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!