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Steve Dillard

March 4, 2010

The year 1977 is not generally lauded as a watershed year for anything. Generally, bluntly, it was a crap year, a nothing, the false star-spangled energy of the Bicentennial gone, nothing in its wake but more of the encroaching late-’70s darkness. Families crumbled as divorce rates rose. A flagging economy tried to prop itself up on fads and cheap plastic drek while a nation reeled from the aftershock of a tragic and cripplingly ill-advised war in Vietnam. In 1977 it had only been a few years since the President himself was forced from office for willfully and criminally subverting the entire democratic process.

But 1977 was a good year for me.

First of all, my brother and I played on the same little league team for our second and final year, and my brother was the star of the team, one of the three best players in the league, and I wasn’t too bad, either. All was good in the world. When little league season ended, the summer continued to bring joy. During that summer my brother and I saw what we immediately realized was the best movie of all time, Star Wars, and then we saw Star Wars again, and then again. And that wasn’t the only thrill at the movies in 1977. We experienced, finally, during our yearly visit to see our dad in New York City, the wonder of Sensurround (a midtown double-feature of Rollercoaster and Midway), and just before that double feature we spent a couple thrilling days in a totally darkened city, and though my father probably worried about all the looting and lawlessness of the citywide blackout that summer, it seemed to my brother and me as if we were living inside a movie, a real life disaster: Blackout ’77! (in Sensurround). And if all that weren’t enough, 1977 was also the year I saw The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and cheered out loud with a theater packed with boys like me. I fully believed, more than ever before, more than ever after. I was nine years old. It was my best ever year.

***

Presiding over the happiness of 1977 were the Red Sox, my favorite team, who thrilled nine-year-olds and nine-year-olds at heart all over New England by smashing a team record number of home runs while contending for a division crown.

I fell deeper than ever in love with all the Red Sox that year, all the way down to the utility infielder shown here, Steve “Skip” Dillard. I’m getting a chance to relive that summer for the Red Sox through the new site created by Jeff Polman called Play That Funky Baseball. Polman, who previously used an ingenious combination of Strat-O-Matic replays and entertaining flights of his own imagination to populate a historical novel in blog form at 1924 and You Are There, has now turned his attention to the baseball doings in my favorite year. He gathered baseball writers and bloggers to serve as something like hands-on general managers of each team (Polman handles all the in-game managerial decisions himself, following the general strategic blueprint created by each “general manager”), and I have the honor of helming the Red Sox. Here are my esteemed fellow managers (note: Polman made his resurrected 1977 league lean and mean, so not all teams from that time are included in his labor-intensive replay):

YANKEES: Joe Sheehan, formerly of Baseball Prospectus
ROYALS: Rany Jazayerli of Rany on the Royals
INDIANS
: Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated and JoeBlog
TWINS
: Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune
WHITE SOX
Keith Scherer, legal eagle and contributer to Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, and ESPN.com
ORIOLES: The Eutaw Street Hooligans
RANGERS: Ted Leavengood, contributor to Seamheads
DODGERS: Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball
PIRATES
: Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?
ASTROS: James Yasko of Astros County
REDS
: Amanda Cross of Red-Hot Mama
EXPOS
: Jonah Keri of Bloomberg Sports
PHILLIES: Daniel Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer
CARDINALS
: Mike Metzger of Stan Musial’s Stance
CUBS
: Scott Simkus, brains and brawn behind the recent influx of Negro Leaguers into the Strat-O-Matic universe

***

With the 1977 Red Sox, a team that blasted enough home runs to merit a memorable Sports Illustrated feature on the team’s prodigious power (the article, referring to the nickname of the big-swinging first baseman, George Scott, dubbed them “Boomer and the Crunch Bunch”), there isn’t much in the way of micro-managing that needs to be done. But I did come to the conclusion, after looking at lefty-righty splits for the 1977 squad on baseball-reference.com, that the 1977 squad’s spiritual leader, Boomer Scott himself, needed to sit down against righties to make enough room in the lineup to accommodate the inclusion (possible because of the versatility of Carl Yastrzemski) of Dwight Evans (who thumped righties that year) and Bernie Carbo (who annihilated righties his whole career, 1977 being no exception). I also had the pleasure of correcting the idiocy of Don Zimmer (and all managerial thinking of the time) by dropping Rick Burleson and Denny Doyle from their real-life perches atop the regular lineup to the bottom of the lineup (though Burleson does still lead off against lefties, who he hit well that year). The thinking back then, of course, was that you always needed a couple bunt-capable weaklings at the top of the lineup to “get things started.”

I also considered using Skip Dillard in a platoon with Denny Doyle, since Doyle had considerable trouble hitting lefties that year, while Dillard hit them decently. But when I discovered that (contrary to the text on the back of his 1977 card, which claims in customary back-of-the-card cavemanese that “Steve is outstanding glove man”) Dillard was rated by Strat-O-Matic as an atrocious 4e30 at second base (the game’s equivalent, roughly, of a statue that, defying the laws of matter, also somehow suffers from poorly timed epileptic seizures). So Doyle got the nod against lefties as well as righties, and go figure, after the Red Sox lost their opener they got on the board with a win in game 2 on the strength of Denny Doyle ripping two crucial doubles off a lefty, Mike Flanagan. I guess there’s no end to the wonders of 1977.

28 comments

  1. 1977: The year punk broke! Or whatever….


  2. Right! I actually had a whole big digression on punk in an early version of this post but decided it was too hard and I was too lazy to gracefully incorporate it into an otherwise dim view of the wider culture in ’77.


  3. You’re tempting fate by redoing the summer of The Bronx is Burning. Maybe this time, Berkowitz doesn’t get caught.


  4. 1977 was a great year. Not only did I discover The Clash and The Sex Pistols, but I turned 21. My Dodgers came pretty close that year too.


  5. The Dodgers had a homerific team that year, too (some say the league juiced the balls; others attribute the excessive homering to expansion). I think the Dodgers set some kind of a record for the number of guys with 30 dingers.


  6. I’m surprised the Red Sox didn’t trade Dillard to the Angels
    for a moustache to be named later. He certainly fit the part.

    As for the Clash and other groups in 1977:
    I think there is a high level of historical revision that takes place
    in these years. The early Clash albums were not even released in the US until 1979. Except for some college radio stations and the small circles who sought ought the imports, there wasn’t much of a punk rock scene here in 1977. Yet I notice many people who claim they were into the Clash, Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, etc, in 1976-78. Even movies about that era use punk in the sountracks. I guess they don’t want to use Boston and Supertramp. Who can blame them.


  7. College stations, imports and word of mouth is how I found out.


  8. And the punk scene was alive in L.A. in 77, though pretty small. The Masque was booking acts like The Germs and X that early. 1978 was when the scene in L.A. really took off with Madame Wongs, The Whisky and The Starwood all competing for acts.


  9. God, I love 1977.

    Home runs were crazy after the offensively-dulled ’60s and ’70s, with Foster going for his 50+, Carew with his .388, the Dodgers and Red Sox (as you mention) going big, and 1977 is not generally lauded?? Sure in terms of world peace and all that nonsense, maybe not, but Foster hit 52 and excited everybody!(http://cardboardgods.net/category/teams/cincinnati-reds/george-foster/)So did Son of Sam. And the Yankees tragic return to the top for the first time since the days of Mantle.

    I also love this Dillard card. I remember having it, before I could distinguish ballplayers in any meaningful way, and assuming Dillard was a valuable property, since he belonged to my hometown team. I forever will associate the softball pullover jersey look with home runs….


  10. I was 11 in 1977 and it was a very unpredictable year for me and a year that was kind of a watershed year in many ways.

    Here’s about 10 things that really stand out:

    *Star Wars came out and it had a huge impact on me and forever changed how I would view movies.

    *Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby died about a month apart and I remember feeling kind of shocked and uncertain because that was the first time I could remember iconic celebrities that I actually knew & remembered dying.

    *That was the year we got cable so that changed how I watched T.V.

    *We had a new president(Carter), and there seem to be a sense of optimism because he was a polar opposite to the Nixon/Agnew/Ford gang.

    *I remember watching “Roots” and just being shocked/horrified how black people had been treated in our country.

    *The Mets Traded Seaver, Matlack, Milner, Kingman and it seemed like the entire team went from being a 82 win team to a perennial 95 loss team overnight.

    *There were two new expansion teams.

    *I kind of lost interest in baseball/baseball cards and started reading a lot of comic books.

    *Cheryl Ladd replaced Farrah Fawcett on Charlie’s Angels I thought Cheryl Ladd was just the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life.

    *Suddenly overnight, girls in class had breasts which just seemed amazing and at the same time strange. These girls we had been ignoring for 6 or 7 years were suddenly the center of our attention.


  11. john q: I remember Elvis and Groucho died three days apart and the VHF channels played their movies all weekend. It felt like the End of An Era, like it always does….


  12. sb1902,

    I remember those Elvis movies as well. I just remember Crosby’s death affected me much more than Elvis because Crosby had done those Christmas specials every year and then suddenly he wasn’t going to be there anymore. It was a feeling like, if Bing Crosby could die than anybody could die. I guess it was just my first real feeling of how impermanent life is.


  13. Soundbounder,

    You’re 100% right in your assessment of the punk rock scene in the U.S. from 76-78. The scene was relatively minor and limited to Manhattan and L.A. and small college radio stations. Very few people were listening/buying The Clash, Sex Pistols and Ramones in the U.S. It was No way near as popular as the way it’s depicted in films and rock retrospectives of the time period.

    remember, most people didn’t even have f.m. radios in their cars in 1977 so just being able to hear the music was extremely difficult. The A.M. stations never played it and the f.m. rock stations played the rock acts of the 60’s-70’s.

    If you go back to the Cashbox U.S. single/album charts for ’77-78 this is what you find: The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, Debby Boone, Shaun Cassidy, Barry Manilow, Stevie Wonder, The Eagles, Leo Sayer, Rod Stewart, Barbara Streisand, Pablo Cruise, Olivia Newton John, Rita Coolidge, The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, The Grease Soundtrack, A Star is Born Soundtrack,

    And White kids in the suburbs weren’t listening to Iggy Popp or The Jam, They were buying/listening: Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Kansas, Jackson Browne, Queen, Elo, Kiss, Styx, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Doobie Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Steve Miller Band, Bob Seager, Boz Scaggs, Stealy Dan, and Billy Joel.

    Actually 60’s British bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, and Pink Floyd were way more popular in the U.S. during the late 70’s than any of the new British punk bands.

    http://cashboxmagazine.com/archives/70s_files/1977YEAP.html


  14. For what it’s worth, I recall that in 1977 I was still years from learning about punk. In 1980 and 1981 is when the news started finally reaching rural Vermont, thanks to a couple of guys on the varsity basketball team with some sort of familial connection in California (and as the Wizard says of California in Taxi Driver: “they’re way ahead out there”). There was also by then an FM radio show out of Claremont, NH, that highlighted “New Wave” music (XTC, early Stray Cats, Devo, Psychedelic Furs, etc.); my brother and I listened to that and even held a tape recorder up to the radio so we could hold on to the new songs. (I wish I could that excited about new music again!) Even though the “new” music wasn’t really a new thing elsewhere, in my town it still had a divisive effect: there were even fistfights, or at least one fistfight, between those who liked Devo and The Clash and those who were staying forever loyal to Styx, Zeppelin, Foreigner, etc.


  15. Josh,
    M106, “The Mountain”. Claremont, Lebanon.
    Why I remember that, I have no idea.

    1979 seems to be the watershed year. I can remember the Talking Heads being on SNL, and thinking how bizarre they were. My sister, who was in college, had new Elvis Costello and Patti Smith albums. It was no longer just an obscure CBGB scene. The Pretenders and Joe Jackson were on the radio. Even Ray Davies got in on the act.


  16. Soundbounder,

    I tend to agree with you about 1979 being the watershed year. That seems to me the first time we started hearing that Punk sound or what marketing people called “new wave”. Blondie, The Cars, Elvis Costello, The Police, Joe Jackson, The Pretenders.

    You start to see chart success for the first time in 1979. If you go by Cashbox’s top 100 selling albums of ’79, #9-Candy-O-The Cars, #40-Parallel Lines-Blondie, #66-Armed Forces-Elvis Costello, #82-Eat to the Beat-Blondie, #83-The Cars-The Cars.

    But the scope of music that was released was pretty narrow in those days and what was being played on the radio was pretty narrow as well.

    I don’t remember really hearing about bands like the The Clash/Ramones/Sex Pistols until around 1980. I remember there was a general feeling of fear and panic about bands like the Clash which is typical because it seems Americans are afraid of everything. Basically there was a perception that “The Clash” were literally going to take over the United States because they were social anarchists or something along those lines.

    The fear for the Ramones in retrospect is kind of silly and dumb because if you listen to their music it’s basically Chuck Berry/Buddy Holly chords played with distortion. Then mix in the Beach Boys sped up and with lyrics about stupid kid stuff like sniffing glue, girls, cars, not getting along with your parents, going to the beach, dying your hair, wearing strange clothes, boredom, etc.


  17. “As for the Clash and other groups in 1977:
    I think there is a high level of historical revision that takes place
    in these years.”

    I relation to the whole music discussion–I’d like to point out that when I made the first post, my “or whatever…” closing was meant to imply that ’77 is just what people eventually kind of decided on as “the year of punk” and that obviously different people discovered different things at different times in different places, as all your great comments have shown. (I turned two years old that year, I should point out.)

    I’m surprised (solo) Joe Walsh hasn’t come up here–in the commentary of “Over the Edge,” (released in ’79), the director said they went to high schools to ask kids what they were listening to to give the movie a more realistic feel. And overwhelmingly the kids said Joe Walsh. (And there was some story about how they wanted to use one of his songs but couldn’t or something. Anyway, Walsh blows. Though I do like In the City, but only because it reminds me of The Warriors. And it’s not even the best song called In the City.)


  18. I remember Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” as being pretty propular, but where I lived he was probably in the popularity tier below the heaviest hitters (Boston, Nugent, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Zeppelin).

    I could never hear any of Walsh’s solo work again and not miss it, but The James Gang Rides Again is an excellent album, in my opinion.


  19. Gedmaniac,

    Great points about about “Over The Edge” which we had a great discussion about on one of these cards, I can’t remember which one. That’s the most honest depiction of what suburban teen-age life was like during the late 70’s.

    I remember the soundtrack was a lot of “Cheap Trick” and “The Cars” which were very popular among teenagers ’78-79. I think there was some Van Halen which was really more of a west coast thing at the time, they didn’t really start to hit it big in the East Coast until ’81-84. I think there might have been a Ramones song as well.

    That movie was filmed in 1978 so it makes sense that a song like Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good”, (#72 1978-top100) was a popular choice. My older sister had that record and it was perceived as a quasi comedy record because Walsh was recounting all the weird/crazy stuff he had done as a rock star.

    I remember my mother bought a 1978 Potiac Sunbird with a AM/FM cassette player in it which seemed so unbelievable at the time. I still have memories of listening to “Kiss Alive 2″ and Billy Joel’s “The Stranger”, “The Star Wars soundtrack”, and my sister listening to “Kenny Loggins”, “Styx”, and “Meat Loaf”. I think the radio was something like $300 dollars which is about $900 in today’s dollars which is just insane when you think about it. It only worked properly for about 1 year 1/2. Somebody tried to steal it and broke the cassette player around 1980.

    My father never had a vehicle with a FM radio.


  20. Josh, I concur about the James Gang and a lack of enthusiasm for Walsh’s other projects. I would add that the James Gang’s “Thirds” album is also pretty damn good.

    “Life’s Been Good” got plenty of airplay in the NY area, but not as much as “Rocky Mountain Way.” (Incidentally, I would probably really enjoy “Rocky Mountain Way” if FM radio hadn’t played it to death for the last 35 years.)

    I’m a big Over The Edge fan. I found that soundtrack on vinyl at a used record store in high school and was extremely excited.

    Speaking of Cheap Trick, I saw them live in NYC in January and they were terrific. Still a lot of fun. They even played “He’s A Whore.”


  21. The ’77 Dodgers: Garvey, Cey, Baker & Smith each hit 30 or more home runs; I think Baker may have reached 30 on the last day of the season. I remember going to Dodger Stadium that year – I was just 10, and being completely overwhelmed by it.


  22. Love the reminiscing about late 1970’s music. I agree that rock and cultural revisionism places Ramones and the Clash et al at the forefront of the culture back then, but it just was not so. I was 12 in 1979 and a big big FM radio fan living in the influential NYC metropolitan area, and I had barely heard of Elvis Costello and some of the more cutting edge new wave acts. The Cars and Cheap Trick were big, but FM radio was really into Led Zeppelin, Styx, The Who, et al. and all the other classic rock (though no one called it classic rock back then since much of it was still current). People are just not that adventurous with their musical tastes. The Cashbox link will tell you all really need to know what most of us were listening to at the time.


  23. Psychsound,

    I’m about the same age as you and I also grew up in the NYC area.

    It’s kind of embarrassing when you go back and actually see what was music was selling and what was popular during the late 70’s. Radio was pretty narrow in focus as to what type of music they would play. F.M. radios were relatively expensive and kind of crude as far as reception goes. There was no MTV, no internet, no satellite radio so you were kind of limited to whatever reception you could get.

    I don’t remember kids getting into any kind of “punk music” until 1980-1981. It was a pretty small segment of the kids in my high school, maybe 15-30 kids out of a school of 1000 students.

    By that time most of those kids were into punk (1981-1984), punk music had branched off into a form of punk music called “hardcore punk” which was made up bands like Minor Threat, D.O.A., Black Flag, and The Dead Kennedys. This music had little to no radio airplay and was passed around mostly by word of mouth or underground newspapers.

    Ironically most of the “punk kids” didn’t like The Clash or the The Ramones or Elvis Costello because they said there sound was too commercial and they sold out to the big record labels.


  24. In NYC, WNEW played a lot of newer stuff in the late 70s. If you listened to WPLJ you could hear virtually the entire Who’s Next album if you listened for 3 hours but WNEW played Prog Rock and also New Wave stuff.


  25. Bjoura,

    You’re right about WPLJ basically playing the entire “Who’s Next” album. I actually didn’t mind it at the time because I was unfamiliar with a lot of rock music because that type of music was never played on A.M. radio during the 70’s when I was a kid, so it was all basically new to me.

    The one station I remember playing playing “punk” music at the time was WFMU out of Orange New Jersey, I think they were transmitted by Upsula or Seton Hall university.

    The Ramones and The Clash kind of fell through the cracks. By the time they started getting some air-play around 1980, the punks kids looked at them as “sell-outs” and commercial artists, and the mainstream kids thought their style of music was too crazy and weird.


  26. That idea of “selling out” gets thrown out a lot. I was a Blondie fan and a lot of people called them “sell-outs” when they released Heart of Glass. About the same time, the Talking Heads released their version of Take Me to the River.

    I don’t know how much of that was either band’s true vision and how much of it was pressure from the record company. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve always taken the approach that it’s the right of the artist to make and release whatever he wants and it’s my right as a fan to like it or enjoy something else.

    Guess I just never assumed that an artist had any sense of obligation to release something that I liked and approved of. Paul McCartney went about 15 years where he didn’t put out anything that I liked. Once he started making what I considered good music, I was happy to start listening and buying his stuff again.


  27. I can understand “Heart Of Glass” not being everyone’s cup of tea, but Parallel Lines is a great album that has stood the test of time in my opinion.


  28. James Hetfield once said, “Anyone who is going to accuse anyone else of selling out should at least have been made an offer first.”

    I replayed the 1977 pennant race with a different game (which didn’t think any more of Dillard than Strat), managing the Sox and, of course, falling just short at the end. Like you do.



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