• The 1974 New York Yankees

    Posted by on September 6th, 2007 · Comments (7)

    On July 2nd, 1974, the New York Yankees were in last place, in the A.L. East, 8.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox.

    By September 4th, 1974, the Yankees had tied the Red Sox for first place in the A.L. East.

    Over the remaining 27 games of 1974, the Yankees would go 17-10, the Red Sox would go 12-15 and the Baltimore Orioles went 21-6.

    The Orioles ended up winning the A.L. East in 1974, by 2 games over the Yankees (and 7 games over the Red Sox).

    Back in 1974, it was a pretty big deal for the Yankees to finish second that year – as they had finished in fourth place the three seasons before that one.

    Actually, the Yankees had a great chance to win it that season – as they were in first place on September 22nd, one game ahead of the Orioles. But, Baltimore won their last 8 games of the season whereas New York went 5-3 in their last 8 games. (The Orioles actually went 9-0 to close the 1974 season.)

    What killed the Yankees in those last 8 games was losing a double-header to the Red Sox, in New York, by the scores of 4-0 and 4-2…and losing a game on October 1st, in Milwaukee, by a score of 3-2 in 10 innings.

    What truly helped the Orioles was winning by one-run six times in their last eight games…which led them go 8-0. The biggest win may have been a 1-0 victory, in 17 innings, against the Brewers on September 27th.

    It’s interesting, that, when an organization is in so many great pennant races, like the Yankees, that a team, and a season, like 1974, can get lost in the grand scheme of a franchise’s legacy.

    Comments on The 1974 New York Yankees

    1. baileywalk
      September 6th, 2007 | 11:38 pm

      Sorry for the off-topic comment, but…

      Looks like Jaret Wright’s career is over. He pitched a few rehab innings for the O’s, but wasn’t ready to come back and won’t return to the team this year. You would have to guess he’s going to retire. (The Yankees set up nice retirement packages for Pavano and Wright.) What’s really amazing about this is that Mazzone got one really good year out of Wright in Atlanta.

      Wright became famous because he was so young in the playoffs and World Series, but I think he was always overrated. For a guy who threw so hard, he never had good strikeouts numbers.

      For what it’s worth, he seemed like a really great guy. Signing him was one of the stupidest things the Yankees have done in recent years, but I hope he has fun playing dad now that baseball is over.

      Cashman getting Britton for him doesn’t make up for signing Wright to begin with it, but it’s still a steal.

    2. September 7th, 2007 | 9:42 am

      Have you looked at Britton’s SWB stats this year, and compared it to Jim Brower’s? Including Opp BA? They’re very close, no?

    3. Raf
      September 7th, 2007 | 10:10 am

      Have you looked at Britton’s SWB stats this year, and compared it to Jim Brower’s? Including Opp BA? They’re very close, no?
      Be that as it may, Britton’s 10 years younger. At least the potential’s there to improve. Both are RHRP’s, which are a dime a dozen…

    4. baileywalk
      September 7th, 2007 | 11:51 am

      Hey, I thought you were a big Britton fan, Steve? But, like Raf said, Britton is much young than Brower. Even if his upside is just a middle reliever, it’s still a cost savings, and Wright was a totally useless pitcher. Cashman got an arm for someone who made three starts the entire year. It’s a classic “got something for absolutely nothing” scenario in my eyes. Britton seems like a perfect candidate for the Torre shoulder-ruination club if Torre is back next year, since Britton has shown he can throw two or three innings at a time.

    5. September 7th, 2007 | 12:30 pm

      ~~~Hey, I thought you were a big Britton fan, Steve? ~~~

      Changed my mind based on the stats this year.

    6. Evan3457
      September 8th, 2007 | 6:26 pm

      How well I remember that year and that pennant race; it was the first real race the Yanks had been in since I became a fan, when I was 7 years old in 1967.

      It was a very limited team…so many heroes who went on to have undistinguished careers, for one reason or another. Bill Virdom was the manager, in his 1st year, replacing the much-villified Ralph Houk. In the first true “Boss” firing, he would be gone by the middle of next season, when they brought Billy in for the first time.

      There were so many new faces, new heroes…they’d traded for Piniella in the off-season, and he did a fine job. They bought Elliot Maddox from the Rangers, and he had a career year at the plate, and played superb defense in center. They brought up Jim Mason to replace Stick at shortstop, and he had his only even moderately decent season, and went on to become the answer to a famous trivia question. They made Rick Dempsey the backup catcher.

      The pitching saw Mel Stottlemyre go down with rotator cuff problems, and Fritz Peterson and Steve Kline get traded in April, so the staff was a patchwork crew. Sam McDowell was purchased from the Giants the year before and opened the season in the rotation, but he was finished by the time the Yanks got him, and was gone by May.

      Dobson and Medich had won 19 games each at the top of the rotation. Rudy May was bought from the Angels in June, and pitched superbly for the rest of the year. Larry Gura was traded for in May, spent 3 months in AAA, and was called up to go 5-1 down the stretch, pitching brilliantly until his last 2 starts. Mike Wallace was traded for in May, and went 6-0 at a spot/long reliever, even winning an emergency start vs. the Orioles in mid-September.

      But there were two key acquistions that season that turned them from an OK team into real contenders. One was the purchase of Sandy Alomar (Sr.) from the Angels, to take over second base from the longtime francise decline symbol, and now nearly worthless, Horace Clarke. They put Sandy in the lineup about a weak after they got him, and he went on a hot streak, hitting .300 for about 3 months, before declining in September. With Maddox and Alomar at the top of the order, they Yanks had respectable table-setters (in the context of the early 70’s, anyway) for Munson, Murcer, White, Nettles, and Piniells to knock in.

      The other big move was back in April, when the Yanks traded 4 pitchers, including Peterson and Kline, for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshawa. Tidrow became the Yanks #3 starter until May arrived, Upshaw helped stabilize the pen. Chambliss, you know about.

      With all these acquisitions, the Yanks were able to put a competently moderate player at every position, at each spot in the rotation, and the 1st 3-4 spots in the pen. They had no overpowering strengths, no real MVP or Cy Young candidates (Maddox finshed highest at 8th, nobody else was in the top 20; no Yankee pitcher got a Cy Young vote.)

      The best part for me as a 14-year old was that the Yanks’ home station at the time, WMCA, was also the home of the talk show of John Sterling, in his earliest broadcast persona (“OK, sir, now that’s not such a good idea, and I’ll tell you why, OK?” and “Sir. Sir. Sir. Do you REALLY think the Tigers would make that trade? How could you possibly believe they could be so foolish as to trade Mickey Lolich and Al Kaline for Bill Sudakis and Dave Pagan. How in the world do you think that trade would EVERE be made???”)

      For no reason in particular, Sterling chose to make “Band on the Run” the team’s unofficial theme song. He would play it as intro and outro to every Yankee commercial. He would play it in segments where he talked about the Yanks (“Theeee Yankees are The Band on the Run!”) I mean, I know it was a top-seller in 1974, but the Yanks were 9th out of 12 teams in triples, and dead last in steals wth 53.

      Well, whatever the reason, it seemed terribly exciting to me as a 14-year old. I looked forward to every game. I listened to the games that weren’t on WPIX, where I never really had before. It was the first time I can remember really having sustained hope of the Yanks winning a title, any title. After the humiliation of the Yanks’ total collapse the year before, combined with the Mets improbable “Ya Gotta Believe” pennant, 1974 was a very happy dream year. I loved Sterling back then, but you have to remember, I was only 14.

      But inevitably, the Earl Weaver O’s ran them down in the stretch, as they always seemed to. The DH loss to the Red Sox was the death rattle, but the final blow was the thumb injury bobby Murcer suffered the last weekend of the season, trying to breakup a fight between backup catchers Dempsey and Bill Sudakis. Murcer had had a supbar season in Shea Stadium, and had been displaced in CF by Eliot Maddox, but he was still the #3 hitter in the order, and led the team in RBI with 88.

      The Yanks went into the last 2 games of the season in Milwaukee still very much alive, just 1 game behind the O’s. On Tues. Oct. 1st, while the Yanks fought a tough pitcher’s duel in Milwaukee, the O’s rallied from 3 runs down to beat Detroit, 7-6. Now the Yanks had to win to stay alive, as the magic number for the O’s was down to 1.

      The battle between Doc Medich and Kevin Kobel (a nothing lefty the Yanks had trouble with, 18-34, 3.88 lifetime, 3-2 3.63 vs. Yanks; yes, this problem goes all the way back to at least 1974) was scoreless through 6, but the Yanks broke through in the 7th on RBI singles by Maddox and DH veteran bad boy Alex Johnson.

      It looked like the Yanks would stay alive to fight to final day, but Medich flinched, giving up back-to-back triples of all things, followed by a sac fly to the young Sixto Lezcano, and that tied it up. The Yanks were unable to score against the Brewers ace reliever, an ex-starter named Tom Murphy who had a brilliant year in ’74. How I wished that Murcer, my favorite, had been a available. Surely, he would’ve gotten a big hit somehow.

      Virdon DID NOT go to Sparky Lyle, HIS ace reliever, in spite of the fact that Lyle had had 2 days’ rest, and so Medich was left in for the 9th, and the 10th. Medich gave up a leadoff double. The Brewers bunted the runner to 3rd. The Yanks IBBed veteran Don Money to set up a DP with Lezcano due up. Lezcano and George Scott were righties, but Lyle’s slider was able to get righties coming down and in, like Carlton and Guidry. Still Virdon did not go to Lyle. Nor did Virdon go to Upshaw, who’d been the Yanks’ best righty reliever for much of the year. Lezcano walked to load the bases. Scott was the Brewers’ best hitter that year, leading the team in HR and RBI. Well, Scott hit a hard grounder through the middle, just between Mason and Alomar, Jack Lind scored, and just like that, the Yanks’ exciting season died.

      I was crushed.

      That fall, I turned 15. That fall, Murcer was traded to the Giants for Barry Bonds. I was heartbroken. The CBS/Mike Burke/Lee McPhail/Ralph Houk/Horace Clarke/Gene Michael/Bobby Murcer/Mel Sottlemyre Yankees died for good with the departure of Murcer and the New Year’s Eve signing of the second big free-agent player in baseball history, the 1974 Cy Young Award winner, Catfish Hunter. The Boss Steinbrenner Yankees had arrived.

      So, in some very real ways, the 1974 Yanks were an end to my childhood, and the beginning of my adolescence. I remember them fondly, if a bit sadly.

    7. September 9th, 2007 | 8:54 am

      Awesome post Evan3457!
      Thank you.

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