Assigning ALCS MVPs for the 1976-78 Yankees

Jim McIsaac

The famed Yankee teams of the '70s did not receive ALCS MVP award, so who would have won them if they existed?

The League Championship Series began in 1969 with the advent of divisional play. By 1977, the National League began to issue LCS MVP awards, similar to the World Series MVP awards, which began in 1955. However, for some reason, the American League did not offer LCS MVP awards of their own until 1980, thus preventing the three-time AL champion Yankees of 1976-78 from receiving their just due, as Graig Nettles ('81), Bernie Williams ('96), David Wells ('98), El Duque ('99), David Justice ('00), Andy Pettitte ('01), Mariano Rivera ('03), and CC Sabathia ('09) later did. Like yesterday's review of the "lost" World Series MVPs, I will research the Yankees' victories over the Royals in the '76, '77, and '78 ALCS to determine who the likely ALCS MVP would have been.

1976 ALCS

Yankees over Royals, 3-2
MVP: 1B Chris Chambliss, .524/.500/.952, 11-for-21, 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 1.452 OPS

This award would probably have been the easiest decision in league history. Chambliss was scorching hot throughout the five-game set, notching RBI almost every other plate appearance. Most Yankee fans obviously remember the series-ending walk-off homer in Game 5 against Mark Littell, but that was just the capper. He had a multi-hit game in the opener with one RBI, then followed it with a three-hit game in a 7-3 loss that evened the series. Although the Yankees fell behind 3-0 early in Game 3, Chambliss picked them up with a two-run homer off Andy Hassler in the third inning, then brought the tying run home when he beat out a potential double play with the bases loaded in the sixth.

The Yankees lost Game 4 despite another hit from Chambliss, and in Game 5, he was 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI even before the final at-bat against Littell. He of course homered to right-center field, ending the highly competitive series on a memorable note as the Yankee Stadium fans stormed the field; their team was going to the World Series for the first time in 12 years. Chambliss was the obvious MVP.

1977 ALCS

Yankees over Royals, 3-2
MVP: RP Sparky Lyle, 2-0, 9 1/3 IP, 0.96 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, 0 BB, 3 K

Lyle's devastating slider was hell to American League hitters in '77, as he became the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award thanks to an outstanding 2.17 ERA and 183 ERA+ in 137 relief innings, saving 26, and appearing in a league-high 72 games. He compiled a 3.7 rWAR, an incredible mark for a reliever. Lyle followed up his stellar season with an equally impressive ALCS performance. It's hard for a reliever to win a series MVP award in my book, but Lyle was more deserving than any other hitter or starter. (While Cliff Johnson had a 1.171 OPS in 15 at-bats, only his Game 2 hits led to any kind of rally, and no starter had an ERA below 3.90.) The series began inauspiciously, as Lyle got the final out of a 7-2 Game 1 loss, then wasn't needed in Game 2 since fellow slider aficionado Ron Guidry twirled a three-hitter in a 6-2 victory. The Royals smacked around Mike Torrez for five runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings in Game 3, but although the Yankees lost 6-2, Lyle gave the rest of the bullpen a rest by relieving in the sixth and finishing the game with 2 1/3 one-run innings.

Game 4 was when Lyle truly emerged as the series MVP. With the Yankees facing elimination and holding a slim 5-4 fourth inning lead over the Royals with the tying run in scoring position and Yankee killer George Brett up, manager Billy Martin turned to Lyle very early. Lyle had no rest from his 2 1/3 innings the day before, but he got Brett to line out to right, ending the inning. He then pitched five more scoreless innings, allowing just two hits; the Yankees won, 6-4. It was the type of reliever performance that would never happen today, but it kept the Yankees in the series. In the winner-take-all Game 5, the Royals knocked Guidry out early and held a 3-2 lead in the eighth. Martin asked Lyle to come in again while still on zero days' rest with runners on first and second and two outs. He struck out Cookie Rojas, and with the Royals just three outs from winning the '77 AL pennant, the Yankees' offense proceeded to stun the Kansas City crowd with a three-run ninth to take a 5-3 lead. Lyle finished the Royals off by getting Darrell Porter to pop out and inducing 5-4-3 double play from speedy Freddie Patek to clinch the AL pennant. It was definitely an MVP-worthy performance from one of the greatest relievers in franchise history.

1978 ALCS

Yankees over Royals, 3-1
MVP: RF/DH Reggie Jackson, .462/.529/1.000, 6-for-13, 2B, 2 HR, 3 BB, 1.529 OPS

Reggie Jackson's World Series MVP performances in '73 and '77 were obviously his most famous postseason series, but his four games against the Royals the October after his three-homer game should have earned him additional playoff honors. The Yankees did not need a winner-take-all Game 5 to beat Kansas City this time, and "Mr. October" was a big reason for that. His solo homer in the AL East playoff game at Fenway Park had helped provide insurance for the Yankees just to reach the ALCS, and his bat stayed hot against the Royals. He was perfect at the plate in the 7-1 Game 1 win, notching a pair of walks and three hits, including a three-run eighth inning blast off the "Mad Hungaraian," Al Hrabosky to put the game out reach.

Although the Yankees lost Game 2, they returned to Yankee Stadium in the third game with a tight 6-5 win. Brett tied Jackson's playoff record with three homers off Catfish Hunter, but fortunately for the Yankees, they were all solo shots. Jackson kept pace with a sacrifice fly, a RBI single, and a solo homer of his own against Paul Splittorff, so the Yankees held a 4-3 lead over the Royals entering the eighth. Kansas City scored twice off Goose Gossage to take the lead, but captain Thurman Munson countered with a monster two-run homer into Monument Park, giving the Yankees a 6-5 lead and an eventual win. While Jackson was held hitless in the finale his contributions in the previous victories put the Yankees in a position to close out the Royals, and they did. Solo homers by Nettles and longtime Yankee Roy White gave AL Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry the 2-1 lead he needed to stimy the Royals with eight innings of one-run ball. Gossage relieved Guidry with the tying run on second in the ninth, and he retired the next three batters to clinch the '78 AL pennant. "Mr. October" was once again the star of a playoff series.

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