As we continue the theme of counting down the days until spring training, for number 22 I’ll focus on the 22nd Yankee Championsihp, and by extension the entire 1978 season. The Yankees entered the 1978 season the defending World Series Champions. The year before George Steinbrenner had shelled out big bucks to bring in Reggie Jackson, perhaps the biggest superstar slugger of the 1970s. The move proved chaotic with Manager Billy Martin, but was otherwise a success. The Yankees won the World Series in 1977, beating the Dodgers in six games. In the deciding game of the series Jackson hit three consecutive homers in three consecutive at-bats, cementing his status as Mr. October.
In 1978 the Yankees stumbled in their title defense. The team stumbled badly out of the gate and found itself 14.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox in mid-July. Making matters worse, the volatile relationship between Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson came to a head just when the team was struggling the most. After unsuccessfully lobbying to suspend Jackson for the remainder of the season after Reggie disregarded Billy’s signals in a game against the Royals, Billy found out that Steinbrenner was looking into trading him for White Sox Manager Bob Lemon. In anger, Martin was quoted as saying of Jackson and Steinbrenner, “They deserve each other. One’s a born liar and the other’s convicted.” Billy resigned the next day.
Bob Lemon took over as Manager, and the team miraculously turned things around. At season’s end, the Yankees and Red Sox finished in a tie for first place, forcing a one game playoff in Boston. The Red Sox took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning that game, when Bucky Dent came up with two on and two outs and hit his now legendary three run shot to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Just like that, a legend was born, and Bucky’s name could no longer be said in Boston without an expletive being inserted for his middle name.
What gets lost in the legend is that Dent’s homer wasn’t actually the game winner, although it did plate the most runs for the Yankees. The game winner belonged to Reggie Jackson. Jackson hit a solo homer in the 8th inning to make it 5-2 Yankees. The Yankees would go on to win the game 5-4.
The playoffs were almost identical to the 1977 playoffs. Having guaranteed the torment in New England would continue for at least one more season, the Yankees proceeded to beat the Royals three games to one to win the AL Pennant before beating the Dodgers four games to two in the World Series.
In a way, the Yankees’ 22nd Championship was also a bittersweet one. The late 70′s championships were the first World Series victories for the Yankees since 1962. 1978 would prove to be the team’s last for 18 years. The team wouldn’t regain its dominance again until 1996, and the return of the Yankee dynasty.