On December 11, 1975, the New York Yankees made two trades, which helped them win the 1976 American League (AL) pennant and back-to-back World Series: 1977 and 1978. On April 5, 1977, Gabe Paul, Yankees General Manager (GM), finalized a trade with the Chicago White Sox, sending Oscar Gamble, LaMarr Hoyt, Bob Polinsky, and $200,000 to the South Siders, for Bucky Dent. https://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/trades.php?p=dentbu01 Hoyt pitched for the 1980-81 Ponce Lions, Puerto Rico Winter League (PRWL); won the 1983 American League (AL) Cy Young Award; became MVP for the National League (NL), in the 1985 MLB All-Star Game. So, how important were trades and winter ball in Puerto Rico (PR) and other countries for the 1977 and 1978 New York Yankees? We begin with a chronology of key trades.
- March 22, 1972: traded Danny Cater to Boston for Sparky Lyle
- November 27, 1972: traded John Ellis, Jerry Kenney, Charlie Spikes, and Rosendo “Rusty” Torres to Cleveland for Graig Nettles and Jerry Moses
- December 7, 1973: traded Lindy McDaniel to Kansas City Royals for Lou Piniella and Ken Wright
- April 26, 1974: traded Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline, and Fritz Peterson to Cleveland for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow, and Cecil Upshaw
- October 22, 1974: traded Bobby Murcer to San Francisco for Bobby Bonds
- December 11, 1975: traded Doc Medich to Pittsburgh for Ken Brett, Dock Ellis, and Willie Randolph
- December 11, 1975: traded Bobby Bonds to California Angels for Eduardo Figueroa and Mickey Rivers
- May 18, 1976: traded Ken Brett and Rich Coggins to Chicago White Sox for Carlos May
- January 20, 1977: traded Rick Bladt and Elliott Maddox to Baltimore for Paul Blair
- April 5, 1977: traded Gamble, Hoyt, Polinsky, and $200,000 for Bucky Dent
- April 27, 1977: traded Dock Ellis, Marty Pérez, and Larry Murray to Oakland for Mike Torrez.
Some other Yankees transactions, involving their 1977-78 players, included:
- Signing Roy White, an amateur free agent, July 1, 1961
- Selection of Thurman Munson, first round (4th overall pick), draft, June 7, 1968
- Selection of Ron Guidry, third round, draft, June 8, 1971
- Free-agent signing of Jim “Catfish” Hunter, December 31, 1974
- Selection of Jim Beattie, fourth round, draft, June 3, 1975
- Free-agent signing of Reggie Jackson, November 29, 1976
- Free-agent signing of Goose Gossage, November 22, 1977
- Purchase of Paul Lindblad from the Texas Rangers, August 1, 1978.
Winter League Experience of Players in the above-mentioned Trades and Transactions
- Danny Cater was PRWL MVP, 1963-64 with Ponce Lions (.309 batting average, seven HR, 49 RBIs; played with other PRWL clubs, including 1974-75 Santurce Crabbers.
- Chris Chambliss, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres were San Juan Senators teammates, 1973-74, under skipper Jim “Junior” Gilliam. In the batting race, Chambliss (.3627) finished second to Santurce’s George Hendrick (.3632). Spikes caught the last out in Balor Moore’s nine-inning perfect game versus Ponce, November 25, 1973.
- Graig Nettles played four winter seasons in Venezuela with Aragua Tigers (1968-72);
Caracas Lions (part of 1969-70); reinforced LaGuaira Sharks, 1969-70 playoffs. His 620 AB in 174 regular-season games produced a .244 batting average, 18 HR, 89 RBIs.
- Jerry Moses caught for 1969-70 Águilas Cibaeñas, LIDOM (Dominican Winter League), and 1973-74 Aragua Tigers, post-1973 season with the New York Yankees.
- Lou Piniella spent six weeks with the 1971-72 LaGuaira Sharks, posting a .330 batting average (34 for 113) in 27 games. His hitting coach in Venezuela was Charlie Lau.
- Ken Wright pitched for Jack McKeon, 1972-73 Arecibo Wolves, PRWL; third in strikeouts (88); second in saves (6); and fifth in ERA (2.26). Had league-best 147 strikeouts with 1973-74 Arecibo; fanned 314 in 287 innings, four seasons (1970-74).
- Fred Beene pitched a nine-inning no-hitter for Santurce versus Arecibo, January 17, 1970. He threw 81 pitches, the same number as Don Larsen, in the latter’s perfect game for the Yankees, October 8, 1956, against Brooklyn. Beene fanned four and walked two Wolves. He was 22-13, 2.51 ERA, in five PRWL seasons.
- Ken Brett (8-3, 3.00 ERA), pitching ace for the 1970-71 San Juan Senators, managed by Roberto Clemente, returned to the PRWL as a DH with the 1976-77 Bayamón Cowboys, managed by José A. Pagán. He had a .277 batting average.
- Rich Coggins’ .352 batting average for the 1972-73 Arecibo Wolves led the PRWL, as did his five triples (tied with Polilla Ortiz-Ponce and José Mangual-Arecibo). Coggins’ 15 SB were second to teammate Mangual’s 17.
- Dick Tidrow hurled two winters with Estrellas Orientales, LIDOM (1971-73) and 1975-76 with Licey Tigers (LIDOM). He was 8-11, 3.39 ERA, in 193.2 regular season innings, and 4-3, 2.72 ERA, in 49.2 playoff innings. Tidrow reinforced Licey, February 1973 Caribbean Series, helping Tom Lasorda’s club win the four-team round-robin. He bested Mexico’s Yaquis de Obregón, 8-2, on February 3, 1973.
- Bobby Murcer joined the Caguas Criollos end of 1968-69 season. He played a few regular-season games and the semi-final series for skipper Luis “Tite” Arroyo, a Yankees scout and ex-NYY pitcher.
- Dock Ellis reinforced Águilas Cibaeñas, LIDOM, 1966-68, with a 12-11 W-L mark, 2.69 ERA in 194.1 regular-season innings, along with a 2-1 ledger in 24.1 post-season frames. Ellis later (1979-80) was 2-2, 3.20 ERA in 50.2 innings for the Ponce Lions.
- Pedrín Zorrilla, GM, 1969-70 San Juan Senators, tried to sign Bobby Bonds, but San Francisco denied permission for Bonds to play winter ball. The New York Mets did not allow Nolan Ryan to pitch for 1969-70 San Juan.
- Eduardo Figueroa was 46-40 in 15 PRWL seasons. He did 1969 combat duty as a (U.S.) Marine in Vietnam. Figueroa had back-to-back 10-win seasons for the 1973-74 and 1974-75 Caguas Criollos, and pitched Gary Carter those two campaigns. Mike Schmidt was a 1973-74 Caguas teammate; Cal Ripken Jr. was another Caguas teammate, 1980-81.
- Mickey Rivers impressed LIDOM fans with a .349 batting average and 11 SB, for 1971-72 Licey. Then, he played for Frank Robinson’s Santurce Crabbers, 1973-75, highlighted by a .356 batting average (third-best) and 20 SB (second-best), 1973-74. His two-year totals with Santurce included a .346 batting average, seven HR, 33 RBIs and 24 SB.
- Carlos May sparkled for 1971-72 Ponce Lions, PRWL, and 1972 Caribbean Series champion, with a .271 batting average, 7 HR and 30 RBIs in the regular season. His two homers and 4 RBIs helped Ponce defeat San Juan in the best-of-seven finals. Then, he was voted MVP in, February 1972 Caribbean Series, in Santo Domingo, with a series-leading .455 batting average. May was selected 1B, on the Series All-Star Team.
- Rick Bladt patrolled the OF for 1970-71 Zulia and 1976-77 Caracas, in Venezuela.
- Paul Blair starred for Santurce, 1966-69, helping Earl Weaver’s 1966-67 club defeat Ponce in the finals, with a decisive three-run homer in Game Six. He was injured toward the end of the 1968-69 season when Santurce posted a 49-20 record. His .303 batting average, 7 HR and 75 RBIs were his combined three-year totals.
- Oscar Gamble got experience with the 1972-74 Zulia Eagles (Venezuela). In the 1972-73 finals, versus Caracas, he went 7 for 17 (.412 batting average) with 2 HR and a .765 SLG.
- Mike Torrez’s three seasons with Licey were: 1967-68, 1969-70, and 1984-85. Overall, he was 15-15, with a 3.18 ERA in 266 regular-season innings. The 1969-70 and 1984-85 clubs were league champions, with the latter one winning the February 1985 Caribbean Series. Torrez was 2-1, with a 2.92 ERA, in 24.2 LIDOM post-season innings.
- Roy White played 2B for the 1966-67 Ponce Lions; Horace Clarke was his double-play partner. White (.246 batting average, 7 HR, 25 RBIs—regular season) was Ponce’s best hitter in the finals against Santurce, going 9 for 23 (.391 batting average) with one HR. He played for the 1979-80 Santurce Crabbers, end of the regular season, and in their semi-finals and final series, before playing in Japan.
- Thurman Munson’s stellar 1969-70 season with San Juan (.333 batting average, 3 HR, 34 RBIs) preceded his 1970 AL Rookie of the Year season with the New York Yankees. Munson trailed Caguas’s Félix Millán’s .345 batting average, 1969-70.
- In Venezuela, Ron Guidry was 3-0 with a 6.57 ERA in 12.1 innings for skipper Bobby Cox, 1975-76 Lara Cardinals. Guidry had one save and pitched one post-season inning.
- Catfish Hunter started five games and relieved once, for 1965-66 Caracas. He was 2-3, 2.90 ERA; he had 26 strikeouts, six walks, and 1.10 WHIP (walks plus hits/innings pitched).
- Reggie Jackson clouted a league-leading 20 HR for 1970-71 Santurce, with 47 runs scored, 46 RBIs, and nine SB. His 33 singles, seven doubles, and 20 HR in 221 AB resulted in a .575 SLG. The author saw Jackson hit his only Caribbean Series HR, on February 7, 1971, versus the LaGuaira Sharks.
- Goose Gossage was 1-2, 4.58 ERA, for the 1972-73 Ponce Lions. He blanked Caguas in a semi-final series game, with nine strikeouts and two walks. In 1974-75, he returned to Ponce and improved to 7-5, 2.67 ERA, starting ten times and relieving in 10 contests. He pitched 11 strong innings, in five relief appearances, against eventual Caribbean Series winner Bayamón, in the semi-finals, with ten strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA. Bayamón featured Ken Griffey Sr., Dan Driessen, Art Howe, and Darrell Evans in a strong line-up.
- Paul Lindblad, Catfish Hunter’s 1965-66 Caracas teammate, was 7-5 with a 1.86 ERA, with 11 starts, 14 relief appearances, two CG, and seven saves. From 1967-69, he pitched for Arecibo, and appreciated his manager, Vic Power. Lindblad made the final out, as a pinch-hitter, December 19, 1967, versus San Juan’s Pat Dobson, with Johnny Bench catching, as Dobson’s 21st strikeout victim, the PRWL record for a nine-inning game. Lindblad was 1-2, five saves and 2.61 ERA for 1970-71 Estrellas Orientales, LIDOM.
- LaMarr Hoyt, pitching for 1980-81 Ponce, fanned 60 hitters, second to the 62 strikeouts by Mayagüez’s Eric Show. Hoyt completed six of 12 starts (24-36) Ponce for last-place. He led the club in ERA (3.20) and innings pitched (93.2). Ponce teammate Rickey Henderson had 44 SB, to set the all-time PRWL mark for steals in a 60 game calendar.
New York Yankees (NYY) and Kansas City Royals (KCR)
The two best AL teams between 1976 and 1981 were the NYY and KCR, combining for nine Divisional crowns. Table I depicts their W-L records in the AL East and West, respectively.
Table I: W-L Records of NYY and KCR, 1976-1981
|NYY (1)||1976||97-62||.610||—||KCR (1)||1976||90-72||.556||—|
|NYY (1)||1977||100-62||.617||—||KCR (1)||1977||102-60||.630||—|
|NYY (1)||1978||100-63||.613||—||KCR (1)||1978||92-70||.568||—|
|NYY (4)||1979||89-71||.556||13.5||KCR (2)||1979||85-77||.525||3|
|NYY (1)||1980||103-59||.636||—||KCR (1)||1980||97-65||.599||—|
|NYY||Six (6)||548-365||.600||KCR||Six (6)||516-397||.565|
#NYY bested Milwaukee 3 games-to-two prior to sweeping Oakland in three straight, ALCS.
Source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/AL/1976.shtml through 1981 seasons.
In 1976, the Royals’ George Brett led the AL with a .333 batting average. Nettles (32) had the most HR, and Roy White (104) scored the most runs. Lyle’s 23 saves led the loop. Two years later, Guidry (25-3, .893) had a Cy Young season, and Gossage (27) posted the most AL saves. The Yankees won the best-of-five ALCS, 1976-78, over Kansas City, three games-to-two, in 1976 and 1977; three-games-to-one in 1978. Royals swept the Yankees in three straight (1980), culminating in Brett’s winning HR off Gossage at Yankee Stadium in Game Three. Gossage and KCR’s Dan Quisenberry led the 1980 AL with 33 saves. George Brett (.390) flirted with a .400 batting average, and Reggie Jackson (41) tied Milwaukee’s Ben Oglivie for most HR.
Transition to 1977 and 1978 New York Yankees and “Modern Day” Metrics
wOBA is the best hitting indicator, superior to OBP (on-base percentage), batting average (AVG), slugging percentage (SLG). Math formula for wOBA is: (.69 x BB + .722 x HBP + .888 x singles + 1.271 x doubles + 1.616 x triples + 2.101 x HR)/(AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP). A .400 wOBA is Excellent; .350 is good; a .300wOBA is poor. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is another“comprehensive” indicator, useful for career Hall of Fame players and deserving ones not inducted. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), used for hurlers, is a metric designed to give us information about pitcher performance. FIP measures the events directly under a pitcher’s control: strikeouts, walks, and home runs.
Table II: WAR, OBP, wOBA, Key Players, 1977-78 NYY
|Yankees Key Position Players||1977 WAR||1978 WAR||1977 OBP||1978 OBP||1977 wOBA||1978 wOBA|
Sources: https://www.pinstripealley.com/2021/12/3/22814255/yankees-lamarr-hoyt-white-sox-world-series-bucky-dent-reggie-jackson-mlb-free-agents; Fangraphs for these players.
The addition of Reggie Jackson to the 1977 NYY was a “statistical blessing,” not factoring in his three HR in Game Six, 1977 World Series, against the Los Angeles Dodgers (LAD). However, six of the nine “key players” came to the NYY via the trade route. GM Gabe Paul deserves much of the credit for these astute trades. Mike García, a devoted KCR fan residing in Ponce, Puerto Rico, shared his insights on the December 7, 1973, Piniella (and Ken Wright) trade for McDaniel.
“My take is that “Sweet Lou” and Jack McKeon needed a change of scenery from each other. McKeon had managed the ’73 Royals to an excellent record (for a five-year expansion team) and he was unlikely to be fired. “Sweet Lou” could have easily kept playing for the Royals for the remainder of his career…recently acquired Hal McRae (who had a serious injury playing winter ball in Puerto Rico) was a similar player—RH hitter, corner OF, good on the bases, etc. Lindy McDaniel was a fine human, had a nice long career, and was a “swingman” (start and relieve). He wanted one final two-year contract, and the Yankees were not interested. Though this was Cedric Tallis’ most questionable trade (after so many brilliant ones!); he probably felt acquiring Lindy after the trades for Marty Pattin and Nelson Briles would result in a 1974 pitching staff along with Al Fitzmorris that would enable the ’74 team to compete against the A’s seriously.”
McKeon was not pleased with Piniella’s 1973 lack of production at the plate. At that time, metrics focused more on batting average—Piniella’s .250 average for KCR. McCrae became the “ideal DH” for the KCR, but what IF Piniella had slotted in as the 1977-78 KCR left-fielder? Table III has WAR, OBP, and wOBA for the Royals’ primary nine position players, 1977-78. John Mayberry is not included since he was traded after the 1977 season. Neither is Clint Hurdle, since he had so few AB in 1977 before his 1978 rookie season.
|Royals Key Position Players||1977 WAR||1978 WAR||1977 OBP||1978 OBP||1977 wOBA||1978 wOBA|
Source: Fangraphs for these players.
George Brett (11.9) and Nettles (11.4) had the highest two-year (1977-78) WAR of 18 players cited in Tables II-III. Brett (.390 wOBA) and Jackson (.400 wOBA) recorded the highest wOBA for their teams in 1977. Amos Otis (.397 wOBA) and Jackson (.375 wOBA) reflected the best 1978 wOBA for the KCR and NYY, respectively. Brett and Jackson are the only two of 18 players listed, inducted in Cooperstown.
Table IV: WAR, W-L, ERA+, FIP, Key Pitchers, 1977-78 NYY
|Yankees Key Pitchers||1977 WAR||1978 WAR||1977 W-L||1978 W-L||1977 ERA+||1978 ERA+||1977 FIP||1978 FIP|
Sources: baseballreference.com and fangraphs for these pitchers. An ERA+ of 100 is average.
Table V: WAR, W-L, ERA+, FIP, Key Pitchers, 1977-78 KCR
|Royals Key Pitchers||1977 WAR||1978 WAR||1977 W-L||1978 W-L||1977 ERA+||1978 ERA+||1977 FIP||1978 FIP|
Sources: baseballreference.com and fangraphs for these pitchers.
Ron Guidry and Dennis Leonard
Guidry (14.8) and Leonard (12.6) recorded the best two-year WAR of 18 pitchers listed in Tables IV and V. Both won 41 regular-season games in 1977 and 1978, with nearly identical FIP’s in 1977. Guidry distanced himself from all AL hurlers in 1978 with a 208 ERA+. Three pitchers on each team only pitched one season with their respective club. The author had a phone and in-person conversations with the widow (Betty Donald) of the scout (Atley Donald) who signed Guidry for the Yankees in 1971, per the author’s SABR bio of Mr. Donald. Here is an excerpt: Guidry said, “What I didn’t know at the time was that Atley Donald was the only scout who was aware that I was eligible…knew I had dropped out of school when everyone else still thought I was ineligible for the draft.” (Guidry, 66) Atley saw something special in Ron Guidry despite his relatively small stature. Atley and Betty visited the Guidry home in Lafayette the day after the draft. Atley left the contract with Ron Guidry, who told him to call back in two days. It was a done deal. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/atley-donald/ Atley had won 12 straight games for the 1939 NYY, a team streak broken by Guidry in 1978.
For more on Guidry’s magical 1978 season, see https://www.mlb.com/news/remembering-ron-guidry-s-amazing-1978-season-c281063816 Guidry’s SABR bio by Joseph Wancho is at: https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/ron-guidry/ Guidry won Game Four of the 1978 ALCS on October 7, versus the KCR, 2-1, at Yankee Stadium, to send the NYY to the World Series. Gossage was relieved in the ninth for the save. Dennis Leonard pitched a CG, in taking the loss.
The author interviewed Dennis Leonard (phone) in the early 1990s regarding his 1973-74 winter season with Arecibo. Leonard had just come out of Class-A ball in 1973 with the San Jose Bees when Carlos Pieve, Arecibo’s GM, took a calculated risk by signing the 22-year old youngster. To insert a 22-year old Class-A pitcher into the starting rotation was pure folly to fans and league officials. But Pieve recalled that a Class-A player named Hank Aaron had starred in the league two decades earlier and stuck to his guns. “Pieve had lived in Brooklyn at one time, and I was born there, so we had something in common already,” Leonard stated. “He was really supportive to get me down, and I got off to a good start.” Leonard left during the season to be in the States for the birth of his first child but returned in time to help Arecibo make the playoffs.
Arecibo had on its roster KCR prospects who roomed together. Leonard shared a house on the ocean with Mark Littell, Gary Lance, and Tom Poquette. His working vacation was often interrupted at 6 a.m. by fighting roosters, known as gallos, a big pastime in Puerto Rico. Lance recalled that: “We not only shared a house but a car, too. It was a Volkswagen that was kind of broken down. In fact, the driver’s back door wouldn’t open; you would have to crawl in through the driver’s side. Littell and I used it most of the time.” When Lance pitched for Arecibo in their 1982-83 championship season, he drove to away games in his rental car on better roads.
Final Thoughts via Ken Brett and Paul Hartzell
Ken Brett alerted the author that he (Brett) had “the hitting ability to be a full-time DH.” He would have liked Billy Martin to let him hit in a regular-season game at Yankee Stadium. His big-league lifetime batting average was .262, with a .300 wOBA—quite good for pitchers. The 1976-77 Bayamón Cowboys gave Brett a chance to be a DH, but more importantly, this led to a special bond and friendship between Santurce’s pitching ace Paul Hartzell and Brett.
Hartzell pitched for the 1976-78 California Angels against the pennant-winning NYY and division-winning KCR. One start at Yankee Stadium on June 17, 1978, featured 18 strikeouts by opposing pitcher Guidry, who was 11-0 after his 4-0 win. (Ken Brett relieved Hartzell that day.)
Hartzell e-mailed some comments to the author on November 28, 2021, on the importance of what was once known as the Arizona Instructional League and winter ball:
“Going to play for Santurce in October of 1976 gave me the extra innings of experience (and a third pitch) for my second [major league] year and beyond in my career. I got to test those ideas against major league hitters in Puerto Rico and gain confidence in them. It’s a shame to take that experience away from all players, both natives and imports. I always understand the game has to change, but I also remember the young people who came to watch my team play at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Many of them were inspired to play and reach the major leagues.”
On October 2, 1978, Bucky Dent hit a three-run homer off Boston’s Mike Torrez, in the seventh, to give New York a 3-2 lead, in Game #163, a tie-breaker, for first-place. The Yankees went on to win it, 5-4, with Gossage getting an eight-out save, in relief of Guidry, who earned win #25. Here is announcer Bill White’s description of Dent’s home run: «Deep to left! Yastrzemski will not get it! It’s a home run! A three-run homer by Bucky Dent! And the Yankees now lead by a score of 3-2!» – New York Yankees announcer Bill White (October 2, 1978) Bill White had played winter ball with Santurce (1955-56, part of 1956-57), and with 1958-59 Escogido Lions in LIDOM. With Santurce: .308 batting average, 14 HR and 49 RBIs; with Escogido: .304, 7, 23.
The author thanks Mike García for his thoughts and expertise on Kansas City Royals history, via Facebook Messenger, December 11, 2021. Raúl Ramos shared an item, via Twitter, on the December 11, 1975 Barry Bonds trade for Eduardo Figueroa and Mickey Rivers. Thanks to Ken Brett, Betty Donald, Paul Hartzell, Gary Lance, Dennis Leonard, and Paul Lindblad for insights on winter ball’s importance for pro baseball players. Jorge Colón Delgado edited the blog and furnished photos.