The 1977 MLB season was the beginning of a pattern—for two straight years, the same four teams would win division titles, the same two teams would win pennants and the same team would win the World Series. Given that this script involved the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers meeting in the Fall Classic, I can’t imagine anyone at ABC or NBC, the networks that then carried postseason baseball, were complaining.
New York had returned to the World Series in 1976, but was still looking for their first championship since 1962 and first under the ownership of George Steinbrenner. The Yankees, with Cy Young reliever Sparky Lyle won a tight AL East race, surviving the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Los Angeles was under new leadership, as veteran manager Walter Alston retired and rookie skipper Tommy Lasorda took over. The Dodgers dethroned the two-time defending World Series champ Cincinnati Reds and their MVP left fielder George Foster, winning the NL West with ease.
The Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies served as the foils for the two marquee heavyweights. Kansas City actually finished the regular season with the best record in baseball, winning 102 games. Philadelphia won 101, had one of the game’s best offenses and the NL Cy Young winner in Steve Carlton. Both teams had surged down the stretch, blowing open close division races in the AL West & NL East respectively.
But in October, it was the Yankees and Dodgers who came through. Both LCS matchups were good ones, the Yanks-Royals particularly so. Ninth-inning rallies decided each one For Los Angeles, that came in Game 3 of what was then a best-of-five round. New York waited until the 11th hour, the ninth inning of the deciding fifth game in Kansas City.
The World Series was decided by the fact New York got superior starting pitching, namely in Games 3 & 4. It is remembered for a spectacular individual display put on by Yankee rightfielder Reggie Jackson, who hit three home runs on three swings to salt away the deciding sixth game.
You can read the complete story of the 1977 MLB season in a compilation of articles available at Amazon. The compilation has eight articles about notable teams–the four division winners, the Red Sox & Orioles, and the two teams that lifted a city’s hopes in the summer and then dashed it with a collapse–the White Sox & Cubs. The compilation also contains game-by-game narratives of all three postseason series. Download it today.
The late 1970s and early 1980s was a great time in Philadelphia Phillies history. The franchise, after more than a decade of irrelevance, had come back in 1975 as a contender and in 1976 they returned to postseason play. It started an eight-year stretch where they won five NL East titles, two National League pennants and a World Series. The links below capture the heart of this great era for Phillie fans.
Philadelphia fans experienced the full gamut of emotions. They won 101 games in 1976 and were probably the second-best team in baseball, behind only the powerful Big Red Machine of Cincinnati that won the World Series. The Phils returned to NLCS in 1977 and 1978, but suffered tough losses to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 1980 was the breakthrough.
The 1980 Phils won a de facto playoff against the Montreal Expos, a three-game weekend series to end the regular season, with the teams tied for first. The Phillies won the greatest League Championship Series ever played, the 1980 NLCS, and they won an exciting six-game World Series over the Kansas City Royals.
Philadelphia returned to the playoffs in the split season of 1981, though they lost the NL East divisional round to Montreal. It looked like the run might be over, but the Phils signed a couple veterans of the Big Red Machine and made one more run to a National League pennant before losing to the Baltimore Orioles.
The articles below celebrate all the great moments of the 1976-83 high point. From the greatness of third baseman Mike Schmidt and starting pitcher Steve Carlton. To the power of Greg Luzinski, to the scrappiness of Larry Bowa, to the defensive wizardry of Garry Maddox to the bullpens anchored by the colorful Tug McGraw to the consistency of “The Sarge”, Gary Mathews. They’re all here, as are many more.
Read through the narratives of the regular season and the game-by-game breakdowns of the postseason, all included below. READ MORE ABOUT THE 1980 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1976 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1977 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1978 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1981 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES READ MORE ABOUT THE 1983 PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
The Philadelphia Phillies were a young and talented team that had arrived in 1976, when they won 101 games and the NL East. The Phils were swept out of theNLCS by Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, but the future was bright in Philly. The optimism was validated by the 1977 Philadelphia Phillies when they again won 101 games and made it back to the National League Championship Series.
The power tandem of third baseman Mike Schmidt and leftfielder Greg Luzinski anchored the best offense in the National League. They combined for 77 home runs and 231 RBIs. Each had an on-base percentage over .390 and a slugging percentage over .570. Though Schmidt would have a much better career, it was “The Bull”, as Luzinski was nicknamed, that was actually a little bit better with the bat.
Two key personnel additions further strengthened the lineup. Philly signed first baseman Richie Hebner away from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the offseason, and Hebner had a .381 OBP/.484 slugging. And in June, a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals brought rightfielder Bake McBride to Philly. McBride’s numbers were .392/.564 after the trade.
Further contributions came from outfielder Jay Johnstone, second baseman Ted Sizemore and catcher Bob Boone. Defensively, the Phils were strong up the middle with Larry Bowa at short and rangy Gary Maddox in center.
Pitching was more of a question mark. The staff ERA was fourth in the National League, but there was a lot of uncertainty in the rotation. Four of the five starters finished with ERAs over 4 and two were over 5. Jim Kaat and Jim Lonborg were each into their late thirties and in obvious decline.
It put a lot of pressure on the Phillie bullpen, and four key relievers helped pick up the slack. Gene Garber and Ron Reed combined for the saves. Tug McGraw and Warren Brusstar all helped carry the load. All four pitchers had ERAs at 2.75 or lower.
The work of the pen, along with the offense helped cover for the four weak spots in the rotation. And the one strong spot, at the top of the rotation cured even more ills. Steve Carlton, 32-years-old, with a nasty slider, went 23-10 with a 2.64 ERA in 283 innings of work. Carlton was a runaway Cy Young Award winner.
It was anything but an easy ride for manager Danny Ozark though. Four straight losses started the season and the Phils were seven games back on May 12. They didn’t get over .500 for good until May 21. The Pirates were off to a hot start, but Philadelphia was able to take a series from their rivals, part of an 8-3 stretch that moved the Phils past Pittsburgh…only now the Chicago Cubswere catching fire.
From June 17 to July 7, Philadelphia played excellent baseball, going 15-4 and cutting the Cubbie lead to three games. The Phils were in second place and had the Pirates in the rearview mirror, with a 5 ½ game lead on the rival who had dominated the NL East prior to Philadelphia’s run of 1976.
In early July, a weekend visit to Pittsburgh was a disaster. The Phils led the opener 7-3 in the eighth inning, but McGraw, Garber and Brusstar all combined to cough it up in an 8-7 loss. On Saturday, Philadelphia lost 9-8 in 12 innings—the winning hit coming with two outs off the bat of Mario Mendoza, the same player whose hitting ineptitude remains legendary today with use of “the Mendoza line” to mark the line a hitter dare not sink below.
Sunday’s doubleheader went even worse. Pittsburgh rolled to a 5-1 victory in the opener. Then the Phillie pitching problems cost them in the nightcap. They led a slugfest 10-7 after seven innings, but Reed melted down and the Pirates completed a sweep with a 12-10 win.
Philadelphia was still a manageable five games back of Chicago when the wipeout ended, but now Pittsburgh was right back in it, and hungry to show that 1976 was just an aberration.
Things started to turn for the better in mid-July, as the Cubs came to Philadelphia for another four-game weekend set, including a Saturday doubleheader. The Phils trailed the opener 2-0 in the sixth when Luzinski hit a two-out, two-run blast to left and Philadelphia went on to win 4-2. Then they took the opener of the doubleheader 9-2, with six players getting multiple hits.
Chicago grabbed the second game of the twinbill, but Carlton was lying in wait for Sunday. The lefthander gave eight strong innings, Johnstone homered twice and the 4-2 win moved the Phillies to within 2 ½ games of the lead for the All-Star break.
August was when Philadelphia finally got firm control over both the Cubs and Pirates. The Phils won 19 of 20, and that included a devastating four-game sweep of the Cubs in Wrigley. Philadelphia unloaded for ten runs in each of the first three games, hitting a combined 11 home runs in the process. Then they won a 4-2 game behind Lonborg to finish the sweep that broke the backs of Chicago. By the time the 19-1 streak was over, the Phillies had a 7 ½ game lead.
Pittsburgh didn’t go as quietly, and they chipped the lead down to 3 ½ games by the end of August. Fans could look ahead to a three-game set between the two teams starting on Labor Day in Pittsburgh, and then a return trip to Philadelphia the following week. But sometimes in baseball, what happens before and after the hyped showdowns is what proves decisive.
The Phils won five straight leading into Labor Day and the Pirates weren’t able to answer, pushing the lead out to seven games. Even though Pittsburgh won two of three head-to-head, the Phils came right back with six straight wins. Their lead was at nine games and the NL East race was all but over.
It’s fitting that this offensive-minded team clinched in a wild slugfest. It came on the Tuesday of the season’s final week, on an afternoon in Wrigley Field. The Phils broke open a 4-2 game with seven runs in the seventh inning, a grand slam by starting pitcher Larry Christenson being the big blow. McGraw didn’t make his life easy—he gave five runs back in the bottom of the eighth, but when “the Tugger” got Dave Rosello to tap back into a 1-6-3 double play in the ninth, the 15-9 win—and the NL East race—were in the books.
Philadelphia went into the 1977 NLCS with more expectations this time around. They were no longer novices to October, and the Big Red Machine no longer loomed over the sport. The Phils met up with the Los Angeles Dodgers and when Philly took the opening game on the road, good things seemed ahead. But that proved to be the last win of the year, as Philadelphia lost a crushing Game 3 at home and were closed out in the fourth game of what was then a best-of-five LCS round.
There’s no sugar-coating how tough that NLCS loss was—not so much the defeat itself, but the heartbreaking game that swung the series and then losing Game 4 with Carlton on the mound at home. But the 1977 Philadelphia Phillies had clearly shown that their takeover of the NL East the previous year was no one-time affair and they were going to be around for a while.