Ah, Black Friday. The day when people all around achieve the very heights of consumerism, glorified for all to see. We revel in the purse saving deals that are occurring, hoping to snag that item for a loved on this holiday season. The videos and memes that emerge from hordes of humanity decimating stores over $199 4K HD TV’s are shown on repeat to serve as a cautionary tale. It’s a day that has become so synonymous to being an American that football has now added a game to their schedule in celebration of it.
For the Phillies, Black Friday takes on a different connotation. Black Friday does not mean being able save 35% on a robe for your significant other. It stands for a painful day in the team’s history, a day where instant replay could have ended the team’s championship drought a few years earlier. Instead, the agony of not having lifted a trophy as one of the oldest organizations in major league baseball dragged on thanks to a botched call from the first base umpire.
“A tough game to work...I’ve worked many, many games, but that was the toughest I’ve ever worked — playoff or World Series or anything.” 1
These words from Harry Wendelstedt were quoted after 1977 NLCS game three, a game that has certain memories for Phillies fans of a certain age. The fanbase of the team these days has endured any number of difficult losses in their time as a fan, whether that be the 1964 collapse, the game of which we’re about to talk about or the past NLCS that saw the Phillies blow a three games to two lead to prevent them from back to back pennants. This game though, this one was extremely difficult to endure since it ended a season that held so much promise for a team and a manager that seemed to be peaking after years of cultivating homegrown talent. It finally felt like the organization had pieced together a roster that was able to win a World Series, breaking the drought that began in 1884 when the team was founded.
And yet, when the day was done, it was not to be. Momentum in the series was gone, defeat felt inevitable.
The game was so crazy, so chock full of entertaining, but calamitous decision making, you can break it up into three different sections.
For your enjoyment, here is the game in (most of) its entirety.
If you’re like me, you’ve listened to The Dirty Inning podcast since its inception. Trips down memory lane combined with the kind of humor that is right up my alley make for a solid hour of listening. One of the ongoing gags of the show has to do with “hooting.” Early 20th century jeering, as discussed by Justin Klugh and Trevor Strunk, did not take on its current form of booing until later on. Instead, it was hooting and hissing that ruled the day. Each time they’re discussing the crowd getting on a certain player, Strunk interjects with what he believes to be the correct interpretation. If you’ve listened to any of the episodes, you know exactly the sound I am referring to. So it comes with a certain amount of irony that on this day for Dodgers, Burt Hooton was on the mound in a tight spot in the second inning.
The Phillies were down 2-0 and had just seen Garry Maddox strike out for the second out. A man was on first base and it looked like the inning would end unceremoniously. Bob Boone followed with a single that moved Maddox to second for Ted Sizemore. Sizemore would walk to load the bases with two outs, not a great idea, but pitcher Larry Christenson was up. Go ahead back to that video above and start it at about 20:17. Listen to that at bat. Christenson battles Hooton to a 3-2 thanks to the home plate umpire missing not one, but two, obvious strikes before Hooton eventually walks the pitcher to force in a run.
The walk completely unravels Hooton, who walks in two more runs before Tommy Lasorda is forced to get him. It’s a case of the fans exerting their influence on the opposing pitcher in Philadelphia, akin to what Pittsburgh did to Johnny Cueto and what Philadelphia has done of late. It put the Phillies into the game, giving them the lead and setting up the later innings. This, though, is one of the moments to remember from this game, one of the first times many can remember the crowd visibly altering the ability of the pitcher to do his job.
The defensive substitution
For fans of a certain generation, they knew that when a game was on the line during the Phillies 2008 World Series run, Pat Burrell saw his glove disappear. He’d start each game in his accustomed left field position, using his bat to create most of the value he had, but if the lead was in the Phillies favor and the eighth or ninth inning was beginning, one of the coaches handed Burrell a jacket, thanked him for his service for the day and said, “Thanks, but we’ve got it from here.”
1977 was no different. The team employed Greg Luzinski as their left fielder, an idea similar to Burrell in that defense was merely a byproduct of the rules. He had to play there for at least a little while. But if a game got close and the Phillies had a lead, manager Danny Ozark typically replaced Luzinski with Jerry Martin. Martin may not have been a star with the glove (even by the crude metrics of the day), but the advantage of using him over Luzinski was large enough that it made sense to make the change.
So as the ninth inning began, the Phillies possessing a 5-3 lead, most people expected to see Martin running out to left field to hold on to the lead. Instead, Luzinski was going out.
When Gene Garber retired the first two hitters on groundballs, all of a sudden it didn’t seem to matter. Only one more out was needed and what were the chances the ball would be hit to Luzinski anyway? Vic Davalillo reached on a drag bunt to extend the inning, but again, Manny Mota was coming up, so why worry about a ball into the outfield. After all, Mota was 39 years old, had almost 4,100 plate appearances to his name at that point and had managed only 205 extra base hits. A ball hit with authority seemed like the unlikeliest of outcomes.
If ever you’ve played baseball, you know what happens when one of your worst defensive players is on the field. The ball, once hit, will always - ALWAYS - find that player.
And find Luzinski it did. Unable to catch the ball, Luzinski was forced to pin it against the wall, then throw it to second, where the ball bounded away from second baseman Ted Sizemore, allowing Davalillo to score and Mota to move to third base, a much more dangerous spot considering all the things that could go wrong from there.
Still, there were two outs in the inning, meaning one more out and the game was over and the Phillies held control of the series, two games to one. All they needed to do was retire Davey Lopes and it was over.
All they needed to do...
The missed call
The Phillies had a lead still, even after the misplay by Luzinski. The game was still in their favor. They simply needed an out. They had fantastic infielders in Mike Schmidt and Larry Bowa on the left side, Sizemore and Richie Hebner on the right. Lopes was a solid, underrated player for the Dodgers and would be a difficult out to get. Garber, still pitching in the inning, did his job and got Lopes hit a ground ball, but it was a smash that deflected off of Schmidt to Bowa, who made an outstanding throw to first to get Lopes to end the game.
Except he wasn’t out. He was called safe.
As you can imagine from the video, several of the Phillies players were less than thrilled that a call of that magnitude was made. Larry Bowa:
“He was out. Dead out,” Bowa said later. “He anticipated the call because Lopes can run. He saw the ball in the air, he said ‘No way.’ I throw a ‘seed’ over there, and he’s out. I don’t mind losing, but not by a call.” 2
“I couldn’t believe he called him safe,” first baseman Richie Hebner was saying over and over again. “I don’t usually get on umpires, but he did NOT beat that ball.” 3
“I saw it,” said Gene Garber, the hard luck loser. “He was out. I know he was out at first. I had a good look at it.”
Froemming had other ideas.
“I called him safe,” said Froemming, “because he beat it.”
Once this call was made, it felt over. Bill Russell, thankfully, almost mercifully if you are a fan of the macabre, put it out of its misery.
The Phillies would go on to lose the next day to Tommy John and the Dodgers, ending the series and their season. The entire incident would come to be known as Black Friday around the region, a day that saw a dynasty not quite ready to rise.
It’s a shame to watch, but also fits right in with Philadelphia sports. It’s only fitting that a victory can be ripped away in such a fashion since that is something that has happened so often here. Luckily the team recovered three years later to hoist their first trophy, but this day will live long in the memories of sports fans of the city.
1 Dolson, Frank. “Down went the palms — the Dodgers were home safe.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 8 October 1977.