Ask any manager for the recipe for a great offense, and he’ll tell you he wants a speedster who can steal bases, and a long ball hitter to drive him in. Great power hitters are a rare breed, and they were in especially short supply during the 1970s. And while Lou Brock broke Maury Wills’ stolen base record in 1974, the decade was not particularly well-known for its speedsters. Rarer still is the player who could both hit the ball out of the park and be a threat on the base paths. Going into the decade, there were only 5 years in baseball history where a player stole 30 or more bases and hit 30+ home runs in the same season. It would happen 5 more times over the next 9 seasons.
Milwaukee’s Tommy Harper was the first man in the 70s to join the 30-30 club. Harper swiped over 400 bases in his career, including 200 over his final 7 seasons from 1970-76, and led the league in steals twice. So Harper’s 38 thefts in 1970 were no surprise, but his 31 home runs that season were, as he never hit more than 18 in any of his 14 other years in the big leagues. 3 years later Bobby Bonds turned the feat, narrowly missing the first 40-40 season ever by rapping out 39 homers for the Giants with 43 stolen bases. It was Bonds’ second time in the club; he had already done it in 1969, and would also reach 30-30 in 3 other 1970s seasons. Bonds became the first player to reach 30-30 5 times, and was later joined by his son Barry, who notched his 5th 30-30 year in 1997.
Less rare is the 20-20 club. This was accomplished 47 times in the decade. It’s worth noting that Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt just missed 30-30 in 1975 when he led the majors with 38 home runs and stole 29 bases. Schmidt was one of 7 men to reach 20-20 in multiple seasons during the 70s:
Bill James developed an actual statistic for these dual threats, called the Power-Speed #, which is the arithmetic mean of a player’s home runs and stolen bases. I used it to calculate the annual major league leaders and Top 10 seasons. Bonds comes out on top here as well, registering the top 2 seasons in the ’70s, and 4 of the Top 10. He also led the majors 5 times; no other player led more than once.
The final table below lists all players with 100 homers and 100 steals in the decade, along with their major league rank in each category, the 100-100 club if you will. Note that Bobby Bonds ranked #4 in both home runs and steals, while no other player even finished in the Top 20 in both, and only two, Morgan and Jackson, finished in the Top 30. By any measure, the much traveled Bonds was consistently the top power-speed threat of the decade, and one of the best all-time.
1) Bobby Bonds – Amazingly, Bonds never led the league in home runs or stolen bases. But he was remarkably proficient in both, ranking in the Top 4 in each and enjoying 4 30-30 seasons and 9 20-20 years in the decade.
2) Joe Morgan – At 5’7″ Little Joe had the frame of a base stealer, and added surprising pop. In his second straight MVP year in 1976 he led the majors in slugging (.576) and on-base% (466 OB%) while stealing 60 bases.
3) Reggie Jackson – Everyone knows about Mr. October’s power, but the former Arizona State football star was a consistent base stealing threat early in his career. He stole home against Detroit in the deciding game of the ALCS in 1972, injuring himself on the play and spending the ’72 World Series out of action on crutches.
4) Cesar Cedeno – His manager Leo Durocher once compared Cedeno to a young Willie Mays, and for a brief period it did not seem so crazy. In the 7 years from ’71-’77 Cedeno captured 5 Gold Gloves, led the league in doubles twice, and had 6 seasons of 50+ steals.
5) Amos Otis – Like Cedeno, Otis was a centerfielder who seemed like he could do anything on the baseball diamond effortlessly. Otis had 4 seasons where he finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting, won 3 Gold Gloves, and led the league with 52 stolen bases in 1971, once swiping 5 in a single game.
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 new book, 1970s All-Star Baseball: A History of the Decade’s All-Star Games was just released on Amazon:
His bestselling 1970s Baseball: A History and Analysis of the Decade’s Best Seasons, Teams, and Players is available on Amazon, B&N, and iBooks: