1979, more than just the Family
1979 will be remembered by many as the “We Are Family” Pirates, named after the song of that name by Sister Sledge.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, led by thirty-nine year old first baseman (and future Hall of Famer) Willie 'Pops' Stargell, won the World Series in seven games over the Baltimore Orioles.
The playoffs featured new teams for the first time in three years. In previous years, the Dodgers, Yankees, Royals and Phillies had won their divisions.
The season began with a strike by the Major League umpires. It was a strike in name only, as their union contract was in place through 1981. Instead, the umpires opted to not sign their individual contracts for the 1979 season.
Two umpires did sign contracts, and each worked opening day, but decided to join their contemporaries on the picket lines, but were instructed to remain on the job for ten days, as they had to give the league advance notice.
Umpires formed picket lines outside the stadiums, dressed in their uniforms. In some cities, this created issues. Namely, strong union cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit, where union members did not wish to cross the umpire picket lines. There was a game in Detroit that was almost canceled because none of the concession workers at Tiger Stadium wanted to cross, but the umpires there decided to end the line “in the best interest of the fans”.
For the first time since 1963, Pete Rose took the field for a different team, joining the Philadelphia Phillies as a re-entry free agent. Rose was 'drafted' by thirteen teams, the most allowed by the rules of the day.
The re-entry draft, baseball's first foray into Free Agency, allowed teams to draft the rights these re-entry players, or players who had played out their contract without renewing their option for the following season. No player was allowed to be drafted by more than the thirteen, or half of the existing major league clubs. Said player was then free to negotiate a contract, but only with those teams which drafted him.
If a player was not drafted in the re-entry draft, or was drafted by two or less teams, then that player was free to sign with any team.
Oh yeah, and at the time, a team was only allowed to sign three re-entry free agents per each season. It took several years for Baseball to get this figured out, dealing with compensation for the teams losing the free agents, the fact that the draft wasn't truly “free” agency, and the collusion that reared its ugly head at the end of the next decade.
But Rose was the first pick in the re-entry draft (by the Mets, as the teams drafted in order of their finish at the end of the previous season). And he was drafted five times in the first round.
Pitcher Larry Gura, Jim Slaton and Elias Sosa were all drafted fourteen times, which was the allowed 13 teams, plus a claim by their existing teams. Rose and Tommy John (yes, the guy with the surgery) were drafted thirteen times, including their current teams.
1979 also brought us the now infamous Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. In a promotion where customers who brought a 'disco' record were allowed to get in for 98 cents for a doubleheader against the Tigers, the White Sox staff were anticipating upwards of twenty thousand fans. Over fifty thousand fans showed up, with many more trying to get in without tickets. Security was deployed to assist at the gates.
Fans were supposed to drop off their records into neatly arranged drop boxes, but that wasn't happening. Fans were bringing them to their seats, and eventually, these were going airborne, being tossed onto the field of play.
Rusty Staub, who was playing in the outfield for the Tigers that night, suggested that all the Tigers wear their batting helmets on the field. Record, empty liquor bottles (not full ones, of course) lighters and firecrackers were tossed onto the field, and the first game was stopped several times for cleanup.
The Tigers did win the first game.
Between games, a local disc jockey planned to 'dynamite' the cases of disco records, which he did. With a thunderous roar, bone rattling concussion and a huge plume of smoke, those records that were turned in became obliterated. A did the patch in the outfield which was laid bare by the explosion.
With all available security guards watching the gates for intruders, there was nobody watching the fans, a large number of which stormed the smoke filled field. As many as 7,000 fans swarmed around the field. The bases were all stolen, as was the pitching rubber, home plate and several clumps of turf. Some people set records on fire, stole equipment from the dugout, and even climbed the foul poles.
The White Sox players, in preparation for the second game of the doubleheader, began to populate in the dugout, while pitcher Ken Kravec started warming up in the bullpen. After just a few minutes, Kravec and the White Sox barricaded themselves behind their locked clubhouse door. White Sox announcer Harry Caray stood at what was home plate and implored the fans to return to their seats, while the scoreboard begged the same.
Half an hour after the initial explosion, Chicago police, dressed in full riot gear, stormed the field and dispersed the remaining stragglers on the field, arresting thirty-nine people in the process.
After calm was restored, White Sox owner Bill Veeck wanted the second game to begin, but umpire crew chief Dave Phillips deemed the field unplayable, and postponed the second game.
Tigers manager Sparky Anderson protested that decision by the umpire, and felt that the second game should, in fact, be forfeited to the Tigers. According to Sparky's claim, a game can only be postponed because of an Act of God. Since the White Sox were unable to control their fans, created a dangerous environment, and left the field in unplayable condition, Sparky argued, that the game must be ruled a forfeit.
And Sparky was right. American league President (remember when we had those) ruled in favor of the Tigers, and forfeited the game to them.
To date, that game is the last American League game to be forfeited.
It was a busy year for Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. He began warning of the looming economic collapse of baseball, due to the excessive contracts being doled out by a few clubs. The term “small-market team” was not a part of the vocabulary of the game as of yet, but Kuhn recognized the problem of the Yankees (yes he called them out for it) doling out big money contracts, compared to the A's (yes, he called them out as well) who were in a position of having to sell players for cash in order to keep themselves afloat.
Changes were indeed on the horizon to get these sorted out, but the groundwork was in place for the 1981 mid-season strike.
Kuhn did step in to several issues, acting in the 'best interest of baseball' as was his charge. As such, his biggest headline (and headache) was caused by the banning of Willie Mays from baseball. Followed by the same treatment for Mickey Mantle a few days later.
Mays who was earning $50,000 per year from the Mets as a part-time coach and 'good will ambassador' was offered a similar position with the Bally's Casino in Atlantic City. Kuhn notified Mays that accepting the Bally's contract would promote gambling, and as such he would need to disassociate from the Mets.
Mays signed with Bally's, and although he was no longer permitted to work for the Mets (or the Giants), he was still allowed to participate in Old Timer's games and their subsequent festivities. Mickey Mantle would enter the same deal with Bally's, with the same restrictions. Both of these deals were brokered by Hall of Famer, and former Yankees president Al Rosen. But more on him a bit later.
The commissioner also had to nullify a trade that the Yankees made with the Texas Rangers. On July 30th, the Yankees sent speedy outfielder (my mom's favorite player) Mickey Rivers to the Rangers in exchange for four players. Unfortunately, the Rangers had failed to get waivers on two of the four players, so Kuhn voided the trade. Also unfortunately, Rivers had already appeared in a game for the Rangers, so the deal had to be restructured immediately, with Kuhn having the final say. It was re-worked with Oscar Gamble returning to the Bronx forty-eight hours later.
Two sets of brothers had some interesting feats in 1979. Ken Forsch of the Houston Astros threw a no-hitter against Atlanta on April 7th. It was the earliest no-hitter ever pitched at the time. (Hideo Nomo would pitch one on April 4, 2001. Ken's younger brother Bob pitched a no-no against the Phillies on April 16th, 1978. This makes them the first brothers to have each pitched a no-hitter.
Tom Underwood of the Blue Jays was tagged with the loss in two 1-0 games during the season. The first loss to Rick Waits and the Indians on May 14th. The second, and historic in a quirky sort of way, was to the Tigers and Pat Underwood, on May 31st. Pat Underwood, Tom's younger brother, made his major league debut in this game, and it was the first time in history that a pitcher made his debut pitching against his brother.
Of the two Underwood brothers, Tom had the longer career, lasting eleven years, and winning eighty-six games. Pat pitched in parts of four seasons, winning thirteen games.
Another curiosity was the Bob Watson, who incidentally scored baseball's millionth run in 1975, became the first player to hit for the cycle in each league.(John Olerud and Michael Cuddyer have done it since.)
Hitting for the cycle consist of a batter hitting a single, double, triple and home run in the same game. It is rarer than a no-hitter. In fact, as of this writing, there have been 295 no-hitters and 263 cycles.
In Chicago, the White Sox employed Don Kessinger as the teams manager. He was also their shortstop, appearing in 54 games before he resigned in early August. He was replaced by former infielder, and law student Tony LaRussa, who had been managing at Iowa. LaRussa would pass the bar exam in the off-season, and would go on to a Hall of Fame career as a manager.
George Brett accomplished the rare feat of hitting 20 or more doubles, triples and home runs in a season. How rare you ask? He was the fourth to do it. Prior to Brett in 1979, Sunny Jim Bottomley did it in 1928, Jeff Heath in 1941 and Willie Mays in 1957. In a weird quirk, and baseball is full of those, Curtis Granderson and Jimmy Rollins both did it in 2007.
Speaking of the Royals, they finished in second place in the AL West, but had four players each score 100 or more runs: Brett, Darrell Porter, Willie Wilson and Amos Otis.
And across the state, Garry Templeton of the Cardinals led the league with 211 hits. Historic in that the switch-hitting shortstop was the first player to get 100 hits from each side of the plate in a season.
In Houston, shortstop Craig Reynolds had 34 Sacrifice Hits, the most in the National League since Dick Bartell had 37 in 1933. Bert “Campy” Campaneris had 40 for the Rangers in 1977.
And the Twins had two players with 20 of more sacrifices that year, Rookie of the Year John Castino had 22, and Rob Wilfong had 25.
The June amateur draft for 1979 resulted in some unique and infamous draftees. Some had referred to that draft as the “Year of the Quarterbacks”, since the Kansas City Royals drafted two Hall of Fame Quarterbacks in the early rounds of the draft. With their fourth round pick, they drafted pitcher Dan Marino out of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And with their eighteenth round pick, they drafted outfielder John Elway from Grenada Hills High School in Northridge, California. Neither of them signed that season, and while Elway was later drafted and signed by the Yankees, they both became legendary NFL players.
Incidentally, with the third pick in the first round, Toronto drafted catcher Jay Schroeder from Palisades high School in Pacific Palisades, California. Schroeder would quarterback the Washington Redskins to a victory in Super Bowl XXII over the Denver Broncos (and John Elway).
In minor league news, a new minor league, playing at the Triple A level, debuted in 1979. The Inter-American League was based in and around the Caribbean, with teams in Miami. Caracas, Santo Domingo, Panama and Puerto Rico. They featured more seasoned players, with the average age being 27.6 years old, whereas the other three AAA leagues average age was 25 years old.
The league featured a few former major leaguers of some repute. Players like Dave May, Mike Kekich and Cesar Tovar to name a few. Davey Johnson managed the Miami Amigos to 51-21 record before the league folded. The main issues that caused the league to disband were 'monsoonal rains' and unreliable air travel.
Mark “Boom Boom” Bomback of the Vancouver Canadians, the AAA affiliate of the Brewers, led minor league baseball with 22 wins that year. Bomback would be traded to the Mets for pitcher Dwight Bernard after the season.
In the Bronx, there was turmoil and tragedy.
Turmoil in the revolving door that was management. Bob Lemon, who led the team to the World Championship in 1978, and was hired as a calming influence after the tempestuous Billy Martin was fired, was himself fired on June 18th. Lemon was replaced by Billy Martin, whose (I guess) tempestuous influence was needed to change the calm that was the Yankees clubhouse.
(Martin would be fired after the season, mainly because of a fight in a bra with a marshmallow salesman. Yes. Marshmallows)
Al Rosen, the Yankees president stepped down after being essentially stripped of power and influence over the baseball operations of the team. The constant criticism and second guessing from the Yankees owner was also a big factor in his decision.
The final straw for Rosen came after the ABC network asked to reschedule a game in Anaheim against the Angels in July, changing the start time from 7:30 local time to 5:30, to accommodate a national broadcast.
As fate would have it, the twilight game featured Nolan Ryan pitching against the Yankees, who were one-hit in a 6-1 loss. The Yankees owner exploded, blaming Rosen wholly for the defeat. Rosen stepped down shortly afterward to accept the job with Bally's. That brought the number of Yankees executive who had stepped down under the new ownership to twelve. With many more to come.
Early in the season, after some good natured ribbing took an ugly turn, catcher Cliff Johnson and pitcher Rich Gossage got into a fistfight in the clubhouse. Neither of the two combatants were what you would call small,. Johnson at 6'4 215 and Gossage at 6'3 180. The scuffle caused Gossage to tear a ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand, which needed surgery. Gossage missed more than two months. Johnson was traded (banished?) to Cleveland at the June 15th trading deadline.
Later in the season, when the Yankees were playing in Cleveland, Billy Martin is alleged to have instructed rookie pitcher bob Kammeyer to drill Johnson with a pitch, which he did. Martin handed Kammeyer $100 in the dugout upon his return. Martin later said that that money was not a reward, rather it was money to pay for Kammeyer and two other rookie pitcher out to dinner that night.
The AL President investigated, but ruled in Martin's favor. Saying that there was no doubt that a brush-back pitch was thrown, that there was no intent to hit Johnson.
Tragedy in the Bronx began in spring training, when beloved coach Elston Howard was diagnosed with a virus infection around his heart. He was hospitalized for several weeks, and was unable to be in uniform at all that season.
However, the biggest tragedy of the season, and not just for the Yankees, was the surprising death of Yankee Captain Thurman Munson.
On August 2nd, a Yankee off-day, Munson was practicing landings with his new Cessna Citation. Munson crashed the plane 1,000 feet short of the runway, and the plane burst into flames. Two passengers in the jet were able to make it out, but were unable to rescue Munson, who perished.
The Yankees played the Orioles at Yankee Stadium the following night, with the eight Yankee fielders taking their position, leaving the catcher's spot empty. At the conclusion of the pre-game ceremonies, which included a prayer from Terence Cardinal Cooke, and opera star Robert Merrill singing “America, the Beautiful”, the 51,151 in attendance gave a thunderous ovation that lasted for 9 minutes, as the scoreboard showed Munson's picture and listed his career highlights.
The Yankees announced that they would retire his number 15 immediately, and left his locker empty.
But now to the season at hand...
First, the power rankings were:
- Baltimore AL Champs
- Pittsburgh World Series Champs
- Montreal 2nd in NL East
- Boston 3rd in AL East
- Milwaukee 2nd in NL East
The Orioles won the American League Eastern Division tile, and beat the Western Division Champion California Angels in the playoffs. This was the Angels first post-season appearance, And the Pirates, who won the National League East bested the Cincinnati Reds, who won the Western Division in their series.
And as I mentioned above, the Pirates bested the Orioles in what has been described as the coldest World Series on record. There was one game postponed by rain, and a couple of more delayed due to the weather. Willie Stargell was the MVP of the World Series, most notably for his leadership, but he also hit .400 for the Series, and hit the only three homers hit by Pittsburgh. His leadership was pointed to all season, and as a result, he was named a co-MVP for the National League.
Unfortunately, that leadership, like fielding, had to be noted anecdotally, as there is no true way to measure that numerically, and is totally subjective.
Yes...fielding is subjective. Especially in the game as it is played today. With the defensive shifts being employed, traditional scoring almost goes out the window. For example, lets say there is a left-handed pull hitter up, and the defense aligns to match his hitting tendencies, and he hits a grounder to the second base side of the infield, but it is fielded by the third baseman, playing on the right side because of the new alignment, who throws the batter out at first. Well the scoring for that play is 5-3. So now you have the third baseman getting an assist where he wouldn't have gotten one three years ago. This increases his fielding chances, and increases his 'range', which factors his fielding chances compared to other players at his position. The more chances over the par, the higher his 'range' is, in theory getting to mare balls makes him a better fielder. But does it really?
Conversely, in the same example as above, the batter goes the other way, and hits it to the left side of the infield, where the shortstop has to go much farther to his right, since there is no third baseman in position, overextends himself, and makes a bad throw that pulls the first baseman off the bag, resulting in a throwing error for the shortstop. The negative impact on the shortstops fielding percentage is obvious. But also, let's say he decided to let that ball through, which takes a defensive chance away from him, especially if it was a ball hit where he would have been playing in a traditional defensive alignment.
And offensively, if the batter from above begins accumulating a few 5-3 at bats, the scouting reports may tip back to his being a spray hitter, since he's grounding out to the third baseman.
OK...where was I? Oh yeah, the 1979 season.
Looking at the National League hitters, raw numbers first:
PlayerTeamHRRBIAVGRuns/GDave KingmanCubs48115.2881.13Keith HernandezCardinals11105.3441.30Ted SimmonsCardinals2687.2831.05Dave WinfieldPadres34118.3081.14Mike SchmidtPhillies45114.2531.11George FosterReds3098.3021.12Dave ParkerPirates2594.3101.13Johnny BenchRed2280.2761.01Bob HornerBraves3398.3141.08Steve GarveyDodgers28110.3151.07Willie StargellPirates3282.2810.87
I added Willie Stargell as a comparison...
Next, we'll look to see the best performers over their team's average:
Lee MazzilliMets1579.3030.90Jack ClarkGiants2686.2731.03Gary MatthewsBraves2790.3041.03Johnny Benchabove
So combing and crunching, our top National League offensive players, with their post-season voting results are as follows:
Dave Kingman 11th in MVP
Dave Winfield 3rd in MVP
Keith Hernandez tied for 1st in MVP
Mike Schmidt 13th in MVP
Ted Simmons no votes
George Foster 12th in MVP
Bob Horner 28th in MVP
Johnny Bench 23rd in MVP
Dave Parker 10th in MVP
Gary Matthews 26th in MVP
Now looking at the American League hitters, where the league performed as a whole 9% better than the National league, mainly due to the designated hitter rule, here are the top hitters raw numbers:
Fred LynnRed Sox39122.3331.35Darrell PorterRoyals20112.2911.23Jim RiceRed Sox39130.3251.32Don BaylorAngels36139.2961.38George BrettRoyals23107.3291.32Steve KempTigers26105.3181.25Sixto LezcanoBrewers28101.3211.14Brian DowningAngels1275.3261.01Dan FordAngels21101.2901.27Gorman ThomasBrewers45123.2441.12
Then looking at their team averages, we get:
Dave ReveringA's1977.2880.97Steve Kempabove
Bruce BochteMariners16100.3161.10Darrell Porterabove
John MayberryBlue Jays2174.2740.83Reggie JacksonYankees2989.2971.05Sixto Lezcanoabove
So, that being said, our top American League offensive players, along with their post-season voting results are as follows:
Fred Lynn 4th in MVP
Darrell Porter 9th in MVP
Steve Kemp 17th in MVP
Don Baylor 1st in MVP
Jim Rice 5th in MVP
George Brett 3rd in MVP
Sixto Lezcano 15th in MVP
Dave Revering no votes
Bruce Bochte no votes
Ken Singleton 2nd in MVP
Sixto Lezcano, as I have mentioned in previous posts, and will mention again, has one of the oddest coincidences in the annals of baseball. He was traded at one time in a deal that included pitcher Steve Fireovid. Steve Fireovid had the distinction of having six toes on each foot. So essentially, Six-toed Steve Fireovid was traded for Sixto Lezcano.
How about that.
So, speaking of pitching, we'll look at the National League pitchers first, as they performed 6% better on average than their American League counterparts, the top performers initially were:
PitcherTeamW-LSaveERAJoe NiekroAstros21-1103.00J. R. RichardAstros18-1302.71Bruce SutterCubs6-6372.22Tom SeaverReds16-603.14Bill LeeExpos16-1003.04Joe SambitoAstros8-7221.77Ken ForschAstros11-603.04Steve CarltonPhillies18-1103.62Elias SosaExpos8-7181.96Sylvio MartinezCardinals15-803.27
And compared to their teams averages, we get:
Phil NiekroBraves21-2003.39Bruce Sutterabove
Craig SwanMets14-1303.29Steve Carltonabove
Greg MintonGiants4-341.81Tom Seaverabove
Gaylord PerryPadres12-1103.06Joey McLaughlinBraves5-352.48Gary LavelleGiants7-9202.51Joe Niekroabove
So crunching and auditing brings us these top ten National League pitching performance:
Bruce Sutter Cy Young Winner, 7th in MVP
Phil Niekro 6th in Cy Young
Tom Seaver 4th in Cy Young, 21st in MVP (tied)
Joe Niekro 2nd in Cy Young, 6th in MVP
J. R. Richard 3rd in Cy Young, 19th in MVP
Steve Carlton no votes
Craig Swan no votes
Joe Sambito 21st in MVP (tied)
Sylvio Martinez no votes
Gaylord Perry no votes
And the American League initial performers were:
Ron GuidryYankees18-822.78Jack MorrisTigers17-703.28Jim KernRangers13-5291.57Mike FlanaganOrioles23-903.08Tommy JohnYankees21-902.96Dennis EckersleyRed Sox17-1002.99Mike CaldwellBrewers16-603.29Jerry KoosmanTwins20-1303.38Scott McGregorOrioles13-603.35Ron DavisYankees14-292.85
And against their teams, we get:
Tom UnderwoodBlue Jays9-1603.69Jack Morrisabove
Tom BuskeyBlue Jays06-1073.43Rick LangfordA's12-1604.28Jim Kernabove
Steve McCattyA's11-1204.22Jerry Koosmanabove
So that makes our final listing, the top pitchers in the American League as follows:
Ron Guidry 3rd in Cy Young, 26th in MVP
Jack Morris no votes
Jim Kern 4th in Cy Young, 11th in MVP
Tommy John 2nd in Cy Young, 22nd in MVP
Dennis Eckersley 7th in Cy Young (tie)
Jerry Koosman 6th in Cy Young
Mike Flanagan Cy Young Winner
Mike Caldwell no votes
Aurelio Lopes (Tigers) 7th in Cy Young (tie) 10-5 2.41, 21 saves
Geoff Zahn (Angels) no votes 13-7 3.57
As I mentioned earlier, there is no real tangible number that can be placed on leadership. There is no doubt that Willie Stargell was the spiritual and emotional leader of the Pirates, as he led them to the World Series championship. And I don't mean to diminish that accomplishment. But in looking at the numbers, and only at the numbers, were I to have voted in that post season ballot, he would have not received one of my ten votes.
In fact, of the post season awards given out in 1979, I would only agree with one of them. The choice of Cubs relief ace Bruce Sutter. And even though the Cubs finished under .500 for the year, and were eighteen games out of first place, Dave Kingman would have been my best offensive player vote. Whether that translates to the most valuable player is an ongoing conversation. But Kingman outperformed the league, as well as his team.
The official awards given that fall went to:
Willie Stargell NL co-MVP
Keith Hernandez NL co-MVP
Bruce Sutter NL Cy Young
Don Baylor AL MVP
Mike Flanagan AL Cy Young
While my awards are
Dave Kingman NL Player
Bruce Sutter NL Pitcher
Fred Lynn AL Player
Ron Guidry AL Pitcher
thanks for reading...