Episode 13 of This Week in Baseball (covering the week ending August 23, 1977) begins with a quartet of teams going in opposite directions. Boston travels to Kansas City, where the Royals sweep to catapult themselves into first place in the AL West. Mel Allen refers to this division as "that four-team dogfight" without mentioning the names of the other dogs in the fight: the terrier-esque Twins, the bulldog Rangers, and, oh, let's say the schnauzer-like White Sox.
Meanwhile, in the Bronx, the Yankees make a statement while hosting the White Sox. In the second game of a brief two-game set, Chicago musters up a huge rally in the top of the ninth to take a 10-9 lead. However, outfilelder Lou PIniella prevents the damage from being even worse by making a leaping catch at the fence, robbing a homer from Richie Zisk. Allen sounds almost as excited as he did for the Fred Lynn catch from earlier this season, screaming "highway robbery!" This feat is celebrated with the finest scoreboard tribute the late 1970s could muster.
The Yanks quickly recover from this attempted knockout blow when Chris Chambliss belts a walkoff homer in the bottom the ninth. Allen invokes the memory of Chambliss's pennant-winning homer against the Royals a year ago, although this time rather than being engulfed by the entire stadium, he is just greeted at home plate by his teammates. And some random dude who may or may not be wearing a Mets cap. And Morty from accounting.
The Yanks then travel to Texas and sweep a set from the Rangers, a series of events that both aids the Royals' aforementioned cause and puts New York a half game in first. Roy White flashes power in this series, belting a homer as Allen refers to him as "The Quiet Man." No footage of him fistfighting across the Irish countryside, though. "Fasten your seatbelts!" Allen cautions, "because the defending champions are shaking everyone down in those wild divisional races in the American League." And please do not get up from your set until the pennant races have come to a complete stop.
After a break, we are treated to TWIB's first peek at the Brewers. No look at the Brewers of this era would be complete without a clip of old school Bernie Brewer jumping into a beer. In 1977, there was no teetotaling version of Bernie sliding onto a platform and giving us the finger-guns. Nope, like something out of Homer Simpson's dreams, this Bernie leaps right into an enormous mug of beer. You can see him taking the plunge here, no doubt yelling I REGRET NOTHING as he slides to his beechwood-aged doom.
The Brewers are making a bit of noise lately. Milwaukee put a hurt on the White Sox's playoff hopes by taking 2 of 4 from Chicago, and they have some power with vets like Don Money, Cecil Cooper and Sal Bando in their lineup. Allen says these players were "picked up in the free agent draft," which is not a real thing, but I'll forgive the error since nobody had figured out what free agency was yet (except maybe George Steinbrenner).
Despite their recent success, Allen calls for patience with the Brew Crew. "Milwaukee’s not ready to contend for a title yet," he says, "but young talent means that could change in a hurry." He's referring mostly to Robin Yount, who's already in his fourth season at the tender age of 21 and quickly rounding into a superstar. We see Yount submitting himself to a postgame interview with Bob Uecker. The shortstop comports himself quite well, considering he has a wad of chaw in his mouth the size of a grapefruit.
Next, we travel to St. Louis for a segment on the Cardinals and their efforts to make waves in the NL East. For reasons that are not explained in any fashion, this portion of our program begins with footage of Lou Brock shown wearing a huge beard and granny glasses. Either he's responding to jokes about his advanced age or he's into Oregon Trail cosplay. Whatever his intention, he is apparently being aided and abetted by Paul Shaffer.
The segment on the Cards ascribes their ascendency to a powerful relief corps, led by trade deadline pickup Rawley Eastwick and Butch Metzger, 1976's co-rookie of the year. The bullpen has endured its share of unrest, however. Prior to this season, St. Louis's top fireman was Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky. He intimidated batters and delighted fans with his theatrics--stalking off the mound and slamming the ball into his glove after every pitch--and his Frank Zappa-esque facial hair. Hungry freaks, daddy!
Then, he was forced to shave off his trademark mustache. (TWIB doesn't mention the reason, but apparently the new Cards manager for 1977, Vern Rapp, subscribed to the Steinbrenner School of Sartorialism.) Coincidentally or not, Hrabosky's performances took a nosedive thereafter. Hrabosky, for one, thought it no coincidence at all. According to Allen, "He felt his beard helped his most effective weapon: the psych." Al describes the loss of his distinct look thusly:
To be perfectly honest with you, I really feel that I maybe have average physical ability, but when I get my psych and my self hypnosis going I can compete with anyone and anything....It’s like taking a gun and taking the firing pin out of it. You still have the gun, but it just won’t fire.
Here, a shorn Hrabosky glares in Rapp's general direction. The caption adds an extra MAD to his nickname to indicate just how cheesed off he is about having to shave his whiskers.
Eventually, the Cards decide that Rapp's anti-hippie campaign should take a backseat to winning baseball games. Or, maybe Hrabosky psyched management into seeing things his way. Whatever the reason, the pitcher is permitted to grow back his mustache and returns to form shortly thereafter, just in time to join a cast of thousands in IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD HUNGARIAN.
We next make a brief trip to Shea Stadium to witness Tom Seaver's first start in New York since his trade to the Reds. A huge crowd shows up to greet him, with plenty of signage in the Shea tradition.
As so often happened in years past, Seaver prevails on the Shea Stadium mound. The Mets manage to scratch out a run against him, but that is all. His opposite number, Jerry Koosman, both allows George Foster’s 116th RBI of the year and a two-out double to Seaver himself. Seaver goes the distance, per usual, and Cincinnati goes on to win, 5-1. A Shea crowd of over 46,000 does not appear all that disappointed to see the home team fall to the man they called The Franchise.
After a break, we turn to the week in weird plays. A clip from Atlanta shows a man in an odd outfit and a rainbow-umbrella hat. Some overenthusiastic fan? Guy about to unfurl a JOHN 3:16 banner? Nope, it's the Braves mascot Chief Nocahoma, guarding his "teepee," and the acres of empty seats behind him.
Next, we travel to Baltimore, where TWIB is dying to show us "America’s smallest Scottish broom dancer." I present this screenshot to you sans comment.
TWIB then brings us a shot of the bullpen catcher seen in a Mets-Pirates game, who happens to be left handed. At the time this episode first airs, there hasn't been a left handed catcher in the bigs in almost 20 years, so a lefty backstop sighting, even in the bullpen, is of unicorn rarity.
This Mets-Pirates game contains a buffet of weirdness. First, we see the Mets execute some truly baffling baserunning. A Mets runner at third tries to go home on comebacker and gets caught in a rundown that goes on for way too long, catcher tossing to third baseman and back again in Groundhog Day-esque futility. In all the confusion, a trailing runner scurries all the way to third base, at which point the lead runner decides this would be an excellent time to retreat there. The Pirates wisely tag both runners, figuring at least one of them must be out. Curiously, once this happens, the trailing runner bolts for second like he's being chased by bees. But rather than pursue him, Pittsburgh yells at the umps and points toward the fleeing runner. They may have simply acquired some of the Mets' stupid by osmosis.
Next, the same game is delayed because of a weird critter between the mound and home. Batter Ed Ott trots out to try and take care of the beast, then thinks better of it. The Mets pitcher gets the same idea, and comes to the same conclusion: Let someone else handle it. So home plate umpire Ed Sudol dispatches himself to catch the thing. "Get ‘em before they breed or we’ll never get the ball game over!" Allen advises. This is neither the time nor the place for your views on eugenics, Mel.
No living things are squashed in the Red Sox-Royals tilt we see next. But we do see a pickoff throw that sends Freddie Patek scrambling back to first. The ball eludes the glove of first baseman George Scott, rolls over Patek's back, and lands on ground. Patek nearly picks it up trying to be helpful but thinks better of it. You can almost see him thinking "oh, duh" to himself. "The umpire says for that, Fred, you deserve a royal crowning," Allen chuckles, as the ump waves his hat at Patek in a mock salute.
From here, it's on to the good plays, of which there are a multitude this week. Frank White of the Royals makes a great leaping catch. The Twins' Mike Cubbage knocks a ball down at third, and though it rolls into foul territory, he still manages to throw the runner out at first. Boston's Fred Lynn makes a shoestring catch. Houston's Jose Cruz robs a homer in Atlanta while crashing into the outfield fence. Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger is given an odd highlight by showing him making an error. It is his first in 62 games, just 10 shy of the record.
But the best play by far comes from frequent Best Plays visitor, Cleveland's Duane Kuiper, who leaps to catch an errant throw to second. He somehow manages to both not get plowed over by a basestealer and tag the guy out. I saw it in real time and I'm still not sure how it happened.
Speaking of amazing plays, the biggest news of the week came when Brooks Robinson announced he would retire at the end of the season. He makes this announcement while Baltimore is on the road, but a crowd in Minnesota still gives him a standing ovation, as do Twin players.
Interviewed by Joe Garagiola after the game, Brooks concedes it's time to hang up his spikes after 20-plus seasons in the bigs while lamenting, "I only wish I had 20 more." We're treated to a montage of his great career and many acrobatic plays he pulled off at the hot corner (most of which appear to be pulled from the 1970 World Series). Allen refers to him as "a great clutch hitter" and "an iron man; in fact, only Ty Cobb played more games than Brooks Robinson." He also advises Brooks to "hang onto that glove; those Hall of Famers are gonna need you to play third base for them." It concludes with the best tribute any major leaguer could hope for: a banner pulled by a Cessna.
However, this week's Gillette Special does not go to the departing Brooks Robinson, but instead to Bill Buckner of the Cubs. Chicago has slid hard in the past few weeks, but Buckner has not, and he just beat Dodgers twice with big homers at Wrigley. "It’s remarkable he can play it all on two severly damaged ankles," Allen marvels. "Congratulations, Bill. Your applause is richly deserved."