When it comes to doing things right, the New York Yankees are at the top of the list. One of the things the team really does up right is its annual Old Timer’s Day, when the club honors players from the teams of years gone by. The Old-Timer’s Day tradition began in 1939 as a tribute to their ailing superstar first baseman, Lou Gehrig. The team brought back members of past teams including the 1927 team on which Gehrig played an integral role, along with Babe Ruth. The tradition continued, and on July 29, 1978, fans and players alike gathered in Yankee Stadium for another chapter in Yankees history.
After all other dignitaries had been announced, Frank Messer turned the microphone over to the public address announcer, Bob Shepherd, for “two very special announcements.” Shepherd warmed up the crowd with the following: “Ladies and gentlemen, your attention, please. The Yankees announce today that Bob Lemon agreed to a contract to continue as manager of the Yankees through the 1978 and 1979 seasons.” The boos grew louder. And signs of “Billy Will Always Be No. 1” and “Bring Billy Back” appeared in the crowd. Shepherd told the crowd that Lemon would become general manager of the Yankees in 1980, then said, “And the Yankees would like to announce at this time and introduce the manager of the Yankees in 1980 and hopefully for many years after that will be Number One, Billy Martin.”1
Even with all the buzz about the rehiring of Martin, there was still a ballgame to play. New York entered the game in fourth place in the American League East with a record of 55-45, eight games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox. Minnesota was in fifth place in the American League West with a record of 44-54, 12½ games behind the first-place Kansas City Royals.
Lemon chose Ken Clay to start the game, his fifth start of the season. The second-year pro entered the game with a record of 1-3 and a 5.58 ERA. Twins skipper Gene Mauch picked rookie Darrell Jackson (3-3, 3.28 ERA) to face the Yankees.
In the first inning for Minnesota, Hosken Powell and Roy Smalley opened with singles. After Powell advanced to third base on a fly ball to center field by Rod Carew, Mike Cubbage grounded out to shortstop Fred Stanley, allowing Powell to score the first run of the game. Clay got Rich Chiles on a fly ball to end the half-inning.
New York got to Jackson in its half of the inning, beginning with a one-out walk to Willie Randolph. Consecutive singles by Thurman Munson, Lou Piniella, and Chris Chambliss gave New York a 2-1 lead. The inning ended when a passed ball on a strikeout of Reggie Jackson resulted in a double play when Lou Piniella was out trying to score from third base.
The Yankees added two runs in the second inning. Graig Nettles singled to lead off the inning and made it to third on a groundout by Mike Heath. Nettles scored on Stanley’s bunt single; Stanley scored when Mickey Rivers doubled, and New York had a 4-1 lead.
The Yankees threatened in the third on consecutive one-out singles by Reggie Jackson and Nettles, but the Twins got out of the inning on a double-play grounder by Heath.
Minnesota threatened in the fourth, loading the bases with two outs, but a foul out by Powell ended the threat.
The Yankees scored two more in the fourth on consecutive singles by Stanley, Rivers, and Randolph and a double by Munson that made the score 6-1. Reggie Jackson singled in the bottom of the sixth to score Randolph with the Yankees’ seventh run.
Through six innings Clay allowed seven hits and one run. He walked two and had no strikeouts. Ron Davis came on in relief to start the seventh inning. He walked two batters and gave up a single, and Lemon replaced him with Goose Gossage, who gave up two runs on two groundouts. Gossage got Rich Chiles on a flyout to center field to end the inning.
Just one batter reached base the rest of the game, when the Twins’ Willie Norwood walked in the eighth, and New York had a 7-3 victory on this day of celebration and surprise.
A Minneapolis journalist wrote, “Indeed, the tumult of the pre-game ceremonies, in which Martin made his return, so dulled the Yankee Stadium crowd, they forgot to boo Reggie Jackson, the Yankee villain. … Jackson reminded them, however, when he struck out to kill the Yankee rally in the first inning.”3
Postscript: After the victory the Yankees’ record was 56-45 and they stood in fourth place in the American League East, trailing the Red Sox by eight games. On the strength of Ron Guidry’s spectacular season (25-3, 1.74 ERA, and a Cy Young Award), they ended the 162-game season tied with the Boston. Then, in a tiebreaker, Dent hit his epic home run at Fenway Park and the Yankees defeated the Red Sox for the American League East title. They went on to win their 22nd World Series championship in six games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Twins ended the season with a record of 73-89, in fourth place in the AL West, 19 games behind the Royals. First baseman Rod Carew finished the season with a league-best .333 batting average.
In addition to the game story and box-score sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites.
1 Phil Pepe, “Billy’s Biggest Day,” New York Daily News, July 30, 1978: 9.
3 Howard Gelfand, “Martin News Overshadows Twins Loss,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis), July 30, 1978: 25.