The Greatest Comeback Ever: A Fan's Diary of the 1978 New York Yankees

Kevin RozellSenior Writer IJanuary 4, 2009

(Zell's Pinstripe Blog)

I was recently contacted by diehard Yankee fan, Paul Keck. He wanted to tell me about a book he wrote. Paul just published a new book about the 1978 Yankees, called The Greatest Comeback Ever: A fans diary of the 1978 New York Yankees Championship Season.

It’s a diary that he started writing at the age of 16 and throughout the remarkable 1978 season. I wasn’t even born yet to witness that great season, but I’ve heard a lot of great stories about that team. I suggest you guys pick up the book.

Here’s a short summary about the book:

In 1978, a sixteen year old with a passion for the New York Yankees began to write a daily diary which covered all sports, but first and foremost Yankees baseball. Little did the author know of the sensational season that lay ahead for the New York team. Halfway through the season, the Bronx Bombers were buried in fourth place – fourteen games behind the red hot Boston Red Sox. As providence would have it, the author kept writing as the Yankees proceeded to engineer the greatest comeback in Major League Baseball history. The Greatest Comeback Ever has all the elements of a classic: the passion, intensity and humor of a team including Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner; Martin’s mid-season retirement and replacement, manager Bob Lemon; the Yankees four game sweep of the Red Sox in September, immortalized as the “Boston Massacre”, all leading to a remarkable one-game playoff in which the Yankees’ Bucky Dent hit his famous home run to help win the AL East title. The Yankees then capped a brilliant season by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Enjoyable for both adult and young fans alike, The Greatest Comeback Ever is uniquely written from the heart of a young fan in love with his team as the season actually unfolded. It has a spontaneity and vividness that will draw baseball fans back into the excitement of 1978’s pennant race between the greatest rivalry in baseball history: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

Paul agreed to do a Q&A with me, so he can share his thoughts about the book and the ‘78 season. Check it out.

Q: What made you decide to write a diary about the New York Yankees?

A:As a teenager, two of my greatest interests were (and still are) Yankees baseball and writing. Putting those together was a natural decision, and I was blessed to spontaneously capture a remarkable baseball season from the young fan’s perspective.

Q: What is the one thing that sticks out in your mind as the defining moment of the 1978 season?

A: Bob Lemon’s midseason takeover of the managerial helm from Billy Martin brought a great peace to the team, which had been wracked by great dissension during the first half of the season. Billy was a fiery man, Lemon a man of peace.

Lemon’s arrival calmed the team and allowed them to refocus on the game and apply the great talent they collectively had which allowed them to win the World Series the previous year in 1977.

Q: The Yankees had three managers during the ‘78 season (Martin, Howser, Lemon). How would’ve things gone differently if one of them was the manager all year?

A: I believe he team was destined to win under Lemon’s helm. If Martin had continued for the duration of the year, the divisions on the team would not have been healed.

Q: Who would you say was the MVP of the the Yankees that year?

A: Ron Guidry. He won the Cy Young that year and should have won the MVP as well. The Yankees would never have won without his incredible season of 25 wins against three losses.

Q: Can you describe the feud that went on between Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner?

A: Billy and George were born to win, and their drive to succeed led at times to clashes between the two. George was an activist owner, so at times he would override Billy’s managerial decisions which of course Billy did not care for.

Nevertheless, they both shared a common vision of winning and reconciled many times after the course of these disagreements.

Q: Who was your favorite player on the team and why?

A: Chris Chambliss. A workman who did more with his glove and bat than his words. He was a positive influence on the team through what he did on the field. Consistent with a penchant for dramatic ninth-inning home runs!

Q: What made the 1978 Yankees so special?

A: Their ability to come back from adversity and overtake the Red Sox by moving away from the individualism that marked much of the first half to a team effort in the second half. Also the fact the team was composed of such a distinctive group of individual talents...from Mick the Quick to Reggie to Brian Doyle’s sensational success in the World Series.

Q: Ron Guidry was the last pitcher to win at least 25 games in a season for the Yankees in the 20th Century. He also won the Cy Young Award in ‘78. How remarkable was that season?

A: That season was remarkable for Guidry, who was so in the groove he was virtually unstoppable all year. The batsmen who faced him seemed almost helpless against his pitching. I believe a high percentage of his wins came after Yankees losses, which without the Yankees would have finished more than a few games behind the Red Sox.

Q: We all know how intense the Yanks/Sox rivalry is now. What was it like back then?

A: I believe the intensity level is the same then as it is now-and that is intense! The greatest rivalry in all of the major sports for almost a century. May it keep going!

Q: Thirty years later..do you still consider it to be The Greatest Comeback Ever?

A: Absolutely. Not only did the Yanks come back from 14 games out of first in July, they also came back in the World Series. This was the first team ever to lose the first two games of the Series and then win the next four consecutive to take home the Championship. Thus, it took 75 years of World Series play for that type of comeback to occur.

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