Bucky Dent’s favorite collectibles, which he’s also most proud of, are the 1977 and ’78 World Championship rings he won with the New York Yankees.
The slick-fielding, All-Star shortstop also donated the glove he used throughout the 1978 season, along with a home uniform, to the Baseball Hall of Fame for its collection of artifacts from the Seventies.
But the item Dent is most famous for is the bat he used to help defeat the Red Sox in a special one-game playoff at Fenway Park on Oct. 2, 1978. With the Yankees trailing, 2-0, in the top of the seventh inning, Dent popped a three-run homer over the Green Monster as a stunned Boston crowd watched in disbelief.
At home plate, base runners Roy White and Chris Chambliss greeted an exuberant Dent at the plate.
The Yankees went on to win the game, the American League pennant and World Series, in which Dent was named Most Valuable Player after hitting .417, including three hits in the sixth and final contest, a 7-2 victory over the Dodgers.
However, an intriguing mystery has recently emerged surrounding the home run bat’s fate, whereabouts and authenticity.
Last fall, Dent and teammate Mickey Rivers went to Yankee Stadium for an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dent’s heroic Fenway Park round-tripper. The two are forever linked in Yankees history because Dent used Rivers’ bat for the famous blast.
“I had been struggling at the plate, so before that game I asked Mickey, ‘Can I borrow your bat?’,” Dent said. “I cracked it during batting practice. Then in the seventh inning when I fouled a ball off my foot, I went back to the on-deck circle. Mickey came over and said, ‘Homey, you’ve got the wrong bat. That one’s cracked.’ ”
“I really wasn’t paying attention to him,” Dent said. “I was worried more about my foot. So I turned around to walk back to the plate and the bat boy ran up to me and said, ‘Hey! Mickey told me you’ve got the wrong bat.’ So I just switched them out and the first pitch (Mike) Torrez threw, I hit the home run.”
The bat believed to be the one Dent used later sold for $61,000 and was recently on loan for display in the Yankee Stadium museum.
But now it’s highly questionable whether this is the actual bat, as outlined in a story by Newsday sportswriter Steven Marcus, who reports that neither Dent nor Rivers are sure what happened to it.
A late Long Island resident, Angelo Naples, was allegedly given the bat right after the game, as he was acquainted with many Yankees and was quite often allowed in their clubhouse. Naples’ family says he had the bat signed by Dent, Rivers and Torrez, and that he later sold it to the late well-known memorabilia collector Barry Halper, a Yankees minority owner. Most of Halper’s collection was auctioned by Sotheby’s in Manhattan, in 1999.
In 2004, the bat’s buyer, Stephen Waters, wrote Dent a letter to let him know he had purchased it, Marcus reported.
Marcus recently interviewed the 1978 Yankees bat boy, now 58-year-old Anthony Sarandrea, who described the post-game clubhouse following the Oct. 2, 1978 game as sheer pandemonium. He told Marcus: “My opinion is you couldn’t really tell which bat it is,” adding that it likely “got mixed up with a bunch of other bats.”
However, Sotheby’s officials stand by the bat’s authenticity.
And Naples’ family insists that Rivers told Naples the bat he handed him was the one Dent used, later purchased by Halper and then Waters.
Although not the final answer, Marcus, after delving into the story, has an opinion, too.
“The bat in the Stadium (museum) is the one that was sold at the auction, no question about that,” he said. “But there is no proof that it is the actual bat Dent used for the home run. The players involved merely signed a bat that was handed to them. I’d say the chance of it being the actual one from that at-bat is slim. There is no evidence that any care was taken in how the home run bat was handled afterward.”
One thing is absolutely certain, however.
Dent’s fame and popularity as a Yankees hero is just as strong now as 40 years ago, when he earned a well-deserved place of honor in Bronx Bomber history.
This was clearly apparent during a recent visit to Queensbury, N.Y., where kids at the Prospect Center for developmentally disabled persons clamored for his autograph.
Children greeted Dent with a loud chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Then he made his way around the room, paying special attention to each person there.
“Hey, I like your shirt,” said Dent, admiring a young boy’s Yankees emblem.
The trip to upstate New York was for a special fundraising dinner, which netted more than $30,000 for the Prospect Center, a division of the Albany, N.Y.-based Center for Disability Services, which helps more than 12,000 people at 80 sites in 15 upstate New York counties.
The Center for Disability Services has a long-standing relationship with the Yankees, whose stars have visited the Albany region for charitable events for many years. Last winter, Yankees manager Aaron Boone and New York Giants tight end Evan Engram took part in a telethon that raised more than $2 million.
Anne Schneider Costigan, the Center’s spokesperson, said Dent was a perfect fit for this past fall’s fundraising dinner.
“With this being the 40th anniversary of his home run, Bucky Dent was the first one that came to mind,” she said.
Likewise, Dent thoroughly enjoys making such appearances.
“It’s so important to give back,” he said. “I enjoy meeting people and making kids happy. It’s always fun to put smiles on their faces and bring a fun day to them. I light up, too.”
“The fans were so great to me when I played in New York,” he said. “I was national chairman for Easter Seals when I played there. So I have an opportunity to do a lot of this kind of work.”
Dent talked at length about his career, the Yankees and what made the 1977 and ’78 teams so special.
“We had characters with character,” he said. “We had guys like Sparky Lyle, (Lou) Piniella, (Thurman) Munson, Reggie (Jackson). We had a bunch of different characters who came together to win championships.”
“It looks like the Yankees have that right now,” Dent said. “I like watching them play. They’re fun. It’s just fitting a couple more pieces together to get to the next level.”
Although retired, he still makes appearances for the Yankees at events such as corporate functions and dinners.
Dent’s playing career spanned 12 seasons, starting with the White Sox, which chose him in the first round (sixth overall) of the 1970 June draft. He reached the big leagues in 1973 and made the All-Star team in just his second full season (1975) when he had a league best .981 fielding average. He led the league in fielding three times.
In April 1977, he was traded to New York for outfielder Oscar Gamble and pitcher LaMarr Hoyt. The Yankees reached the World Series three times during his five full seasons in pinstripes.
But after five-plus seasons he was dealt to the Rangers for outfielder Lee Mazzilli in August 1982. He led the league in fielding in ’83 at Texas and retired in 1984 following a brief stint with the Royals.
However, Dent later returned to New York as Yankees skipper for parts of the 1989 and ’90 campaigns. That was followed by 10 years as a coach for the Cardinals and Rangers.
For many years, he also ran a baseball school in Delray Beach, Florida, where the main playing field was a replica of Fenway Park, complete with the Green Monster.
That unforgettable tie-breaking game was required because the Yankees and Red Sox finished the regular season with identical 99-63 records. The Yankees couldn’t do a thing for six innings as Boston hurler Mike Torrez held them to two hits.
After White and Chambliss singled to start the seventh, Dent’s one-out three-run homer sailed high into the bright autumn sky for a 3-2 Yankees lead.
Later that inning, Thurman Munson hit an RBI double, and Reggie Jackson’s solo shot in the eighth frame actually turned out to be the game-winner, as the Red Sox rallied for two runs before Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage closed things out in the ninth.
Baseball has changed a great deal since Dent’s heroic homer more than 40 years ago. Analytics have completely altered the way baseball is played, with infield shifts and a steady stream of pitching changes in each contest.
“I’m from an old school,” Dent said. “I think there’s room for analytics. When I was coaching, being in the right position, that’s part of it. But you can go too far with it, too. You’ve got to give players an opportunity to use their instincts and play the game.”
Paul Post is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at email@example.com.