Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #86 Chris Chambliss

Mike Stobe

Although Chambliss is remember by most Yankee fans for one incredible home run, he was a vital part of the Yankees’ turnaround in the ‘70s from also-rans to regular World Series contenders.

Name: Chris Chambliss
Position: First baseman
Born: December 26, 1948 (Dayton, OH)
Yankee Years: 1974-79, 1988
Primary number: 10
Yankee statistics: 885 G, .282/.323/.417, 140 2B, 9 3B, 80 HR, 108 wRC+, 15.3 rWAR, 13.6 fWAR

Biography

A longtime staple of Yankee championship teams has been the All-Star first baseman. From Wally Pipp to Lou Gehrig all the way to the modern championship teams with Tino Martinez and Mark Teixeira, there has almost always been a hard hitter at a position that demanded someone to fill that role. In the ‘70s, that man was Chris Chambliss, a Yankee acquired in a controversial trade who went on to hit one of the most iconic homers in baseball history.

Quick rise to the pros

Chambliss was born in Ohio the day after Christmas in 1948 to Navy chaplain Carroll Chambliss and his wife, Christine. Both Carroll and Christine's names were incorporated into their third son's full name: Carroll Christopher Chambliss. The nature of the elder Carroll's job necessitated his family to change cities every few years, so Chambliss's childhood was spent first in Xenia, Ohio, and then in St. Louis and Chicago. By the time Chambliss was in high school, the family moved out west to Oceanside, California, the last stop of his childhood.

Chambliss made the Oceanside varsity baseball team as not only a first baseman, but somewhat surprisingly, also a shortstop. Although he was a fine high school prospect, he went undrafted, so he followed in the footsteps of his two older brothers Randy and Frank by attending the local, Mira Costa Junior College. His stock shot up with a pair of strong seasons for Mira Costa, which caught several teams' attention, most notably the Cincinnati Reds. Although they had a pair of promising young first basemen in Tony Perez and Lee May, the Reds saw potential in Chambliss, and they selected him with a late 31st round pick in the 1967 draft and a 2nd round pick in the 1968 January draft.

Both times however, Chambliss declined the Reds' overtures. Instead, he moved on from JuCo ball and played for UCLA during the '69 season. He led the Bruins with 15 homers and 45 RBI, and spent the summer with the fantastically named Anchorage Glacier Pilots. The Glacier Pilots ended up winning the National Baseball Congress Championship; Chambliss was named the MVP of the NBC Tournament with a .583 average. He was drafted for the third time in the January 1970 draft as the first overall pick. Finally, Chambliss joined professional baseball,returning to his native Ohio with the Cleveland Indians.

A very talented prospect already at age 21, the Indians started Chambliss off right below the majors, in Triple-A Wichita under manager Ken Aspromonte. He proved that he already outclassed his peers by dominating the American Association, winning the league's Rookie of the Year Award with an outstanding .342/.412/.483 triple slash in 105 games. Military commitments prevented him from a September call-up to Cleveland, but he was the first league newcomer to win the batting title. The Indians were forced to make some tough decisions at the beginning of the '71 campaign. Chambliss hit a road block in our old friend, Ken "Hawk" Harrelson.

Hawk was an eight-year veteran entering the '71 season, and although he missed most of '70 with injuries, he was the Tribe's primary first baseman. A leg injury suffered by Chambliss during Spring Training made Cleveland's decision easier, and they sent him back to Wichita to start the year (where he would also try to increase versatility by learning how to play the outfield). Chambliss only played 13 games there before a home plate collision put him on the disabled list with a ruptured muscle. By mid-May though, he was healthy again, and the Indians decided to add him to their MLB roster. Chambliss made his debut on May 28th as a pinch-hitter against the White Sox. He never returned to the minors.

Rookie of the Year

Chambliss never actually played any outfield with the Tribe despite the conflict with Harrelson. Hawk was badly struggling anyway, hitting just .207/.313/.307 with only six extra base hits by the end of May. The Indians decided to give the everyday first base role over to the 22-year-old rookie, and Harrelson did not finish June with the Indians. He appeared in 11 more games, then announced his retirement, deciding to instead pursue a professional golf career that failed. If nothing else, fans should love Chambliss for ending Hawk's playing career. How kind of him!

The Indians had an absolutely horrible year in '71, but their woes did not reach Chambliss. He played first base with aplomb and was impressive at the plate from the get-go, batting .275/.341/.407 with 20 doubles, 9 homers, and a 111 wRC+ in 111 games. The BBWAA writers were pleased enough with Chambliss's performance to give him the 1971 AL Rookie of the Year Award. Chambliss was the first Cleveland position player to win it, and the first Indians player of any kind to do so since pitcher Herb Score in 1955.

The first baseman continued his fine play with the Indians over the next two seasons, now playing under his old manager Aspromonte, despite a pulled hamstring that kept him from the field for awhile at the start of '72. Nonetheless, he hit .281/.335/.393 with a combined 57 doubles and 17 homers over the two years, a commendable effort for a routinely under-.500 team. 1973 featured both baseball achievement, most notably in a 19-game hitting streak for Chambliss from July 29-August 18, and personal achievement, as in the fall, Chambliss married a girl he met back in Wichita, Audry Garvin. Chambliss was not long for Cleveland though; soon, he would be in a much bigger market.

The trade and playoff glory

ChambIiss was off to another great start in '74 with the Tribe, as he hit .328/.375/.388 over Cleveland's first 17 games. All seemed to be going well for Chambliss in Cleveland, but on April 26, he suddenly found himself changing homes. The Indians and Yankees completed a large seven-player trade; the Yankees received Chambliss and pitchers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw in exchange for four pitchers of their own: Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline, and the popular Fritz Peterson.

Everyone in New York seemed to be furious about the trade. The media called it "The Friday Night Massacre." Bobby Murcer, Mel Stottlemyre, and Thurman Munson, arguably the Yankees' three most popular players, all ripped the trade, feeling that the new management under owner George Steinbrenner and GM/president Gabe Paul felt that the deal significantly weakened the Yankees.

Needless to say, Chambliss was not a very popular man in New York when he got to the Bronx. His stock didn't help when his hitting plummeted at the Yankees' temporary home-away-from-home, Shea Stadium; '74 was easily the worst season of the first 14 of his career. He played well on defense, but hit just .242/.283/.343 with an 86 wRC+. Fortunately, his underwhelming performance went largely unnoticed as the Yankees went on to have their most competitive season in years, winning 89 games and finishing just two games behind the Orioles for the AL East title. It was Chambliss's first winning season, but both he and the Yankees went on to far greater success. Chambliss shook off the shaky '74 with a strong year in '75, hitting a career-best 38 doubles and .304 average in a 115 wRC+, three-win campaign. Although the Yankees took a step backward from '74 by finishing 12 games behind the Red Sox, Chambliss's recovery paved the way for future personal gain. He also became a father with the birth of his only child, Russell.

Billy Martin took over Bill Virdon midseason in '75 and was impressed enough by Chambliss that he made the first baseman his primary cleanup hitter in '76, and in his first season at Yankee Stadium, Chambliss rewarded Martin's confidence with an All-Star season wherein he reached career highs in rWAR (4.0), fWAR (4.1), wRC+ (126) in addition to a then-career-best 17 homers. He finished fifth in AL MVP voting behind teammates Munson and Mickey Rivers and Royals George Brett and Hal McRae. The Yankees won the AL East to make their first playoff appearance in 12 years, and Chambliss went on to have a monster ALCS against the Royals, which I recently recapped:

[The 1976 ALCS MVP] 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.

The walk-off homer was one of the most amazing moments in franchise history. Even though the Yankees were swept by the Big Red Machine in the World Series, the Yankees were officially back.

The Yankees made some additions prior to the '77 season, most notably slugger Reggie Jackson. The clubhouse was often tenuous over the next couple years with Martin and Jackson clashing, but Chambliss remained a steady force on the field. He hit .280/.328/.413 with 58 doubles and 29 homers during those two years with 5.4 combined rWAR. He won a Gold Glove for his defense in '78, and most importantly, the Yankees won the AL East each year despite internal crisis that eventually led to Martin's ousting in July '78, as the fiery skipper was replaced by Bob Lemon.

Chambliss was one of the few players to remain almost completely healthy the whole time, missing just six games between the two years. He rebounded from a poor ALCS against K.C. in '77 to slug .500 in the six-game World Series against the Dodgers as the Yankees won their first title in 15 years. Prior to Jackson's three homers in Game 6, Chambliss tied it at two in the second after Reggie's four-pitch walk, though obviously his homer was overshadowed. Chambliss set up Bucky Dent's game-tying homer at Fenway Park in the victorious '78 AL East playoff against the Red Sox and also returned to Royal-beating form '78 with a .400 ALCS against K.C., though he struggled and broke a bone in his hand during the Fall Classic. The Yankees won anyway in six games, earning Chambliss his second World Series ring.

From the Bronx to the Braves

Aside from a one-game cameo appearance while a full-time hitting coach under Martin in '88, the '79 season was the last season of Chambliss's playing career in the Bronx. Chambliss was steady as ever with 18 homers and a 106 wRC+. However, the season was marred by mediocrity, another managerial switch back to Martin, and most damaging of all, the heartbreaking loss of Munson to an airplane crash on August 2nd. SABR recounted Chambliss's reaction to the crushing blow:

The Yankees had the day off when Munson crashed his plane, and Chambliss and his wife Audry were in a car going to get some ice cream near their New Jersey home and heard the news on the radio. "Audry and I just looked at each other and didn't say a word for I don't know how long. We were just stunned...quiet...We were both so shocked," Chambliss said.

The Yankees finished in fourth place, 13.5 games behind the powerful Orioles, and they had to search for a new catcher in the off-season. They targeted Blue Jays catcher Rick Cerone and sent Chambliss north in a six-player swing highlighted by the latter two players. Toronto promptly dealt him to the Braves a month later, where he would play for former Yankees coach Bobby Cox. The Chamblisses were disappointed to go, but Audry said that they felt it coming with the "changes in the wind" after Munson's death.

People forget that Chambliss actually had a nice career after leaving the Yankees; in fact, he played one more game with the Braves than the Yankees. He enjoyed playing in Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, otherwise known as "The Launching Pad" for its propensity for homers. Twice, he hit 20 dingers in a season, a figure he never reached while in New York. He remained a reliable first baseman who annually finished with a wRC+ of at least 105 every year from 1980-83, and he was a part of the Braves' first playoff team in 13 years. Under Joe Torre, the Braves got off to a record 13-0 start in '82, a red-hot beginning that was enough to bring them the NL West title even though they only played three games above .500 the rest of the way. Although the Cardinals silenced them in the NLCS, it remained the Braves' only playoff season in a 20-year span from 1970-90.

Chambliss's career wound down in the mid-80s as he aged and the Braves sought a younger replacement for him, to the first baseman's slight chagrin. No prospect adequately filled his shoes, but he was declining too much himself for there to be a clear solution. After a second straight disappointing season in '86, Chambliss called it a career, finishing with 2,109 hits, 392 doubles, 185 homers, 27.4 rWAR, 25.9 fWAR, and an admirable .279/.334/.415 triple slash with a 108 wRC+.

The steady hitters unsurprisingly became a roving hitting coach and occasional minor league manager over the new few decade, though he never got the call to manage a major league team. Chambliss was Torre's hitting coach in St. Louis from 1993-95 and followed Torre back to New York when the Yankees hired him. He won four more World Series rings as the Yankees' hitting coach throughout their dynasty years from 1996-2000, preaching patience at the plate and wearing down opposing pitchers. Under Chambliss's coaching, the Yankees averaged an incredible 899 runs scored per year from 1996-2000, regularly finishing around the top of the league in the triple slash categories. Chambliss was later a hitting coach with the Mets, Reds, and Mariners, though without as talented a group of hitters as the dynasty Yankees, he did not find as much success.

Chambliss remains a regular at Old Timers' Days, and thanks to his admirable performance while a Yankees player and coach, he always receives a nice ovation. Almost all championship teams have a solid first baseman and Chambliss certainly filled that role for the '70s Yankees.

Andrew's rank: 82
Tanya's rank: 91
Community's rank: 69.7
Avg. WAR rank: 91

Season Stats

Year

Age

Tm

G

PA

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

CS

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

OPS+

TB

rWAR

fWAR

1974

25

NYY

110

427

400

38

97

16

3

6

43

0

0

23

43

0.243

0.282

0.343

0.625

80

137

0.7

0.2

1975

26

NYY

150

603

562

66

171

38

4

9

72

0

1

29

50

0.304

0.336

0.434

0.770

118

244

3.3

3

1976

27

NYY

156

676

641

79

188

32

6

17

96

1

0

27

80

0.293

0.323

0.441

0.765

124

283

4.0

4.1

1977

28

NYY

157

653

600

90

172

32

6

17

90

4

0

45

73

0.287

0.336

0.445

0.781

112

267

2.3

2.7

1978

29

NYY

162

677

625

81

171

26

3

12

90

2

1

41

60

0.274

0.321

0.382

0.703

100

239

3.1

2.1

1979

30

NYY

149

599

554

61

155

27

3

18

63

3

2

34

53

0.280

0.324

0.437

0.761

106

242

1.8

1.6

1988

39

NYY

1

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0.000

0.000

0.000

0.000

-100

0

0.0

0.0

NYY (7 yrs)

885

3636

3383

415

954

171

25

79

454

10

4

199

360

0.282

0.323

0.417

0.74

108

1412

15.2

13.7

Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

References

Appel, Marty. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

BR Bullpen

SABR

Other Top 100 Yankees

Latest News

In This Article

Teams
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Pinstripe Alley

You must be a member of Pinstripe Alley to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Pinstripe Alley. You should read them.

Join Pinstripe Alley

You must be a member of Pinstripe Alley to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Pinstripe Alley. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker