April 10, 1977: Milwaukee Brewers 2, New York Yankees 1

at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY

If you can’t beat them, sign them to a contract.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner signed Don Gullett on November 18, 1976, a little more than a month after the southpaw and his Cincinnati cohorts swept the Bronx Bombers in the World Series.

It was a coup for Steinbrenner in the early days of free agency, which had taken a Jupiter-sized leap forward with pitchers Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith winning an arbitration decision two days before Christmas, 1975.  This landmark ruling liberated the hurlers and their brethren from an oppressive system binding them to teams.  Catfish Hunter was technically a free agent after the 1974 season because A’s owner Charlie Finley either ignored or didn’t realize the parameters of his contract with his ace.  Hunter went to the Yankees.[1]

Gullett was a natural target for the big-spending, loud-talking shipbuilder from Cleveland whose ownership group had purchased the Yankees from CBS in 1973.  With two World Series rings emblemizing the excellence of the Big Red Machine, Gullett brought credibility backed by a 91-44 career record to date.[2]

In early November, it had been reported that 13 teams were possible destinations for the southpaw.[3]  The Yankees signed him to a contract worth nearly $2 million over six years, a lofty figure during the infancy of free agency.  For armchair critics who thought that Gullett prized money above loyalty, Ohio sports writer Bucky Albers defended him on a point of financial fairness.  Now with an agent, Jerry Kapstein, Gullett had flown solo during his previous salary negotiations.  This approach undercut his earning power, according to Albers: “If you were in Gullett’s shoes and you had already realized the dream of playing in a World Series four times, wouldn’t you want to obtain long term financial security if it was offered?  If you had been on two world championship teams, wouldn’t you at least consider an opportunity to make more money?”[4]

Gullett’s production was effective: 14-4 record and an AL-leading .778 winning percentage in 1977.  But his first outing in pinstripes was less than desirable.  The Milwaukee Brewers beat the Yankees 2-1 on a pair of Sixto Lezcano solo home runs at Yankee Stadium; Lezcano clocked his first homer with two outs in the top of the fourth.

For the Brewers right fielder, it was a matter of digesting the data on Gullett and turning it to his advantage for the victory against the AL champs.  “I know that Thurman Munson likes to call in and out,” said Lezcano.  “So when Gullett got me out my first time and broke my bat with an insider pitch, I expected an outside pitch.  And that’s what I got.”[5]

But the Puerto Rico native also praised the Cincinnati export’s speed: “He threw smoke both times. The second one was inside. I was just trying to hit it hard.”[6]

Gullett allowed five hits besides Lezcano’s homers.  Jim Wohlford led off the Brewers’ first inning with a single, but got nailed at second when Munson fired the ball to shortstop Bucky Dent.  Gullett then walked Robin Yount and faced Cecil Cooper, retiring the Milwaukee slugger on a strikeout and doing the same with Sal Bando.

It began well for the home nine’s batting lineup.  Mickey Rivers followed his leadoff single against righthander Moose Haas with a steal attempt, which seemed like a prosperous decision—the Yankees center fielder was successful on 43 of 50 attempts in ’76.  Unfortunately for the south Bronx, his inaugural ’77 endeavor failed.

Yankees manager Billy Martin walked on to the field to have a chat with the umpire at second base, Marty Springstead.  But the fiery Martin did not sway him.

Roy White walked and Munson singled to put his teammate on third base, but Chris Chambliss, the hero of the 1976 AL playoff game that sent the Yankees to the World Series, zipped a line ball to Bando at third base for a double play.

New York scored its only run in the bottom of the second.  Carlos May drew a two-out walk and scored on Willie Randolph’s triple, the first of 11 for the Yankees’ second baseman that season.

Martin had another chance for showcasing his temper in the fourth inning, when Graig Nettles smashed a line drive that went into foul territory after hitting the glove of first baseman Cooper.  According to Martin, it should have been a fair ball.  He held umpire Vic Voltaggio—

in his first series of games in the major leagues—responsible for wrongly claiming that Cooper was in foul territory.  Instead, Martin said that Cooper was “four feet inside the line when he touched the ball.”[7]

The frenzy of Nettles and Martin arguing had no effect.  Nettles, usually a calm sort, broke his pattern of ease.  “But there was Quiet Man Nettles, just as crazed, his cap a crumpled heap in his hand, jumping up and down with his manager,” wrote Henry Hecht of the New York Post.[8]

The score remained in a 1-1 stasis until the top of the ninth.  Rivers caught Bando’s fly ball, then Lezcano bashed his second round tripper.  “Give Lezcano credit,” praised Gullett.  “He was looking for fastballs and he hit them.  I made mistakes in not getting the ball where I wanted to, but he still hit the heck out of them.”[9]

Lezcano, a righthanded batter, had clocked the first homer into the left-field stands.  His second traveled 410 feet to the right side of Yankee Stadium.[10]

Gullett then walked Don Money, whose theft of second put the Brewers in scoring position for a possible insurance run.  But Dan Thomas struck out, his second whiff on an oh-for-four day.  Martin called upon Dick Tidrow to relieve Gullett, who recorded five strikeouts in his debut as a Yankee.  In addition to Bando and Cooper in the top of the first and Thomas’s two entries in the “K” column, the lefty had struck out Brewers backstop Charlie Moore in the top of the third.

Brewers skipper Alex Hammas replaced Moore with pinch-hitter Jamie Quirk, whom Tidrow struck out to end the Brewers’ chances for expanding the lead.

For a New York minute, it looked like the Yankees were rebounding in the bottom of the ninth.  Reggie Jacksonsingled with one out—his only hit of the game after grounding out, lining out, and striking out.  McClure fielded Jackson’s grounder and threw to Cooper but it got by the 6’2” first baseman.

Veteran second baseman Money had stationed himself 20 feet behind first base to back up Cooper, which allowed him to contain Jackson at first base.

McClure then picked off Jackson.  Martin’s sound and fury was on display when he argues with the quartet of umpires.[11]  They negated his claim, but Martin persisted in the balk argument afterwards.  Jackson blamed himself instead, admitting his awareness that McClure might use a “balk move” in his repertoire.  “I was five feet from the bag and he still threw me out,” said the slugger, who had signed a five-year, $3.5 million deal with the Yankees in November, 1976.[12]  “I was out—that’s all there is to it.”[13]

McClure—who had come to the Brewers during spring training as the player to be named later in a five-player trade with the Kansas City Royals from December, 1976[14]—claimed immunity had been granted by umpires. “They came down to spring training and pulled me over to the side,” explained the 5’11” righty. ‘Let’s see your move,’ they asked me.  I showed them and they said it was okay.  They also did it the spring before.  They have it on TV.”[15]

Nettles’s groundout made it an oh-for-four day for the Yankees third baseman.  Bill Castro relieved McClure and faced Jimmy Wynn pinch hitting for May.  Wynn ended the game by fouling out to Larry Haney, who had replaced Moore at the catcher’s position.

Four of Gullett’s first six starts resulted in wins, but a July 9 outing against the Milwaukee Brewers—his last major-league game—was an epic disappointment. Milwaukee notched four runs in the first inning. Gullett left with two outs; the Yankees lost 8-4; and Gullett registered a loss.[16]

Gullett finished his career the following season. Plagued by his left shoulder, he started the 1978 season on the disabled list but showed strength when he began pitching in early June.

His major-league career, which began in 1970, ended with a 109-50 record.




[1] Eric Stephen, “40 years ago today, Messersmith becomes a free agent,” SB Nation, https://www.truebluela.com/2015/12/23/7526915/andy-messersmith-arbitration-decision-free-agency-dodgers-1975 (last accessed March 3, 2022).

[2] The Reds won the World Series in 1975 and 1976.  They lost in 1970 and 1972.  Gullett started five games and played in three others for the Reds, compiling a 2-2 record.

[3] Bob Hertzel, “LA May Give Gullett His Deal,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 6, 1976: C-1.

[4] Bucky Albers, “Line hard to swallow,” Journal Herald (Dayton, OH), October 29, 1976: 17.

[5] Gerald Eskenazi, “Home Runs Set Back Yankees, 2-1, and Mets, 5-2,” New York Times, April 11, 1977: 44.

[6] “Two Lezcano HRs pay off,” UPI, Capital Times (Madison, WI), April 12, 1977: 13.

[7] Henry Hecht, “Martin blames the umpire,” New York Post, April 11, 1977: 58.

[8] Hecht.

[9] Al Mari, “Lezcano’s 2 home runs spoil Gullett’s N.Y. debut,” Journal News (White Plains, NY), April 11, 1977: 21.

[10] Mike Gonring, “Greedy Brewers, Swinging Sixto Beat Yankees Again, April 11, 1977: Part 2, Page 6.

[11] Gerald Eskenazi, “Home Runs Set Back Yankees, 2-1, and Mets, 5-2,” New York Times, April 11, 1977: 44.

[12] The Reds won the World Series in 19

[13] “Two Lezcano HRs pay off.”

[14] The Royals got Jim Colborn and Darrell Porter.  McClure, Jamie Quirk, and Jim Wohlford went to Milwaukee.

[15] Lou Chapman, “Throw Away Book, Billy!,” Milwaukee Sentinel, April 11, 1977: Part 2, Page 5.

[16] Charles F. Faber, “Don Gullett,” Society for American Baseball Research Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/don-gullett/(last accessed May 14, 2022).