Baseball history: 2017 sixth seasonwith three 100-win teams

21 Oct 1998: Infielders Derek Jeter
21 Oct 1998: Infielders Derek Jeter /
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30 Sep 1992: George Brett of the Kansas City Royals looks on during a game against the California Angels in Anaheim, California. Mandatory Credit: Ken Levine /Allsport
30 Sep 1992: George Brett of the Kansas City Royals looks on during a game against the California Angels in Anaheim, California. Mandatory Credit: Ken Levine /Allsport /

1977—Royals, Phillies, Yankees

102-60 Kansas City Royals

101-61 Philadelphia Phillies

100-62 New York Yankees

With the Royals, Phillies, and Yankees all reaching the century mark, the 1977 season was only the second time in history in which three teams won at least 100 games. It helped that the AL had two expansion teams. The Toronto Blue Jays went 54-107 and the Seattle Mariners were 64-98. The AL also had the Oakland A’s, who were even worse than the Mariners by a half-game.

The National League almost had two 100-win teams also. The Phillies finished with 101 wins, while the Dodgers finished 98-64. An 11-10 stretch to close out the season left them two wins short. The bottom-feeders in the NL this year were the 64-98 New York Mets and the 61-101 Atlanta Braves. You need to have some awful teams in order to have some great teams.

As you’d expect, the best player on the 1977 Royals was George Brett, who hit .312/.373/.532. He filled the stat sheet with 32 doubles, 13 triples, and 22 home runs. He also scored 105 runs, drove in 88, and stole 14 bases. It was the fourth-best season of his career.

Brett had help on offense from Al Cowens (23 HR, 112 RBI) and Hal McCrae (21 HR, 92 RBI). Not only were they all great run-producers, they all reached double-digits in doubles, triples, and home runs. On the mound, Dennis Leonard was 20-12, with a 3.04 ERA. He pitched 292.7 innings and had 21 complete games, which is unheard of these days. Jim Colborn (18-14, 3.62 ERA) and Paul Splittorff (16-6, 3.69 ERA) each pitched more than 225 innings.

In the ALCS, the Royals faced a Yankees team that won 100 games for the first time since 1963. The Yankees had lost the World Series in four games to the Big Red Machine the year before and were looking to get back to the Fall Classic. Graig Nettles and Mickey Rivers were the team’s best players according to Baseball-Reference WAR, but Thurman Munson was the team captain and Reggie Jackson would be the first to tell you HE was the best player on that team and every other team he played on.

The five-game ALCS was a rematch from the previous year. In 1976, the Yankees beat the Royals in five games thanks in large part to a Chris Chambliss home run in the ninth inning of Game Five. In 1977, the Royals jumped out to a two-games-to-one lead, but lost Game Four, so it would come down to another Game Five.

The team’s aces, Paul Splittorff and Ron Guidry, were on the bump, but only Splittorff would pitch like an ace. Guidry was removed in the third inning. The Royals took a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning. A Reggie Jackson RBI-single made it 3-2. That would be all the Yankees got in the eighth, but they still had one more inning to go.

Dennis Leonard came on to pitch the ninth with the Royals needing three outs to get to the World Series. Paul Blair singled and Roy White walked and Leonard was replaced by lefty Larry Gura. Mickey Rivers singled in Blair to tie the game and Gura was replaced by Mark Littell, who promptly gave up a sacrifice fly to Willie Randolph that put the Yankees ahead. An error a couple batters later by George Brett made it 5-3 Yankees, which would be the final score.

After winning the ALCS, the Yankees faced their longtime rivals in the NL, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees won the series in six games. It was their first World Series title since 1962 and the only World Series title that Billy Martin ever won as a manager. This was the Fall Classic in which Reggie Jackson earned his “Mr. October” nickname, in part because he blasted three home runs in Game 6.

While the Yankees and Royals were reaching the 100-win threshold in the AL, the Phillies were doing it in the NL. Mike Schmidt (38 HR, 101 RBI) and Greg “Bull” Luzinski (39 HR, 130 RBI) were the big boppers. Luzinski finished second in NL MVP voting even though he finished with less than half the WAR as Schmidt (8.8 WAR for Schmidt to 4.2 WAR for Luzinski).

The staff ace was NL Cy Young winner Steve Carlton, who went 23-10 with a 2.64 ERA in 283 innings. Larry Christensen won 19 games despite a 4.06 ERA. He also hit three home runs and had 13 RBI. The bullpen trifecta of Gene Garber, Ron Reed, and Tug McGraw combined for 43 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA.

After winning the NL East by five games, the Phillies squared off against the Dodgers in the NLCS. They lost, three games to one. Mike Schmidt was 1 for 16 and Steve Carlton had a 6.94 ERA in 11.7 innings. It’s tough to win when your two best players perform so poorly.