The virtual 1969-76 Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians (Part 8:  1975-76)

We’ve reached the final round of our eight-season counterfactual exploration of three franchises in the American League East Division in the bell-bottom era:

1968-69
1969-70
1970-71
1971-72
1972-73
1973-74
1974-75

By far, the most successful of our ball clubs has been the Red Sox, capturing three virtual division flags as opposed to the single championship they actually won. Our Yankees, in a manner similar to their real-life counterparts, have found themselves stuck in a good-but-not-good-enough rut, the most frustrating season being 1975, when they whipped Boston in run differential but finished ten games behind as a result of Pythagorean mischief. Our Indians, meanwhile, have been quite inconsistent, alternating bold forward strides with stumbles.

          Yankees:  Actual          Red Sox:  Actual           Indians:  Actual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    80   81   5   562  587    87   75   3   743  736    62   99   6   573  717
 1970    93   69   2   680  612    87   75   3   786  722    76   86   5   649  675
 1971    82   80   4   648  641    85   77   3   691  667    60  102   6   543  747
 1972    79   76   4   557  527    85   70   2   640  620    72   84   5   472  519
 1973    80   82   4   641  610    89   73   2   738  647    71   91   6   680  826
 1974    89   73   2   671  623    84   78   3   696  661    77   85   4   662  694
 1975    83   77   3   681  588    95   65   1   796  709    79   80   4   688  703

          Yankees:  Virtual         Red Sox:  Virtual         Indians:  Virtual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    80   81   5   594  617    85   77   4   775  781    68   93   6   576  658
 1970    95   67   2   677  599    89   73   3   781  706    82   80   4   706  680
 1971    87   75   3   662  611    84   78   4   690  673    73   89   5   657  748
 1972    82   73   3   590  545    89   66   1   627  579    82   74   4   558  534
 1973    86   76   4   709  630    89   73   3   721  633    92   70   2   740  679
 1974    80   82   3   679  717    98   64   1   734  582    71   91   6   639  714
 1975    87   73   3   709  590    97   63   1   813  720    82   77   4   689  667

Let’s see how each team prepares itself for our final competition.

The 1975-76 offseason: Actual deals we will make

Oct. 24, 1975: The Cleveland Indians sold catcher Jeff Newman to the Oakland Athletics.

Like the actual Indians, we can spare this minor league journeyman.

Nov. 17, 1975: The Boston Red Sox traded outfielder Juan Beniquez, pitcher Steve Barr, and a player to be named later to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Fergie Jenkins. (On Dec. 12, 1975, the Red Sox sent pitcher Craig Skok to the Rangers, completing the deal.)

We understand that the soon-to-be-33-year-old Jenkins is past his peak, but there’s likely to be a long and productive way down from a pinnacle that high. This is the very definition of a bargain, and like the real-life Red Sox, we’ll snap it up.

Dec. 11, 1975: The New York Yankees traded pitcher Doc Medich to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitchers Dock Ellis and Ken Brett and second baseman Willie Randolph.

Though we love the young workhorse Medich, we just can’t turn down this three-for-one offer. Neither Ellis nor Brett is as good as Medich, but combined they’ll likely deliver at least as much value. And the real key is the 21-year-old Randolph, who’s completed a highly impressive minor league apprenticeship and looks like he might develop into a top-tier second baseman. Our Yankees got a strong performance at that position in 1975 from the journeyman Denny Doyle, but we’re not naïve enough to expect that in the long run.

And, as we commented before on this Blockbuster:

… the worst trade in the 20-year tenure of Pirates GM Joe Brown: Watching Medich (who gained his nickname because he’d studied medicine, and was endeavoring to become an M.D.) struggle on the mound in 1976, a Pittsburgh writer moaned, “Ellis is a better doctor than this guy.”

In fairness to Brown, Medich didn’t truly perform all that badly for the Pirates, but he sure didn’t deliver what they’d anticipated. But that’s the risk in a three-for-one, and that risk is heightened when the one is a pitcher.

The 1975-76 offseason: Actual deals we will not make

Nov. 22, 1975: The New York Yankees traded pitcher Pat Dobson to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Oscar Gamble.

Our Yankees would be happy to make this trade—Gamble would fit in wonderfully at DH—but our Indians aren’t having any of it. Unlike real-life Cleveland GM Phil Seghi, we think an eight-year age difference in a straight-up trade might be something to take into consideration.

Dec. 9, 1975: The Cleveland Indians purchased catcher Ray Fosse from the Oakland Athletics.

In his three seasons in Oakland, the one-time young Cleveland star, plagued by injuries, has seen his batting average go from .256 to .196 to .140. We don’t like the trend. (The joke will be on us, as in a semi-regular deployment for the actual Indians in 1976, Fosse would rebound to .301.)

Dec. 11, 1975: The New York Yankees traded outfielder Bobby Bonds to the California Angels outfielder Mickey Rivers and pitcher Ed Figueroa .

Sure, it’s one-for-two, but we’re skeptical about each of the two. The slap-hitting speedster Rivers has a decidedly narrow skill profile, and Figueroa is a 27-year-old with just a single season of major league success. Upon due consideration, we’ll decide to stick with the remarkably productive Bonds.

Dec. 12, 1975: The Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Roger Moret to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Tom House.

Our Red Sox don’t have Moret. Our Yankees do, but in any case our Yankees prefer Moret over House.

Dec. 12, 1975: The Cleveland Indians traded second baseman Jack Brohamer to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Larvell Blanks.

Furthermore, our Indians don’t have Brohamer. Our Red Sox do, but, you guessed it, they prefer Brohamer over Blanks.

March 3, 1976: The Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Dick Drago to the California Angels for outfielders John Balaz and Dick Sharon and infielder Dave Machemer.

Not only do our Red Sox not have Drago, even if we did, we wouldn’t be interested in this bag of spare parts.

The 1975-76 offseason: Deals we will invoke

October, 1975: The Boston Red Sox purchased infielder Steve Huntz from the San Diego Padres.

In several tries, the almost-30-year-old Huntz has utterly failed to hit for average at the major league level. But in the minors he’s been an outstanding on-base guy, with nice pop to boot.

With Rico Petrocelli starting to look pretty creaky, our Red Sox are concerned about third base, and we’ll see if the switch-hitting Huntz might be able to help us out.

Nov. 12, 1975: The Cleveland Indians traded second baseman Dave Nelson to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Nelson Briles.

Actually it was the Texas Rangers making this deal with Kansas City. Our Indians will happily do it instead, given that Nelson (the infielder) is entirely surplus for us at this point, and the strike-throwing veteran Nelson (Briles) looks like he’s still got something left in the tank.

Nov., 1975: The New York Yankees traded infielder George Zeber and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Mike Easler.

Despite spending several years in the Houston and St. Louis organizations punishing opposing pitchers, Easler has never gotten more than a major league cup of coffee because of problematic defense. Sounds like a born designated hitter to us.

Given that our Yankees have some concerns about our DH situation, it makes sense to give him a try. And given that the Cardinals would soon dump Easler in exchange for a workaday minor league infielder, it’s plausible that we could tempt them with this workaday minor league infielder.

Dec. 9, 1975: The New York Yankees traded catcher John Ellis to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Stan Thomas and catcher-outfielder Ron Pruitt.

Actually it was the Indians making this one with the Rangers. It makes just as much sense for our Yankees. The versatile Pruitt looks like he can handle Ellis’s utility role, while Thomas is a useful new arm for the bullpen.

Dec. 12, 1975: The New York Yankees traded pitcher Ken Brett and infielder Sandy Alomar to the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Rick Miller, infielder Mario Guerrero, and pitcher Rick Kreuger.

Our Yankees will pivot and deal the newly-acquired Brett, because we aren’t confident Elliott Maddox will be ready to return to center field until well into the 1976 season. In Miller, we’re getting a first-rate defensive center fielder with an adequate bat.

Our Red Sox are willing to expend Miller because he’s superfluous with Fred Lynn’s emergence. Here we neatly convert that surplus into pitching depth.

Jan., 1976: The Boston Red Sox traded pitcher Fritz Peterson to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Bobby Coluccio.

And with the southpaw Brett on board, the veteran Peterson is expendable. The toolsy young Coluccio will compete for one of the bench spots that Beniquez and Miller have vacated.

Feb. 14, 1976: The Boston Red Sox signed pitcher Wayne Granger as a free agent.

A veteran arm who might win a bullpen job.

Feb. 15, 1976: The Boston Red Sox signed outfielder-first baseman Bobby Tolan as a free agent.

A veteran bat who might win a bench job.

Feb. 20, 1976: The New York Yankees traded catcher Ed Herrmann to the California Angels for catcher-first baseman Adrian Garrett and outfielder-infielder Paul Dade.

Actually the Yankees sold Herrmann to California on this date. Our version prefers this pair of minor league handymen instead, either or both of whom might contribute from our bench.

April 7, 1976: The New York Yankees released pitcher Diego Segui.

Segui has had a real nice run for us, but he won’t be making the staff this year.

April 7, 1976: The Boston Red Sox released first baseman Deron Johnson.

This veteran did splendidly in his final-week cameo with Boston last season, but we don’t have room on the Opening Day roster.

The 1976 season: Actual deals we will make

April 19, 1976: The Boston Red Sox sold catcher Tim Blackwell to the Philadelphia Phillies.

This spare part hasn’t made the big league roster this year, and we’ve got other young catchers coming along in the minors.

The 1976 season: Actual deals we will not make

May 16, 1976: The New York Yankees traded pitcher Larry Gura to the Kansas City Royals for catcher Fran Healy.

It’s our Indians who have Gura, not our Yankees, and there’s no way we’ll make this pointless move.

May 18, 1976: The New York Yankees traded pitcher Ken Brett and outfielder Rich Coggins to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder-first baseman Carlos May.

Our Yanks have already traded Brett. In any case, though May is a good offensive player, he isn’t that good, and he has zilch defensive value, so none of our teams would make this deal anyway.

June 3, 1976: The Boston Red Sox traded outfielder Bernie Carbo to the Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Tom Murphy and outfielder Bobby Darwin.

Since our Red Sox don’t have Carbo, we can’t make this one. We certainly wouldn’t be inclined to anyway, as it made precious little on-field sense. Very likely the motivation of the actual Red Sox was concern, whether based on knowledge or suspicion, of Carbo’s fondness for drugs.

June 4, 1976: The New York Yankees traded pitchers Rudy May, Tippy Martinez, Dave Pagan, and Scott McGregor and catcher Rick Dempsey to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Ken Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Grant Jackson, and Jimmy Freeman and catcher Elrod Hendricks.

Woah, Nellie. What was this humdinger all about?

The purpose of this mega-exchange was quite clear: the Orioles, scuffling at 25-31, were willing to give up talent in the short term in order to get younger, while the Yankees, getting so close they could taste it after their long rebuilding program, were loading up to win now. All that made sense, although the one piece of it that never added up to me was why the rock-solid 31-year-old veteran May was going from New York to Baltimore.

Anyway, the Yankees got their eagerly-awaited pennant in ’76, and it’s impossible to argue with the success they sustained over the next several seasons. But did Yankee General Manager Gabe Paul give up a boatload of talent here, or what? May was predictably good, Martinez and Dempsey both became productive assets for the Orioles for a long time, and McGregor became a star. Baltimore GM Hank Peters executed a spectacularly successful trade.

Our Yankees have all these ingredients except Dempsey. Nevertheless we aren’t tempted by what the Orioles have to offer.

July 10, 1976: The New York Yankees traded a player to be named later to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Gene Locklear. (On July 31, 1976, the Yankees sent pitcher Rick Sawyer to the Padres, completing the deal.)

We’re not interested in Locklear, and in any case it’s our Indians who have Sawyer.

Sep. 1, 1976: The New York Yankees signed outfielder-infielder Cesar Tovar as a free agent.

We don’t see a need for this veteran.

The 1976 season: Deals we will invoke

June 15, 1976: The New York Yankees purchased pitcher Rollie Fingers from the Oakland Athletics.

June 15, 1976: The Boston Red Sox purchased pitcher Vida Blue from the Oakland Athletics.

June 15, 1976: The Cleveland Indians purchased outfielder Joe Rudi from the Oakland Athletics.

June 18, 1976: The purchases of Fingers, Blue, and Rudi were cancelled by the Commissioner’s office, and all three players returned to the Athletics.

Ah, yes, this little adventure. Seeing free agency looming in the fall like the headlight of an oncoming freight train, Oakland owner Charlie Finley is seeking to get what he can for his remaining stars. (In actuality, the deals were Blue to the Yankees, Fingers and Rudi to the Red Sox, and nobody to the Indians. But these versions make more sense for our teams, and our Tribe doesn’t want to be left out.)

Alas, wisely or not, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn intervenes before any of the players are allowed to perform for their new ball clubs, and “in the best interests of baseball,” the deals are kiboshed. Oh well.

July 14, 1976: The New York Yankees traded outfielder Rich Coggins to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder-catcher Wayne Nordhagen.

Actually on this date, the Phillies made this trade with the White Sox. Coggins has been a bust. Nordhagen (originally in the Yankee organization, then traded as part of the Pat Dobson deal in 1973) is a 28-year-old minor league journeyman, a consistently good-but-not-great triple-A hitter.

1976 season results

Yankees

We haven’t undertaken major changes—after all, we “won” 95 Pythagorean games in 1975—but we have endeavored to add depth to the roster. The rookie Randolph will compete with the incumbent Doyle at second base, and Miller is on hand in center field in case Maddox isn’t up to it. Similarly, Easler will take over as the lefty-hitting DH if Ron Blomberg is still hobbling.

The pitching staff returns intact with the exceptions of Ellis replacing Medich in the rotation, and Thomas replacing Segui in the bullpen.

1976 New York Yankees     Won 87    Lost 72    Finished 3rd

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   C. Chambliss*   27  156 641  77 188  32   6  17  95  27  80 .293 .323 .441 .764  123
   2B   W. Randolph     21  125 430  57 115  15   4   1  40  58  39 .267 .352 .328 .680  101
   SS   R. Metzger#     28  101 241  18  50   8   3   0  14  22  34 .207 .269 .266 .534   58
   3B   B. Bell         24  159 604  72 171  26   3   7  65  45  52 .283 .329 .371 .700  106
   RF   B. Bonds        30   99 378  52 102  11   3  11  60  43  94 .270 .345 .402 .747  119
   CF   R. Miller*      28  150 524  71 140  23   5   3  49  64  85 .267 .339 .347 .686  102
   LF   R. White#       32  156 626 101 179  29   3  14  64  83  52 .286 .360 .409 .769  126
   C    T. Munson       29  152 616  77 186  27   1  17 104  29  38 .302 .337 .432 .769  125
   DH   M. Easler*      25   93 289  37  80  16   1   9  42  26  60 .277 .333 .433 .766  124

   IF   M. Guerrero     26   83 268  26  79  13   0   1  22   8  13 .295 .311 .354 .666   96
   2B   D. Doyle*       32   59 173  19  40   6   2   0  10   8  17 .231 .262 .289 .551   62
   OF   R. Bladt        29   65 151  18  35   5   1   2  15  18  25 .232 .320 .318 .638   88
   UT   O. Velez        25   65 140  17  37   8   0   4  17  31  36 .264 .395 .407 .802  136
   UT   R. Pruitt       24   47  86   7  23   2   1   0   6  16   9 .267 .375 .314 .689  104
   UT   A. Garrett*     33   35  73   8  13   3   0   2   9   7  22 .178 .244 .301 .545   60
   OF   T. Whitfield*   23   29  70   7  17   3   1   1   9   6  11 .243 .299 .357 .656   92
   OF   R. Coggins*     25   28  68   4  11   1   0   0   3   5  12 .162 .216 .176 .393   16
   OF   W. Nordhagen    27   22  53   7  10   2   0   0   6   4  12 .189 .230 .226 .456   34
   OF   E. Maddox       28   18  46   4  10   2   0   0   3   4   3 .217 .275 .261 .535   58
   OF   P. Dade         24   22  41   6  10   1   0   0   6   7   6 .244 .347 .268 .615   83

        Others                   43   3   7   1   0   0   4   2   9 .163 .200 .186 .386   14

        Total                  5561 688 1503 234 34  89 643 513 709 .270 .329 .373 .701  106

        * Bats left
        # Bats both

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        C. Hunter       30   36  36  21  15  15   0 299 268 126 117   28   68  173 3.52   98
        R. May*         31   35  32   7  14  10   0 220 210 109  94   16   70  111 3.85   90
        P. Dobson       34   35  35   6  16  12   0 217 226  99  84   13   65  117 3.48   99
        D. Ellis        31   32  32   8  15   8   0 212 195  83  75   14   76   65 3.18  109
        R. Moret*       26   36  12   1   5   8   1 116 121  60  58    9   35   44 4.50   77

        S. Lockwood     29   56   0   0  10   7  17  94  62  32  29    7   31  108 2.78  125
        S. Thomas       26   44   2   1   5   4   6 117  98  37  31    6   45   58 2.38  145
        T. Martinez*    26   39   0   0   4   1  10  70  52  20  19    1   42   46 2.44  142
        D. Pagan        26   27   6   1   2   5   1  71  75  42  39    2   27   48 4.94   70

        Others                    4   1   1   2   0  39  43  20  18    2   15   18 4.15   83

        Total                   159  46  87  72 35 1455 1350 628 564  98  474  788 3.49   99

        * Throws left

The good news is that nearly every move we make yields positive results. Randolph proves to be a peach, winning the second base job over the course of the season. Miller neatly plugs the center field hole. Easler begins to develop a reputation as a “Hit Man.”

Ellis isn’t as durable as Medich had been, but he’s nicely effective. And not only does Thomas provide a strong year as a reliever (as does sophomore Tippy Martinez), but journeyman Skip Lockwood, who’d quietly posted a career-best strikeout rate as a mop-up man in ’75, fully blossoms at the age of 29 into a dominant ace reliever.

Not only that, catcher Thurman Munson, left fielder Roy White, and first baseman Chris Chambliss all deliver excellent years, and third baseman Buddy Bell is solidly good. It seems that we finally have every ingredient in place to deliver a championship to The Big Apple.

Every ingredient that is, except two: both of our marquee superstars fall short. Ace Catfish Hunter, at the age of 30, displays a noticeable loss of zip on his fastball, and performs not as the elite ace of recent seasons, but instead as something closer to an earnest innings-eater. And right fielder Bobby Bonds, also 30, suffers the first significant injury of his career, a hand ailment that keeps him out for a third of the season, and saps his power when he’s in the lineup.

The result is that we just don’t have the oomph to get into the winner’s circle. Pythagoras does us no harm this year; our 87 wins are exactly what we “deserve,” good only for yet another close-but-no-cigar third-place finish.

Red Sox

With back-to-back division flags under our belt, our Red Sox aren’t doing much messing with the formula. The only notable change is Jenkins and Brett beefing up the starting pitcher ranks, and we’ve shuffled a few cards on the bench.

1976 Boston Red Sox     Won 88    Lost 74    Finished 4th

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
 1B-LF  C. Yastrzemski* 36  155 546  74 146  23   2  21 100  80  67 .267 .357 .432 .789  120
   2B   J. Brohamer*    26  119 354  38  93  15   2   8  40  46  30 .263 .341 .384 .725  102
   SS   R. Burleson     25  152 540  78 157  27   1   7  42  60  37 .291 .360 .383 .744  108
   3B   B. Hobson       24   76 269  36  63   7   5   8  34  15  62 .234 .267 .387 .654   81
 RF-CF  D. Evans        24  146 501  64 121  34   5  17  61  57  92 .242 .322 .431 .753  109
   CF   F. Lynn*        24  132 507  79 159  32   8  10  64  48  67 .314 .367 .467 .835  132
 L-R-D  J. Rice         23  153 581  78 164  25   8  25  83  28 123 .282 .314 .482 .796  120
   C    C. Fisk         28  121 438  71 113  15   5  15  52  51  63 .258 .337 .418 .754  110
 DH-RF  R. Smith#       31  112 395  65 103  17   5  21  58  29  70 .261 .314 .489 .802  122

 1B-DH  C. Cooper*      26  123 451  69 127  22   6  15  76  16  62 .282 .298 .457 .755  109
   IF   F. Gonzalez     26   60 179  17  46   9   1   4  20   6  31 .257 .282 .385 .667   85
   3B   R. Petrocelli   33   57 160  12  34   5   1   2  16  23  24 .213 .306 .294 .600   68
   2B   S. Alomar#      32   67 163  21  42   4   0   1  10  13  12 .258 .309 .301 .610   71
   3B   S. Huntz#       30   28  88  10  16   3   0   2   7  13  13 .182 .282 .284 .566   58
   OF   B. Tolan*       30   37  91  11  22   2   0   2  12   2  14 .242 .258 .330 .587   63
   IF   S. Dillard      25   38  84  12  22   7   0   1   8   8  11 .262 .319 .381 .700   95
   C    T. McCarver*    34   36  78  14  21   6   1   2  14  14   8 .269 .383 .449 .832  132
   C    V. Correll      30   17  50   7  10   2   0   2   4   4  11 .200 .255 .360 .615   70

        Others                   43   5   7   2   0   2   5   3   9 .163 .213 .349 .562   55

        Total                  5518 761 1466 257 50 165 706 516 806 .266 .326 .420 .746  107

        * Bats left
        # Bats both

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        L. Tiant        35   38  38  19  21  11   0 279 274 107  95   25   64  131 3.06  129
        F. Jenkins      33   30  29  12  12  10   0 209 201  85  76   20   43  142 3.27  121
        L. McGlothen    26   32  25   8  11  10   0 179 191  92  83   10   53   95 4.17   95
        K. Brett*       27   32  19   7   9   7   1 178 155  79  69    8   66   81 3.49  114
        R. Cleveland    28   41  14   3  10   8   1 170 159  73  58    3   61   76 3.07  129
        M. Pattin       33   44  15   4   8  13   3 141 120  57  44   11   38   63 2.81  141
        B. Lee*         29   24  14   1   5   6   1  96 124  68  60   13   28   29 5.63   70
        J. Burton*      26    6   6   1   2   2   0  34  38  26  26    5   26   18 6.88   58

        S. Lyle*        31   64   0   0   7   7  20 104  86  37  30    8   42   59 2.60  153
        W. Granger      32   35   0   0   2   0   1  51  54  24  19    7   22   21 3.35  118

        Others                    2   0   1   0   0  17  22   8   7    1    4    8 3.71  107

        Total                   162  55  88  74 27 1458 1424 656 567 111  447  723 3.50  113

        * Throws left

We have two key issues. First, we’d hoped to coax one final first-string year from the injury-ridden 33-year-old Petrocelli at third base, but by mid-season it’s clear that isn’t going to work. Huntz fails to seize the opportunity, and so in late June we call up power-hitting rookie Butch Hobson, who flashes raw talent—emphasis on the “raw.”

Second, southpaw Bill Lee, a top starter for the past few years, encounters a dreadful, injury-plagued season.

But broadly, things go according to expectation. Center fielder Fred Lynn isn’t as spectacular as in 1975, but he’s still excellent. Our remarkable offensive depth remains in abundant evidence, and our attack is very nearly the best in the league. Our pitching is so strong as to shrug off the bad year from Lee, and with ace Luis Tiant delivering another superb performance, we lead the league in ERA+.

It adds up to yet another formidable Boston ball club. But our Pythagorean fortune isn’t what it was in 1975, as we fall three short of our projected 91 wins. In an exceptionally competitive division race, our 88-74 record lands us all the way back in fourth place.

Indians

Our offensive roster returns entirely intact. The only meaningful difference is that this time around we’ll have impressive young center fielder Rick Manning around for the entire season.

And we’re adding only one new face to the pitching staff, the veteran Briles. Alongside him, the presence of sophomore Dennis Eckersley from the get-go will allow us to find out if a trio of pitchers—right-handers Stan Bahnsen and Jim Kern and lefty Larry Gura—may benefit from fewer starting assignments and more time out of the bullpen.

1976 Cleveland Indians     Won 91    Lost 68    Finished 1st

  Pos   Player         Age    G  AB   R   H  2B  3B  HR RBI  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS OPS+
   1B   G. Scott        32  156 606  78 166  21   5  18  77  53 113 .274 .334 .414 .748  121
   2B   D. Kuiper*      26  135 506  47 133  13   6   0  36  30  42 .263 .295 .312 .608   80
   SS   F. Duffy        29  126 372  36  79  10   2   2  28  28  48 .212 .263 .266 .529   57
   3B   G. Nettles*     31  158 583  88 150  29   2  30  88  60  89 .257 .327 .468 .795  134
 RF-CF  G. Hendrick     26  149 551  73 146  20   3  25  77  51  82 .265 .322 .448 .771  127
   CF   R. Manning*     21  138 552  74 161  24   7   6  43  41  75 .292 .333 .393 .726  115
   LF   O. Gamble*      26  120 367  47  87  14   1  18  57  40  39 .237 .317 .428 .745  119
   C    A. Ashby#       24  104 329  35  80   7   1   5  41  37  64 .243 .310 .316 .626   86
   DH   R. Carty        36  142 515  64 160  32   0  12  73  63  42 .311 .381 .443 .823  143

 LF-RF  C. Spikes       25   70 211  23  50   6   4   2  17  15  31 .237 .294 .332 .626   85
   IF   L. Alvarado     27   65 196  23  44  11   1   3  15  11  29 .224 .262 .337 .599   76
   OF   J. Lowenstein*  29   62 153  22  31   5   1   1   9  16  24 .203 .275 .268 .543   61
   IF   E. Crosby*      27   65 131   8  25   1   1   0   7  16  14 .191 .275 .214 .488   46
   C    R. Dempsey      26   53 108   7  21   1   0   0   5   7  11 .194 .246 .204 .449   34
   C    D. Duncan       30   42  86   7  17   2   0   1   5   6  18 .198 .247 .256 .503   49
   DH   F. Robinson     40   36  67   5  15   0   0   3  10  11  12 .224 .329 .358 .687  104

        Others                   60   5  13   1   0   1   4   4   8 .217 .266 .283 .549   63

        Total                  5393 642 1378 197 34 127 592 489 741 .256 .314 .375 .690  104

        * Bats left
        # Bats both

        Pitcher        Age    G  GS  CG   W   L  SV  IP   H   R  ER   HR   BB   SO  ERA ERA+
        G. Perry        37   32  32  21  18  12   0 250 224  93  87   15   54  149 3.13  111
        J. Colborn      30   32  32   7  12  12   0 226 232 100  93   20   54  109 3.70   94
        N. Briles       32   32  31   7  14   7   1 210 216  87  73   17   49  101 3.13  111
        D. Eckersley    21   36  30   9  16  10   1 199 155  82  76   13   78  200 3.44  101
        S. Bahnsen      31   25  14   1   6   6   0 112 100  50  46   12   34   66 3.70   94

        D. LaRoche*     28   61   0   0   2   3  21  96  57  25  24    2   49  104 2.25  155
        J. Kern         27   48   4   0  11   6   5 118  91  38  31    2   50  111 2.36  147
        D. Tidrow       29   45   4   0   4   6   1  92  82  31  27    4   24   65 2.64  132
        L. Gura*        28   19   3   1   4   1   1  63  44  22  16    5   20   22 2.29  152
        J. Strickland*  30    8   1   0   1   2   0  15  19  15  13    3   11    9 7.80   45

        Others                    8   1   3   3   0  51  55  20  19    3   23   21 3.35  104

        Total                   159  47  91  68 30 1432 1275 563 505  96  446  957 3.17  110

        * Throws left

Everything doesn’t go perfectly. First baseman George Scott sees his home run output decline by half. Ace Gaylord Perry, while still quite good, is distinctly less dominant than before. Outfielder Charlie Spikes fails to rebound from the slump that plagued him as a sophomore in 1975.

But: third baseman Graig Nettles reaches a career high in home runs, leading the league in that category. Designated hitter Rico Carty, right fielder George Hendrick, and left fielder Oscar Gamble all deliver their customary strong production. Manning performs like a developing star.

Briles steps up with his best year since 1973, and with Eckersley emerging as one of the best young pitchers in the league, our starting rotation behind Perry is rock-solid.

Ace fireman Dave LaRoche has his second straight outstanding season, and Kern and Dick Tidrow both blossom as relievers behind him, creating a bullpen—that was a disaster just a couple of years ago—as effective as any in the majors.

The division race is a fierce season-long four-way battle, with a strong Orioles team mixing it up with our Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians. When the dust settles, it’s our Tribe on top, four-and-a-half games ahead of Boston, four ahead of New York, and two-and-a-half ahead of Baltimore. Cleveland captures its first championship since 1954.

Manager Frank Robinson isn’t just the toast of The Rock ‘n Roll Capitol. His story as the first black manager in big league history, nabbing a title in his second season, is a national sensation. The nature of this ball club—not centered around any particular superstar, but instead a deep and well-balanced team—renders it especially interesting and likeable. The 1976 Cleveland Indians stride into the promised land of baseball lore, one of the best-loved episodes in the long saga of the sport.

Epilogue

          Yankees:  Actual          Red Sox:  Actual           Indians:  Actual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    80   81   5   562  587    87   75   3   743  736    62   99   6   573  717
 1970    93   69   2   680  612    87   75   3   786  722    76   86   5   649  675
 1971    82   80   4   648  641    85   77   3   691  667    60  102   6   543  747
 1972    79   76   4   557  527    85   70   2   640  620    72   84   5   472  519
 1973    80   82   4   641  610    89   73   2   738  647    71   91   6   680  826
 1974    89   73   2   671  623    84   78   3   696  661    77   85   4   662  694
 1975    83   77   3   681  588    95   65   1   796  709    79   80   4   688  703
 1976    97   62   1   730  575    83   79   3   716  660    81   78   4   615  615

          Yankees:  Virtual         Red Sox:  Virtual         Indians:  Virtual
 Year     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA     W    L  Pos   RS   RA
 1969    80   81   5   594  617    85   77   4   775  781    68   93   6   576  658
 1970    95   67   2   677  599    89   73   3   781  706    82   80   4   706  680
 1971    87   75   3   662  611    84   78   4   690  673    73   89   5   657  748
 1972    82   73   3   590  545    89   66   1   627  579    82   74   4   558  534
 1973    86   76   4   709  630    89   73   3   721  633    92   70   2   740  679
 1974    80   82   3   679  717    98   64   1   734  582    71   91   6   639  714
 1975    87   73   3   709  590    97   63   1   813  720    82   77   4   689  667
 1976    87   72   3   688  628    88   74   4   761  656    91   68   1   642  563

What have we learned from this fanciful romp through the first half of the Me Decade?

This isn’t an original revelation, but the exercise has vividly demonstrated the degree to which the Boston organization developed the most farm-raised talent of any of these teams in this period, by a wide margin. Had the actual Red Sox been more prudent in sorting and deploying their bountiful crop, they may well have vied with Earl Weaver’s Orioles as the dominant AL East force through these years.

Similarly, while we understood that the division-and-pennant-winning Yankee team of 1976 was largely built through a sequence of shrewd trades, here we’ve illustrated the stark manner in which their particular heists of Sparky Lyle from the Red Sox and Graig Nettles from the Indians were pivotal in determining the balance of power in the division. Moreover, their 1975 trade of Bobby Bonds for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa, a high-stakes gamble deemed too risky to undertake by our New Yorkers, paid off exquisitely, as not only did Rivers and Figueroa come through, but the real-life Yankees avoided the negative consequences of Bonds’s 1976 injury.

As for the Indians, perhaps they’re the most interesting story among the three. The actual Cleveland franchise struggled both on the field and at the gate in these years, achieving mediocrity at best. This exercise has shown that it didn’t have to be that way. An Indians organization that didn’t squander the not-inconsiderable talent available to them might well have had competitive moments in the early ’70s. And if most everything broke right as it did for our ’76 Tribe, instead of being remembered today as a bumbling crew wearing garishly ugly uniforms before a near-empty Municipal Stadium, the Cleveland Indians of that era might be known as a plucky winner that captured the hearts of the citizenry of the Metropolis of the Western Reserve.

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Comments

  1. John C said...

    As a Red Sox fan, I much prefer your version of the first half of the 1970s to the actual one.

    Looking at what the Indians have on hand, I couldn’t help but think that they might win another pennant in 1978. Heading up the rotation that year would be Eckersley (20-8, 2.99 for Boston), Perry (21-6, 2.73 for San Diego) and Gura (16-4, 2.72 for KC). Some of the hitters had dropped off a cliff by then, but if these Indians still managed to heist Andre Thornton from the Expos after the ‘76 season, they could stand Scott suddenly getting old during the ‘77 off-season.

  2. Steve Treder said...

    Yes, but with the still-productive Scott on the Cleveland roster in December 1976 (and, in this scenario, coming off a division title), I don’t see this Cleveland team trading for Thornton, even for the bargain price of a Jackie Brown.

    But you’re certainly correct that with this pitching nucleus, plus Nettles and Hendrick providing power, these Indians would be a tough competitor in ‘78.  By this point we’ve entered into the free agent era, however, and it becomes much more difficult to nail down plausible counterfactual scenarios, and therefore there are lots of possibilities as to how these Yankees and these Red Sox might line up in 1978.

  3. Devin McCullen said...

    I guess it’s not impossible with some rainouts, but is it actually supposed to be the case that the Yankees are in 3rd place with 87 wins, and the Red Sox are in 4th with 88?

  4. Steve Treder said...

    Yes, because of the non-made-up rainouts that afflicted the AL East that year, the Yankees (and Indians) only played 159 games to completion.  So our Yankees at 87-72 have a better winning percentage than the Red Sox at 88-74.

    Had the division title depended upon it, as many of those rainouts as necessary would have been made up.  But in our scenario as in real life, the winner was determined without having to play the full 162-game schedule.

  5. Paul G. said...

    If the Yankees did execute the Bonds for Rivers and Figueroa trade, would that have made a significant difference in 1976?  For that matter, would the big Baltimore trade have changed the outcome?

  6. Steve Treder said...

    “If the Yankees did execute the Bonds for Rivers and Figueroa trade, would that have made a significant difference in 1976?”

    Oh, absolutely.  A huge difference.  Rivers instead of the injured Bonds alone is a big upgrade, and beefing up the already-strong pitching staff with the addition of Figueroa adds more.  And in a race this close, it wouldn’t take much to swing the outcome.  I’m pretty sure that if my version of the Yankees makes this trade, they win it in ‘76.

    “For that matter, would the big Baltimore trade have changed the outcome?”

    Less dramatically, because that trade wasn’t so impactful in 1976 alone as it would be down the road.  But again, in a race this close, everything matters.

  7. raodrider said...

    “Perhaps, oh just perhaps, you might accept just how fortunate you have been to be a lifelong Yankee fan.”

    Yeah, I thought that a lot during the Horace Clarke era and the Stump Merrill years.

  8. roadrider said...

    Steve,

    In general, love these alternate histories – but you’re killing me (lifelong Yankee fan) with this one. No Sweet Lou, no Puff (Nettles), no Mick the Quick and no AL flag in 1976. Ouch! I’m glad I lived the real thing.

    Do we at least sign Reggie Jackson in the off-season?

  9. Steve Treder said...

    Perhaps, oh just perhaps, you might accept just how fortunate you have been to be a lifelong Yankee fan.
    grin

    They’re the Yankees.  They’ll sign whoever they please.

  10. scott said...

    Well, thanks Steve for giving us Indians fans at least 1 (virtual) division crown.  I always found it odd that the Indians’ total crap years coincided exactly with them being in the AL East.  In the 1960s they were decidedly mediocre, highlighted by a 3rd place finish in ‘68, then starting in ‘69 they tanked completely, finishing at or over .500 exactly FOUR times. In the early 90s they had the foundation of their really good teams but it wasn’t until ‘94, their first year out of the AL East, that they turned the corner.

    Your virtual Indians could not trade Jackie Brown for Thornton because they got him in the Gaylord trade.  They would have had to acquire Brown (or Thornton) via different means.

    Thanks Steve!  And keep these virtual teams/years coming!  Especially from the 60s and 70s.

  11. Steve Treder said...

    Definitely, the Rangers were that kind of team.  A ton of talent flowed through the organization in those years, but they never seemed to have any sort of plan, it was just haphazard buy/sell/buy/sell.

  12. John C said...

    I didn’t think about the fact that the Indians never get Jackie Brown to swap for Thornton. That presumably means Brown stays with Texas, which had a disappointing season in ‘76. They had a good young first baseman in Mike Hargrove, but their DH was Tom Grieve, who was a disappointment. They replaced him with an old Willie Horton for ‘77, who really wasn’t any better. But Andre Thornton was a lot better in ‘77, which was also the year that Texas won 94 games and got nothing to show for it but a clear view of K.C.‘s butt. Thornton at least would have made the 1977 AL West race a little more interesting when the Royals went on their tear in August and September. They were in first place as late as Aug. 19, but like everyone else, couldn’t keep up with K.C.

    Anyway, I just thought about it, and weren’t the Rangers of the 1974-81 period another team that kept shooting itself in the foot, like the Yankees did in the 1980s? Were there enough bad decisions that, if undone, could have gotten that team over the hump?

  13. Cliff Blau said...

    One thing that you may have missed.  Since Graig Nettles wasn’t on the Yankees in your alternate reality, Bill Lee wouldn’t have gotten into a brawl with him when he did, and wouldn’t have suffered the shoulder injury.  That might have been enough to swing the division Boston’s way (although he’d been pretty crappy up to that point).

  14. Steve Treder said...

    Good point, Cliff, though one hesitates to know how far to take it in these alternate-reality scenarios … maybe Lee would have gotten into a brawl with Nettles in a Red Sox-Indians game?

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