It was a year of change for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977. The proud franchise had seen Walter Alston in the dugout as manager every year since 1954, a period that covered the team’s last years in Brooklyn and included World Series titles on both coasts. Tom Lasorda got his crack at managing and he made an immediate splash. The 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers dethroned Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine in the NL West and went to the World Series.
Lasorda took over a team that had been a consistent contender since the age of divisional play began in 1969. The Dodgers finished second in the NL West six times from 1970-76, and they won the division—and the NL pennant—in 1974 before losing to the Oakland A’s in the World Series.
Pitching was the heart of the team, and aided by the friendly pitching environment of Dodger Stadium, the staff had the best ERA in the National League. Four starters worked 200 innings or more, and all were effective.
Tommy John won 20 games with a 2.78 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Don Sutton was 14-8 with a 3.18 ERA, while Burt Hooton won 12 games and posted a solid 2.62 ERA. Rick Rhoden went 16-10 and his ERA was stable, at 3.74. And the fifth starter, Doug Rau, was very reliable, winning 14 games with a 3.43 ERA.
The bullpen wasn’t quite as strong—Charlie Hough saved 22 games, but he went 6-12 in an era when good relievers tended to get more wins than is the case today. Elias Sosa and Mike Garman were both very good, but the depth wasn’t there.
Offensively, the Dodgers were built around four hitters who popped 30-plus home runs. Steve Garvey led the way with 33 bombs and 115 RBIs from the first base spot. On other side of the infield, Ron Cey went for 30 and 110. Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith provided the muscle at the corner outfield spots and each were in the high 80s for RBIs.
Davey Lopes, the speedy second baseman, set the table, with a .372 on-base percentage and 47 steals. Los Angeles was third in the National League in runs scored.
Cincinnati was going through some personnel changes, as the Big Red Machine was starting to break up, but no one could have foreseen how thoroughly the Dodgers dominated the NL West race in 1977. They started 17-3, including a two-game sweep of the Reds behind strong games from Rhoden and Sutton. Los Angeles had a 10-game lead by the first week in May.
When the Dodgers and Reds met again over Memorial Day weekend, Los Angeles’ series loss didn’t matter much—the lead was still 11 ½ games when the Dodgers left Cincinnati. Their lead never got lower than 6 ½, and that only briefly and soared as high as fourteen games.
The Dodgers were the first of the four division winners to clinch, doing so with almost two weeks to go, as John beat the San Francisco Giants 3-1, with help from a two-run homer from centerfielder Rick Monday.
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Los Angeles met up with the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series, and aided by a stunning rally in the ninth inning of Game 3, the Dodgers won the best-of-five series in four games.
The return to the World Series pitted the Dodgers against an old foe, the New York Yankees. When the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, this rivalry defined the 1950s. After the move west, Los Angeles had swept New York four straight to win the 1963 World Series.
This time around, October belonged to the Yankees, as strong pitching and an electric performance from Reggie Jackson gave the Yanks the title in six games.
Whatever may have happened in the World Series, the season-long dominance of the NL West and the subsequent pennant, made one thing clear—this Lasorda guy the Dodgers had promoted wasn’t going away anytime soon.