofty .400 mark. This monumental event is celebrated with a decidedly lo-fi notice on the Metropolitan Stadium scoreboard, as you'll see below. I realize that scoreboard technology of 1977 can't compare to what we have, but I still feel like this accomplishment warranted a bit more fanfare. At the very least, an appearance from the San Diego Chicken.
Fun fact: Did you know that before JumboTrons could show camera feeds, "Kiss Cam" started as a series of texts that would appear on stadium scoreboards, describing people in the stands making out? This innovation was scrapped when too many fans complained it was "graphic" and "upsetting."
Despite the Speak and Spell graphics, the Twins outslug the White Sox, 19-12, take two of three from Chicago in the series and leapfrog them into first place in the AL West. "Minnesota fans proved they not only have Carew's .400 fever," Allen reports, "they also have pennant feve!." Yes, and the cure for both is to stay far away from witchcraft.
The people of Minnesota also seem to have a fever for the metric system, if these meter markers on the outfield wall are any indication. Perhaps 1970s Metric Mania was even more pervasive than I suspected in episode two.
Back in the Bronx, huge crowds show up for a big series between the Yankees and Red Sox. This is in stark contrast to the empty stadium that greeted them a month earlier, which leads me to believe weather was a factor in their previous meeting.
One thing that carries over from May, however, is that guys in the bleachers still love to jump after home runs. In the shot below, Carl Yastrzemski has just homered over the right field fence, inspiring one palooka to jump after it. And as you can see, several other fans contemplate pulling the same move. This guy's leap doesn't look nearly as life-threatening as the one taken by the poor soul we saw in episode one, but it's a reminder that in 1977, people just did things like this. It was a simpler time, when any mook could and would wantonly risk his life for a piece of horsehide.
As you may recall, Boston laid a beating on the Yanks a week ago at Fenway, clobbering an MLB-record 16 home runs in a three-game set and sweeping them aside. The Yankees also laid a beating on themselves with an ugly public blowup between manager Billy Martin and slugger Reggie Jackson. But now that they're back home, the Yanks pull the ol' switcheroo.
Boston starts this series by picking up where they left off, touching up Catfish Hunter for three big homers. Catfish hangs out for the full nine, however, and the Yanks rally in the ninth when a misplay by Yastrzemski gives Willie Randolph a triple, followed by a game-tying dinger by Roy White. This game- and potentially season-changing moment is celebrated by a scoreboard graphic that simply says ROY. It looks so huge, imposing, and monotonous, I'm imagining it being said by Lurch. ("YOU RANG?")
The game drags on into the 11th inning, when Reggie comes up with a runner on second and a chance to win the game. We get a shot of what looks like Billy Martin trying to impart hitting advice to The Straw That Stirs The Drink before he takes his as bat. Hey, Billy, it's Reggie Jackson, one of the greatest sluggers of this decade. I think he's got this without you going all Tom Emanski on him.
Sure enough, Jackson belts a double into the right field corner, and the Yanks have themselves a walkoff win. A packed house goes absolutely bonkers, displaying odd placards and stretching themselves across the dugout roof to shake hands with their hero.
It's important to note that at this time, Reggie's Yankees career is still in its infancy. He had yet to enjoy a "superstar" moment before this game, and fans were still not quite sold on him as the savior of the franchise (even though he's won a mere three championships in Oakland). Obliquely commenting on this, Allen tells us, "The New York fans let Reggie know he's home at last! And so do his teammates!" Yes, and so does this kid who runs out onto the field, untouched by any law enforcement official. But don't worry, guys, even though it's a Friday night he's surely drunk and/or full of terrible pills because this is the 1970s, he didn't stab anybody, probably?
In game two of the series, Mike Torrez holds the Sox homerless for the first time in 11 games, while his teammates batter Luis Tiant. Then, in the finale, Allen tells us the Yanks "run all over" Boston. As often happens on TWIB, the word speed is the producer's cue to run footage of a batter being out by a mile--in this case, Carlton Fisk tagging out the not-fleet-of-foot Thurman Munson by a healthy margin.
Trailing 4-1 in the top of the ninth, the Sox rally to tie the game, but the Yanks come right back in the bottom half, putting runners on the corners with one out. After an intentional walk loads the bases, Paul Blair bounces a single over the head of drawn-in third baseman Butch Hobson, which of course leads to the Mel Allen-ism "Hobson's choice!
With their second walkoff win in three games, the Yanks sweep the Sox, undoing the damage of last weekend in Boston and then some. "The Yankees are supposed to be an unhappy team that never gets along," Allen notes, "but these Yankees look like they just might be a whole new ballclub." A whole new ballclub that's totally okay welcoming an elderly marching band on the field after the last out, for some reason.
Also welcome to invade their space: schlubby dudes in skin-tight white t-shirts with the Yankees logo and matching jeans. TWIB throws all of this in our faces with no explanation whatsoever. Either the audiences of 1977 require no crib notes to understand what they're seeing, or TWIB enjoys driving viewers like me mad. You're probably thinking this guy is just an employee, but that's a 2013 mentality talking. In 1977, they clearly let anybody walk on the field, or jump on it, or march on it, so the possibilities as to this person's true intentions and origins are WIDE OPEN, PEOPLE.
Where was I? Ah yes, Cleveland, where the Indians have won seven straight games since canning their manager, some nobody named Frank Robinson, and hiring in his stead the legendary Jeff Torborg. But their winning streak, and their brief appearance on TWIB, is cut short by the pitching of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. The Bicentennial Year rookie sensation appears to be fully recovered from knee surgery, carving up Cleveland batters, then shaking hands with all his teammates, as was his wont. Fidrych's reemergence inspires Detroit fans to unfurl section-long banners in his honor. I wonder how you would even find that much paper to write on in the pre-Staples world of 1977.
If anything can get to The Bird, it's the bees. He is attacked mid-start on the Tiger Stadium mound by a swarm of nasty insects (or perhaps just one; the footage is unclear). They don't sting him, though, and are content with just messing with his rhythm. Fidrych dances away from their trajectory in a decidedly ungraceful manner. "What's buzzin', cousin?" jokes Allen, going hepcat on us. Awreet awreet, then!
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the Dodgers and Reds engage in a four-game struggle that will determine the fate of the NL West for the rest of the season, or at least for a few days or so. This series marks the first home start for brand new Red, Tom Seaver (*sniff*). Despite encouraging signs from the fans, Seaver gets roughed up, or at least the Seaver equivalent of getting roughed up: 3 whole runs allowed. The series is otherwise a stalemate; Johnny Bench belts a pair of homers, but so does Steve Garvey, and the two teams split the four game set. For the Reds, that's almost as bad as getting swept, as it means they remain 9.5 games behind LA for the division lead.
In St. Louis, speedster Lou Brock is drawing closer to the all-time steals record held by great human being Ty Cobb, and he ends this week 16 away from tying Cobb's mark. This monumental feat is being counted down in Brock's home ballpark with a sign that looks like, at best, an afterthought, and at worst, an insult. It's fitting that this sign is on an outfield wall at Busch Stadium, since it's about the same quality as a sign you'd see taped to a bodega rollgate advertising Busch beer. CONGRATS LOU BROCK AND ALSO TALLBOYS 2/$3.
Wait, what's that over to the left of the foul pole? Are those meter markers? In American's heartland?! THANKS A LOT, JIMMY CARTER.
In this St. Louis segment, Allen praises the Cards' young players for "coming through in the clutch," chief among them first baseman Keith Hernandez. The video quality is not great, so it's a bit hard to tell, but I'm almost positive Mex is sans mustache these days. Peep the screengrabs and judge for yourself.
St. Louis takes the first two games of their series against Philadelphia, but in the finale, Mike Schmidt belts his 13th home run of the last 19 games. After a slow start to his year, he now has 20 longballs on the season. The win goes to Jim Kaat, his 250th career W, which makes him the active leader. And yet, one day he will be judged not worthy enough to share a broadcast booth with Michael Kay. Sad.
After a commercial break, we get a brief glimpse of Old Timers' Day at Wrigley Field, including a glorious shot of Ernie Banks in an old timey Cubs uniform. The togs look like they predate the uniform he actually wore when he played, but even anachronisms can be rad.
Old Timers' Day is interrupted by new timers' day, when Steve Henderson and Lee Mazzilli of the Mets collide, letting a ball drop between them and turning a 4-1 New York lead into a 5-4 Chicago win. (For those of you who enjoy historic bookendery, the fly ball is hit by Bill Buckner.) This leads us into a brief segment on outfielders who are blissfully ignorant of one other until they nearly kill themselves in a head-on collisions. First, the left and center fielders of the Reds, then the White Sox' center and right fielders almost crash into one another twice in the same game.
For some reason, this leads us into a Jekyll-and-Hyde scene of the Red Sox' George Scott during the Yankees series. First, we see Scott slide into third base and almost crush Graig Nettles to death. But then we see evidence of his soft side when he fields a slow roller down the first base line and gives Mickey Rivers a gentle hug-tag, with a pat to the posterior for good measure. "Thanks for the tap, son," Allen comments.
Moving on...from the same series, perpetual All Star Carl Yastrzemski traces a ball to the left field fence. He leaps and nearly makes an amazing catch to rob a home run. Instead, Yaz is the one who winds up robbed. He comes back to earth to find out that not only did he not catch the ball, but he lost his glove in the bargain.
Oopsie doodle! Considering the rivalry between these teams, you might expect the Yankee partisans to give Yaz a hard time for this gaffe, but a helpful fan tosses the glove back to him. Yaz has the look of someone reluctantly reaching for a helping hand after tripping up the stairs.
"Anything can slip away in baseball," Allen warns us, and demonstrates it by showing Reds batter Cesar Geronimo losing his bat mid-swing and nearly murdering Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell with the flying lumber. Sometimes you lose an entire position player, as we see Ted Simmons slide to catch a ball in foul territory, then keep sliding on wet Astroturf, right into the opposition's dugout. Been nice knowin' ya, Ted.
In the same game, an errant throw sails past the outstretched glove of Keith Hernandez. Cards' second baseman Mike Tyson (!) tries to back him up, but bobbles the ball and drops it on the wrong side of the railing. Then, a look back at the aforementioned Mark Fidrych game, wherein the Tigers' second baseman collides with an Indians runner while trying to play a slow roller. Both the runner and the batter are called out for interference. Oh baseball players, can't you do anything right?
But the oddest "play" of the week was executed by the Texas Rangers. They can their manager Frank Lucchesi and hire Eddie Stanky (tee-hee) to replace him. Stanky pilots the Rangers to a win in his first game at the helm, then promptly resigns. "He simply missed his family too much," Allen says, an explanation that is in no way suspicious. Texas is forced to use Connie Ryan as their interim manager for one game, after which they hire a hopefully permanent replacement, Billy Hunter. This is how the Rangers manage to manage four managers in one week, a mark unlikely to be equaled, especially now that George Steinbrenner is no longer with us.
As for good plays, TWIB gives us Yaz actually holding onto his glove and ball on a diving catch, followed by Tug McGraw allowing a pop-up bunt to fall untouched, thus setting up a double play. Tug displays considerable baseball smarts on this play, and displays a sweet 'stache, too.
We also get a brief glimpse of Willie McCovey, who just belted his 17th career grand slam and homered twice in the same inning, making him the only player to pull off that feat twice. Fine achievements, especially at the age of 39. Unfortunately, we don't get to see either accomplishment, and are instead treated to the same clips of Stretch in Chicago that were shown two weeks ago. Guess we'll just have to use our imaginations; that's what TV's all about, right?
This week's Gillette Special goes to Rod Carew, who is leading the AL in triples and runs scored and is second in RBIs, all while batting over .400. "Carew is having a season for all seasons, and so is baseball!" Allen says, setting up a sweet segue. "990,000 fans watched local scoreboard action this weekend. How 'bout joining them, folks?"
Well, I would, Mel, except those local scoreboards seem really, really cheap.
Next week: Some more words from The Bird, witty Comiskey Park signage, and umpires messing up every call imaginable.