(If you like a little trivia with your baseball cards, check out the rest of this series here.)
On the last day of the 1977 season, Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Dusty Baker stepped into the batter’s box against Houston Astros fireballer J.R. Richard in the sixth inning of a game that meant nothing for the standings.
The Dodgers had long ago won the old National League West but they were too far behind the Philadelphia Phillies to win any sort of bragging rights for the best overall record.
But there was a snatch of history on the line as Baker took his cuts with 29 home runs already under his belt in his second season with LA after coming over in a trade with the Atlanta Braves in November of 1975.
With the Dodgers down by a run and with two outs and no one on base , Baker connected on a Richard offering and sent it deep into the night for his 30th homer of the season.
The Dodgers would eventually lose that contest 6-3 before embarking on a postseason run that would take them to the World Series against the New York Yankees.
But Baker’s 6th-inning shot made the Dodgers the first team in Major League history who could claim four men with 30 or more homers in one season.
Several teams have accomplished the feat since then, but none of them played in the Dodgers’ power-bereft era and only one of them — the 1997 Dodgers — played in the homer-gobbling Dodger Stadium.
Here are those LA mashers from that long-ago summer, along with their 1977 Topps baseball cards.
Baker was the baby of the group, turning 28 on June 15.
Originally drafted in the 26th round by the Atlanta Braves in 1967, Baker worked his way to the Big Leagues quickly, debuting in 1968. It took him until 1972 to see regular playing time, though.
That season, he hit .321 and clubbed 17 home runs as part of a powerful Atlanta lineup that included Hank Aaron and Darrell Evans. Over the next three seasons with the Braves, Baker’s average dropped into the .250s, though his power remained steady at around 20 dingers per year.
In his first season on the west coast, Baker made it into 112 games but hit just .242 with four home runs.
That made 1977 a definite breakout, and his 30 homers ended up being a career high.
Over a 19-year career, Baker collected 1981 hits and 242 home runs for four different clubs.
Since he retired as a player, Baker has put together a successful managerial career that has included stops with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Nationals.
Dubbed the “Penguin” for his waddling style of play at third base, Ron Cey was already a well-established power hitter at age 29 as the 1977 season dawned.
Cey was originally drafted by the New York Mets in 1966 but went on to play ball at Washington State University instead. The Dodgers rewarded him by making him their third-round selection in 1968, and he spent the next three years working his way through their minor league system.
Cey always seemed to toil in the shadow of the Philadelphia Phillies’ Mike Schmidt, with whom he shared a “Rookie Third Basemen” card in 1973, but Cey was a perennial All-Star choice and a fan favorite in Chavez Ravine.
Like Baker, Cey’s even 30 dingers ended up being a career high, which may be surprising until you consider that he played his most prodcutive years in the Dodgers’ homer-killing home park and in an era when power was at a premium.
A key member of the 1984 Cubs division-winning team, Cey ended his 17-year career after a one-season run with the Oakland A’s in 1987. In all, he amassed 316 home runs with a .261 batting average.
If there were a super-duper star among the Dodgers’ band of sluggers and other marquee names in the middle 1970s, it was first baseman Steve Garvey.
Ever since LA took him in the first round of the 1968 draft out of Michigan State University, Garvey had met sky-high expectations head-on and excelled at every step.
By 1974, he was being talked about as one of the top young players in the game and copped the National League MVP award as the Dodgers romped their way to a National League pennant.
In 1977, with the Dodgers knocking on the door of the World Series again, Garvey was 28 years old and at the peak of his game.
Pulling together his own physical talents and leaning on the stellar production and protection of his teammates, Garvey hit 33 bombs that summer while batting .297 with 115 RBI. Those numbers were good enough to nab sixth place in NL MVP voting and solidify his place in baseball’s firmament.
Garvey would stay in LA through the 1982 season before signing a free agent deal with the San Diego Padres, helping that team to its first division title and pennant in 1984.
While Garvey’s star would be diminished by personal issues later in his career and afterward, there is no denying that he was one of the best players of his generation and helped two teams get to places they couldn’t have gone without him.
All told, Garvey played in the Majors for 19 seasons, collecting 2599 hits, 272 home runs, and a .294 batting average along the way.
At 32, Reggie Smith was the old man of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ power quartet in 1977.
After being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in June 1963, Smith was acquired by the Boston Red Sox in December of that same year. Three years later, he was in Fenway Park and, by 1967, he was a valuable member of a Sawx lineup that helped the team all the way to the World Series.
As it turned out, this was one of the last pieces that Dodgers needed to return to glory and unseat the Cincinnati Reds team that steamrolled all of baseball in 1975 and 1976 as The Big Red Machine.
After a solid second half with LA in 1976, Reggie slid right into his power groove in 1977, slamming 32 home runs and driving in 87 runs while batting a solid .307. He also got on base at a .427 clip to lead the National League.
Of all the sluggers on that 1977 Dodgers team, Reggie Smith is perhaps the most underrated, both during that magical season and for his career. With 2020 hits and 314 hits amassed over 17 seasons with four different teams, Reggie Smith may be a lot closer to having Hall of Fame numbers than you ever imagined.
Look it up!