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Remembering the NL East champion ‘76 Phils

The Phillies knew the time would come. On Sept. 26, 1976, it finally did.

That’s when the Phillies clinched their first National League East title.

In this week’s version of Yesterday – a look back in time at the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and sometimes beyond – I will look at some classic September baseball moments, as well as some other notable late September telltale items from back in the day.

The ‘76 Phils ... The Phillies swept the Expos in a doubleheader, 4-1 and 2-1 in Montreal. Jim Lonborg won the first game, while Ron Schuler took the nightcap. It was their 95th and 96th victories of the season, and the team went on to a record of 101 victories with 61 losses.

Lonborg was the forgotten hurler on the staff that was paced by Steve Carlton’s 20 wins and 13 complete games. The Phillies acquired Lonborg in a seven-player team from Milwaukee along with pitchers Ken Brett, Earl Stephenson, and Ken Sanders for third basemen Don Money and John Vukovich and pitcher Billy Champion. The Phillies later traded the third basemen and turned over the position to a young, raw Mike Schmdt.

Young right-hander Larry Christenson emerged a legitimate starter with his 13 victories, and young left-hander Tommy Underwood surfaced with 10 wins.

The year also marked the second coming of Dick Allen in Philadelphia. Allen had a solid year in ‘76 at first base with 15 homers and 49 RBIs, along with a .283 average and 11 stolen bases – second on the team.

But Allen had some run-ins with manager Danny Ozark, and the team decided not to re-sign him in the offseason.

The Phillies were swept in three games by Cincinnati in the postseason.

That Highlight Show ... Before there was the cavalcade of baseball highlights we can see on TV and our laptops today, “This Week in Baseball” was a must-watch on a Saturday afternoon. It was in syndication from 1977 to 1998 when Fox took it over as part of its pregame show.

But the prime of the show was in the 1970’s and 80s, as it was our outlet to gain a perspective on the game. The late Mel Allen was the perfect narrator, and the introduction music mixed with slow motion was an ideal beginning. Think back, and you’ll have the intro playing in your head. The clip of players fielding, diving, batting, and running were legendary with Allen’s voice in the background.

And we all somehow found the time to watch it on a weekend, maybe even twice if we dug around enough on the channels, in the TV Guide or the local channel listings in our newspapers.

Jump the Shark ... Speaking of memorable September events, it was Sept. 20, 1977 on a ‘Happy Days” episode when Fonzie jumped across a great white shark on skies. It was the final segment of a three-part series titled “Hollywood” in which Richie had to decide if he was going to stay in Hollywood, or embark on his college career. At that time, the “Jaws” theme had flooded the TV waves.

From that episode, the term “Jump the Shark” - meaning when a popular trend starts to decline - began to be a staple.

It was also around then that the one-time hit show began to slide in its popularity.

Where Were You in 64’? ... Most of you reading this may be too young to remember the Phillies’ 1964 season. Speaking for myself, I was just 4-years-old, but began to discover more about it in my early teens. That was arguably one of the worst seasons in Phillies’ history.

On Sept. 30, the St. Louis Cardinals handed the Phillies their 10th straight loss - an 8-5 setback that concluded a colossal collapse.

The Phillies won the final two games of the season, but the Cardinals would hold on to win the pennant. Philadelphia became the first team to blow a six-and-a-half game lead with 12 games left to play.

A Few Years Later ... On the same day (Sept. 30) in 2007, the Phillies clinched their first NL East title in 14 years with a 6-1 win over the Washington Nationals. The irony was the Phillies knocked the Mets out of playoff contention. The Mets became the first team to blow a seven-game lead with 17 games left to play. If you’re a Mets’ fan, you likely remember manager Willie Randolph and starting pitcher Tom Glavine.

Take a Flight ... Part of our youth was a Balsa wooden airplane, Think hard, and it will come back to you.

For a nickel, or maybe a dime, you received a plastic package containing all the wooden parts to construct your airplane. More sophisticated models included plastic accessories such as landing gear wheels and/or a rubber band-powered propeller.

You could fly them inside or outside. They were a simple pleasure that kept us busy for a few minutes or even longer.

Another Classic Game ... Throughout the 1970s, there were plenty of games that crossed our paths that weren’t electronic or sophisticated, but kept us busy for hours.

One unique game that easily could have slipped through the cracks in our memory was Wilt Chamberlain’s basketball game made by Coleco in 1973. The game was a replica in ways to their table-top hockey game with plastic replicas of players in blue and white jerseys that would slip onto a metal slot.

You had to turn the ball to hit it into holes on both sides of the court, similar to the hockey game to try and get the puck into the net. Once the ball hit a hole, it would pop up toward the basket.

You can purchase the game on EBay and Amazon, but is pricey due to a lack of copies available.

Do You Remember? ... Every week, I’ll look back at a former player, manager, coach, or broadcaster who has crossed our lives over time. Do you remember Tommy Hutton?

The former Phillies first baseman was known for his steady glove and pinch-hitting duties, Hutton broke into the majors with the Dodgers in 1966. and began his Phillies’ career in 1972.

In six seasons with the Phillies until 1977, Hutton was a clutch, left-handed hitting reserve who hit .253 overall. He went on to play with Toronto and Montreal, where his final season was in 1981.