Getting swept in the American League Championship Series by the Detroit Tigers in that seven game series was an inglorious way for the Yankees’ season to end. The fact that the Yankees never put up a serious fight after that ninth inning in the first game of the series was unsettling. After such a shocking and upsetting end to the season, I wanted to look back and see the last time the Yankees were swept in a seven game series in the post season. And once such an occurrence was found, see if there were any comparisons or anything to be learned by such a happenstance. It turns out that the last time was in 1976 when the Yankees lost four straight World Series games to the Cincinnati Reds. As most of you know, the Yankees rebounded from that blowout of 1976 to win two straight titles in 1977 and 1978. The circumstances behind that 1976 team and this 2012 team’s post season failure could not have happened to more dissimilar teams and therefore, such a glorious rebound looks far less possible.
That sounded far more dramatic and negative than was intended. The two events are certainly different. A World Series loss is a little more easy to swallow than not getting to the World Series at all. And the 1976 team ran into the buzz saw of the Big Red Machine of the Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and the rest. That Reds’ team was one of the best ever assembled. 1976 would turn out to be the Big Red Machine’s swan song as they were never as good as they were in 1975 and 1976. But the point is that the Reds should have beaten the 1976 Yankees. They were that good. The 2012 Tigers, on the other hand, were a seriously flawed team that did not put away the Chicago White Sox until the very end of the season. They were as flawed as the 2012 Yankees but manhandled the Yankees.
One other difference between the 1976 Yankees and the 2012 version was the age of the team. Roy White was the oldest starter for the 1976 Yankees at 32. The average age of the offense was 28.2 years of age. Dock Ellis and Sparky Lyle were 31 and Grant Jackson was 33 and were the old men of a 1976 pitching staff that averaged 29.1 years of age. A comparison of that makeup with the 2012 roster tells a far different tale. The 2012 offense averaged 33 years of age, with several players contributing every day or nearly every day that were much higher than that. In other words, the average age of the 2012 offense was higher than the oldest 1976 offensive player! The 2012 pitching staff averaged 30.5 years of age, slightly higher than the 1976 squad.
There was one other major difference from then to now. After the 1976 season, the Yankees were able to land two big names via free agency. The first of course, was Reggie Jackson. The second was Don Gullett. Both would go on to contribute greatly to the 1977 World Championship and Jackson would contribute (if not Gullett) in the 1978 version. Unless the Yankees clear a lot of unexpected money off of their payroll, they will not be able to make a blockbuster signing this off-season. The 2014 self-imposed salary cap will not allow them room to sign that kind of long term deal for stars of that impact.
One thing the 1976 Yankees did after that blowout World Series was to make two really good trades. One was sending Bob Polinsky, Oscar Gamble and LaMarr Hoyt to the White Sox for Bucky Dent. Shortstop was an area of weakness for the 1976 season as they employed a combination of Fred Stanley and Jim Mason. Dent was not an improvement offensively (well, he was over Mason), but he was certainly a defensive upgrade and would go on to hit a certain famous homer. By the way, Jim Mason is a nice trivia question. He only had one official at bat in the 1976 World Series and hit a homer. So that homer in that only at bat was his only World Series at bat for his career. Hoyt would go on to have some great years for the White Sox but that was six years later.
The other nice deal the Yankees made was to trade a tripped out Dock Ellis and two spare parts to the Oakland A’s for Mike Torrez. Torrez was a solid and dependable starter for the 1977 Yankees and won two World Series games that season.
This is one area that the current Yankees could match their 1976 counterparts. Trades are always possible though the results of such trades are always hard to predict. The deals the 1976 Yankees made after the season were great in hindsight. And so any deals that Yankees make now would need such hindsight to judge if they are able to make any at all.
One other difference between the two circumstances involves young players. Willie Randolph was just a kid (21) in 1976 when he saw his first major playing time. Ron Guidry got his feet wet with seven relief appearances in 1976. Both would go on to be major factors for the team in 1977 and 1978. Mickey Rivers was just 26 in 1976. Who on the 2012 Yankees could be those guys in 2013? Ivan Nova is really the only one who sort of fits the category unless you want to also include Eduardo Nunez and David Phelps. Again, the hindsight allows us to judge the young players of 1976. We certainly do not have that hindsight now for the current crop.
The 1976 Yankees had a solid rotation and a solid bullpen. Whether or not the Yankees keep Rafael Soriano, both should still be the case for the 2013 Yankees as it was with the 2012 version.
But overall, the 1976 Yankees were a younger squad, were able to acquire two very helpful free agents and made two really fruitful trades. No matter what the Yankees do this off season, they are not going to get much younger, especially on offense, do not have the kind of financial wiggle room to acquire big time free agents and only have a chance to make some decent trades in the off season.
The 1976 Yankees were able to turn a swept post-season series into championships in 1977 and 1978. The odds of the 2012 Yankees being able to match that kind of rebound do not seem to be good.