After an injury-riddled 1976 season saw the Red Sox go from American League champions to the basement of the American League standings, a few impact moves appear to have Boston poised for a rebound campaign.
We already talked about some of the moves of the early offseason with Boston bringing in Earl Weaver as the new field general, then working to solve its pitching woes by signing left starter Jerry Reuss and closer Dave LaRoche as free agents.
During spring training, the Red Sox came to terms with free agent Rudy May in another move to add a proven pitcher to strengthen the starting rotation.
May enjoyed a whale of a year with the hated Yankees in 1977 at age 31, going 18-5 with a 3.23 ERA in 234 innings, posting a WHIP of 1.25.
While adding Reuss, May, and LaRoche demonstrated Boston’s desire to bolster a staff that was the worst in the American League, the signings did raise a big question mark. All three free agents are southpaws, and lefties traditionally have do not fair as well as right-handers in Fenway Park.
Even in a disappointing season in 1976, two Red Sox were honored with postseason awards. First baseman Cecil Cooper and second baseman Frank White both earned Gold Gloves. The Royals’ decision to give up on White, who struggled offensively during the first half of the 1976 campaign, could help Boston solve one of the primary challenges posed by ownership – upgrading the second base position.
AN ENCOURAGING APRIL
At 20-10, the Red Sox finished spring training with the second best record among all MLB teams.
April offered even more hope for a turnaround in 1977 as Earl Weaver’s first month as manager saw the Red Sox finish with a 15-4 record that put them in a share of East Division lead with the Yankees.
The Sox moved into first place by themselves on May 3 with a 2-1 win over the expansion Mariners, but two straight losses at the Kingdome were followed by a sweep at the hands of the Angels during a frustrating road trip that hinted at the beginnings of a Boston slide.
By the July 17 All-Star Break, the Red Sox found themselves in third place in the East Division. Their 47-44 record put them eight games behind the first-place Yankees and seven behind second-place Baltimore.
Again, pitching was the issue. While the Red Sox offense ranked No. 1 in batting average (.290), No. 2 in home runs (106), and No. 3 in runs scored (479), the pitching staff ranked 10th in runs against, (487), 8th in starters ERA (4.53), and 11th in bullpen ERA (.670).
LOOKING FOR A BOOST
The Red Sox liked the idea of inserting free-agent signee Richie Zisk into the designated hitter role with Carl Yastrzemski’s numbers dipping heading into his 37th year. That didn’t quite work out.
In 55 games, Zisk hit just .232 with 4 home runs and 20 RBI. Those numbers looked out of place alongside Fred Lynn (.350, 14 home runs, 63 RBI at the All-Star break), Dwight Evans (.296, 19 HR, 55 RBI), Jim Rice (.325, 22 HR, 81 RBI), and Butch Hobson (.292, 15 HR, 48 RBI) and Carlton Fisk (.294, 9 HR, 37 RBI). Add in Cecil Cooper with 11 home runs despite spending several weeks on the disabled list, and waiting for Zisk to turn his season around became a luxury the Red Sox felt they couldn’t afford with the staff continuing to struggle.
On June 15, the Red Sox decided to move Zisk to Cincinnati in a deal to add 29-year-old starting pitcher Larry Gura and 22-year-old minor-league pitcher Bruce Berenyi. Gura was moved right into the starting lineup, where he recorded a 3-1 record with a 3.77 ERA in five starts for Boston prior to the All-Star break.
In another move involving minor leaguers, the Red Sox sent centerfielder Larry Hyman and pitcher William Suter to Atlanta for outfielder Brian Asseltime and minor leaguers Mickey Mahler and Rick Mahler.
MORE HELP ON THE WAY?
After missing the entire first half of the season with a rotator cuff tear suffered 12 months earlier, lefty prospect Mike Flanagan was finally cleared to begin pitching. On July 10, he was sent to AAA Pawtucket, where he enjoyed positive results in his first two starts, going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 13 1/3 innings.
GOOD BYE EL TIANTE
When the Red Sox decided to put Mickey Mahler on the active roster, they needed to make a roster move. On July 3, they announced they would part ways with Luis Tiant, releasing the 36-year-old who had found moderate success after being moved into the Boston bullpen. Tiant lost both of his decisions with the Red Sox in 1977, but posted a 3.76 ERA in 26 1/3 innings of work.
Tiant was signed by the San Francisco after spending three days as a free agent. In two appearances with the Giants, he posted an 0-1 record while allowing four earned runs and a homer in 3 2/3 innings of relief.
NUMBERS AS OF JULY 17, 1977