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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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Game of the Year 1977

Posted 01-14-2017 at 11:12 AM by TommyJohn
Updated 07-31-2017 at 07:17 AM by TommyJohn

Game of the Year 1977
July 31 vs. Kansas City Royals (1st Game of DH)
at Comiskey Park

The story of the 1977 White Sox, indeed the White Sox of the Bill Veeck era was written on December 16, 1975, a mere six days after Veeck's 11th hour purchase of the White Sox was finalized.

On that day an arbiter named Peter Seitz ruled that three players-Andy Messersmith, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar-had played out their options with their teams and were free to sell themselves to the highest bidder. After 97 years, the reserve clause was dead.

Dead, too, was any hope Bill Veeck had of building a competitive, contending ball club. It was ironic, in that Veeck had always spoken up for players' rights, feeling that the owners should modify the reserve clause before they were forced to do so. Time proved the wisdom of his vision.

Veeck combated free agency by opting for a "Rent-a-player" approach. He would acquire a player in the last year of a contract and wring a financially-motivated performance from him.

He did this by sending the team's two best pitchers, Rich Gossage and Terry Forster, to the Pirates for outfielder Richie Zisk.

"Fans don't pay to see strikeouts" Veeck said by way of defending the trade. As always, his eye was on the bottom line.

His next big trade came in April. Veeck attempted to sign shortstop/teeny-bopper dreamboat Bucky Dent to a contract extension. When negotiations reached an impasse, Veeck dealt Dent to the Yankees for outfielder Oscar Gamble and minor league pitchers Bob Polinsky and LaMarr Hoyt.

He also changed managers. Paul Richards, who seemed bored and out of touch (he frequently fell asleep on the bench) was let go in favor of Bob Lemon, who had pitched for Veeck with the Cleveland Indians.

The team kicked off American League baseball in Canada by opening vs. the Toronto Blue Jays (one of two AL expansion teams, along with the Seattle Mariners, whose existence is owed, in part, to Veeck saving the Sox from a move to Seattle.) A snowstorm fell throughout the game, which saw Richie Zisk slam a home run in his first AL at-bat, the Sox get 15 hits and strand 19 runners and Toronto win its first ever game by a score of 9-5.

The Sox shook the loss and all the Canadian snow off and began knocking the ball around. Later in the month the Sox trailed the Tigers 6-1 before staging a late-inning comeback and winning 10-7 in 14 innings. Zisk and Gamble led a two-pronged, slam-bang offensive attack. Pitcher Steve Stone, signed as a free agent from the Cubs (where he had gone as part of the infamous Ron Santo deal) was the best of a so-so pitching staff.

Zisk blasted home runs onto the roof and the centerfield bleachers as the Sox charged into 1st place on July 1st. Fans noticed and came out in droves. After every home run they would roar and cheer until the hero of the moment would come out and tip his cap to the crowd, prompting a louder response. The Sox held onto 1st at the end of July when the defending AL West champion Royals came into Comiskey Park in a bad mood and looking for a fight.

The Game of the Year, probably the decade, came that Sunday, the 31st.

50,412 fans crammed their way into the ballpark to watch the newly-dubbed "South Side Hitmen" take on the Royals, who were vocal in their pissed-offedness about the curtain calls. The chief antagonists were Hal MacRae, designated hitter who had once made accusations of a racist conspiracy to rob him of the 1976 AL batting title; and Darrell Porter, belligerent catcher and functional alcoholic.

The game was nip-and-tuck through 8, with the Royals winning 2-1. The Sox tied the score in the bottom of the 9th to send the game into extras. The Royals appeared to ice it with two runs in the 10th off Steve Stone.

The Sox weren't finished. though. With one on, Chet Lemon sent the crowd into a frenzy with a game-tying home run and a curtain call. A walk and a sacrifice bunt later, Ralph Garr drove in Eric Soderholm with the winner.

The second game of the DH was a different story, as the Royals slammed the Sox and Hal MacRae led the show with his own slow home run trot and cap tip. The Royals would win 8-4 and leave town griping about the showboating Sox.

That was the beginning of the end. A series in KC saw the Royals sweep while they and their fans gleefully rubbed it in to the Sox. The Sox fell out of 1st on August 14th. They briefly regained it, then gave up the top spot for good on August 20th with a 4-2 loss to the Brewers.

The good times came to an end too soon. The season ended with the team 90-72 (a record that would net them a playoff spot today) and in 3rd place, 12 games back. The fans came out in record numbers, though, as the 1977 Sox set a team attendance record with 1,657,135, a far cry from the 985,634 who had turned out to see the 1967 Sox, despite their being in a tight pennant race.

Zisk and Gamble departed for greener pastures via free agency, and Veeck's attempts to recapture the magic with Ron Blomberg and Bobby Bonds would last exactly one game, Opening Day of 1978.

The Sox would be a losing team for the rest of Veeck's tenure as owner. Worse still, they would endure the embarrassment of Disco Demolition Night, a 1979 promotion that ended in a fan riot and tarnished Veeck's image as the ultimate promoter. He would sell in 1980 to Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf, then spend his twilight years hanging out in Wrigley Field, the best place for a Chicago baseball figure to go to rehabilitate a tarnished image.

Harry Caray also moved north to Wrigley Field to announce Cub games starting in 1982. There, he went from blunt, irascible, tough-talking, tell-it-like-it-is-here-I-am-if-you-want-to-do-something-about-it announcer to the Number 1 promoter of the Cubs and America's Lovable Gramps; deeply beloved by Cub fans who once sneered that he was a clown and a drunken buffoon. Also, the 7th inning stretch rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was suddenly discovered by baseball fans, philosophers, poets laureate (and Bob Costas, who is all three rolled into one) and became a cherished part of Our National Game.

The White Sox of 1967-77 gave the fans some great times and some bad times (mostly bad). They were fun to watch some years, awful in others. But good or bad, they played some great, memorable games and gave fans like myself some great memories.
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