Monday, October 29, 2012

1977 new york yankees

this post covers the 1977 new york yankees and cards numbered 145 to 152 in the set. here are the fronts:
and backs:
so, upper deck gives us our first look at the yankees, and it's their 1977 world championship team.  1977 was the first time the yankees had won the title since 1962, and it brought to an end a three-series losing streak, as they were defeated by the dodgers in 1963, the cardinals in 1964, and the reds in 1976.  notice the lack of a 'memorable moment' card - 3 home runs in one world series game certainly would have qualified had reggie jackson not been excluded from this set.

what team is this?:  the 1977 world champion new york yankees

why this team?:  the yankees won 100 games in 1977, and were the american league champions for the second year in a row.

which players are featured?:  bucky dent, chris chambliss, ed figueroa, graig nettles, lou piniella, roy white, don gullett, and sparky lyle.  gullett and lyle have been featured in the set before, but the other guys are all first timers here.

why these players?:  let's break it down.

bucky dent was the yankees' shortstop in 1977, as he was acquired from the white sox just before the start of the season.  he hit .247 with a career high 8 home runs during the regular season, and then hit .242 in the postseason.  nothing too exciting, and not even close to what he would do in the 1978 world series against the dodgers.  heck, even the back of his card ignores his 1977 performance and goes straight to the home run he hit against the red sox in 1978.

chris chambliss was in his fourth year of manning first base for the yankees in 1977, and he put up numbers that were nearly identical to those he attained in 1976 when he was named to the all-star team and finished 5th in the league mvp voting.  this time, however, he finished 29th in the mvp voting and was not part of the all-star team.  he struggled in the alcs, going 1 for 17 against the royals, after sending them home a year earlier, but came back to hit .292 with a home run (as alluded to on the back of his card) in the world series against the dodgers.

ed figueroa is kind of an odd choice for this set.  i get it - he was a 20-game winner in 1978 (as we will see in the next post), and his 16 wins in 1977 led the yankees' staff (tied with ron guidry, who frankly would have been a more sensible addition to this set).  however, figueroa made only one start in the 1977 postseason, and it didn't go well.  although the yankees won the game, the royals knocked figueroa out of game 4 of the alcs after 3.1 innings after being down 4-0 at one point.  you can tell upper deck didn't have much to say about figueroa in 1977 from his card back.  i'm not sure what they mean by 'sweep through' the regular season either.

graig nettles, the yankees' third baseman, led the team with 37 home runs in 1977.  that was five more than he hit in 1976 when he led the league, but jim rice hit 39 bombs for the red sox (bobby bonds also hit 37 in 1977).  nettles did make the all-star team and he won his first gold glove in 1977.  nettles was held without a home run while hitting under .200 in both the 1977 alcs and the world series, but the yankees won anyway.

lou piniella split his 1977 season between the outfield and the dh spot.  he was in a dh platoon with carlos may (who was picked up by the angels in september of '77), and usually played the outfield on days that may would dh.  he hit .330 with a career high 12 home runs in 103 games with this playing arrangement.  when it came to the 1977 postseason, piniella was the yankees' left fielder in all but one game (he was the dh in game 3 of the alcs).  the back of his card suggests that he 'achieved greatness' in the playoffs, and while piniella hit .333 with 3 doubles and 2 rbi in the alcs that year, i wouldn't say that he achieved greatness.

roy white had the misfortune of being the left fielder (and often best player) on the yankee teams that missed the postseason 11 years in a row.  he debuted in 1965, a year after the yankees lost the world series to the cardinals, and it wasn't until 1976 that white and the yankees reached the postseason together.  in 1977, white hit .268 with 14 home runs and 52 rbi as the team's regular left fielder.  for the postseason however, billy martin decided to replace white in the starting lineup with lou piniella.  white did get the start in game 3 of the alcs with piniella dh-ing, and he went to 2 for 4 with 2 doubles and a run scored.  in the world series, however, he was back on the bench, and was hitless in his two at bats.

don gullett makes his third appearance in the set, as he had won two straight titles with the reds in 1975 and 1976 when he joined the yankees as a free agent.  fighting shoulder problems, he wound up with a 14-4 record for new york in 1977, leading the league in winning percentage.  he made 3 starts in the postseason, including game 1 in both the alcs and the world series.  he lasted only 2 innings (and took the loss) against the royals, but pitched into the 9th inning (with no decision) against the dodgers in the kick off of the fall classic.  gullett later took the loss in game 5, as the dodgers scored 7 runs (6 earned) off of him in 4.1 innings.

sparky lyle has also been here before - as a member of the 1967 red sox.  lyle was traded to the yankees prior to the 1972 season, and he quickly took up residence at the back of the yankee bullpen.  in 1977, lyle appeared in 72 games (all in relief, of course) and pitched 137 innings.  he won 13 games and saved 26 others on his way to winning the cy young award.  in the postseason, he pitched in 4 of the 5 alcs games, earning the win in game 4 by pitching 5.1 scoreless innings of relief and then returning the next day to earn the series clinching win with another 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.  lyle actually blew the save in the 9th inning of game 1 of the world series, but remained in the game to earn the win in the 12th inning.  he also pitched in the second game of the series, and gave up a home run to steve garvey in what would be his last appearance of the postseason.

the stadium on the back is...?:  yankee stadium (post 1973 renovation) which would be the right venue for the 1977 team, obviously.  the photo is much more recent than 1977, however, as evidenced by the advertising (no 'brut' billboard).

did upper deck get it right?: from a player standpoint, each person featured in the set can be rationalized, but it would have made sense to include ron guidry (16-7, 2-0 in the postseason), newcomer reggie jackson (again), and maybe even willie randolph, too.  after all, reggie was the 'straw that stirred the drink', and hit 5 home runs in the world series to earn the series' mvp trophy, and randolph was an all-star in each of his first two seasons with the yankees, including 1977.  as for the photos, thanks to the yankees' consistency with their uniforms it could be tough to tell if upper deck used images from 1977 or not.  i will say that i believe the bucky dent photo to be from sometime later than 1977, and the chris chambliss to be from sometime prior to that year (thanks to the facial hair), but no earlier than 1974 which is when chambliss joined the yankees.  ed figueroa could certainly be from '77, but graig nettles and lou piniella are betrayed by the black armband on his left sleeve.  during piniella's time with the yankees, such an armband was only worn in 1979-80 for thurman munson, and in 1981 for elston howard.  the roy white photo is almost certainly from the late 1960's, and sparky lyle's photo looks to be from about the same time as chambliss's - say 1973-ish.  however, we do know that don gullett's photo is not only from 1977, but that it is from game 5 of the world series.  we know this because the photo was taken in dodger stadium (that's the visiting team's bullpen in the background) and gullett made only one appearance during the series at dodger stadium - his game 5 start.  and, while the dodgers and yankees would meet again in the world series the following year, gullett's career was brought to an end prior to the 1978 postseason due to injury.

is this team timeless?:  yes.  aside from being the first yankee team to win in the steinbrenner era, it was the bronx zoo!

Monday, October 22, 2012

1977 los angeles dodgers

this post covers the 1977 los angeles dodgers and cards numbered 136 to 144 in the set. here are the fronts:
and backs:
this was the team of my youth!  it's good to be back, re-starting with this team.

what team is this?:  the 1977 national league champion los angeles dodgers

why this team?: in manager tommy lasorda's first full season at the helm, the 1977 dodgers won 98 games to claim the national league west title by 10 games over the defending world champion cincinnati reds.  they then went on to beat the philadelphia phillies (who had won 101 games during the regular season) in the nlcs 3 games to 1 before falling to the yankees in the world series 4 games to 2.

which players are featured?:  there are a few new faces not included in the 1974 dodger subset - bill russell, burt hooton, dusty baker, and steve yeager.  they join repeat players davey lopes, don sutton, ron cey, steve garvey, and tommy john.  so, we have the infield, the catcher, an outfielder and three-fifths of the starting rotation.

why these players?:  let's break it down, as i plagiarize from my 'evolution of the 1978 topps dodgers' 1977 posts.

bill russell was moved up to the number 2 spot in the batting order by lasorda, and he responded by hitting .278 with career highs in runs scored (82) and stolen bases (16), even while leading the league in outs made. three of his four home runs on the season came within a 9-day span in june. in october, russell matched his season average, going 5 for 18 in the nlcs. in the world series, however, he hit just .154 with a triple.

burt hooton went from 11-15 in 1976 to 12-7 in 1977, and also lowered his era to 2.62 - down from 3.26 the previous year. he made 31 starts and also made an appearance in relief, recording a save in a july game against the padres. hooton threw a 4-hitter against the mets in may, allowing an unearned run while striking out 11 batters, and also had a 2-hit shutout against the astros in his second-to-last start of the season. in the playoffs, hooton had just one start and was relieved after getting only 5 outs in game 3 against the phillies (the 'black friday' game). his next start came in game 2 of the world series, and he pitched well - allowing one run while striking out 8 yankees and going the distance for the win. hooton also started game 6, giving up reggie jackson's first of three home runs in the game while being tagged with the series ending loss.

davey lopes didn't lead the league in steals for a third straight year in 1977, but he did steal 47 bases while upping both his batting average and on-base percentage by about 40 points to .283 and .372, respectively. he hit a then-career high 11 homers (4 lead off and 1 walk off) and scored 85 runs. in the postseason, lopes had 3 rbi against the phillies and 2 against the yankees, but stole only two bases and was caught the same number of times. he did come to the mound to try to squelch the argument between tommy and doug rau during the world series, and that counts for something

don sutton's record for the 1977 season was 14-8, although he could have easily been 22-8, at least. those no-decisions likely cost him a 6th straight season with a top-5 placement in the cy young voting. still, sutton started the season 6-0 and was chosen to start the all-star game for the national league. he was 10-4 at the break and then was credited with the win in the midsummer classic after throwing 3 scoreless innings. just for good measure, he 1-hit the giants in august after throwing a 3-hit shutout against them in july, and also struck out 12 padres in a game. once the postseason started, sutton continued his good season. he threw a complete game while beating the phillies in game 2 of the nlcs and then threw another complete game against the yankees in the dodgers' blowout victory in game 5 of the world series. in between, he pitched 7 innings in game 1 of the fall classic, but had a no-decision in the dodgers' loss.

dusty baker was moved to left field in 1977 with newly acquired rick monday in center.  he wound up having a great year, with 30 home runs, 86 rbi, a .291 average and an ops of .876.  it took dusty all season to get to 30 homers, joining teammates steve garvey, ron cey, and reggie smith as the first foursome in history to each belt 30 in a season.  baker's 30th came on the last day of the season, and was one of 3 solo home runs the dodgers hit off of jr richard in the 6th inning.  glenn burke followed dusty's blast with one of his own (manny mota had homered earlier in the inning), and legend has it that burke gave dusty the first 'high-five' prior to burke's at bat.  baker went on to hit .357 in the nlcs against the phillies in the 1977 postseason.  he had 2 home runs and 8 rbi and was named mvp of the series.  in the world series against the yankees, baker hit another homer and drove in 5 runs while hitting .292 in the dodgers' 6-game loss.

steve yeager appeared in 125 games for the dodgers in 1977, and he caught in 123 of those contests. at the plate, he slugged a career high 16 homers and raised his average by over 40 points from 1976 when he hit just .214. he also threw out 39% of the folks who tried to steal a base against him. his postseason performance included a couple of home runs and a .316 average in the world series. in fact, yeager had an offensive series in 1977 statistically similar to the one he had in 1981 when he was named a co-mvp. this time, however, it was in a losing effort.

ron cey started the all-star game at third for the national league for the 3rd time in 4 years and finished 8th in the national league mvp voting.  in the midsummer classic, he was 0 for 2 with a walk and a strikeout, but he hit .308 when it counted - in the nlcs.  against the yankees, cey was just 4 for 21, but he did have a double and a home run to his credit in the series. cey also set a major league record for rbi's in the month of april with 29 in 1977.

steve garvey was told by lasorda that he needed to hit more home runs in 1977, and that's what garvey did, finishing with a team leading 33 homers to go along with 115 rbi and a .297 batting average.  to go along with the sub-.300 average, garvey got less than 200 hits (192) in 1977 - both oddities in his stats as we look back on them today. had he reached each of those milestones in 1977, garvey would have had 7 straight seasons with at least 200 hits and 8 straight with an average of .300 or better. garvey repeated for the fourth season in a row as the national league's all-star game starter at first base and its gold glove recipient while finishing 6th in the league mvp voting for the second time in a row. in the postseason, garvey hit .308 in the nlcs (although he went without an extra base hit) and .375 in the world series, where he had an ops of 1.025 thanks to a double, triple and home run.

tommy john was in only his second season back from surgery, but he won 20 games for the first time in his career and threw 220.1 innings over 31 starts.  as a result, john finished second in the nl cy young voting to steve carlton.  john had 11 complete games and 3 shutouts to his credit to go with his 2.78 era.  he had a stretch of four straight complete games in july and august, capped off with back-to-back shutouts - a 2-hitter against the reds and a 4-hitter against the braves. john had missed the dodgers' playoff run in 1974 due to his injury, so 1977 was the first time he appeared in the postseason.  he took advantage of the opportunity, starting 2 games in the nlcs and allowing only 1 unearned run in 13.2 innings pitched.  in the fall classic, john started game 3 at home but took the loss.

the stadium on the back is...?:  dodger stadium, home to the dodgers since 1962, although the photo used is from the 1990's at the earliest.

did upper deck get it right?:  as far as players go, the biggest omission here is reggie smith.  upper deck also missed an opportunity to get boog powell and al downing another card in the set, although neither of them played a big role on the team.  smith, on the other hand, was the team leader in runs (104), walks (104), batting average (.307), obp (.427), slugging percentage (.576), and therefore ops (1.003).  he should have been part of this set.

as for the photos upper deck used, it's a mixed bag.  i think that the bill russell photo is earlier than 1977, and the davey lopes image is certainly from before then as well.  in fact, the lopes photo used for his card in the 1974 team subset is more appropriate here, and vice versa.  burt hooton's photo comes from the 1981 season (thanks to the city of los angeles bicentennial sleeve patch).  the rest of the photos are inconclusive, although i would guess that the garvey and john images pre-date 1977.  the baker and cey photos are from no earlier than 1977, as that was the year that the dodgers started putting the blue armband on their away jerseys.

is this team timeless?:  you bet, although i might be biased.  what do you think?