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Part II: My Most Memorable New York Sports Minutes

1976: Holy cow, the Yankees win the pennant.

Photo by buildscharacter 

When something occurs before you were born or in infancy, it seems like ancient history. So while 12 years absence from post season play isn’t really extreme, the drought seemed like an eternity to me. The near miss disappointment of 1974 only added to the perceived futility, so when the Yankees ran away with the East, I felt I was finally inheriting the legacy that my father and grandfather held so dear.

On the other hand, what exactly is an Eastern Division title. They don’t accumulate quite as nicely as a pennant and a World Series appearance. This meant for the accomplishment to matter, the Yankees had to at least fly an AL Championship banner over the stadium in 1977.

The back and forth begins.

The prospects were certainly good when the Yankees came out in game 1 and followed the season’s blueprint. Mickey Rivers gets on, his speed causes disarray, and the Yankees jump out to a 2-0 lead. Catfish pitching a gem gave a sense of legacy to the Yankee reemergence, and destiny seemed right around the corner.

Plus, these were the Kansas City Royals; did they even have a history? As it turned out, the Western Division Champs began one with five Yankee errors and a 7-3 victory.

Three runs in the top of the first in game 3 seemed to have the Royals completely disassociated with their empty past, too. But Chris Chambliss gave us a mini-prelude with a two-run homer to get the Yankees back in the game. Three more in the sixth, Sparky earned the save, and I was going to the clincher.

No way could the Royals possibly face me and my dad down, and the storied ghosts who haunted so many other more worthy pretenders. Catfish on the mound was the special sauce for the goose. But suddenly, the Yankees were down three, and maybe all the heroics I’d learned about weren’t true.

Graig Nettles gave that notion of respite with a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning. Unfortunately, all the air went out of the excitement when idiots littered the field with toilet paper and the game got held up.

Another prelude and the Royals went on to win 7-4. The Royals also forgot to follow the script for game 5.

Game 5 goes back and forth, too.

John Mayberry’s homer in the first gave the Royals a two-run lead, but the Yankees didn’t wait to get back on the horse. Their thoroughbred tripled to lead off the bottom, and Roy White singled Mickey Rivers home. A stolen base, single by Munson, and sacrifice fly by Chambliss returned the status quo.

Somehow, the lineage-less Royals weren’t getting the message, and it didn’t matter that Cookie Rojas was the closest these upstarts could claim. Rojas scored ahead of a Buck Martinez single, and the Royals had the lead again.

But finally, the Yankee set things straight, and Mickey Rivers was again at the center of both two-run innings in the third and sixth. Up 6-3, the ghosts were now circling the stadium on cruise control, and I finally had a seat next to numerous Monetti elders at my own World Series.

Suddenly, among the revelry, though, KC put two runners on. Still, looking up and down the lineup, I didn’t see a Joe DiMaggio.

New York gags and gains the glory.

Interestingly, George Brett failed to notice, too, but just because he calmly bit down on his tobacco, didn’t mean any of us needed to spit. So you could only imagine the gag as his three-run homer landed the upper deck.

Who were these God Damn Kansas City Royals?

Ghosts be damned, we almost found out. A highly questionable call at second left George Brett in the on deck circle with the bases loaded. As fate would have it, not much time was given to contemplate the injustice, and it was very curious how the announcers kept emphasizing that Mark Littell had not given up a single homer in 1976.

Talk about a jinx.

One pitch and Chambliss was on his toes to meet the high delivery. All that was left was for Phil Rizzuto to take us home. “He hits one deep to right center. That ball is… outta here. The Yankees win the pennant. Holy cow, Chris Chambliss on one swing…”

Yeah, we knew it all along anyway.

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