During the 1976 baseball season, fireworks reigned as the United States celebrated its bicentennial and baseball's National League honored its 100th season.
The year also marked Marvin Miller's tenth anniversary as executive director of the Players Association. After the 1975 season, Miller went to bat for pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who were declared "free agents" by an arbitrator. The ruling so angered the owners that they locked the players out of spring training.
The season did begin on schedule -- thanks to the intervention of commissioner Bowie Kuhn -- but the sport of baseball had been irrevocably changed. Free agents became commonplace and baseball salaries skyrocketed.
Mike Schmidt, the Phillies' third baseman, opened the season by slugging four of his major league-leading 38 homers in an 18-16 shootout with Chicago. Schmidt led a team loaded with recently acquired veterans, including outfielders Bobby Tolan, Jay Johnstone, and Garry Maddox; second baseman Dave Cash; and pitchers Jim Lonborg and Tug McGraw.
They joined vets Schmidt (107 RBI), Greg Luzinski (.304 average, 21 homers, 95 RBI), shortstop Larry Bowa, and lefty Steve Carlton (20-7). Cellar-dwellers in 1972 and 1973, Philly won 101 games in 1976, finishing 9 up on Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati continued to dominate in the West, winning 102 games. Baseball's best second baseman, Joe Morgan (.320 average, 27 home runs, 111 RBI), walked away with his second consecutive MVP trophy.
Cincinnati led the National League in runs, batting, hits, doubles, triples, homers, steals, walks, on-base percentage, and slugging -- all by substantial margins. After a two-year hiatus, the Yankees returned to a renovated Yankee Stadium and played like the Bombers of old.
With Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles, and Thurman Munson guarding the infield; speedster Mickey Rivers patrolling in center; and Sparky Lyle leading the American League with 23 saves, the Yanks finished first in the East, 10½ up on the Orioles.
The most talked-about bird in baseball was 21-year-old Mark Fidrych. Nicknamed "The Bird" (he resembled Big Bird on the TV show Sesame Street), the Tiger rookie went 19-9, sported an American League-best 2.34 ERA, and packed stadiums with his antics.
Kansas City's 23-year-old George Brett led the American League with a .333 average, winning a disputed batting title over teammate Hal McRae by one point. Brett won the crown on the last day of the season against Minnesota; he smacked one to outfielder Steve Brye, who seemed to deliberately misplay the ball, allowing Brett to get his needed hit.
The hit didn't affect the American League West standings, though, as Kansas City finished 2½ up on the second-place A's.
The Reds swept the Phils in the National League Championship Series in three games. The American League Championship Series, however, was a classic five-game series. Although KC's Brett hit a sizzling .444, the spotlight was on Chambliss, New York's first baseman. Chambliss hit .524 with eight RBI, including a homer in the bottom of the ninth of game five -- a shot fans still talk about.
The 1976 World Series, however, was a disappointment. Billy Martin's Yankees had little left against the powerful Big Red Machine, as the Reds won in four. Bench ripped the Yankees' pitching for a .533 average, making Cincinnati the first National League team since 1922 to repeat as World Series Champions.
Find headlines and summaries of the major stories of the 1976 baseball season on the next page.
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1976 Baseball Season Headlines
The 1976 baseball season was thrilling despite an owner's lockout during spring training. Here are some of the headlines from the 1976 baseball season:
Jim Palmer Wins the 1976 American League Cy Young Award
Jim Palmer (22-13, 2.51 ERA) won his third and final Cy Young Award in 1976. A workhorse, Palmer topped the American League with 315 innings. In time, the righty's stint as a spokesman and model for Jockey Underwear would win him more popular acclaim than any of his awards.
George Brett Breathtaking
George Brett dominated in the 1976 American League Championship Series, batting .444 with five RBI for the Royals. His sole homer tied the fifth and deciding game at six-all and set the stage for the pennant-clinching homer off the bat of Chris Chambliss.
Gary Matthews Distracted
Gary Matthews was another great outfielder who got away from the Giants, joining such players as George Foster, Garry Maddox, and Bobby Bonds in exile. A contract dispute marred his 1976 season as he batted .279 with 20 homers and 84 RBI. A free agent, he signed with the Braves in time for the 1977 season.
Mike Schmidt: 38 HRs, 107 RBI
Mike Schmidt whacked 38 round-trippers in 1976 to capture the third of eight home run titles in his 18-year career. The National League's leader in total bases (306), Schmidt placed third in RBI (107), runs produced (181), slugging average (.524), and walks (100). That season, Schmidt also won his first of ten Gold Gloves at third base.
Nolan Ryan Collects 327 Ks
On August 20, 1974, a Nolan Ryan fastball was clocked at a sizzling speed of 100.9 mph. Almost one year to the day later, Ryan underwent surgery on his elbow. In 1976, the pitching prodigy notched 327 strikeouts and allowed just 6.12 hits per game, both bests in the American League.
Bill Madlock Hits .339 for 1976 National League Batting Title
Bill Madlock captured the second of his four National League batting titles in 1976, hitting .339 for the Cubs. Madlock was the premier player to capture two batting titles with two different ballclubs and the only right handed hitter to top the senior circuit in batting average from 1971 through 1989.
A Goofy Bird Wins 19
Rookie phenom Mark "The Bird" Fidrych won 19 games for a Tiger team that placed fifth in the American League East, 24 games back. In between chats with baseballs, the hurler racked up 24 complete games and a 2.34 ERA, both top marks in the circuit. Fidrych's bubble burst within two years and several comeback attempts proved fruitless.
Steve Carlton Tops the National League in Win Pct.
An alteration in stance cast Steve Carlton from a .517 winning percentage in 1975 to a whopping .741 winning percentage in 1976, best in the National League. A southpaw with a devastating fastball, Carlton racked up 20 victories to boost the Phillies to their first National League East title.
Greg Luzinski Bats .304
Although Greg "The Bull" Luzinski may have looked more like a tight end than an outfielder, his power hitting kept him in the majors for 14 seasons. Batting .304 in 1976, he led the Phillies to the first of three straight division titles.
Davy Lopes Leads the National League in Stolen Bases
National League catchers hated to see Davey Lopes on the basepaths in 1976. The second baseman topped the league in steals for the second consecutive year with 63 thefts that season. Always an efficient base stealer, he was nabbed just ten times.
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More 1976 Baseball Season Headlines
Below are more headlines from the 1976 baseball season, including stellar performances by Joe Morgan and George Foster.
Thurman Munson Named 1976 American League MVP
Thurman Munson was in his prime from 1976-1978. His 1976 stats -- a .302 average, 17 homers, 105 RBI -- earned him the 1976 American League MVP Award. Although Munson was well-respected throughout the majors, he was not without his quirks. Detroit's Norm Cash didn't care for his grooming habits, for example. "Where'd ya get that haircut," Cash once asked Munson. "In a pet shop?"
Graig Nettles Leads American League in Dingers
Graig Nettles once remarked that as a kid he wanted to either join the circus or become a big league player. As a Yankee, he fulfilled both ambitions. In 1976, he led the American League in homers with 32. By 1988, the year he retired, he had collected 390 homers (including an American League-record 319 dingers by a third baseman).
George Hendrick: 25 HRs, 81 RBI
George Hendrick had a couple of nicknames: Those who didn't appreciate his laid-back style of play dubbed him "Jogging George"; members of the press found the alias "Silent George" more fitting. Hendrick spent his last season with the Indians in 1976, posting 25 homers and 81 RBI. In his four seasons with the Tribe, he averaged 22 homers and 74 RBI per season.
Joe Morgan: Tops Across Board
No second baseman since Rogers Hornsby had better offensive statistics than Joe Morgan. Enjoying his best season in 1976, Morgan batted .320 with 27 homers and 111 RBI to win his second consecutive MVP Award. For good measure, he topped the National League in runs produced (197), OBP (.453), slugging average (.576), and stolen base percentage (87.0).
Catfish Hunter Bags 17 Triumphs
Catfish Hunter moved from Oakland to New York in 1975, then helped lead the Yankees to a pennant in 1976. His 17 wins in 1976 brought his total to 40 victories in his first two seasons with the Yankees. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, Hunter said in his speech that merely playing for both Charley Finley and George Steinbrenner qualified him for enshrinement.
George Foster on Fire
After taking seven years to warm up, George Foster got hot in 1976. Showcasing his power, Foster bested the National League in RBI with 121 to take the first of three consecutive RBI titles (tying a major league record). He also whacked 29 homers that year (fourth in the circuit).
Reds Roll Over the Yankees
Even the fiery protest of Yankee skipper Billy Martin couldn't hold back the Reds' onslaught in the 1976 World Series. Martin's ballclub was blown away in almost every category during the four-game tournament: The Reds scored 22 runs, whacked four homers, and posted a .313 team average; the Yankees scored eight runs, nailed a single homer, and tallied a .222 average.
Thurman Munson Shines in 1976 World Series
Thurman Munson slides under the throw to Johnny Bench in game four of the 1976 World Series. The fall classic was, in many respects, Munson's finest hour, as his clutch hitting was matched only by Bench, the Series MVP. Munson hit .529, with nine hits in 17 at-bats.
Pete Rose Shuts Down the 1976 Philadelphia Phillies
With Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine humming, the Phillies never had a chance in the National League Championship Series. The Phillies outhit the Reds in games two and three, but the Reds outscored the Phillies 19-11. Rose, for his part, hit .429 in the sweep.
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1976 Baseball Season Highlights
The 1976 baseball season was the year of the "Big Red Machine"; the Cincinnati Reds led the National League in runs, batting, hits, doubles, triples, homers, steals, walks, on-base percentage and slugging. They went on to sweep the Yankees in the 1976 World Series. Below, you will find highlights from the 1976 baseball season:
- Reds win again in the National League.
- Yankees garner their first American League flag since 1964.
- Reds blow Phils out in three games in National League Championship Series.
- Yankees beat Kansas City in five games in American League Championship Series, as Chris Chambliss wins game five on a homer in the ninth.
- Reds sweep Yankees in most one-sided World Series ever to this juncture.
- Catfish Hunter's complete game 4-3 loss in game two of 1976 World Series is New York's lone competitive effort.
- Johnny Bench leads all 1976 World Series hitters with .533 BA and six RBI.
- Joe Morgan is 1976 National League MVP, hitting .320 and stealing 60 bases.
- Morgan tops the major league in OBP (.453), SA (.576), and runs produced (197).
- Thurman Munson is 1976 American League MVP, and also tops Yankee hitters in Series with .529 BA.
- San Diego's Randy Jones takes the 1976 National League Cy Young Award, topping the National League with 22 wins.
- Jones ties a National League record when he pitches 68 consecutive innings without allowing a walk.
- Jim Palmer claims his third American League Cy Young Award in four years, as he leads the American League with 22 wins.
- A's set record with 341 stolen bases.
- In June, Charley Finley tries to sell Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoes the deals.
- Free agency bidding begins in earnest after 1976 season; Yankees sign Reggie Jackson for $3.5 million.
- George Brett wins bat crown over teammate Hal McRae, .333 to .332.
- Brett wins BA title on his last at-bat of season, as Twins outfielder Steve Brye seems to deliberately misplay the ball.
- Mike Schmidt leads majors in homers (38) and total bases (306).
- The National League wins 1976 All-Star Game 7-1 at Philadelphia, as Detroit rookie Mark Fidrych starts for the American League and takes the loss.
- Fidrych is 1976 American League Rookie of the Year, winning 19 for Detroit.
- Fidrych leads the American League in ERA (2.34) and CGs (24).
- Butch Metzger of San Diego and Pat Zachry of Cincinnati tie for 1976 National League Rookie of the Year Award.
- Ted Turner buys the Braves.
- Hank Aaron retires; still holds major league records for RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856).
- Schmidt hits four homers in ten-inning game on April 17.
- Only "rainout" in Astrodome history occurs on June 15 when heavy rains prevent fans and umps from getting to the dome.
- John Montefusco of San Francisco no-hits Atlanta on Sept. 29.
- John Candelaria of Pittsburgh no-hits LA on August 9 -- first no-hitter thrown by Pirates pitcher at home since 1907.
- Blue Moon Odom and Francisco Barrios of White Sox pitch a combined no-hitter vs. Oakland on July 28.
- Larry Dierker of Houston no-hits Expos on July 9.
- On September 12, at age 54, Minnie Minoso of White Sox becomes oldest player to get a hit in a major league game.
- Pete Rose tops the National League in hits (215), doubles (42), and runs (130).
- Brett leads the American League in hits (215), total bases (298), and triples (14).
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More 1976 Baseball Season Highlights
Below are more highlights from the 1976 baseball season, including major trades, free agent contracts, and the year's Hall of Fame inductees:
- Chicago's Bill Madlock wins the National League bat crown (.339).
- The A's have three players who steal 50 or more bases each: Bill North (75), Bert Campaneris (54), and Don Baylor (52).
- Tom Seaver fans at least 200 batters for the major league record ninth consecutive season and leads the National League in Ks for the fifth time.
- The Hall of Fame inducts Robin Roberts, Bob Lemon, Roger Connor, Fred Lindstrom, Cal Hubbard, and Oscar Charleston.
- Chicago White Sox deal Goose Gossage and Terry Forster to Pittsburgh for Richie Zisk and Silvio Martinez.
- Texas sends Jeff Burroughs to Atlanta for five players and $250,000.
- Cincinnati trades Tony Perez and Will McEnaney to Expos for Woodie Fryman and Dale Murray.
- Giants send Willie Montanez, Craig Robinson, and two other players to Atlanta for Darrell Evans and Marty Perez.
- Minnesota sends Bert Blyleven and Danny Thompson to Texas for Bill Singer, Roy Smalley, two other players, and $250,000.
- A's swap Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman, and Bill Van Bommell to the O's for Baylor, Mike Torrez, and Paul Mitchell prior to season.
- O's send Holtzman, Grant Jackson, Doyle Alexander, Ellie Hendricks, and Jimmy Freeman to the Yanks.
- Yanks send Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Dave Pagan, and Rick Dempsey to the O's.
- Danny Thompson dies of leukemia.
- Bob Moose of the Pirates dies in an auto accident.
- Earle Combs dies.
- Max Carey dies.
- Red Faber dies.
- Cub Jose Cardenal goes 6-for-7 in a 14-inning game on May 2.
- The minimum player's salary is raised to $19,000; average player makes around $52,000.
- Reds leave a National League record 1,328 men on base during the season.
- Nolan Ryan is 17-18 for California with eight shutout losses.
- Ryan leads the majors with seven shutout wins.
- Detroit's Ron LeFlore hits safely in 30 consecutive games.
- Pete Rose sets a National League record for most runs by a third baseman since 1901 (130).
- Alex Johnson plays for Detroit, the seventh team with which he's played at least one full season during his career.
- Detroit's Bill Freehan retires with a .993 career FA, a record for catchers.
- Cincinnati's George Foster leads the major league in RBI (121).
- Atlanta's Jim Wynn tops the major league with 127 walks.
- Baltimore's Lee May tops the American League in RBI (109).
- Rod Carew tops the American League in runs produced with 178.
- Carew finishes third in the American League in batting at .331, making this the closest three-way bat race since 1931.
- Ranger Mike Hargrove leads the American League in walks (97), is second in OBP (.401).
- McRae tops the American League in OBP (.412); teammate Amos Otis leads the league in doubles with 40.
- Yankee Graig Nettles leads the American League with just 32 homers; teammate Roy White leads the American League in runs with 104.
- Nolan Ryan leads the major league with 327 Ks; Tom Seaver leads the National League in Ks with 235.
- Cardinal John Denny is 1976 National League ERA champ (2.52).
- Minnesota's Bill Campbell leads the American League in win pct. (.773), is third in saves (20), and tops American League pitchers in mound appearances (78).
- Rawly Eastwick of the Reds leads the major league with 26 saves.
- Jones tops the major league in CGs with (25), ties Jim Palmer for most innings in major league (315).