As a recurring column idea, Bill will expound upon one interesting transaction that occurred on a particular day in baseball history. It won’t always be the most exciting or most impactful transaction, but always something interesting. Feel free to share which transactions stand out to you in the comments.
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Bucky F***ing Dent. For decades, that’s how fans of the Boston Red Sox referred to the shortstop who spent six of his 12 seasons with the Yankees. Dent posted an unimpressive .618 OPS over his career but hit one of the more important and memorable home runs in the Yankees’ storied history. None of it would have happened if the Yankees didn’t acquire him from the White Sox 43 years ago.
In his first four seasons in the majors with the White Sox, Dent earned a reputation as a good defender, finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year balloting in 1974 and making the AL All-Star squad the following year despite uninspiring offense numbers. Heading into the 1977 season, Dent and the White Sox weren’t able to come to an agreement on a contract, so the club traded him to the Yankees, who were in need of an established shortstop.
Dent won a World Series ring in his first year with the Yankees in 1977 as the club defeated the Dodgers in six games in the Fall Classic. Dent, as expected, did most of his work with his glove but left much to be desired at the plate, finishing the regular season with a .653 OPS. He went 8-for-33 with seven singles and a double in the postseason.
The 1978 season was looking like more of the same. Dent played in 123 games, posting a .603 OPS in the regular season. He would have had a sub-.600 OPS if not for his heroics in the final game of the season, a Game 163 tiebreaker against the Red Sox. Both clubs finished the year with a 99-63 record. Back then, only four teams made the playoffs, so this was an even more monumental game than it would have been by more modern standards. The Red Sox won a coin toss so they had the privilege of hosting the Yankees for all the marbles.
The Red Sox jumped out to an early 1-0 lead when Carl Yastrzemski hit a leadoff home run off of Ron Guidry in the second inning. Jim Rice tacked on an insurance run in the sixth with an RBI single to make it 2-0.
In the top of the seventh, the Yankees finally got to a tiring Mike Torrez, who allowed back-to-back one-out singles. After getting Jim Spencer to fly out for the second out, No. 9 batter Dent came to the plate. This would have been a spot to, perhaps, pinch-hit for the weak-hitting Dent, but the Yankees already pinch-hit for second baseman Brian Doyle with Fred Stanley.
Dent didn’t look great at the plate initially, luckily checking his swing on ball one, then badly fouling a ball off of his foot to even the count. After a brief delay during which was tended to by the team trainer, Torrez challenged Dent with a fastball down the middle. Dent did not miss, skying the ball out to left field over the Green Monster, putting the Yankees ahead 3-2. They would add one more run later in the inning on a Thurman Munson RBI double to make it 4-2.
The game was far from over. Reggie Jackson drilled a leadoff home run off of Bob Stanley in the eighth to push the Yankees’ lead to 5-2. In the bottom half, the Red Sox rallied against Goose Gossage, riding a leadoff double followed by three consecutive one-out singles to claw back to 5-4. Gossage, however, got out of trouble just in the nick of time, then escaped trouble in the bottom of the ninth to seal the deal, sending the Yankees into the ALCS to face the Royals. Red Sox fans from then on would refer to the shortstop as “Bucky F***ing Dent.”
Dent wasn’t done, though. In the best-of-five ALCS, which the Yankees won in four games over the Royals, Dent knocked in four runs. Dent kickstarted the Yankees’ postseason run with an RBI single in the second inning of Game 1, then added a two-run single and an RBI single in the late innings of Game 2.
In the World Series against the Dodgers, Dent went berserk, registering 10 hits and seven RBI in 25 trips to the plate. Dent contributed a two-run single in Game 1, an RBI ground out in Game 3, an RBI double in Game 5, and a two-run single in the decisive Game 6 as the Yankees won their second World Series in as many years, both over the Dodgers. Dent, unsurprisingly, earned World Series MVP honors as a most unlikely hot streak came to its conclusion.
Dent struggled in 1979, but bounced back with a terrific – by his standards – 1980 campaign, batting .262/..327/.354 along with terrific defense. He earned his second career All-Star nomination and helped the Yankees back to the postseason. This time, the Royals had the Yankees’ number, sweeping them in three games. Dent couldn’t recapture the magic as he tapped out just two singles in 12 trips to the plate.
Dent was off to a great start in 1981, but the season was shortened due to a work stoppage. He hit .238/.300/.379, earning another All-Star nomination. Not long after play resumed in August, Dent’s season ended abruptly when he tore a ligament in his throwing hand when he attempted to break up a double play. Nevertheless, the Yankees again returned to the postseason, though the format was different due to the strike. The owners and the union agreed on a split-season format, which resulted in a larger postseason pool, going to eight teams rather than the usual four. In the division series, the Yankees edged out the Brewers in five games, then swept the Athletics in three games before a rematch with the Dodgers in the World Series. They would not emerge victorious this time, dropping the series in six games. It would be their last postseason appearance until 1995.
The next season, Dent had an awful first half. The Yankees traded him to the Rangers for Lee Mazzilli in August. Owed in part to injuries, Dent was out of baseball after 1984. That one-month run in 1978, however, created a legacy for Dent. He hosted a TV show, had cameos on other shows, appeared in a made-for-TV movie on ABC as well as commercials, and appeared in the September 1983 issue of Playgirl magazine. And to this day, Red Sox and Yankees fans of a certain age alike vividly remember Dent’s home run in the 1978 tiebreaker.