My book, 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players, includes year-by-year reviews, stats, and most importantly, countless rankings of top players and teams. With that in mind I was thinking about the New York teams I grew up watching during the decade, all the fantastic players who played in the Big Apple, and what a 1970s All-New York roster would look like. Here’s the roster, starting with catchers and infielders:
Thurman Munson, Yankees, 1970-79 112 HR, 692 RBI, .292 Avg
One of the decade’s Top 5 receivers overall, Munson led all New York players with 1397 games, 1596 hits, 228 doubles, and 692 RBI. Thurman was the 1970 American League Rookie of the Year and 1976 AL Most Valuable Player. He won 3 Gold Gloves and was 7 time All-Star. Munson drove in 100 or more runs each year from 1975-77; the only other catcher in the decade with more 100+ RBI seasons was Johnny Bench. The Yankee Captain hit .357 with 46 hits in 30 post-season games, including a 9-17 (.529) performance in the 1976 World Series.
Jerry Grote, Mets, 1970-77 19 HR, 232 RBI, .264 Avg
Grote was a team leader and was a fine defensive catcher who handled the Mets strong pitching staff well during the decade. He will not go down as one of the game’s best because he didn’t hit much and was very injury prone throughout his career, playing in a career high 126 games in 1970 and catching in over 100 games only 4 times during the decade. Grote was a 1974 All-Star but probably enjoyed his best season in 1975 when he hit .295 in 119 games and led National League catchers with a .995 fielding %.
Just Missed the Cut: John Stearns, Mets
Stearns got nosed out by Grote because I’d rather have a strong defender as my back-up catcher. But Stearns was a ferocious competitor and a much better hitter than Grote. John played in 139 or more games each season from ’77-’79 and showed some pop (41 HR) and a bit of speed (54 SB).
Chris Chambliss, Yankees, 1974-79 79 HR, 454 RBI, .282 Avg
Chambliss struggled in his first season with the Yankees in 1974, but spent the next 6 years as one of the steadiest and most underrated first basemen in the league, hitting between .274 and .304 each season while averaging 15 homers and 82 RBI. He was a 1976 All-Star and 1978 Gold Glover when he led the league with a .997 fielding %. Mr. Consistent hit .281 in 30 post-season games, and is best known for his walk off-shot in Game 5 off the 1976 ALCS against the Royals.
John Milner, Mets 1971-77 94 HR, 338 RBI, .245 Avg
Hammer provided much needed power to a weak-hitting Mets lineup during the middle 70s, leading the club with 23 home runs in their 1973 pennant winning team and 20 in 1974. John was versatile enough to play 112 games in left field in 1976 before moving back to first in 1977. He hit .296 with a .406 OB% in 7 games in the 1973 World Series against Oakland.
Just Missed the Cut: Ed Kranepool, Mets
‘Steady Eddie’ (as Bob Murphy liked to call him) led the 1970s Mets in games played (933) and doubles (115). He socked 56 home runs and hit a respectable .276, mostly as a backup first baseman, left fielder, and pinch-hitter.
Willie Randolph, Yankees 1976-79 13 HR, 183 RBI, .273 Avg
Felix Millan, Mets 1973-77 8 HR, 182 RBI, .278 Avg
I list Randolph and Milan together because while Willie had the better career, their resumes during the 1970s are very close. Both joined teams that hadn’t won in a while and led their clubs to a pennant in their first season. Randolph was probably a slightly better fielder with more range during their 1970s years in NY. Milan had previously won 2 Gold Gloves in Atlanta, but was not as good defensively with the Mets. Felix was one of the major’s toughest men to strikeout, fanning only 92 times in 2,954 plate appearances, and was the better bunter with 68 sacrifices vs just 19 for Randolph. Willie had a little more pop, a better batting eye (.365 OB% vs .326 for Milan) and far better speed (119 steals vs 11 for Milan). I rate Randolph as the Opening Day starter better by a hair; his speed and ability to get on base make him an excellent choice to be my leadoff man. Milan will get some starts and bat in the #2 hole.
Bud Harrelson, Mets, 1970-77 5 HR, 172 RBI, .233 Avg
A 1970-71 All-Star and 1971 Gold Glover, Bud led the NL in range factor in 1974. Though he never hit higher than .258 in 1973, Tom Seaver considered Harrelson the glue of his infield and credits Bud’s return from injury in the second half of ’73 as a key factor in the Mets getting hot and winning the division. Harrelson led the Mets in stolen bases (91) and triples (27), and like Milan he had good bat control and was an excellent bunter (60 sacrifices).
Bucky Dent, Yankees, 1977-79 15 HR, 121 RBI, .240 Avg
Dent led the AL in range factor in 1979, but in his time in New York was never much better than an average defensive shortstop. Unlike most shortstops of his era, Dent was not a fast runner and stole only 17 bases in his career, and only 4 as a Yankee. He did enjoy an incredible 1978 October, hitting an iconic 3-run homer in New York’s 5-4 one-game playoff win against Boston, and went 10-24 with 7 RBI in the 6 game World Series victory over the Dodgers, capturing MVP honors.
Graig Nettles, Yankees, 1973-79 181 HR, 613 RBI, .255 Avg
Nettles has a legitimate claim as the Major League’s top third baseman during the decade. He had hit 71 home runs for Cleveland from 1970-72 before being traded to the Yankees. As a Yankee from ’73-’79 Nettles was a 4-time All-Star and 2 time Gold Glove winner, and made 2 more All-Star teams during the 80s. He led all New York players in 1970s home runs, and led the American League in 1976 with 32. While he never hit very well in the post-season, he made several highlight reel defensive plays in the 1978 Fall Classic against Los Angeles.
Just Missed the Cut: Wayne Garrett, Mets
Garrett was a sound, but not great fielder at the hot corner. Like several Mets he enjoyed his best season in 1973, batting leadoff and hitting .256 with career highs in home runs (16), RBI (58) and doubles (20). He added 2 home runs in the 1973 World Series. Overall in the decade Garrett had a solid .357 OB% and led the Mets in runs scored (351) and walks (442). Had the team needed a backup third baseman Garrett is the clear choice, but as durable and effective a two-way player as Nettles is, I am going to save the roster spot for a loaded outfield.
Next Post, Part 2 – Outfielders
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: