by Rich Klein
If you have ever spent any time in waiting rooms, the odds are pretty good the television station was playing HGTV. The reason is pretty simple: these programs are designed to appeal to everyone, and have no political or religious viewpoints which might upset some of the patients or guests waiting.
Recently, the house which was used for the Brady Bunch series was purchased by that network, and all the living members of the cast have reunited as part of a series titled: “A Very Brady Renovation”. I should point out there is no mention if Cousin Oliver is going to show up near the end of the production.
But what this really proves to all of us is that we still long for the memories of seeing what appeared to be a perfect family, which for years was part of the pre-cable world, and seemingly always in reruns somewhere on our daily television dial. We do have the memories of the original show, just as we’re also fortunate to have our memories from the sports world (some of which were kept and are still available) of our youth.
Growing up in the New York Metropolitan area in the 1970’s, we were always enthralled by the exploits of the New York Yankees and seemingly everyone in the organization, including the boisterous owner, George M. Steinbrenner. Since the Yankees were one of the best teams of baseball from 1976-81, and had all those personalities, let’s take a look back at some of the fun we had in New York in those days.
Here’s some footage of George Steinbrenner in the early days, including the introductory press conferences. Look how uncomfortable Mike Burke, the previous Yankees head honcho is during Steinbrenner’s speech.
For the next couple of decades Steinbrenner continued to be embroiled in controversy, and was actually suspended from baseball twice in his first two decades as the Yankees owner. The first time was for improper political donations, and the second was when Steinbrenner was involved in a scandal where he was trying to dig up dirt on Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. Here is some audio of John Sterling, who has been a Yankees announcer for the past 30 years (albeit, he took some much deserved time off this year) breaking the news of the 1990 decision.
Although Steinbrenner hired and fired managers like a grandparent handing out cookies, the manager who kept recurring in the first 15 years of his rule was Billy Martin. Now, there might have never been anyone who loved being a Yankee more than Martin, and how he put up with indignities big and small to keep in George’s good graces was legendary. Billy had plenty of his issues, as he never met a punch he did not like to throw, or a drink he could pass up. That combo led to some interesting experiences and interesting publicized stories. Without delving too far into details, let’s just say Billy enjoyed the not-so-quiet night life and debauchery a little too much.
So instead of writing of such events on this blog, here is a newspaper account of some of the Yankees highlights of his off-field exploits. This does not even mention the barroom fight he got in with Baseball in 1969 while managing the Minnesota Twins.
Billy;s favorite player protagonist was Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Famer who played on many post-season teams during his career. One of the myriad quotes Reggie came up with was “If I played in New York they’d name a candy bar after me“.
Well after some twists and turns that we’ll get to later on, Reggie hit 3 homers in the final game of the 1977 World Series, and by the next opening day the Reggie candy bar was created. Having had some of those back in the day (no, it did not unwrap itself and tell you how great it was), I can assure you that it was perfectly edible, but a not great chocolate bar. In my opinion, the Pro Set Puck Chocolate was actually better, but that’s a different argument for a different day.
And now for some of the bumps along the way that Reggie faced on his way to hitting those 3 famous World Series homers. First was this infamous quote in a Sport Magazine article released a couple of months into the season. This was in a pre-social-media world where newspapers and magazines mattered just as much as the modern day facebook and twitter.
You can imagine just how well that statement went over in the Yankees clubhouse, especially since Thurman Munson was coming off an MVP season in 1976, and was a beloved figure with both teammates and fans. Supposedly by the end of the season, Reggie’s only person he could really turn to was Fran Healy. Healy was able to parlay his positive presence for all concerned to a 40-year post-playing career working in the New York area as a baseball personage.
And of course, there was some playing drama on the field in both 1977-78. There was this famous incident where Billy Martin wanted to fight Reggie in the dugout because Reggie did not apparently hustle after this ball in the outfield.
But at the end of the season all was forgiven after 1977 World Series game 6.
If you have ever seen the footage of the game, note the top of the 9th inning. The fans are actually sitting on the fence waiting to jump on the field and celebrate/riot after the final out. Thankfully, no baseball came close to the fence, so what could have been a real disaster never occurred.
The next season Billy and Reggie had round 2. Billy got so worked up over everything that he uttered this famous line one night: “One’s a born liar and the other one is convicted.”
Yes, seemingly we can use that line about politicians then and still today, but calling your owner “convicted” is a pretty good way not to be working in the near future. So Billy got let go, but the fan reason was so anti-Steinbrenner that a few days later at old-timers day this event occurred:
The ovation lasted a long time and is still remembered as of the seminal moments of that era. Here are clips of some of the other famous late 1970’s moments:
No, Chris Chambliss never touched home plate, but under those circumstances who was going to take away the homer!
And I love to tease my Red Sox friends about this one:
Bill White’s understated call is still great to hear. “Deep to Left”.
Sadly the next year, the Yankees lost Thurman Munson in a tragic plane crash in 1979. Jerry Narron told us at a SABR meeting that having to catch in that game was the hardest and most emotional game he ever participated in his life.
A year earlier Munson had hit this massive homer in the American League Championship Series. He was broken down, and every bone in his body was hurting, but he had that one great moment left:
A few games later the final out of the World Series was this play:
Looking back over 40 years, we can’t even imagine all the sub-plots which the Yankees were involved with. This became the theme for the Bronx in 1977. On top of everything else, New York City was having major issues in the 1970’s:
The Bronx was indeed burning, and the Son of Sam was shooting innocent people:
And in 1976 the Daily News had this unforgettable headline:
And we had songs written about those pre-1970 older days in NY City:
When I first heard this Simon and Garfunkel song I understood the importance to both singers, because of the break-up they had a few years earlier. Listen to the wonderful lyrics of Paul Simon and this song, which was recorded at the famed Muscle Shoals studio.
This was the only top 40 single for Cashman and West, who were better known as Jim Croce’s producers in those days. In case you didn’t know, Cashman is the same Terry Cashman who recorded Talking Baseball just in time for the 1981 season.
And with that, we’ll always remember baseball is part of our life today, it was part of our life in the 1970’s and 80’s, and it was part of our life even before any of us were born.