Steve DillardMarch 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.