“Now I know how Bobby Thomson felt,” Chris Chambliss told the media.
Twenty-five years after Bobby Thomson hit a home run off Ralph Branca’s final pitch of the 1951 season to send the New York Giants to the World Series, Chambliss blasted Mark Littell’s first pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning into the right-center field seats to send the New York Yankees to the 1976 World Series.
“I didn’t realize what had happened until I saw the fans coming from all over the place and the guys coming out of the dugout,” said an excited but slightly confused and worried Chambliss.
In 1976, we lived in a different society. There was nothing to stop fans from running onto the field after the game. What happened to Chambliss was instrumental in tightening security at public events.
Chambliss could hardly make it around the bases. I remember vividly as I watched on television trying to see if he ever would touch home plate. It really didn’t matter because fans had confiscated third base and home plate before Chambliss reached them.
And this was before the era of collectibles.
Chambliss was knocked down, pushed and almost lost his uniform to the enthusiastic mob that didn’t want to celebrate the Yankees’ pennant in the manner of Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle.
“I didn’t think I was going to get around the bases,” a relieved Chambliss later said. “I was punching and struggling and people were trying to drag me down and rip my clothes off.”
Billy Martin was happier than he had ever been, even as a player.
“I started jumping up and down. I waited for the ball to clear the fence. I never take anything for granted,” Martin told the media. He was even more proud than when he drove in Hank Bauer from second base to win beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1953 World Series.
The Yankees hadn’t won a pennant since 1964 and they last won the World Series in 1962. When Chambliss hit his home run, I had extremely mixed feelings.
I felt great that the Yankees won the pennant, especially after George Brett hit a three-run eighth inning home run off Grant Jackson to tie the game, but I also felt great trepidation.
Las Vegas odds maker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder had announced that the defending world champion Cincinnati Reds were 8-5 favorites to beat the Yankees in the World Series. The general consensus was that the Yankees didn’t have much of a chance.
Of course, the “experts” are often wrong, but the Reds were a powerful team with enough offense to compensate for any lack of strong pitching.
Reggie Jackson was still in Baltimore and Thurman Munson couldn’t do it by himself. The Yankees and their fans would have to wait one more year.