Friday, August 10, 2012

1977 World Series: Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!

The Teams
American League: New York Yankees (100-62) - 31st World Series (won 20 previous times)
National League: Los Angeles Dodgers (98-64) - Sixth World Series (won in 1959, 1963, 1965)

What Happened
Reggie Jackson was already a star when he went to the Bronx. That's the common misconception, that Jackson donned Yankee pinstripes and became an All Star. No, he had starred for the A's for nearly a decade before the Yankees signed him, and he had led Oakland to three straight World Series titles in the 1970s. But Oakland was a small market, and Reggie wanted the bright lights, so he left the A's, where he was nicknamed "Buck," and joined the Yankees, where he would eventually earn the nickname Mr. October.

But first, he had to get to October, and that wasn't a guarantee. Jackson immediately clashed with hotheaded Yankee manager Billy Martin, with the two nearly coming to blows in the dugout more than once. Jackson and Martin hated each other, and all the rest of the Yankees hated both Jackson and Martin, but New York somehow made it work and advanced to the World Series for the second straight year.

In the World Series against the Dodgers - yes, it was another Yankees-Dodgers matchup in the World Series - Jackson became the story. Well, except for Game 1, when he was taken out for a defensive replacement right when things were getting good. His replacement, Paul Blair, failed on two attempts to drop down a sacrifice in the bottom of the 12th inning. Forced to swing away, he ripped a single to left field for the game-winning run.

The teams split the next four games, but that's only secondary to the story. The real story was that Reggie Jackson was heating up. After a slow start, he homered in both games 4 and 5, foreshadowing some excitement for Game 6 in the Bronx.

Defining Game
Jackson's home run in Game 5 came on his last swing of the night, an otherwise forgotten blast in a 10-4 Dodger win. The Dodgers must have had that blast in mind in the second inning, as Jackson walked on four pitches. There was nowhere to put him in the 4th, though, and with a runner on first, Jackson took his first swing of the night and sent the ball deep into the right field stands to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead and knock Dodger starter Burt Hooton out of the game.

With the Yankees now leading 5-3, Jackson came up again in the fifth, again with a runner on first. Again he swung on the first pitch, and again he made solid contact. This one wasn't as deep or majestic - just a low line drive. But it was far enough, and it was his second home run of the game.

If his first two swings of the night made Jackson a superstar, his third one made him a legend. Charlie Hough was the Dodgers' fourth pitcher, the third one to face Jackson. Like the previous two, he threw Jackson a meaty first pitch, and like the previous two, Jackson swung out of his shoes. This one also flew away, but this one was different. It was one of those that seemed to keep rising, almost as if it was being pushed by the cheers of the crowd. It kept going until it finally landed deep in the center field bleachers, impossibly far away. Three swings, three home runs. World Series over. And as he rounded the bases, the top of his jersey unbuttoned from the force of his swings, Jackson transformed. He was no longer a superstar. He was now a legend.

Jackson's historic Game 6 marked only the third time a player had hit three home runs in a World Series game, and the first time that player wasn't named Babe Ruth. His five total home runs for the series set a new record, which has since been equaled once but never topped. 

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Los Angeles 3632 104
New York 4 (12)15 448

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

37. 1977 - New York (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-2
38. 1996 - New York (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-2
39. 1921 - New York (N) def. New York (A) 5-3
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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