Boog Powell of the World Champion Baltimore Orioles took American League honors. The powerful first baseman, who finished 2nd to Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew in 1969, hit 35 HR with 114 RBI while batting .297 with a .412 OB%. He finished ahead of Minnesota’s Tony Oliva and Killebrew, and Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski.
Powell was a solid pick – he was the best hitter and top run producer for the World Champions, and justifiably or not, the fact that he had just missed out for the honor the year before may have helped earn him some extra consideration. Yastrzemski was likely the league’s best player – he topped the league in total bases, runs scored, plus OBP/SL%/OPS, and fell short of the batting title by just percentage points to Alex Johnson of the Angels. Yaz’ performance was deserving of the honor, but Boston’s 3rd place finish likely hurt him. No one would have quarreled with Oliva as the pick either; he led all right fielders with 12 assists, in addition to topping the circuit in hits and doubles, and batted .325. Tommy Harper of the Brewers, who hit 31 homers and stole 38 bases, and Washington’s Frank Howard, who topped the AL with 44 home runs and 126 RBI, both enjoyed notable seasons for second-division clubs.
The Reds’ Johnny Bench easily outdistanced top contenders Billy Williams (Cubs), teammate Tony Perez, and St Louis pitcher Bob Gibson to capture the National League award. Bench blasted a major-league leading 45 HR, 148 RBI, and the Gold Glove catcher nailed 48% of would be base-stealers.
It’s tough to argue with the selection of Bench, who had dominant power numbers while playing a premium position at a very high level for the NL champs. Billy Williams of Chicago makes a serious case for NL offensive player of the year, if not overall league player of the year. Williams topped the circuit in hits, total bases, and runs scored. He was a better than average outfielder, with sure hands and a good arm – he led NL left fielders in fielding percentage and was 2nd in the NL among left fielders with 13 assists. His Cubs finished in 2nd place with 84 wins, 5 games behind Pittsburgh. Somewhat lost in the mix was Perez, who had the misfortune of having the best season of his career in the same year Bench did, and he was overshadowed by his teammate. Perez’ offensive numbers are comparable to Bench, perhaps even a little better, but Tony’s glovework did him no favors – he led all third basemen with 35 errors.
Cy Young Award winner Gibson, who won the MVP in 1968, finished 4th thanks to a career-best 23 wins and 274 strikeouts for the 4th place Cardinals. Willie McCovey, the 1969 winner, hit 39 homers with 126 RBI in 1970, and topped the majors with a .612 slugging % and 137 walks, but finished just 9th in the voting for the 3rd place Giants. Other contenders included major league batting and OB% champ Rico Carty of the Braves, Reds’ leadoff man Pete Rose (.316, 205 hits), and the Dodgers’ Gold Glove first baseman Wes Parker (.319, 111 RBI).
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: