The 1976 Syracuse Chiefs finished second in the regular season behind the Rochester Red Wings. That year they were the top affiliate of the New York Yankees led by Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox. They would go on to capture the International League Championship, defeating the Richmond Braves three games to one. Unfortunately that would be the last time the Chiefs took home the top prize.
Since that time, Syracuse has gone on to two different changes in affiliation (Toronto Blue Jays 1978-2008, Washington Nationals 2008-present), 24 different managers, name changes etc.. Championship droughts aren’t uncommon. Just ask the Cubs, Red Sox, newly crowned Champion Astros, and many others. Syracuse has a rich history that dates back over 100 years in professional baseball, so it would be nice to see them on top again. The team was recently sold to the New York Mets, so all that goes with affiliation changes could make for another year without a title. Time will tell.
With all of that being said, I thought it would be interesting to see who was on the last title team. Many of the players went on to play in the big leagues and make a good living. Listed below are the guys that played a majority of the games for the Chiefs at their respective positions. Any omission of a contributor was an oversight and not intentional.
Dave Bergman, 1B – Bergman was selected in the second round of the 1974 draft by the Yankees. He made his major league debut in summer of 1975 at the age of 22. Bergman played in 134 games for the Chiefs in 1976 hitting .295 with seven home runs. He would be traded during the offseason of 1977 to the Houston Astros. When all was said and done, Bergman would play a total of 17 years in the big leagues with four different teams. He would pass away after a battle with cancer in February 2015.
George Zeber, 2B – Zeber was the Yankees 5th round pick in the 1968 draft. He made his MLB debut nine years later for the Yankees in 1977. Zeber hit .249 for the Chiefs in ’76 in 118 games. His professional baseball career ended in 1978 as a member of the Tacoma Yankees of the Pacific Coast League.
Juan Bernhardt, 3B – Berhardt hailed from the Dominican Republic and made is MLB debut with the Yankees on July 10, 1976. Before that though, he played in 101 games for the Chiefs hitting .303. The Yankees lost Bernhardt to the Seattle Mariners in the expansion draft following the 1976 season. He would end his career in the United States in 1979, but would continue playing in Mexico for three more seasons.
Mickey Klutts, SS – The Yankees selected Klutts in the 4th round of the 1972 draft. He would move swiftly through the organization making a stop in Syracuse in 1976. Klutts smashed 24 home runs for the Chiefs that year while batting .319. That would be the highest homer total in his entire professional career at any level. The Yankees traded him along with Chiefs teammate Dell Alston in 1978 re-uniting them both with manager Billy Martin.
Terry Whitfield, OF – Whitfield was selected in the 1st round (19th overall) by the Yankees in the 1971 draft. He hit .290 in 1976 as a member of the Chiefs with 16 homers. That would be his last season in the minor leagues until 1986. He played 10 years total in the majors ending with a career average of .281 for three different teams.
Dell Alston, OF – Alston had a very successful start to his professional career in the Yankees organization. Starting out playing for the Oneonta Yankees in 1973, he made it to the Chiefs in time for their Championship run in 1976. He played in 130 games for Syracuse and batted .281. He also had 12 bombs with 66 RBI. He’d make his major league debut for the Yankees in 1977, but would be traded to the Oakland Athletics the following June. Alston would also become a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Rick Bladt, OF – The Yankees acquired Bladt from the Chicago Cubs in the offseason of 1970. He had already made his major league debut with the Cubs prior to the trade and would make one more stop in the bigs in 1975. Bladt had a real good season with the Chiefs in 1976 hitting .285 and driving in 60 runs.
Rick Stelmaszek, C – Stelmaszek was an 11th round pick of the Washington Senators in the 1967 draft. He would make his way to the Yankees via trade in January of 1976. He had already played in the major leagues with previous clubs, but never made it up with the Yankees. He didn’t have the best of offensive seasons in 1976 with the Chiefs hitting just .220. Stelmaszek would play just two more seasons before switching to coaching. He became a member of the Minnesota Twins coaching staff in 1981, and would be a part of their two championship teams in 1987 and 1991. He would spend 32 years in the Twins organization as a coach before being fired in 2012. Stelmaszek would fall victim to cancer in November of 2017 less than a year after being diagnosed.
Ken Clay, P – Clay was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1972 draft by the New York Yankees. He would win 11 games for the Chiefs in 1976 with a relatively high ERA of 4.13. Clay was in the deal that sent Gaylord Perry to the Yankees in 1980. He’d win two World Series as a member of the Yankees (1977 and 1978). Clay appeared in 111 major league games for three different teams. Clay would go through a ton of legal troubles after his playing days were over including a stint in prison.
Ron Guidry, P – Probably the most familiar name on this roster. “Louisiana Lightning” was drafted by the Yankees in 3rd round of the 1971 draft. Guidry would appear in 22 games for the Chiefs in 1976 (all in relief) and post a 5-1 record with an ERA of 0.68. He made his major league debut the year before with the Yankees and again in 1976, but it would be 1977 when he’d really leave his mark. In his MLB career which lasted 14 years (all with the Yankees), Guidry would finish with an overall record of 170-91. He’d me named to the All-Star team four times, and would win the Cy Young Award in 1978 when he won a league best 25 games. Among other accolades, Guidry was a two-time World Series Champion and a five-time Gold Glove winner.