Episode 15 of This Week in Baseball covers the week ending September 6, 1977. By this point in the season, most of the pennant races have begun to resemble pennant victory laps. Or, in the words of host Mel Allen, "In baseball's September stretch run, the leading teams of the four major league divisions have all been hot and tough to handle." Oh my! If only someone could tame them!
We start with the Dodgers, who were never involved in much of a pennant race to begin with. LA has been in first since April and have only widened their healthy lead as the season nears its close. "The Dodgers have the artillery to bring home the runs," Allen reminds us, and we see Ron Cey, Reggie Smith, Dusty Baker, and Steve Garvey tearing the cover off the ball. For some reason, however, these stars are given short shrift in favor of a more recent addition to the Dodgers' roster, catcher Jerry Grote. "Grote's a proven winner with a knack for chipping in in the clutch," Allen asserts. This assertion is backed up by footage of a bloop hit that barely leaves the infield. Hang onto that theme, because you'll see it again. It's the Chekhov's Gun of this episode.
As for Dodger pitching, Allen informs us "the fans are really rootin' for Hooten!" Burt Hooten, that is! Which reminds me that Burt Hootin' would've made a great name for either a mid-70s fusion jazz saxophonist or a Muppet owl who also played the sax. We're also told that Don Sutton has recovered from "a midseason slump" and is now striking out batters left and right anew. I assume he found a better grip on the ball through the use of sandpaper.
Back east, the NL East-leading Philliles are also expanding their division lead. You may recall last week, the Reds swept the Phils in Cincinnati. This week at the Vet, the Phils return the favor. We see George Foster hit a double into the left field corner, one that should easily score the runner from second. Somehow, Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt combine to nail Joe Morgan at the plate. Morgan argues with the home plate umpire as if he were Billy Beane, author of Moneyball, but to no avail.
Schmidt also makes a great bare handed play at third, but TWIB seems more impressed with second baseman Ted Sizemore, who according to Allen is "doing what it takes to produce rallies." This, of course, is demonstrated with the sight of Sizemore bunting his way on, Sizemore moves to second on a grounder, steals third, then comes home when a terrible throw from catcher sails into the outfield. That's what I call a rally!
The Phillies roundup also assures us that center fielder Garry Maddox "picked up right where he left off" after missing time with a shoulder injury. That's excellent news, because the last time we saw Maddox on TWIB he was sprawled out on the Wrigley Field turf while teammates gathered around him to express mild mild concern.
Veteran's Stadium was often derided as a soulless cookie-cutter job, but we do get a nice shot of the outfield there, where a Bicentennial flag is proudly displayed—a year late, granted, but there's no expiration date on patriotism! Unless this footage is actually from 1976. That would be unlikely if this was any program other than TWIB, where the approach to linear time resembles that of Catch-22. Regardless of the date of this shot, we receive no explanation as to why this flag is accompanied with gushing fountains the color of Ecto Cooler.
After Philly, we travel to Kansas City, where the Royals are also pulling away from the pack in their division. Are they doing this thanks to the hitting of stars like George Brett, Hal McRae, and Amos Otis? Perhaps, but as far as TWIB is concerned, other guys are far, far more important, like catcher Darrel Porter. "Darrel Porter's also having a great year with the bat," Allen says. "Just take a look!" Cue up another hit that barely leaves the infield. But at least Porter isn't patronized to, unlike a certain teammate of his. "Pitchers can't relax when little Freddie Patek is at bat!" Allen coos. Hope lil' Fweddie got a wowwipop for appearing on this program.
Back east again, the Yankees are undoubtedly the hottest team in baseball, but they remain in something of a pennant race, 2.5 games up on the Red Sox and 4 ahead of the Orioles. The Yanks are staving off the competition thanks to the emergence of young lefty Ron Guidry. He tossed two shutouts this week and, in Allen's estimation, "could be the Yankees' ace down the stretch." They've also been bolstered by the return of Don Gullett, back in action after month-long absence. Guidry and Gullett give the Yanks formidable #2 and #3 starters behind Catfish Hunter.
But it wouldn't be TWIB if we didn't hear about the contributions of "the little guy," literally or metaphorically. In this case, it's backup backstop Cliff Johnson, who's filled in lately for Thurman Munson. Johnson comes through with a grand slam against the Twins, which caps the Yanks' amazing 24th win in 27 games. Why is Johnson playing instead of Munson? No idea, because TWIB won't tell us. Nothing to see here, move on, folks.
After a break, TWIB turns its attention to Lou Brock. Last week, we saw Brock break Ty Cobb's career stolen base mark. So this week, we take a look back at Brock's accomplishments, starting with 1974, when he bested Maury Wills' single season steals mark of 104. This was celebrated with a scoreboard graphic that switched between LOU and 105.
From there we move on to Brock's latest record-setting remark, with shots of his historic stolen base in San Diego, and his odd remarks thereafter in which he seemed to taunt Padres pitcher Randy Jones for some reason. Post-game, Brock expounds on his theory as to why he was such a successful basestealer. In doing so, he employs a method of another expert bag swiper, Rickey Henderson, by referring to himself in the third person.
Lou Brock stole 893 bases because he stole one at a time...to me, a stolen base is a challenge of the moment and not just adding a number to a number.
Brock then gives us a lesson in baserunning in which he emphasizes aggressiveness (which is curiously demonstrated by footage of Brock getting thrown out on the basepaths). He also stresses "body thrust" and "drive", which he demonstrates by saying the "balanced part of your body" must lean forward, thus "forcing you to take another step." He staggers forward in a weird, almost elderly way. It actually doesn't look effective at all, at least not when broken down into component parts. His demonstration is not helped by doing it on a spring training field one step above a sandlot, either. But hey, Brock stole a whole lot more bases than I ever did, so who am I to judge?
TWIB polls Johnny Bench about "what makes Brock so tough?" Bench offers his opinion that "I think he has no fear." And he looks positively thrilled to talk about the subject, too.
Brock says base stealing "adds an extra dimension to the game that the average person can not bring to the game." TWIB agrees and treats us to a montage of "this year's top speedsters." We see Freddie Patek swipe home all by his widdle self, Jerry Remy of the Angels steal second with the power of his mustache, Ron LeFlore of the Tigers tear around the basepaths, Frank Taveras of the Pirates (who Allen refers to as "the Pittsburgh Stealer!") unwisely slide headfirst into second, and his teammate Omar Moreno do the same, then petition the umpire for a high five.
TWIB gives us a second look at A's speedster Mitchell Page and his dope headgear. As for other roadrunners in the bigs, Cesar Cedeno of the Astros and Joe Morgan of the Reds are in the 20-50 club (20 HRs, 50 SBs), which is pretty impressive once you're aware this is a club that actually exists, I guess? As for more exclusive organizations, Bobby Bonds of the Angels has already joined the 30-30 Club for the fourth time in his career, and still has a shot at to become the first member of the 40-40 Club.
But even TWIB must occasionally force speed to bow down to power. This week it does so because Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh belted his 756th career homer, surpassing the stateside total of Hank Aaron, and making him the most prodigious home run hitter in the history of pro baseball. "For this," Allen notes "the Gillette Corporation salutes Sadaharu Oh and will present him with a special achievement award." The fact that they won't even tell us what the award is means it's surely awesome. Maybe he gets a crack at beta-testing the fearsome Mach 8?
This historic event prompts TWIB to turn back the clock to the historic home run derby that took place in Japan between Oh and Aaron. TWIB doesn't tell us what year this happened, of course, and they further confuse matters by showing us a shot of a scoreboard that says METS VS. JAPAN. For the curious out there, in November 1974 the Mets went on a goodwill tour of Japan, and this home run derby was a pregame attraction at one of the games. Not sure who would've been on the Japanese team other than Oh, but considering the Mets of this era, my money would be on Japan in that matchup.
Despite a lack of contextual details, this segment is pretty great for a multitiude of reasons. First, we get some great shots of both hitters clubbing home runs, and we also see Aaron leaning on his bat, studying his opponent. Allen, in pointing out Oh's trademark stance, says "he lifts [his leg] in a manner reminiscent of Mel Ott." I found this detail fascinating, since Allen saw Ott play, and that's the kind of detail about pre-television-era players that would probably be lost to the mists of time otherwise.
At the conclusion of the derby, Aaron and Oh shake hands. "You don't need an interpreter to appreciate two masters in the game of baseball," Allen says. It's true, you don't! For winning the derby (10 dingers to 9), Aaron is presented with a "silver bowl" from commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Based on the look of this prize, it doesn't give me much hope for Oh's present from Gillette.
After a break, we move on to this week's "weird plays" segment, which starts with girl in orange and short shorts pouring a drink for a portly umpire. Normally, I'd question such a sight, but this ump looks like he's in desperate need of some hydration, and possibly a lawn chair.
Continuing the Little Guy theme of the week, we see enormous Brewers coach Frank Thomas counseling an unnamed Shetland-sized runner at first. Milwaukee never should have wasted a first round pick on Austin Pendelton.
Then, just to switch things up, we get a glimpse of Kareem Abdul Jabbar batting for the Hollywood Stars at Dodger Stadium. The pitcher serves him a floater, which he takes. "How 'bout that strike zone!" Allen marvels, as do I. Kareem doesn't have a strike zone so much as he has a Congressional district. And check out those sweet stirrups!
Next, an unnamed Cardinals catcher goes for a foul behind the plate. He puts up his glove expectantly, only to have the ball drops right behind him. (In this pic, it's the white blur just behind his thighs.) Then, Larry Heisel of the Twins dives for ball at Yankees Stadium, misses, rolls over ball, and kicks up a huge, sloshy wave as he dives. "Pretty good stroke, Larry!" Allen quips.
Meanwhile, at Comiskey Park, a foul ball rolls over near the visiting dugouts, inspiring three dudes in the front row to lean over and try to grab it. The trio fall out of their seats simultaneously, then continue to fight over who will claim the prize. Later in the same game, a young boy gets the same idea when a ball skitters over near the dugout. He too falls out of stands. A nearby adult, presumably a parent, IMMEDIATELY yanks the kid back into the seats by the scruff of his neck. "C'mon home, boy!" cackles Allen.
It must have been a wild night in the Windy City, because in the same game, we see Chet Lemon and Wayne Nordhagen converge on a ball hit to right-center, then collide violently. Nordhagen somehow holds onto the ball. The colliision "really sounded their gongs," according to Allen, "and they're still playing the game!" Did you fact check that, Mel? Because Lemon looks like his gong will be ringing for a while.
As for the this week's great plays, we see perpetual great play maker Duane Kuiper of the Indians perform a diving catch to start double play, Don Kessinger of ChiSox do same to get a force at second and end a game, and his teammate Jim Spencer execute an amazing diving play in foul territory. "Sensational! Allen proclaims
However, this week's Gillette Special goes to Phillies lefty Steve Carlton, who turned back a challenge from the Pirates. After the Pirates won the first game of doubleheader, Carlton pushed away any thoughts of a late season challenge for the NL East crown by limiting Pittsburgh to one run in the nightcap. This victory was his 20th of the year, making him the first pitcher to reach that mark in 1977. Carlton hit a home run to boot, his third of the season. Which is odd, since Lefty looks not all that comfortable trotting in this pic.