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:
RF/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 that 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.
2B 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
P 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 seasons, 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: