THE FUNK ZONE
By Jeff Polman
January ruminations on my 1977 replay, Play That Funky Baseball (http://funkyball.wordpress.com), and other Strat-O things
It has come down to this: the Pirates and Royals in the 1977 Funkyball World Series. Both races were great, as 11 out of the 16 teams enjoyed at least one day in first place, but in the end, the Pittsburgh and Kansas City squads did the heavy lifting when it counted. With the real-life franchises currently suffering through decades of abysmal finishes, it’s a joy to be playing this small market classic.
Here’s a breakdown of where everyone finished and why:
An MVP season from Dave Parker (.365, 32 HR, 133 RBI) a Cy Young season from John Candelaria (23-8, 2.38, five shutouts), and incredible clutch performances from almost everyone in the lineup. Goose Gossage’s 10-1 record and 22 saves sure didn’t hurt.
Reggie Smith was a beast (.324, 38, 115) and great pitching and fielding won them a handful of games, but this team choked away ten late-inning leads in the last month and a half and should have finished higher. Steve Garvey was a major disappointment (.263 but with just 32 walks) and almost never hit in the clutch.
You would think if your team had Tom Seaver (22-4, 2.92, 207 whiffs), George Foster (57 HR, 166 RBI) and Johnny Bench (43 HR, 141 RBI), you’d be winning the pennant with ease. But homer happy back-end pitching killed Cincinnati, and a very weak bench led to a big August slump when a few of their regulars went down.
The Phils recovered nicely from a slow start and led the pack in mid-season for a spell, but like the Reds, their shoddy pitching outside of Steve Carlton and Gene Garber doomed them. Mike Schmidt was also underwhelming, hitting .229 with seven less homers than he was supposed to hit and making scads of errors at third.
A real fun bunch to play with, getting great performances out of Keith Hernandez (57 doubles), Garry Templeton (29 triples!), and Ted Simmons (.347, 27 HR, 121 RBI) and making life miserable for the Pirates early on and Dodgers in the last month.
Houston had a great month of September, but their mediocre play for much of the year and lack of power kept them from competing with the bigger boys. Bob Watson, though, was an Astrodome force, with 30 dingers, 120 RBI and leading both leagues with 20 game-winning hits.
The lefty-mashing ‘Spos started strong but withered before long, thanks to feeble starting pitching outside of Rogers and a paper-thin bench. On the plus side, Andre Dawson (35 HR), Gary Carter (40 HR) and Ellis Valentine (31 HR) provided plenty of tater punch.
At least they didn’t lose 100 games. They beat J. R. Richard on Opening Day, and it was all downhill from there. Rick Reuschel had some nice starts, Bruce Sutter had a sick 132/16 K/BB ratio, Bobby Murcer had 29 homers, but absolutely nothing else worked. Their minus-309 run differential was beyond pathetic.
Outlasted everyone with a smooth balance of speed, fielding, clutch pitching and monstrous gap power. George Brett (.330, 21, 103) and Al Cowens (.323, 22, 103) had similar great stats, Dennis Leonard (20-10, 2.92) won the Cy Young, and KC constantly won the games they needed to.
No surprise here; the Texas rotation of Blyleven, Ellis, Perry and Alexander was unmatched, and they got great seasons out of Hargrove and Harrah to go with a lineup of clutch platooning role players. They dropped two of three at Royals Stadium on the last weekend to lose the pennant, but made things very exciting until then.
RED SOX (82-72)
Much was made of the four ’77 Dodgers hitting 30 homers that year, but would you believe that FIVE Red Sox pulled that off? Yaz (36), Evans (34), Carbo (33), Fisk (32) and Rice (30) helped Boston smash 226 for the season. Unfortunately, their pitchers gave up 206, along with 1763 hits in 1390 innings, mainly due to their nuclear home park. The Sox had a very streaky and strange team, leading in defense and fewest walks allowed, and scoring 944 runs without stealing one base all year. They led the AL for most of the campaign until their hitting cooled in August, then swan dived out of the race faster than Greg Louganis.
NEW YORK (81-73)
One of the more frustrating, disappointing alleged champions I’ve ever played with. Terrible dice luck had a lot to do with it, but there was more. Much more. Like Ron Guidry being the only reliable starter (who the team usually didn’t score for). Like Randolph, Munson, and Nettles, their only decent fielders, getting non-stop bad fielding chart voodoo. Like Sparky Lyle blowing lead after lead and ending up with a 3-12 record. Like Jackson, Chambliss, Munson and Nettles being blessed with mondo clutch rolls on their cards and never hitting them in clutch situations. A total lack of back-end pitching also contributed, but finally, I’m amazed about two things: that the Yankees finished over .500 at all, and that the real-life version won 100 games. If anyone else out there has had good lunch managing these guys, I’d love to hear how.
Decent starting pitching kept the Birds in the race till the end, but they just didn’t have enough pop or batting average or on-base percentage (in short, hitting) to put them over the top. Jim Palmer won his 20th on the last day but had some severe gopher ball meltdowns (39 on the year). Also failing daily was Eddie Murray, who enjoyed one three-homer game in September but finished with only 17 on the season, 11 less than advertised. Still, Baltimore was gritty and had their share of big wins despite undergoing more injury problems than anyone.
WHITE SOX (72-82)
A 15-7 September pulled Chicago out of the gutter, but the famed “South Side Hit Men” were more like the “Kick Men” for most of the year. A league worst 156 errors and dreadful range at every position but first, third and catcher cost them many games, and made Oscar Gamble’s MVP-threatening season (.308, 39 homers, 110 RBI) a basically wasted effort. On the hill, Francisco Barrios enjoyed a great September surge to finish 18-13, but Steve Stone suffered the tortures of the damned (9-18, 5.97, 318 hits in 229 IP).
Like Chicago, the Tribe had a much better second half and spoiled contending parties for many first division clubs. Andre Thornton was the feared rock in their lineup, finishing with 37 homers, 109 RBIs and 87 walks. Seeing that they actually finished tenth in the AL in winning percentage that year and only made my league because wonderful sports columnist Joe Posnanski wanted to “manage” them, they did pretty darn well.
Not doing darn well at all was Minnesota, who had a worse home record (24-53) than anyone, began the year with six straight losses and just never got on track. Pitching was certainly the culprit, because the Twins managed to score 829 runs with minimal power. Rod Carew won MVP honors with his .398 average and league leading 1.033 OPS and had a 46-game hit streak to begin his year, but this was a sad outfit that deserved a better fate.
Naturally, I’ll be reporting he World Series games on my blog, but if you’d like to follow the “Live Tweetcasts” on Twitter, they can be found nightly at http://twitter.com/funkyball77, 10:30 p.m. eastern until the Series is over.
With 1977 coming to a close, this column marks the end of “The Funk Zone. Hopefully I’ll be back sometime on this site with another Strat-inspired incarnation, but for now, a big thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read my ruminations.