Who was the true 1973 NL MVP?

The National League MVP vote in 1973 was the closest of the decade, as Cincinnati’s Pete Rose edged Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell, 274-250.  Rose received 12 1st place votes to Stargell’s 10.  The finish was considered controversial by Pirate fans and Rose haters alike, so I thought a closer look was in order.

willie_stargellStargell-  Willie had a dominant year by any standards.  He was only 2 years removed from another outstanding season, in 1971, when he had blasted 48 homers with 125 RBI, only to finish second in MVP voting to St Louis’ Joe Torre, who took the honors on the strength of a .363 batting average and 137 RBI.  I think sometimes the ‘shock effect’ of a player performing so far above their career norms captures the writer’s attention, and certainly helped Torre’s cause.  While it’s debatable which man had better numbers, what was surprising was the voting landslide (318-222) in Torre’s favor.  Anyway, Stargell topped himself in 1973 with 90 extra base hits (43 doubles, 3 triples, and 44 homers), the most for any player during the decade, while slugging .646, the ’70s second highest mark.  He batted .299 with 80 walks, good for a .392 on-base %, and drove in 119 runs.  Willie added 14 outfield assists, 13 from left field.

Rose- The major league all-time hits leader notched his only MVP in 1973 by leading the majors with 230 hits, most in the National League during the ’70s.  The durable Rose led baseball with 680 at-bats, 181 singles, and 301 times reaching base.  He won the NL batting title with a .338 average to go with a .402 on-base %, 36 doubles, and 115 runs scored.  Less talked about was Pete’s defense – he led all leftfielders in range factor and in putouts (345) and assists (15), while finishing second in fielding %.  Batting leadoff, he was a catalyst for the NL West Champions, who had an MLB best 99 wins.  While the Reds were upset by the Mets in the NLCS, it was no fault of Rose, who went 8-21 (.381) with 2 home runs, one an 8th inning game-tying shot off Tom Seaver in Game 1, and the other a 12th inning game winner in Game 4.

Others- I have heard it argued that the #3 finisher, San Francisco’s Bobby Bonds, and #4 finisher Cincinnati second baseman Joe Morgan were also more deserving than Rose.  Bonds won a Gold Glove for his play in right field, and led the league with 341 total bases and 131 runs scored for the Giants, who finished in 3rd place with 88 wins.  He hit .283 with 39 homers, 43 stolen bases, and drove in 96 runs.  Morgan led all position players with 9.2 WAR (wins above replacement), plus won a Gold Glove at second and had a .406 on base %, 67 steals, 26 home runs, 35 doubles, and 116 runs scored.

rose73Conclusion- Rose’s hard nosed play and clutch performances transcended even his lofty statistics, and he gets my vote as the most deserving choice.  A strong argument could be made that Stargell was only the fourth most valuable player in the league behind not only Rose, but also Bonds and Morgan.  Those three players could beat you in a different way every day, while Willie’s game, while awe-inspiring, was much more one-dimensional, based almost exclusively on sheer power.  It was not nearly enough to prevent the Pirates from losing their grip on the NL East with a disappointing 80-82 3rd place finish.  Morgan would go on to win the award twice, in 1975, and 1976, as Reds players won the award in 6 of the decade’s first 8 seasons.  Bonds, who had perhaps the most raw talent of all four players, and was one of the greatest power-speed men the game ever saw, was never an MVP.  Stargell was a co-winner with St Louis first baseman Keith Hernandez, in 1979.

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Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.  His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks:

http://www.amzn.com/1499179464

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O44DEOC/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1120432099

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id936274107

The 1970s All-World Series Team

munson-benchWith the 2016 Fall Classic in full swing, lets get into our time machine and look back on World Series heroes from baseball’s greatest decade.  My 1970s All-World Series team looks something like this:

Catcher – Thurman Munson, New York Yankees (1976, ’77, ’78)  
The Yankee Captain was the most consistent of a crowded and talented field at this position.  Munson went 9-17 (.529) in New York’s 4-game loss in 1976 and was overshadowed by his counterpart Johnny Bench, the Series MVP.  Thurman went 8-25 (.320) in each of the next 2 World Series, knocking in 7 in ’78 as the Yankees won back-to-back championships.  Overall Munson hit a torrid .373 with a homerun, 5 doubles and 12 RBI in 16 World Series games.

Catcher – Johnny Bench, Cincinnati Reds (1970, ’72, ’75, ’76)
Baseball’s best all-time catcher took over the 1976 World Series, batting .533 with 8 hits (4 for extra bases) while knocking in 6 runs, 5 in Game 4 alone when he walloped 2 homers to wrap up a sweep of the Yankees.  In 1972 Bench held base stealing champ Bert Campaneris to no steals in one attempt over 7 games, and in ’76 a Yankee club that swiped 163 bases managed just 1 in 2 tries.  Reds’ opponents stole just 2 bases in 10 attempts over 23 contests in 4 Fall Classics.

Catcher – Gene Tenace, Oakland A’s (1972-74)
Tenace, who won the starting catching job late in 1972, had 5 homers during the regular season but blasted 2 longballs in his first two World Series at-bats and just kept on hitting throughout the series.  He hit 4 homers and a double among his 8 hits with 9 RBI and 5 runs scored, batting .348 and capturing MVP honors.  The post-season magic did not return as Tenace batted just .158 and .222 in the 1973 and ’74 Series respectively.

stargell791st Base – Willie Stargell, Pittsburgh Pirates (1971, ’79)
Stargell capped off a season where he was National League co-MVP and NLCS MVP by winning the 1979 World Series MVP, tying Reggie Jackson’s mark with 25 total bases.  In the decisive 7th game against Baltimore, the Pirates’ leader came through with a  4 for 5 effort (including 2 doubles and a 2-run homer). Overall he went 12-30 (.400) with 3 homers, 4 doubles, 7 RBI and 7 runs scored.

1st Base – Steve Garvey, Los Angeles Dodgers (1974, ’77, ’78)
In losing efforts for the Dodgers in 1974 and 1975 Garvey hit .381 and .375 respectively. While he faltered a bit in the 1978 series, overall the perennial All-Star was 22-69 (.319) with 4 RBI and 8 runs scored in 17 games.

2nd Base – Phil Garner, Pittsburgh Pirates (1979)
Scrap Iron went 12-24 (.500) with 4 doubles, 4 runs scored and 5 RBI in Pittsburgh’s 7 game win over the Orioles in 1979.  He hit safely in all 10 post-season games that year.

2nd Base – Brian Doyle, New York Yankees (1978)
Filling in for the injured All-Star Willie Randolph, Doyle batted .438 and scored 4 runs in the 1978 World Series as the Yankees beat LA 4 games to 2 for the second straight season.  He registered 6 hits in the final 2 games, none more crucial than an RBI double to tie Game 6.

campy4Shortstop – Bert Campaneris, Oakland A’s (1972-74)
After struggling at the plate and neutralized on the bases by Johnny Bench’s powerful arm in the 1972 World Series, Campy enjoyed two straight World Series where he could have easily been named MVP.  Oakland’s sparkplug leadoff man seemed to be in the middle of every rally against the Mets in 1973, going 9-31 (.290) with 3 stolen bases, 6 runs scored, a triple, and a killer Game 7 2-run homer.  He followed that up with a .353 effort in 1974 as the A’s rolled to a 3rd straight title with a 5-game win over the Dodgers.

Shortstop – Bucky Dent, New York Yankees (1977-78)
After hitting a respectable .263 in the 1977 World Series, Dent hit a soul-crushing home run in vs Boston in ’78 in a one-game divisional tie breaker contest, and rode that magic into the World Series.  Dent hit safely in all 6 games, and like his keystone mate Doyle, had 6 hits in the final 2 contests.  He was named World Series MVP with a 10-24 (.417) performance including a double and 7 RBI

brooksthrow3rd Base – Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (1970-71)
In what may be the most complete all-around World Series performance during the decade, Robinson earned his ‘Human Vacuum Cleaner’ nickname in 1970 against the Reds by making several spectacular plays at third base, while hitting .429 with 2 homers and 2 doubles over 5 games.  A year later he reached base 5 consecutive times in Game 2 against the Pirates and finished that series 7 for 22 (.318) with 5 RBI.

Left Field – George Foster, Cincinnati Reds (1972, ’75-76)
Foster did not get any at-bats in the 1972 Fall Classic, but more than made up for it by going 14 for 43 (.326) with 6 RBI in ’75-’76, including a .429 effort in 4 games against the Yankees in ’76.  In 1975 vs Boston in Game 6 his 9th inning throw to the plate nailed Denny Doyle to preserve a 6-6 tie.

d-rudiLeft Field – Joe Rudi, Oakland A’s (1972-74)
Best known for his incredible catch in Game 2 of the 1972 World Series to rob the Reds’ Denis Menke and nearly double off Tony Perez, Rudi hit a solid .300 (21-70) with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 9 RBI and 5 runs scored in 19 Fall Classic games.

Center Field – Paul Blair, Baltimore Orioles (1970-71), New York Yankees (1977-78)
The stellar defender could very well have been 1970 World Series MVP had Robinson not been so dominant.  As it was, Blair contributed a 9-19 performance (.474) with 5 runs scored and 3 RBI over 5 games.  He played well in his other 3 series as a part-timer and late-game defensive replacement, batting .333 in 1971 and .375 in 1978.  Overall Blair was 16-40 (.400) with 3 doubles, 9 runs scored, and 4 RBI in 19 Fall Classic contests.

77yanksRight Field – Reggie Jackson, Oakland A’s (1973-74), New York Yankees (1977-78)
An injured Jackson missed the 1972 World Series, but later became the only player to win 2 World Series MVP awards (1973,’77) during the decade.  In 1973 he played a fine center field in addition to right and took over Game 6 with 2 booming doubles off Tom Seaver, then hit a go-ahead HR in Game 7.  In Game 6 in 1977 he famously hit 3 home runs on 3 consecutive pitches and drove in 5 as the Yankees closed out the World Championship with Reggie finishing the series 9-20 (.450) with 5 HR, 8 RBI, and 10 runs scored.  Then in ’78 he went 9-23 (.391) with 2 homers and 8 more RBI.  Mr October batted .360 over 24 World Series games in the 1970s, and he topped all players in the decade in World Series hits (31), runs (18), doubles (6), HR (9), and RBI (23).roberto-clemente

Right Field – Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirates (1971)
Even in a World Series with so many superstar players on hand, the 1971 Fall Classic very much felt like a Roberto Clemente showcase.  Clemente hit safely in all 7 games, just as he had back in 1960, and hit .414 in the 7-game victory over Baltimore with 12 hits, including 2 HR, 2 doubles and a triple.  His Game 7 homer broke a scoreless tie as Pittsburgh took the decisive contest, 2-1.

rose-clutchUtility – Pete Rose, Cincinnati Reds (1970, ’72, ’75, ’76)
Though his overall numbers in World Series play were not impressive, Rose did have 24 World Series hits in the decade, including one homer each in the 1970 and ’72 series.  In 1975 against the Red Sox, Rose was at his best, with 10 hits (including a double and a triple) and 5 walks in 33 plate appearances (.370 BA, .485 OB%).  He locked up World Series MVP honors with a clutch, two-out 7th inning RBI single to tie Game 7 for the Reds.

 

 

catfish72Starting Pitcher – Catfish Hunter, Oakland A’s (1972-74), New York Yankees (1976-78)
Hunter participated in more 1970s Fall Classics (6) than any other player in the decade. He went 2-0 for Oakland against the Reds in 1972, and facing elimination beat Tom Seaver and the Mets 3-1 in Game 6 in 1973.  Then in 1974, after winning the ALCS clincher for the second straight season, he came on in relief to save Game 1 of the World Series against the Dodgers and went 8 1/3 to win Game 3, 3-2.  As a Yankee he lost a well-pitched complete game in ’76, and after a bad outing vs LA in 1977, came back in 1978 to notch the clincher, 7-2 against the Dodgers.   Overall Catfish was 5-3 with a save and 3.29 ERA in 12 World Series appearances.

Starting Pitcher – Steve Blass, Pittsburgh Pirates (1971)
No starting pitcher during the decade was better in a single series than Blass was for Pittsburgh in 1971.  Down two games to none, Blass tamed the powerful lineup of defending champion Baltimore on a complete game 3-hitter, yielding his only run on a Frank Robinson homer.  Then in the deciding Game 7, he went all the way again, allowing only 4 hits and out-dueling Mike Cuellar 2-1.

Starting Pitcher – Ken Holtzman, Oakland A’s (1972-74)
Holtzman was a consistent winner for Oakland during their 3-year run as World Champions, and he did not disappoint on the big stage, going 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA in 7 starts.  He was the winning pitcher in Game 1 all three years, and closed out the Mets in Game 7 of the 1973 Fall Classic beating Jon Matlack 5-2.  He even wreaked some havoc with his bat, doubling twice in 1973 and hitting a double and a homer in 1974; his World Series batting average was .308 with 4 runs scored.

Starting Pitcher – Luis Tiant, Boston Red Sox (1975)
After shutting out Oakland in Game 1 of the ALCS, Tiant nearly willed Boston to victory over the Big Red Machine in the 1975 World Series.  He tossed a 3-hit, 100 pitch shutout in Game 1 and another complete game victory 4 days later in Game 4, this one a 9-hitter that took 155 pitches to escape by a 5-4 margin.  El Tiante went again in the iconic Game 6, lasting into the 8th inning, before finally giving way to the bullpen after Cesar Geronimo’s homer tied the contest at 6.  Boston’s record that year in Fall Classic games not started by Tiant: 0-4.

Finger Rollie 91.2005_Act_NBL

Relief Pitcher – Rollie Fingers, Oakland A’s (1972-74)
Fingers appeared in 6 of 7 games in the 1972 World Series, picking up a win and 2 saves.  The following year he again pitched in 6 of 7 games, with 2 saves but also a loss in Game 2 when he yielded his only earned run of the Series in 13 2/3 total innings of work, which included 2 outings of 3 1/3 innings.  Fingers was just as dominant in 1974 against the Dodgers, going 4 1/3 to earn the win in Game 1.  He also closed out close wins in Games 3 through 5, getting what would be considered 3 saves today but officially only 2 by 1974 standards.  He was named the MVP of that series, and over the 3 years tallied a 1.35 ERA in 33 innings.

 

Relief Pitcher – Clay Carroll, Cincinnati Reds (1970, ’72, ’75)
The underrated Carroll threw 9 shutout innings in 1970 against Baltimore over 4 games, and was scored upon only once in his first 9 World Series appearances.  In all Carroll pitched in 14 World Series games with a 2-1 record and 1.33 ERA  in 20 1/3 innings.

tekulve2

 

Relief Pitcher – Kent Tekulve, Pittsburgh Pirates (1979)
Despite his rail-thin frame Tekulve was actually a rugged workhorse who had 70 or more appearances in 10 different seasons, including a career high 94 in 1979.  He pitched and finished 5 of the Pirate’s 7 World Series games that year, saving 3 and allowing just 4 hits while striking out 10 in 9 1/3 innings.  He did blow a save in Game 4, yielding his only runs of the Fall Classic, but rebounded with saves in Game 6 (a 3-inning effort), and Game 7 (1 1/3 to close out the series).

 

Relief Pitcher/Spot Starter – Jack Billingham, Cincinnati Reds (1972, ’75-76)
Billingham pitched 8 shutout innings for a win in Game 3 of the 1972 series vs Oakland, came back to save Game 5, and was the hard-luck loser after giving up 1 unearned run over 5 innings in Game 7.  He also pitched well in one start and 2 relief outings vs Boston in ’75, and earned a win in 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief against the Yankees in Game 2 in ’76.  Overall Billingham made 3 starts and 4 relief World Series appearances, compiling a 2-1 record and a sparkling 0.36 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.

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Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.  His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks:

http://www.amzn.com/1499179464

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O44DEOC/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1120432099

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id936274107

George Brett : ‘Ceaseless Intensity’

Brett

George Brett’s Hall of Fame plaque begins, “Played each game with ceaseless intensity and unbridled passion”.  This is the highest compliment any athlete can receive, and one that can be said of few modern-day players.  In my mind, nothing demonstrates this more than Brett’s ALCS performances against the Yankees from 1976-78, and in particular, on October 6, 1978, when he crushed 3 home runs.  Brett was the ultimate  gamer – in the post season he played even better than his normal superstar level.

Brett entered the 1978 ALCS a lifetime .305 hitter who had won the 1976 batting title and averaged 8 home runs a year, with 9 during the 1978 regular season.  With the Series tied 1-1, the Royals faced the Yankee’s big-game pitcher Catfish Hunter, and Brett led off Game 3 by taking a high fastball into Yankee Stadium’s upper deck in straight away right field.  In the 3rd inning Catfish stayed off the fat part of the plate, but Brett broke a 1-1 tie anyway, on a low and away pitch with a 400+ foot bomb to right center.  He came up in the 4th with 2 out, the same 2-1 score, and team-leading base stealer Freddie Patek on first base.  Patek was nailed trying to swipe second, taking the bat out of the red-hot Brett’s hands.  After the Yankees took a 3-2 lead in their half of the 4th, Brett led off the 5th.  Hunter gave him a big curve on the outside corner at the knees – no matter, Brett was in that kind of zone – he reached out and pulled it over the right field fence to tie the score.  Brett flew out in his last two at bats against Goose Gossage, and the Yankees rallied to win the game, 6-5.  They wrapped up the Series and another pennant the next day.

By 1978 Brett was no stranger to the Yankees in the ALCS – he was a recurring nightmare.  He averaged .444 in the 1976 ALCS, including a game tying 3-run homer in the 8th inning of Game 5 before the Yank’s Chris Chambliss hit the famous walk-off game winner in the 9th.  In 1977 Brett hit .300 against New York, with his biggest blow a Game 5 first inning RBI triple that touched off a bench clearing brawl between Brett and Graig Nettles.  The Royals went ahead 2-0 and then 3-2 before losing the lead on a 3 run Yankee 9th inning.

In the three series from 1976-78 Brett finished a combined 21-56 (.375) over 14 games with 4 HR, 4 triples, 10 RBI, and 13 runs scored.  His slugging % was .768.  Yet in all 3 years New York captured the pennant.  KC finally turned the tables in 1980; behind season MVP Brett they swept New York in 3 games to advance to their first World Series, with a go-ahead Brett 3 run homer in the 7th locking up the final game.  In 1985 Kansas City returned to the World Series and captured their first World Championship, and as expected Brett led all hitters with a .370 batting average.  Overall in 43 career post-season games Brett hit .337 with 10 HR, 23 RBI, 30 runs, and a .627 slugging %.

The last sentence on Brett’s plaque – “A clutch hitter whose profound respect for the game led to universal reverence”.  Just ask the Yankees.

Your Grandfather’s Rotation

In 1970, the World Champion Baltimore Orioles had 3 20-game winners, a feat that had not been accomplished since 1956.

1971baltimoreorioles_original_crop_northLefthanded screwball specialist Mike Cuellar went 24-8, Dave McNally, another lefty who was once credited by Mickey Mantle as having the league’s best curveball, was 24-9, and future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer went 20-10.  It would be the first of 8 20-win seasons for Palmer in the decade.  The trio would be the only starters for the O’s in the post-season, leading a 3 game sweep of Minnesota in the ALCS, and a 5 game World Series over Cincinnati, where the Reds were held to a .213 batting average.

The following year, in 1971,  Baltimore traded San Diego for 6’3″ righty Pat Dobson, who put together a 12 game winning streak during the season and ended with a 20-8 record.  Dobson joined McNally (who went 21-5), Cuellar and Palmer (both 20-9) in the rotation as Baltimore became only the second team in baseball history with 4 20-game winners, and the first since the 1920 Chicago White Sox.  The Orioles again went with the three man rotation of Cuellar, McNally, and Palmer in the post-season, with Dobson working out of the bullpen.  They swept Oakland in the ALCS before being turned away in 7 games by Roberto Clemente and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

AS20GAMEWINNERSThose same Oakland A’s won the World Series in 1972, and in 1973, in the middle of their 3 year World Championship run, became the next team in the majors with 3 20-game winners.  Catfish Hunter went 21-5, and was joined by left handers Ken Holtzman (21-13) and Vida Blue (20-9).  The trio bested Baltimore’s Palmer, Cuellar, and McNally in the ALCS, with Hunter outdueling Palmer 3-0  in the decisive 5th game.

 

In some ways that series was the end of an era.  Oakland went on to outlast the New York Mets in a 7-game World Series.  Notable was the fact that Rollie Fingers, the game’s first true star relief pitcher, pitched in 6 games and actually led the Oakland staff with 13 2/3 innings.  The following year, Oakland again reached the World Series, this time against Los Angeles Marshall cardand their Cy Young Award winner Mike Marshall, a relief pitcher with 106 appearances during the 1974 regular season.  Marshall pitched in all 5 games, allowing 1 run and striking out 10 in 9 innings, Fingers had 4 appearances and was the Series MVP with a win and 3 saves as Oakland prevailed 3 games to 1.

Now, 40+ seasons later, no team since that 1973 Oakland A’s team has ever boasted 3 20-game winners, much less 4.  It may never happen again, as 4 man rotations and complete games continue to fade from our memories.  The foundation for this transformation, perhaps a long time in coming, was clearly cemented during those 2 Octobers.

The Decade’s Best Single Game Hitting Performances

MikeSchmidt

Back on April 17, 1976, the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt clubbed 4 homers with 8 RBI in a wild 18-16 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the only 4 HR game of the decade.  Schmidt also had a single in the game, going 5-6 in all, for a decade-best 17 total bases.   An interesting side note: Philly trailed in the game 12-1 and 13-2.  There were 57 3 HR games in the 70s; Schmidt had one and Dave Kingman had the most with 4, 3 as a Cub and 1 for the Mets.

As part of his magical 1975 rookie season, Boston’s Fred Lynn had a 3 HR game, and also added a triple and single, going 5-6 with a decade-best 10 RBI in a 15-1 drubbing over Detroit.  Other decade bests in a single game include 5 runs scored (done 20 times), 4 Doubles (done by Dave Duncan of Baltimore, Jim Mason of the Yankees, and Boston’s Orlando Cepeda), and 5 Stolen Bases (Bert Campaneris for Oakland, Dave Lopes for the Dodgers, and  Amos Otis of Kansas City).  Steve Garvey (for the Dodgers in 1977) and Willie Stargell (for Pittsburgh in 1970) were the only players with 5 extra-base hits in a game, each registering 2 HR and 3 doubles.

RennieStennettIn 1975, Pittsburgh’s Rennie Stennett set a 9-inning game record (also against the Cubs at Wrigley) with 7 hits – 4 singles, 2 doubles and a triple in a 22-0 blowout.  In 1970 Cesar Gutierrez, a shortstop for Detroit, also had 7 hits, in a 12-inning 9-8 win over Cleveland.  The only other 2 players to ever record as many hits were Detroit’s Rocky Colavito, who had 7 in a 1962 22-inning loss to the Yankees, and Johnny Burnett of Cleveland, who registered 9 hits in an 18 inning game back in 1932.

Finally, what about the best post-season offensive performances in the decade?  George Brett of Kansas City hit 3 home runs in a 1978 ALCS loss to the Yankees, and in 1971 Bob Robertson of Pittsburgh had 3 HR, a double and 5 RBI in a 9-4 NLCS win over San Francisco.  In the 1977 World Series Reggie Jackson went 3-3 with a walk and 5 RBI, hitting 3 HR on consecutive pitches thrown to him as the Yankees closed out the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 in Game 6.   And in the decade’s final game, the Pirates’ Willie Stargell went 4-5 with a double and a home run in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series, a 4-1 victory over Baltimore.

Send us a line with your favorite offensive performance of the decade!

1972: Year of the ‘One Man Show’

1972 was a unique baseball season in many ways: Before a single regular season pitch was thrown the Washington Senators franchise had moved to Arlington as the Texas Rangers, Mets manager Gil Hodges passed away in spring training, and the first player strike in Major League history took place in April, resulting in a total of 86 lost games.  Then the Oakland A’s began a dynasty of three straight World Series championships, and on New Year’s eve Pittsburgh Pirate great Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash.

The year will also will be remembered by outstanding performances from two players on last place clubs, both with statistically historic contributions to their teams.

CarltonSI

During the early 1970s lefty Steve Carlton featured a curve, slider, and rising fastball that were all considered as good as any pitcher’s in the majors.  Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell said “Hitting against Steve Carlton is like eating soup with a fork”.  He was never more dominant in his Hall of Fame career than in 1972, when he went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA in his first season with the Philadelphia Phillies after being acquired from the Cardinals in a straight-up swap for Rick Wise.  Carlton fanned 310 batters, most in a National League season during the decade, and his 27 wins were the 70’s best in either league.  No pitcher has won more games in a season since.  Carlton accomplished this for a Phillies team that finished dead last in the NL East with only 59 wins.  He accounted for a major league record 45.8% of his team’s victories – the first time in 50 years that a pitcher had more than 40% of his team’s wins.  Along the way, Carlton received little help from the Philadelphia bullpen; he went the distance in 30 of his 41 starts, and only 3 of his 27 wins were saved.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, the Padres struggled through their third year of existence in San Diego Padres - 1970's File Photosfamiliar territory – the National League West basement, where they would finish in each of their first 6 seasons.  One of the Padres few bright spots in 1972 was their 6′ 2″, 190 pound slugging first baseman, Nate Colbert.  Despite the Padres scoring a league-worst 488 runs, Colbert somehow drove in 111, 5th best in the majors.  The next highest total for a Padre was Leon Lee with 47!  In essence if you were attending a Padres game back then it would have made sense to watch Nate hit and then make your way to the refreshment stand.  Colbert was the San Diego offense; his 38 home runs were more than 3x better than team runner-up Lee’s 12.  He also led the team in hits, 141, (30 more than Lee’s 111), 87 runs, (37 more than Lee’s 50), 70 walks (29 better than second baseman Darrel Thomas’ 41), and doubles (28).   Colbert only hit .250 and did strikeout 128 times, but imagine what the guy could have done in a lineup with an actual table-setter or two in front of him (opening day leadoff man Enzo Hernandez hit .195 and #2 hitter Darrel Thomas, .230), or some more protection behind him.  Colbert’s 111 RBI were 22.75% of his team’s runs scored, an all-time record.  Only 10 men in baseball history have driven in more than 20% of their team’s runs, and the only other hitter to do it in the 1970s was Frank Howard with 126 RBI out of Washington’s 626 runs (20.13%) in 1970.

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Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.  His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks:

http://www.amzn.com/1499179464

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O44DEOC/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1120432099

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id936274107

Top Rookie Teammates of the 1970s

In 1975, the Boston Red Sox won 95 games and their first pennant in 8 years, coming within one game of a World Championship.  The club improved from an 84 win third place finish in ’74 by scoring 100 more runs the following year despite Carlton Fisk struggling through a second straight injury-plagued season, and a down year from Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.  The key?  A couple of rookie outfielders – centerfielder Fred Lynn, a two-time All-American from USC, and left fielder Jim Rice, the 1974 Minor League Player of the Year and International League Triple Crown winner.

Lynn won not only a Gold Glove and American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1975, but also bagged the league’s MVP award, hitting .331 with 21 homers, plus a league leading 47 doubles, 103 runs scored and .566 slugging percentage.  Future Hall or Famer Rice was nearly as dominant, hitting .309 with 92 runs scored, 29 doubles, and 22 homers.  The pair knocked in 105 and 102 runs respectively; the Red Sox next best run producer was shortstop Rick Burelson, with 62 RBI.  We will never know what would have happened in the 1975 World Series had Rice not missed the Fall Classic after breaking his hand in September, but as it was Boston took the Big Red Machine to 7 games.

Lynn and Rice are quite possibly the best pair of rookie teammates in baseball history, and also perhaps individually the 1970’s top 2 rookies.  What is not in question is that they are certainly the decade’s best pair of freshmen teammates.  They are the only two rookies to top 100 RBI in the decade; Baltimore’s Eddie Murray came closest with 88 in 1977.   But that’s not to say the ’70s did not have other fantastic rookies playing for the same club.  Here are some other top tandems:

CarterParrishRF/C Gary Carter and 3B Larry Parrish, 1975 Expos.  Carter made his first All-Star team as an outfielder in ’75, and was the ROY runner-up to San Francisco’s John Montefusco.  Though he played 92 games in the outfield, he finished the season as a catcher, gunning down 49% of would-be base stealers.  The future Hall of Famer batted .270 with 17 HR and 20 doubles.  Parrish finished 3rd in ROY voting, hitting .274 with 32 doubles and 10 home runs in 145 games.

3B Ron Cey and 2B Davey Lopes, 1973 Dodgers.  In a strong year for NL Rookies thatCeyLopes included Gary Matthews, Steve Rogers, Bob Boone, Dan Driessen, and Richie Zisk, the LA tandem finished in a tie for 6th place in ROY voting.  The Penguin hit 15 homers with 80 RBI, while Lopes batted .275 with 36 stolen bases and showed excellent range at second base.  It was the first of 9 straight seasons Cey and Lopes, along with SS Bill Russell and 1B Steve Garvey, played together on the Dodger infield.  In that time the club enjoyed 8 winning seasons and 4 pennants, including a World Championship in 1981.

P Wayne Simpson and OF Bernie Carbo, 1970 Reds. Simpson made his big league debut by 2-hitting the Dodgers, and went on to lead the National League in winning percentage during a 14-3, 3.02 ERA All-Star season that unfortunately ended with a rotator cuff tear.  Carbo, the 1969 American Association MVP, finished 2nd in 1970 ROY voting, batting .310 with 21 homers, 63 RBI, 119 hits and 94 walks, all figures he never again matched in his career.  The pair helped Cincinnati to its first of 6 division titles and 4 pennants during the decade.

WhitakerTrammell2B Lou Whitaker and SS Alan Trammell, 1978 Tigers.  The 21-year old American League  Rookie of the Year Whitaker led the circuit in range factor in 139 games at second base while hitting .285.  His double-play partner, 20-year old Trammell contributed 120 hits and a .268 batting average as the Tribe’s every-day shortstop.  The two each spent their entire careers in Detroit, playing side-by-side for 19 years.

1B Mike Hargrove and C Jim Sundberg, 1974 Rangers.  Texas rebounded from a 105 loss last place finish in ’73 to 2nd place in ’74 thanks in part to a full season of Billy Martin at the helm, and an MVP effort from Jeff Burroughs.  Just as crucial to the turnaround was AL Rookie of the Year Hargrove, aka ‘The Human Rain Delay’, who hit .323 for the Rangers, and freshman All-Star catcher Jim Sundberg, who quickly established himself as one of baseball’s best defensive backstops.

OF Al Bumbry and OF Rich Coggins, 1973 Orioles.  The ’73 Orioles were another club that rode a couple of rookies to a turnaround season.  Bumbry batted .337 with 23 stolen bases and a league-leading 11 triples in 110 games, taking ROY honors.  Coggins was nearly as good, hitting .319 with 17 steals as the Birds improved by 17 games and won the American League East for the 4th time in 5 years.

OF Gary Matthews and P Elias Sosa, 1973 Giants.   Before Matthews was known as ‘Sarge’, he was the 1973 National League ROY on the strength of a .300 batting average with 162 hits, including 22 doubles, 10 triples, and 12 home runs.  He also stole 17 bases and finished 4th among left fielders with 11 assists.  Dominican reliever Elias Sosa finished 4th in ROY voting, making 71 appearances, with 18 saves, 3.28 ERA, and a 10-4 record

MatlackMilner5P Jon Matlack and LF John Milner, 1972 Mets.  NL ROY Matlack went 15-10 with 4 shutouts, a 2.32 ERA and 169 strikeouts.  Milner finished 3rd in the voting, hit a team-leading 17 homers, and showed good range and arm strength in left field.  He also played 10 games at first base and would alternate between the two positions throughout his career.  Both were key members of the Mets’ 1973 pennant winning club.

P Mark Fidrych and 1B Jason Thompson, 1976 Tigers.  ‘The Bird’ took baseball by storm in 1976, starting the All-Star game for the American League.  He finished the year 19-9, easily took AL ROY honors, finished 2nd in Cy Young voting, and led the league with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games.  Thompson led the Tigers with 17 HR and drove in 54 runs; he went on to be a 3-time All-Star.

C Carlton Fisk and OF Ben Ogivie, 1972 Red Sox.  In one of the decade’s best rookie FiskOglivieseasons, Fisk was the unanimous AL ROY, also won Gold Glove honors, earned an All-Star selection, and finished 4th in MVP voting.  He hit a league best 9 triples and led the Red Sox  with 22 HR, .293 batting average, .538 slugging%, and .370 OB%.  His teammate Oglivie contributed 9 homers and 10 doubles in just 253 at-bats.

 

 

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.  His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks:

http://www.amzn.com/1499179464

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O44DEOC/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1120432099

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id936274107

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stormin’ Gorman Thomas

On February 8, 1978, the Milwaukee Brewers purchased Gorman Thomas from the Texas Rangers.  It officially became Thomas’ second tour of duty with the Brewers, though he had never actually played for any other organization.

GormonPilotsThe South Carolina native from James Island HS was the Seattle Pilots #1 draft choice in 1969.  In Rookie ball that year, Thomas showed promise at the plate, hitting .296, but was a defensive butcher, making 26 errors in 34 games at shortstop.  The following year, playing A-ball in Clinton while the parent club moved from Seattle to Milwaukee, Thomas booted 28 chances in 85 games split between shortstop and third base, and batted only .212, racking up 98 strikeouts in 295 at-bats.  Fearing his defensive miscues were effecting his hitting, the club permanently converted Thomas to the outfield.  And while the high strikeout rate would continue throughout his professional career, he showed great power in 1971, smashing 55 extra base hits, including 31 homers.  By 1973, Thomas earned a mid-season call-up to Milwaukee, hitting his first big-league homer off Jim Palmer, but batted only .187 in 59 games and was sent down to the AAA Sacramento Solons.

Thomas enjoyed what seemed a break-out season with Sacramento in 1974, blasting 51 homers with 122 RBI.  While the cozy dimensions of Hughes Stadium, a converted football stadium that measured just 232 feet down the left field line certainly helped, Thomas did manage to hit .297 despite 175 strikeouts.

1975topps_GormanThomasHe again struggled after moving back up to the big club; in 1975 and 1976 Thomas hit under .200 both seasons with just 18 combined home runs in 220 games.

In 1977, back in AAA, this time in Spokane, Thomas was running out of chances.  He began studying the hitting mechanics of Mike Schmidt, and patterned his stroke after the reigning 3-time major league home run champ.  Thomas did a pretty fair Schmidt impression that year, tearing up Pacific Coast League pitching with 36 homers and 41 doubles, plus 20 stolen bases and a .322 batting average, his best ever as a pro.  Gorman never played in the minors again.

That off-season was when Milwaukee, worried about losing Thomas in the 1977 Rule V draft if he was left off their 40-man roster, arranged a deal that sent him to Texas as the player to be named later in an August deal for Ed Kirkpatrick.  Texas had the roster space to protect Thomas before selling him back to the Brewers in February.

Gorman5From there he took off as one of the league’s best power hitters, walloping 32 homers in 1978.  In 1979 Thomas finished 7th in MVP voting; he set a Brewers team record and led the American League with 45 home runs, walked 98 times for a career best .356 on base percentage, and drove in 123 runs.  He added 38 HR, 105 RBI in 1980, then made his first All-Star team in the ’81 strike season.  Thomas wore his blonde hair long and wild, with facial hair at various stages of unkept growth depending on his mood.  Luis Tiant commented that Thomas was so ugly ‘he could be anything in the jungle he wanted to be, except the hunter’.  Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune once said ‘If Gorman comes into your house with your daughter, you’d disown them both’.gorman1

1982 saw the rise of ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’, led by Thomas who again paced the junior circuit with 39 home runs, to go with 112 RBI.  Thomas finished eighth in AL MVP voting, good for only third on his own club behind MVP teammate Robin Yount and #5 vote-getter Cecil Cooper.  The Brewers won the pennant, but were turned away in a 7 games World Series by the St Louis Cardinals.  Thomas struggled mightily, managing only 3 hits and 3 RBI with no extra base hits in 26 at-bats.  It followed an ALCS that saw Thomas go 1 for 15 during Milwaukee’s 5-game victory over the Angels.

Gorman6In June of 1983, Thomas, hitting just .183, was swapped to Cleveland primarily for outfielder Rick Manning.  He rebounded to a decent second half with the Indians, then was traded in the off-season to Seattle.  After an injury-plagued year, Thomas rebounded enough in 1985 to take AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.  Though he batted only .215, he hit 32 homers with 85 RBI, and drew 84 walks as the Mariners DH.

Thomas retired after the 1986 season, which saw him return to the Brewers after Seattle released him in mid-year.  From 1978-83 no one in the American League hit more than Thomas’ 197 home runs.  He finished with 268 lifetime homers, and had a ‘take and rake’ approach that become popular with sluggers in years to follow, tallying 697 career walks and a .324 OBP in spite of 1,339 whiffs.  Despite his barrel chested physique, the former Florida State football recruit had enough speed and athleticism to hold down centerfield duties capably until shoulder surgery in 1984 limited him to a designated hitter role.

Gorman4Gorman has since been elected to both the Wisconsin and South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fames, and the Charleston Baseball Hall of Fame.  Thomas brings fond memories to fans who recall the ‘Wallbanger’ days, and is employed by the club to make personal appearances in the Milwaukee area and greet fans at Gorman’s Grill in Miller Park.

 

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.  His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks:

http://www.amzn.com/1499179464

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O44DEOC/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1120432099

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id936274107

Jimmy Wynn: The Toy Cannon

WynnAstros

Pound for pound, there have been few sluggers in Major League history more impressive than Jimmy Wynn.  Generously listed in his playing days at 5’9″, 170 pounds, Wynn smashed 291 career home runs, with half of them (146) coming in the 1970s.  In 1967 he was credited with the longest shot ever hit at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, a bomb sailing over a 58 foot high scoreboard in left center field and onto Interstate 75, an estimated 507 feet from home plate.  And in 1970 he became the first player to hit a ball into the upper deck of the Astrodome.

A high school shortstop, Wynn was signed by his hometown Cincinnati Reds in 1962.  After his first year in pro ball he was left unprotected and drafted by the expansion Houston Colt .45s.  He started his first game in the majors at shortstop in 1963, but was converted to the outfield for good in 1964.  In 1965 Houston changed its name to the Astros and moved into the indoor Astrodome.  The 23 year old Wynn was the team’s starting center fielder and led his club in homeruns (22), RBI (73), stolen bases (43 – a career high), and outfield assists (13).  His surprising pop at the plate and rocket arm earned him the nickname “Toy Cannon”.

Over the next 7 years Wynn established himself as one of the greatest Astros of all time, and one of the game’s top offensive stars.  In 1967 he was an All-Star selection, belting a career high 37 HRs as a home town player in the spacious Astrodome while driving in 107 runs and scoring 102.  Atlanta’s Hank Aaron, who played his home games at cozy Fulton County Stadium and led the league with 39 home runs, commented that he considered Wynn the season’s home run champion.  In 1969 Wynn hit 33 home runs and scored 113, but most notable were his phenomenal 148 walks and .436 on-base percentage.  In 1972 Wynn set another career high with 117 runs scored, to go with 29 doubles, 24 home runs and 103 walks.  In all, the patient Wynn exceeded 100 walks in a season 6 times.

Wynn-Marshall-SI

After the 1973 season Wynn was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Claude Osteen.  Wynn’s veteran presence was a key for the young 1974 Dodgers, as LA won their first National League pennant in 8 years.  Hitting in the 3 spot all year in front of eventual MVP Steve Garvey, Wynn drove in 108 runs and led the club in home runs (32), runs scored (104), walks (108), slugging (.497), and on base % (.387).  He was honored as Comeback Player of the Year, finished #5 in MVP voting, and was named to his second All-Star team.

By 1975 Wynn developed shoulder issues and though he was selected to his third All-Star team, missed 32 games and was never again the same player.  Wynn was traded to Atlanta in 1976, and managed 17 home runs with a league leading 127 walks.  He signed with the Yankees that off-season, and in his first at-bat on Opening Day of 1977 at Yankee Stadium, Wynn hit the last home run of his career.   Fittingly, it was a tape measure shot, traveling an estimated 435 feet to straight away centerfield.  The Toy Cannon went out as he had come in, with a blast.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.  His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks:

http://www.amzn.com/1499179464

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O44DEOC/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1120432099

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id936274107

20 Facts About Dave Kingman That You May Not Know

KingKong2Kong Cubs

20 Facts about Dave “Kong” Kingman that you may not know:

  1. He was a 4-year letter winner in basketball (averaged 16 PPG) and in baseball (where he was the school’s ace pitcher) at Prospect High School in Illinois, and also lettered in football (WR)
  2. According to his 1974 Topps card and an LA Times article, Kingman hit 4 HR and threw a 2-hitter in his final HS game.
  3. Though he was drafted by the Seattle Pilots (1967), and California Angels (2nd Round, 1968), Kingman declined to sign and instead opted to go to Harper Junior college
  4.  He was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles (phase 2 Draft, 1968) but again declined and instead accepted a scholarship to play at USC
  5. At USC he went 11-4 as a pitcher in 1969, and was then converted to outfielder in 1970 to take advantage of his hitting ability.  He was an All-American in ’70 as USC won the National Championship
  6. In his only full minor league season, 1971, he hit 26 HR with 99 RBI in just 105 games with Phoenix
  7. In his second game after being called up to the Giants, on July 31, 1971, he recorded his first hit, an RBI double, and in his next at-bat blasted a grand slam homer off the Pirates’ Dave Guisti in a 15-11 win.  The next day he hit two home runs off Dock Ellis in an 8-3 win
  8. He hit a game-winning HR against Dave Roberts of the Padres in the last game of the season to clinch the NL West title for the Giants
  9. As a rookie he batted 5th and started in RF over All-Star Bobby Bonds in the first two games of the NLCS.  Overall he hit just .111 (1-9) in the Series, which San Francisco lost in 4 games to the Pirates
  10. He hit for the cycle against the Astros on April 16, 1972
  11. The pitcher he faced most in his career was Steve Carlton.  In 112 plate appearances against Carlton, Dave hit .258 – his 8 HR, 25 RBI, 13 walks and 36 strikeouts were all his personal highest against any pitcher
  12. Loved hitting against: Dock Ellis (.440, 11-25, 4 HR, 7 RBI), Dave Roberts (.391, 18-46, 6 HR, 17 RBI), Ray Burris (.303, 20-66, 6 HR, 20 RBI)
  13. Hated hitting against: John Candelaria (.185 12-65, 3 HR, 20Ks), Larry Dierker (.071, 2-28, 0 HR, 16Ks), Bob Knepper (.143, 6-42, 3 HR, 19 Ks)
  14. He hit .270 over 167 lifetime plate appearances with the bases loaded, including 16 grand slam home runs
  15. Dave hit 40 HR vs the Phillies, 37 vs the Pirates, and 35 vs the Braves.  His highest batting average against any team was the .303 he hit in 75 games against the Mets (including 23 HR)
  16. In 1977, he became the only player to hit a home run for a team in four different divisions in the same year: Mets (NL East), Padres (NL West), Angels (AL West), and Yankees (AL East), and also became the only player to homer with both the New York Mets and the New York Yankees in the same season.
  17. He was the 1984 AL Comeback Player of the Year, rebounding from a miserable .198, 13 HR season in 100 games with the Mets to hit .268 with 35 HR and a career-high 118 RBI for the Oakland A’s
  18. He holds the record for most home runs by a player in his final season (35 in 1986 for Oakland)
  19. His 442 lifetime home runs rank 40th on the all-time list, ahead of notable power hitters Frank Howard, Jim Rice, Duke Snider, Dale Murphy, Mike Piazza, Al Kaline, Tony Perez, Ralph Kiner, and Billy Williams
  20. His 1,816 strikeouts rank 15th all-time

KingmanCollage

Kong77

Kong A's

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Joe Gersbeck is a baseball historian and lifetime fan/student of the game who lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons.  His website is http://www.1970sBaseball.com and his book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks:

http://www.amzn.com/1499179464

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O44DEOC/

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1120432099

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id936274107