Something odd, unusual, unexpected, even—to one not inclined to superlatives—utterly amazing has just now turned up, some 160 years since it vanished. It is a document … or, rather, a trio of them … that together form the Magna Carta of Baseball, the Great Charter of Our Game. The manuscript rules of the game drafted by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club for presentation to the first convention of New York vicinity clubs, which commenced on January 22, 1857, have emerged from the dark. No earlier baseball manuscript of this significance has ever come onto the open market. SCP Auctions will offer it in the coming weeks. I reproduce images of these improbable survivors with their gracious permission; I was afforded an advance look at them in the course of my consulting role on this single lot.
A favorite story sprang to mind as I began to contemplate the implications of this find, a Dead Sea Scrolls of Baseball that will keep scholars busy for years to come. Laurence Stallings was a prolific novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, whose battlefront experience in the Great War cost him a leg but led him to write “What Price Glory?”—a once famous book which became an even more celebrated film. In 1925 he was assigned by the New York World to cover a football game between the University of Illinois and Penn. Upon seeing Red Grange run for three touchdowns and 363 total yards in an upset of Penn, the great war correspondent tore at his hair while pacing the pressbox, muttering, “The story’s too big. I can’t write it.” That is the way I feel about this tale, even after working for nearly three decades on my book about the early game, Baseball in the Garden of Eden.
Once upon a time it was said that baseball began in 1839 with an Abner Doubleday brainstorm in Cooperstown; others later declared that story a fable while insisting it began in 1845 with Alexander Cartwright and the creation of the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (KBBC). Cartwright is credited, on his plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame, as having “set bases 90 feet apart” and “established 9 innings as a game and 9 players as [a] team.” Yet none of these aspects of the game were settled in 1856, when Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams set to work, some seven years after Cartwright had left New York for Hawaii, never to return.
Recent scholarship has driven the origin date for baseball into the eighteenth century, in England and in America, but that was a primitive game whose details went unrecorded and, if recreated today, might not be recognizable as our national pastime. Baseball’s pioneer writer Henry Chadwick, who played the game on the Elysian Fields of Hoboken in the 1840s and wrote about it for half a century, frequently dated the real beginnings of the game not to 1840, when young men began to play ball at Madison Square in New York, or 1845, when the Knicks were formed … but to 1857.
“As usual,” he wrote in 1868, “with every thing imported, we do not possess it long before we endeavor to improve it, and as our old American edition of base ball, in vogue in New York some twenty-five years ago, was an improvement on Rounders, so is our present National game a great step in advance of the game of base ball as played in 1840 and up to 1857.”
Yes, 1857 was the year that baseball made its great leap forward, and these are the documents that reveal what it was like to be present at the creation. In that year the New York area clubs, in a convention called by the Knickerbockers, agreed to play by a new, improved set of rules that, for the first time, established:
- the base paths at 90 feet;
- the pitcher’s distance at 45 feet, later expanded twice but unchanged since 1893;
- the number of men to the side at nine;
- the duration of the game at nine innings, rather than first club to score 21 runs;
- constraints on betting and “revolving” (the practice by which a man could play for another club whenever he liked);
- and, copiously, more, not all of it addressed herein; there will be a great deal more to say, and not only by me, I expect.
The rudimentary Knickerbocker Rules of September 23, 1845 do not survive in manuscript form. They were 20 in number, and only 14 of those related to how the game was to be played. The rules were published, with only slight modification, in pamphlet form in 1848 and again, with minor modification, in 1854, by which time three clubs—the Knicks, the Gothams, and the Eagles—were playing by mutually agreed provisions. Yet there was still enough ambiguity in the rule set that baseball variants arose, even in KBBC games: On August 30, 1856 the Knickerbocker and Empire clubs played to a 21-21 tie in eight innings in a match at the Elysian Fields. While the Knicks positioned themselves as a conventional nine—three “fielders,” one catcher, three “basemen,” a pitcher, and a shortstop (Adams himself, the man who had invented the position at a time when games were generally played eight to the side)—their opponents, with an erratic pitcher presumably, elected to use no shortstop and placed two men behind the home plate.
The draft rules of 1856 were created by Adams, longtime KBBC president, as the “Laws of Base Ball.” William Henry Grenelle, who would be, like Adams, a Knickerbocker delegate to the convention, recorded a substantially different iteration as “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball.” This document addresses many issues about the playing grounds that were left to one side in the final KBBC document and in the regulations ultimately adopted in the convention.
These efforts, when combined and edited, were at last presented to New York area ball clubs on January 22, 1857 under Adams’ original title of “Laws of Base Ball”—with corrections penned in to the very last moment. One document (“Laws 1”) seems to have been drafted entirely by Adams, with the possibility that a fourth and final page went missing; while the handwriting in the other two (“Rules” and “Laws 2”) is demonstrably Grenelle’s, with pencil changes in another hand, likely that of Adams (I am not a forensic handwriting expert; this is my surmise).
When the Knickerbockers met among themselves on December 6, 1856, they resolved “to call a convention of the various base ball clubs of this city and vicinity.” The New York Herald, in reporting on this meeting, observed: “We understand the object of this convention is to promote additional interest in base ball playing, by the getting up of grand matches on a scale not heretofore attempted.” The anticipated outcome would be to inaugurate new clubs and to strengthen existing ones, by conforming the rules and making the game more “scientific” and difficult to play—“manly,” in the preferred term of the day, as was said of cricket—and thus of wider appeal. Children might play baseball along short basepaths and catch the ball on one bound to record an out, but grown men, well…
Adams did not prevail in his attempt to mandate the “fly game” for balls hit in fair territory, as delegates of new clubs were protective of their novitiates’ tender hands. The Knicks, however, played by this rule among themselves. Adams and the KBBC continued their fight for this “scientific” mode of play, succeeding at last in the 1864 convention’s adoption of the rule on a one-year trial basis which has endlessly extended to the present day. The one-bound rule stayed in place for foul balls, however, until finally eradicated in 1883.
The thought processes by which Adams and the Knickerbockers shaped the game to come may be hinted at in the discussion below, particularly, of the key imponderables in the Knickerbocker rules prior to that time: how to end a game (21 runs? mutual agreement? darkness?), and how to deter stalling, or “playing to a draw”; how many players to the side (common numbers ranged from eight to eleven for intrasquad games, though nine had become a de facto standard for “match play”—i.e., contests between clubs); and how to lay out the field (75-foot basepaths? 37.5-foot pitching distance?). Custom and practice evolved over the ensuing years, as more clubs were formed—and had to agree upon rules before a match could be played—but were not established in a uniform code until the momentous meetings of January 22 and February 25, 1857. (Another meeting, scheduled for February 3, was advertised in the press but no contemporary accounts of its activity survive.) The ball selected for a match game was often a subject of debate, for there was as yet no uniform standard; the same was true for the bats, which might be round at the barrel or flat.
The 1855 and 1856 campaigns had produced many new clubs and far more match games than before. These were the last year that games were played to 21 runs, and as the quality of play had improved, lower scores, closer contests, and more frequent draw games were prevalent. The need for a reimagining of the rules was, to some in the press and certainly to Adams and other progressive Knicks, like first baseman Louis F. Wadsworth, evident. A convention of eight clubs had been attempted in 1855 but the KBBC had declined to participate; without the prestige of the pioneer club, the venture died aborning.
In mid-1856, the Knickerbocker “old fogies,” who wished to narrow the number of contests with other clubs to those who also made their playing grounds in Hoboken, and to play games among themselves whenever possible, passed a resolution within the club to accept no outsiders for intramural matches if 14 men were present. Perhaps echoing this notion of seven men to the side forming an acceptable minimum, the Knicks instructed their delegate to the convention’s rules committee, Wadsworth, to support a new way to end a game: rather than first to 21 runs (in even innings)—the standard finish since 1845, whether in one inning or more—victory would now go to the club with more runs at the end of seven innings.
Following the disputes and ultimately resignations provoked by the rules dispute within the KBBC, word got out that the issues would soon widen to the entire baseball fraternity, at this point largely a New York and New Jersey affair. On October 11, 1856, Porter’s Spirit of the Times reported that, “It is said that a convention of all the Base Ball clubs of this city and suburbs will be held this fall, for the purpose of considering whether any and what amendments to the rules and laws governing this game should be made. The suggestion is worthy of improvement ….”
The KBBC sent three men to the convention: Adams, who was the other clubs’ choice to preside over the proceedings, Grenelle, and Wadsworth. In the document “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball,” the number of innings for completion of a game is originally specified at twelve (!), which is then edited to nine. In the Grenelle-scripted “Laws of Base Ball,” presented to the convention, the number of innings is noted as nine, but corrected in pencil to seven. In Adams’ handwritten draft, however, the number of innings had been nine.
Seven is the number of innings reported in Porter’s on February 28, 1857 as adopted by the convention … yet Wadsworth, after carrying out his mission as a KBBC member to advocate for seven innings, went rogue, enlisting the support of the other clubs to expand the game to nine innings. Had Adams’ preference for a longer game—twelve innings or nine—influenced Wadsworth? We cannot know.
Until the 1857 convention specified base paths of thirty yards, no one had thought to define the square (“diamond”) field by that distance. In an 1896 interview with The Sporting News, Adams recalled, “I presented the first draft of rules, prepared after much careful study of the matter, and it was in the main adopted. The distance between bases I fixed at 30 yards—the only previous determination of distance being ‘the bases shall be from home to second base 42 paces, from first to third base 42 paces equi-distant’—which was rather vague.” Scholars today, myself among them, believe that the pace, which at that time literally meant two and a half feet—producing baselines of 74.25 feet—was the distance intended by those who crafted the rules in 1845 for inexperienced players, for whom a cross-diamond throw at 126 feet (42 paces with three feet to the pace) would have been unimaginably hard. The notion of a pace could also have been flexibly defined: it may have been literally paced off by a man or a boy, producing variable distances. That Adams and Grenelle made a conceptual leap to define the field by its basepaths, rather than by the (fixed or variable) distance between home and second base, is indicated startlingly in the “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball” document.
On page 1, Section 1 it is written: “the bases shall be from “Home” to second base, forty-two yards; from first to third base, forty two yards [emphasis mine—jt], equi-distant….” This distance of 126 feet yields base paths of 89.1 feet. It is a small step, but one of simple genius, to make 90 feet (30 yards) the basic dimension, thus rendering the distance between home and second (and first and third) as 127.3 feet. So at some time between the 1856 creation of the “Rules for Match Games” and the January 22, 1857 presentation of the Adams/KBBC rules to the convention, baseball arrived at a key change.
In line with this change from paces to yards (or feet), Adams said, “The distance from home to pitcher’s base I made 45 feet.” In his “Laws of Base Ball,” Adams altered a key phrase that had left the pitching distance as either 15 or 16 yards: “The Pitcher must … have one foot in advance of and one foot behind the line at the time of delivering the Ball” became “The Pitcher must have neither foot in advance of the line at the time of delivering the Ball.” As the pitching distance could be measured from the front foot or the front of the box, it was thus set at 45 feet.
Great documents are the products of great men, whose contributions—or even their identities—are often erased from mainstream history. Until recently, that had been the fate of “Doc” Adams, who more than anyone shaped the primitive 1845 rules of the KBBC to become the game that would endure. While I have written about Adams and the early game for decades now, many of those reading about the dramatic find of these documents will ask, Who was Doc Adams? Who was William Henry Grenelle? Who was Louis F. Wadsworth?
I offer capsule bios below, and links to more extensive, richer treatments of Adams and Wadsworth particularly.
Doc Adams: Born in Mont Vernon, NH, he attended Amherst and Yale as an undergraduate and received his degree from Harvard Medical School in 1838. When he came to New York in the following year, he commenced to play ball “just for exercise” with some medical colleagues. Joining the Knicks in the month after their founding, he became the club’s president and headed the committee to review and modify its rules. Adams made the balls, oversaw production of the bats, and added the position of shortstop to what had originally been an eight-man game. Though he was an accomplished player, Adams’ pioneering contributions to the development of the game won for him, in 2015, his first year on the ballot, the most votes of any Veterans Committee candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
With the rediscovery of his “Laws of Base Ball,” drafted for presentation to the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club and thence to the floor of the 1857 convention, we have tangible primary evidence of his genius. Adams left the KBBC in 1862 to practice medicine and become a bank president in Ridgefield, CT. He died in New Haven, CT in 1899.
Louis F. Wadsworth: Born in Connecticut in 1825, he graduated from Hartford’s Washington College (today called Trinity) in 1844, and commenced to play baseball with the Washingtons a.k.a Gothams in 1852. After a few years with the Knickerbockers (1854–57) he returned to the Gothams, following the ruckus over his support for nine innings during the convention. One of the veteran Knicks, in recalling some of his old teammates for the New York Sun in 1887, said: “I had almost forgotten the most important man on the team and that is Lew Wadsworth. He was the life of the club. Part of his club suit consisted of a white shirt on the back of which was stamped a black devil. It makes me laugh still when I recall how he used to go after a ball. His hands were very large and when he went for a ball they looked like the tongs of an oyster rake. He got there all the same and but few balls passed him.” Wadsworth’s time with the Knickerbockers, and his crucial role in affixing nine innings and nine men to the rules of baseball, are covered at length in Baseball in the Garden of Eden.
Widowed in 1883, he took to drink and lost a fortune estimated at $300,000 (perhaps $8 million in today’s terms). After some years of selling Sunday newspapers on the streets of Plainfield, NJ as his sole source of income, in 1898 he committed himself to the poorhouse. There he died in 1908, a solitary man with no family or visitors, and none cognizant of his role in developing the game. In his obituary it was written that “In the summer he was particularly interested in following the scores of the ball games of the big leagues, and of late years the game was the one great object of interest to him.”
William H. Grenelle: Elected to membership on June 14, 1850, he was a KBBC director in 1857. Grenelle joined Adams and Wadsworth on the Knick committee formed to arrange what became the 1857 convention. He also played at least one game for the Knickerbockers’ first nine in both 1857 and 1858 and represented the club at several later conventions of the organization that, beginning in 1858, was known as the National Association of Base Ball Players. Born in New York City in 1820, Grenelle worked as a Wall Street broker. For a time he was in partnership with fellow Knickerbockers William H. Talman, Edward A. Bibby, and Alexander H. Drummond, until the firm broke up in 1860. Grenelle died in Brooklyn in 1890, leaving a wife and several children, including Mary Hobart Grenelle Wilcox, whose lone daughter was Constance Grenelle Wilcox Pignatelli, of Madison, Connecticut.
It is through this last named Grenelle heir, the Knickerbocker’s granddaughter, that the documents survived. She was an author, a princess by marriage, an extremely interesting and accomplished woman whose story deserves a telling all its own … another day.
PDF of Adams’ draft (“Laws 1”): https://goo.gl/TAFfWn [cut and paste]
PDF of Grenelle’s scripted “Rules for Match Games of Base Ball” (“Rules”): https://goo.gl/UssqBo [cut and paste]
PDF of Grenelle’s scripted “Laws of Base Ball” (“Laws 2”), as presented to the convention: https://goo.gl/ovKmvM [cut and paste]
PDF of 1857 Rules and Regulations, Finally Adopted: https://goo.gl/7tBLTX [cut and paste]
Following upon his boffo debut at Our Game with “Kessler at the Bat” (http://ourgame.mlblogs.com/2012/01/14/kessler-at-the-bat/), here’s the latest from my old pal Mikhail Horowitz, raconteur, bon vivant, and baseball bard. Students of sonnetry will note the metrics and rhyme; the rest of us will simply agree that, like a Hall of Famer, a thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Posey, Puckett, Palmer, Perry
Kaline, Koufax, Killebrew
Thompson, Thomas, Tinker, Terry
Campanella, Cobb, Carew
Wilson, Wilson, Waner, Waner
Feller, Ferrell, Fingers, Flick
Torriente, Taylor, Traynor
Rixey, Mackey, Dickey, Frick
Kelly, Kelley, Keeler, Kell
Alston, Aaron, Appling, Vance
Brouthers, Baker, Bender, Bell
Delahanty, Anson, Chance
Weaver, Winfield, White and White
And George and Harry, the Brothers Wright
Now and then I am asked which books of baseball history are the best, or which a new fan should read first, that sort of thing. Sometimes I point the curious to an interview I did nearly five years ago, in which I was asked to the name the five books of baseball history that I found indispensable (apart from encyclopedias, anthologies, or my own scribblings). This interview first appeared at fivebooks.com, a splendid site based in the UK, on April 25, 2011.
This year the Commissioner of Major League Baseball named you as the official historian of the game, although you started out life far from the centre of America’s national pastime. You were born in a German displaced persons camp to Polish Holocaust survivors. What do the game and the title mean to you?
That baseball is an Americanising mechanism for immigrants is an old story, but for me it was true. When I came here I was only two and a half; I spoke German and Polish. In nursery school I was made fun of for not being able to speak the language. English was not spoken in my household. So I set about trying to learn it by reading the backs of not only cereal boxes but also baseball cards, those magic passports to America.
Now, what does this official historian title mean to me? It’s an honour for sure and it memorialises but I hope does not entomb me. I wrote my first baseball book 37 years ago. So to be an overnight sensation at the age of 63 is somewhat strange. Many people who may not know my work may now pay a little more attention to it. But what’s most meaningful to me about the title of official historian is that I can give back to baseball. I can serve the game in a way that honours the historical profession and be useful to the game that gave me so much, the game that helped me become an American.
It sometimes seems to me that fans make mastering stats and stories about the game a sport in itself. What is so satisfying about become steeped in sports history?
Sports trivia is a diversion. But sports history is different from trivia. There is a man on a bar stool in every taproom in this country that knows something about baseball that I don’t know. However there is no such person in any bar room that knows everything I know. Being able to parrot back how many home runs Duke Snider hit in 1955 does not make you a historian; it makes you a collector of stray statistics. History is an integrative process.
There is a competitive aspect to the practice of history. Every historian wants to carve out a little territory in which he is the expert – that’s certainly true of baseball. There are some historians who are great experts on the 1910s. There are others who are experts on the evolution of race and society, as seen through the prism of baseball. My great area of expertise is 19th-century baseball in the era before organised league play.
So how did you break into this world of baseball scholarship?
It was accidental. I came from the world of literature. I started in college as a combined mathematics and English major. But the appeal of statistics, the appeal of history, lore and romance, always held me close to baseball. I thought I was going to be a political editor. I was a magazine editor after graduate school and I wrote a baseball book kind of on the side. It sold well, but my health took a turn for the worse and I thought a wheelchair beckoned. It seemed to me if I had to write and I didn’t have the chops to play in Dickens’ arena, then maybe I could write more baseball books.
Baseball, the earliest book you name, was published in 1947 by Robert Smith – a novelist and lifelong Red Sox fan. What did Smith accomplish in his single volume that was of such enduring value?
Smith got the stories right. It does not mean that he was a methodical historian. It does not mean that he was a technically gifted historian. But he talked to old ball players. He made friends with baseball players who were – in 1947 – 80 years old. He captured some stories about the game that otherwise would’ve been lost to history; stories that may have strayed from the path of the truth over the years.
But in baseball, legend and apocrypha are important too. When I was working with Ken Burns on the TV documentary Baseball back in the 1990s, we would occasionally come across an anecdote that was entertaining but made me feel obliged, as a historian, to say, “Well, that’s something we ought to verify.” Invariably, the rest of the crew would yell in unison, “That fact is too good to be checked.” I’ve come to feel that although you have to get the stories straight, you also have to respect the enduring legends with a wink.
Robert Smith’s Baseball is a work of history, but you can’t tell history without story and that is Smith’s gift. It has become increasingly rare to tell a story well, rather than simply wield statistics to compare this player to that player, which is the current state of baseball literature to a large extent. Being able to tell a story well was a gift that Smith had in abundance. The 1947 and 1970 editions of the book – which are quite different – are both spellbinding.
It is both the first and the best. Harold Seymour wrote a thesis at Cornell – I think it was published in 1956. And the first volume of the Oxford University three-volume series on baseball, The Early Years, which was product of Harold’s collaboration with his wife Dorothy, was based on the thesis. The thesis focused on baseball through 1891 but in his book he went to 1903. The year that the American League and the National League faced each other in a world series for the first time, 1903 is regarded as the launch of baseball’s modern era.
The Seymours’ work was brilliant and original in its focus on off-the-field activity. The Seymours showed that baseball was filled with hypocrisy and greed and all of the things that we love about America.
Their work was central in making me a historian of baseball. It helped convince me that having left a doctoral programme in English Literature, in which I was writing a thesis on a 17th-century metaphysical poet named George Herbert, that it might not be such a steep fall into disgrace to go from that to being a baseball writer. That one could write seriously about baseball, not merely tell funny stories. That was the impact of the Seymours’ book on me. I think their great contribution was to convince other serious-minded individuals in the years to come that there was a lot left undone.
If someone were to ask me, what should be the first baseball book I should read to understand the history of the game, I would point them to Seymour – and to Lawrence Ritter, another of my choices.
The series was meant to include a fourth volume bringing the history of baseball up to date, but Harold Seymour died of Alzheimer’s before making much headway on it. In fact, his wife Dorothy is believed to be the primary author of the third volume. She worked on the series for 46 years – researching, writing and editing – and yet her husband refused to acknowledge her authorship during his lifetime. Still, Dorothy promotes her husband as “the Gibbon of baseball.” On balance, how will both Seymours be remembered?
They were not exactly Ozzie and Harriet. The outdated idea that the wife should be subservient to the husband in all matters, even in professional matters, appears to have had a toxic effect on their collaboration at least. Dorothy has had something of a steep climb to convince scholars such as myself – and I am convinced – that she was a material collaborator and a co-author who deserves full credit.
Block picked up where Robert Henderson left off with Ball, Bat and Bishop in 1947. David Block was not a professional writer, this was his first book and it came as a complete surprise – out of left field as we say. He’s a lovely writer, an erudite fellow and a very good friend. But at the time the book came out I didn’t know him at all. He sent me the manuscript and asked me to evaluate it and I was completely stunned. It was a brilliant piece of work. The number of specific finds sprinkled through the work, like diamonds in the dust, is dazzling. For example, it was standard fare for sophisticated baseball folk to say that the game arrived from rounders. David Block demonstrated that the name baseball was far older than rounders – that, if anything, rounders derived from baseball. This may seem a trivial distinction in the wider world and one billion Chinese people don’t care about it, but in our little world this is pretty earthshaking.
David is very systematic and careful in his elucidation of fact. He found a German text by a gymnastic professor named Guts Muths – a 1796 text that had never been translated into English. In it he found the rules and diagrams for baseball. It was a staggering find. Subsequent to publishing the book he discovered a diary in Suffolk from 1755 by a man named William Bray discussing an outing to go to play baseball. Another amazing find. We haven’t heard the last of David.
How does your recent work advance our understanding of baseball’s origins beyond what Block accomplished?
David’s approach was multinational and ancient, first causes. While in my recent book I spend some time in Ancient Egypt and Europe, it is a matter of paragraphs and pages – not whole chapters. I really focus on how the game came to be and rise to prominence in the United States.
It is a time machine. You start reading and you are hearing these ballplayers who played in the major leagues between 1890 and 1920. These are men who played alongside Ty Cobb in the outfield, men who were present when Babe Ruth came up to the Red Sox, men who played a key role in the World Series of 1912. They are speaking to you. You feel as if they were in your living room with you. Hearing from these foundational figures is like listening to an interview with George Washington at Valley Forge.
Larry scoured the country in the age before the internet and ancestry.com to find these players. This was a true labour of love for him. In fact, he gave away the lion’s share of his royalties to the 22 men in the original book and their estates. Larry was an inspiration to me before I knew him. I grew to be his friend, his editor and his collaborator on a number of projects.
His transcriptions of his interviews were more than transcriptions. If he was talking to, say Sam Crawford, and Crawford said something in the third hour of an interview that really belonged in the first hour, Larry stitched it together properly for our enduring reading pleasure. So, while using only the words of the players he interviewed, he transformed sometimes rambling, incoherent audio into brilliant literature.
The tapes that form that basis of the book are now in the Baseball Hall of Fame but the voices of the men that Ritter interviewed can be heard on an audio version of the book. Which do you prefer?
I prefer print, but the audio will blow your hair back. You’ll feel like you are at a seance. These people, long dead, whose moments on the field occurred a century ago, speak to you.
Jules was a PhD. He was a professor. He was every bit as gifted a historian as the Seymours and more formal than Ritter, Block, or Smith. What Jules did was not merely tell the story of Jackie Robinson and that integration: he told the story of prior leagues and prior integrations. He turned baseball so we saw its dark side. We saw the minor leagues, where racism was far more virulent than in the majors. He discussed the shockingly gruesome experiences of integrating each minor league in turn. Many of the heroes of this period never amounted to much as major league players. He gave them their due.
He worked on a broader canvas that portrayed more than just Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. Just as it’s convenient for us to just think of baseball’s origins in terms of a single inventor such as Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright, both equally wrong, it’s easy to say Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey combined to integrate baseball, but there were many other heroes. They were not the only two. Jules tells their story too. It’s his greatest contribution to our understanding of the game.
I understand that Tygiel underscores how the integration of baseball hastened the desegregation of American society. You once blogged that “unscripted sport, particularly baseball, is more culturally transformative than staged entertainment.” Can you explain what you mean and why you believe sports fields are such fertile ground for social progress?
We know that Ancient Greek audiences experienced catharsis through attending performances of plays by Aeschylus and Euripides. Sport provides our catharsis. Much of it is ritualised, much of it is repetitive and much of it might be predictable. But because the outcome is unscripted, we are on the edges of our seats. We attach an importance to sport that earlier cultures attributed to tragedies, passion plays and other communal experiences of drama. So when you have something dramatic happen in sport it spills over into real life in a radicalising way.
Players, managers, umpires, and executives have been banned from baseball ever since the first game-fixing incident in 1865. Prior to the onset of the Commissioner system in 1920, major league players were banned for a variety of offenses. The threat of blacklist was used as a cudgel to suppress player movement, to tamp down salary demands, and to punish players for drunkenness, insubordination, abuse of umpires, game fixing, obscenity, and unsavory associations. The first game fixing scandal and ensuing permanent expulsion (ultimately lifted in the case of each of the three New York Mutuals players banned: Ed Duffy, William Wansley, and Thomas Devyr) date to 1865, eleven years before the launch of what we today term Major League Baseball.
Allegations of game fixing were rampant in the so-called amateur era and in the National Association, the professional circuit that in 1871–1875 preceded the National League. Bill Craver, later to be banished by the National League, was expelled by his Troy club for throwing games in 1871; however, he was signed by Baltimore. In 1874 John Radcliffe was expelled by the Philadelphia Athletics but nonetheless was picked up by the notoriously corrupt New York Mutuals. Two other players expelled in this year, Bill Boyd and Bill Stearns, were likewise “rehabilitated” for play with other clubs. This scenario played itself out similarly in the cases of Dick Higham, George Zettlein, and Fred Treacey in 1875, as each player was booted from one club only to land on his feet with another. In short, club suspensions or bans held no force in a climate of weak league control.
The first National League player (and thus the first in MLB history) to be expelled was George Bechtel in 1876; banned by Louisville for game fixing, he too continued as an active player with the New York Mutuals for a few games until the NL stepped in. A game-fixing scandal in the following year nearly spelled the demise of the league and resulted in four players expelled for life not only by their club but by the league (Jim Devlin, George Hall, Bill Craver, and Al Nichols, all of Louisville). NL President William Hulbert declared the ban and never lifted it despite appeals for reinstatement by some of the players and their supporters. These men were compelled to play in leagues not connected with the NL, sometimes under false names (a pattern continued by banned players in the 20th century).
In the years that followed many players were blacklisted or suspended indefinitely, either by their clubs or by a committee of the league’s owners. In 1881–1882 the NL blacklisted ten players for a variety of offenses (mostly “lushing”) yet when a new rival major league, the American Association, declined to honor the NL bans and proceeded to woo the affected players, the blacklist was removed. In March 1882, the AA set a maximum penalty for drunkenness, insubordination, dishonorable or disreputable conduct: suspension for the balance of the season, plus the entire following season. Other offenses, however, might result in permanent ineligibility.
A full list of players banned in the period before 1920 may not be possible but the list compiled for this study (below) represents the most complete effort to date.
In the years leading up to the introduction of the Commissioner System in 1920 with the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, indefinite suspensions, overt and covert blacklists, and definitive expulsions were common—more so in the years before the peace agreement of 1903 (the “National Agreement”) than before. In that year baseball established a three-person National Commission (American League president, National League president, and a chairperson) to deal with issues affecting both major leagues, including the enactment and enforcement of fines and suspensions. Ban Johnson represented the AL during this time, while five NL presidents served. Garry Herrmann, president of the Cincinnati Reds and a lifelong friend of Johnson, was the chairperson for all 17 years of the National Commission’s operation; critics thus accused Johnson of undue control over the game.
Johnson’s failure to prevail in the Carl Mays case, in which the New York Yankees overturned his ruling in the courts, spelled the end of the National Commission. Also beset by troubling rumors concerning the 1919 World Series, the owners, seeking a single firm hand to guide the game through a rough patch, disbanded the National Commission and hired Landis, a seated Federal judge.
The men receiving lifetime bans during Judge Landis’s reign and afterward are listed below, with brief discussion of each case. The phrase “permanently ineligible” may have had its origin in a Landis ruling of 1926 in the Cobb-Speaker-Wood case, in which pitcher Hub Leonard had accused the three of conspiring to fix a regular-season series between Boston and Detroit in late 1919. Landis offered these guidelines for punishments going forward, clearly looking to disassociate his term in office from the myriad messes of yore. Much of this language is reflected in MLB’s current Rule 21.
One—A statute of limitations with respect to alleged baseball offenses, as in our state and national statutes with regard to criminal offenses.
Two—Ineligibility for one year for offering or giving any gift or reward by the players or management of one club to the players or management of another club for services rendered or supposed to be have been rendered, in defeating a competing club.
Three—Ineligibility for one year for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor had no duty to perform.
Four—Permanent ineligibility for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor has any duty to perform.
As stated, the great majority of baseball’s miscreants were expelled from the game long before the Baseball Hall of Fame opened its doors. The past twenty-five years, however, have produced a conflation of Major League Baseball’s need to assure the integrity of the game with the Hall’s wish to insure the sanctity of its induction process. Notably with the case of Pete Rose, but also to a lesser degree Joe Jackson and other “Black Sox,” the baseball public has come to believe that MLB enforces its verdicts on players even after their death while the Hall merely follows in step. MLB, however, derives no practical benefit from maintaining deceased players on an ineligible list.
On February 8, 1991, the board of directors of the Hall of Fame, in an attempt to preempt the baseball writers from even considering Rose’s induction, voted 12-0 to amend the institution’s by-laws so that anyone deemed ineligible to work in Major League Baseball would be similarly ineligible for the Hall of Fame. All the same, in 1992 Rose received 41 write-in votes. These votes were thrown out. After he received 14 votes in 1993 and 19 in 1994, his name was formally excluded from the balloting process.
Interestingly, in the very first Hall of Fame balloting, in 1936—long before a linkage between MLB’s ineligibility list and Hall of Fame policy–Joe Jackson received two votes. This low total reflected the electors’ perception that he had disqualified himself through his actions. (Perhaps the electors might once again be trusted to vote sensibly, without special instructions.) Jackson also received two votes in 1946; besides Rose, the only other banned player to receive votes was Hal Chase, with 11 in 1936 and 18 in the following year.
The two lists below point up the history of permanent banishments, their frequent commutations, and their sometimes whimsical enforcement. The list of banished players prior to the appointment of Judge Landis is long indeed; it has never appeared in print or on the web, and may help to form the “permanently ineligible list” that, despite its citation in MLB Rule 21, may have existed only as a figure of speech.
LIFETIME BANS SINCE 1920
Joe Jackson (“Black Sox”; this story is too well known to bear repetition here)
Buck Weaver (“Black Sox”)
Eddie Cicotte (“Black Sox”)
Lefty Williams (“Black Sox”)
Happy Felsch (“Black Sox”)
Fred McMullin (“Black Sox”)
Swede Risberg (“Black Sox”)
Chick Gandil (“Black Sox”)
Joe Gedeon Second baseman of the St. Louis Browns who, like Weaver, sat in on a meeting with gamblers, had “guilty knowledge,” and failed to share it with authorities.
Gene Paulette, banished by Landis for his association with St. Louis gamblers in 1919, even though he had played a complete 1920 season.
Benny Kauff, arrested for auto theft but acquitted at trial, was banned anyway as, in Landis’s words, “no longer a fit companion for other ballplayers.”
Lee Magee had been released by Chicago, then—after questioning at a trial over his disputed back salary elicited evidence of his gambling involvements—banned by Landis
Heinie Zimmerman was banned in 1921 for encouraging his teammates to fix games; he had been blacklisted since 1919. As with Hal Chase (see section below on pre-Landis bans), Landis’s declaration after the Black Sox trial is seen as formalizing Zimmerman’s blacklist as a permanent banishment.
Heinie Groh was banned after rejecting Cincinnati’s salary offer; Landis’s condition for reinstatement was that he could return to play for the Reds only; two days after the ban, Groh did.
Ray Fisher declined a Reds’ pay cut, and sat out the season until hired by the University of Michigan to coach its baseball team. Landis banned him from Organized Baseball for violating the reserve clause but Fisher never returned. The ban was overturned by Bowie Kuhn in 1980.
Dickie Kerr, a “Clean Sox” hero of the 1919 World Series, was banned after he played in an outlaw league in 1922 rather than accept the Chisox pay offer. Thus violating the reserve clause, Kerr was banned. Landis reinstated him in 1925, and he pitched for Chicago again.
Jim “Hippo” Vaughn played a semipro game under an assumed name while under contract to the Cubs in 1921. His case was referred to Landis, who banned Vaughn for the rest of the season. When he signed a three-year contract with the Beloit Fairies, a semipro team out of Beloit, Wisconsin (backed by the Fairbanks-Morse Company), his status as a contract jumper was solidified. Although Landis permitted his reinstatement in 1931, Vaughn failed in his attempt to make the Cubs’ squad.
Shufflin’ Phil Douglas of the Giants, angry with John McGraw, got drunk and sent a letter to a friend on the Cardinals suggesting that he would “disappear” when the club came to St. Louis. Landis banned him for life.
Jimmy O’Connell, a second-year player with the Giants in 1924, offered a bribe to Heinie Sand of the Phils; perhaps he was the naive victim of a joke perpetrated by Giants coach Cozy Dolan. Landis banned both. John McGraw’s involvement has long been surmised but never proven.
Cletus Elwood “Boots” Poffenberger was suspended by Landis at the request of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939, after he declined to report to Montreal. He then was reinstated at Brooklyn’s request in early 1940 so that his contract could be sold to Nashville of the Southern Association, for whom he won 26 games. He pitched for several other clubs in the minors but never returned to the majors.
William Cox, Phils’ owner, was banned for betting on baseball games and forced to sell his franchise. Occurring in 1943, this was Landis’s last banishment. (In 1953, St. Louis owner Fred Saigh was forced to divest his control of the Cardinals when he began a fifteen-month sentence for tax evasion; that paved the way for Saigh’s sale of the team to Anheuser-Busch. Saigh was not formally banned, however.)
Sal Maglie, Max Lanier, Ace Adams, Danny Gardella, Luis Olmo, and others were banned for five years after jumping to the Mexican League in 1946. Happy Chandler rescinded many of these bans, however, in settlement of lawsuits.
Ferguson Jenkins, after being arrested in Toronto for possessing cocaine in August 1980, was banned two weeks later by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. An arbitrator overturned the ban in September.
Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banned by Kuhn in 1983 because they worked as greeters at an Atlantic City casino. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth reinstated both in 1985.
Pete Rose was banned by Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989. Several appeals have been unsuccessful, most recently in 2015.
George Steinbrenner was banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990, who reinstated him two years later.
Steve Howe, after six prior drug suspensions, was banned on the same day that Vincent reinstated Steinbrenner. The ban was overturned by an arbitrator in November 1992.
Marge Schott, Cincinnati Reds owner, was banned by Bud Selig in 1996 for bringing Major League Baseball into disrepute by repeatedly uttering racial, ethnic, and homophobic slurs. She was reinstated in 1998.
Jenrry Mejia, Mets pitcher, received a permanent suspension from Organized Baseball on February 12, 2016, following a third failed drug test.
BANNED PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE PLAYERS (1871-1920)
Not that many of these bans or indefinite suspensions, for a variety of offenses, were later lifted by club or league resolve. Bans by minor leagues are not included, nor are suspensions levied for stated durations. Bans not marked as “[permanent”] below were ultimately truncated or rescinded, but when they were levied, an affected player would not when or if he might return to good graces. Some players were subject to “lifetime” bans more than once; several Hall of Famers are on this list.
AA = American Association
UA = Union Association
PL = Players’ League
Bill Craver, 1871
Scott Hastings, 1872
George Hall, 1872
Candy Cummings, 1873
Bill Boyd, 1874
Bill Stearns, 1874
John Radcliffe, 1874
Dick Higham, 1875
George Zettlein, 1875
Fred Treacey, 1875
George Latham, 1875
Billy Geer, 1875
Henry Luff, 1875
George Bechtel, 1876 [permanent]
Tommy Bond, 1876
Joe Battin, 1877 [permanent]
Joe Blong, 1877 [permanent]
Jim Devlin, 1877 [permanent]
Bill Craver, 1877 [permanent]
George Hall, 1877 [permanent]
Al Nichols, 1877 [permanent]
Lew Brown, 1880
Charley Jones, 1880
Mike Dorgan, 1881
Lipman Pike, 1881
Sadie Houck‚ 1881
Lou Dickerson‚ 1881
Mike Dorgan‚ 1881
Bill Crowley‚ 1881
John Fox‚ 1881
Emil Gross‚ 1881
Ed “The Only” Nolan‚ 1881
Ed Caskins, 1881
John Clapp, 1881
Morrie Critchley, 1882 [permanent]
Hoss Radbourn, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Sam Wise [expelled from AA only]
Bill Holbert [expelled from AA only]
Jerry Denny, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Art Whitney, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Pud Galvin, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Charlie Bennett, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
John Bergh, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Ned Williamson, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Fred Lewis, 1882
Herman Doscher, 1882 [permanent]
Dick Higham, umpire, 1882 [permanent]
Phil Baker, 1883
Joe Gerhardt, 1883
Frank “Gid” Gardner, 1883
Tom Deasley, 1883
Jack Leary, 1883
John Milligan, 1883
Billy Taylor‚ 1883
John Sweeney, 1883 [permanent]
Frank Larkin, 1883
J.J. Smith, 1883
Harry Luff, 1883
Mike Mansell‚ 1883
George Creamer, 1883
Al Atkinson, 1883
Joe Sommer, 1883
Bill Traffley, 1883
Phil Powers, 1883
Charles Sweeney, 1884
Tommy Bond, 1884
Frank Gardner, 1884
Tony Mullane, 1884
Jack Brennan, umpire, 1884
Lew Dickerson, 1884
Chappy Lane, 1884
Tom Gunning, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Ed Colgan, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Frank Meinke, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Steve Behel, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
James Hillery, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
P.F. Sullivan, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Jack Farrell, 1885
Dave Rowe, 1885
George Gore, 1885
Jim Mutrie, 1885 [expelled from AA only]
Sam Barkley, 1886
Pete Browning, 1886
Jack Gleason, 1886
Jerry Denny, 1886
Toad Ramsey, 1887
Chief Roseman, 1887
Toad Ramsey, 1888
John “Phenomenal” Smith, 1888
Lady Baldwin, 1888
Yank Robinson, 1889
Jack Glasscock, 1889 [expelled from PL only]
Jack Clements, 1889 [expelled from PL only]
John Clarkson, 1889 [expelled from PL only]
Marr Phillips, 1890
Denny Lyons, 1890
Denny Lyons, 1891
Jack Stivetts, 1891
Bones Ely, 1891
John Dolan, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Bert Inks, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Frank Knauss, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
John Reilly, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Silver King, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Hoss Radbourn, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Rowdy Jack O’Connor, 1891
Al Buckenberger (manager), 1891
Bill Barnie (manager), 1891
Fred Pfeffer (manager), 1891
Red Ehret, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Harry Raymond, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Jocko Halligan, 1892
Patsy Tebeau, 1896
Fred Pfeffer, 1896
Jack Taylor, 1897
Ducky Holmes, 1898
Jack Taylor, 1899
Burt Hart, 1901
Hugh Duffy, 1901
Jimmy Jones, 1902
Joseph Creamer, trainer, 1908
Jack O’Connor and Harry Howell, manager and coach of the St. Louis Browns, were banned in 1910 for attempting to fix the outcome of the 1910 American League batting title for the beloved Nap Lajoie against the reviled Ty Cobb. O’Connor gave his third baseman, Red Corriden, an odd order: to go stand in shallow left field whenever Lajoie came up to bat. With no one covering third base, Lajoie got seven hits in the day’s doubleheader, six of them bunts, and slipped past Cobb for the batting title.
Horace Fogel, club owner, 1912
Joe “Moon” Harris of the Cleveland Indians was banned for life in 1920 (before Landis’s appointment) for violating the reserve clause in his contract, after he chose to play for an independent team rather than the Cleveland Indians. He was reinstated by Landis in 1922 due, in part, to his creditable service during World War I.
Hal Chase, never formally banned but blacklisted in February 1920 from the National League after hearings showed evidence of game fixing with Cincinnati in 1916 and, certainly, before and after; his crowning swindle was to bring gamblers and fixers together to throw the 1919 World Series. Today, Landis’s declaration after the Black Sox trial that no one who bet on baseball would ever be allowed to play is recognized as formalizing Chase’s blacklisting. He continued to play in outlaw leagues in the West.
This is the twelfth and final installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at: http://goo.gl/E4adJX.
Embattled Decade Campaigns: AL, 1981-1990
The long unrealized dream of an era of competitive balance now became something of a reality in the AL, as each of the first seven campaigns produced a new league champion. Moreover, eleven different teams won divisional titles in these years. However, in the West the Oakland Athletics won three divisional championships and captured consecutive league championships in 1988-1989. And the Tigers, Royals, Red Sox, and Angels each won a pair of divisional pennants in this era.
The AL’s free-for-all pattern began with the singular campaign of 1981. When the long player strike gutted the middle of that season, a split-season format was adopted in hopes of renewing fan support for the arrested campaign.
Under this format, the first half of the season ended when the players walked out on June 11, and the second half ran from the resumption of play in mid-August to the end of the regular playing schedule. Because the June 11 strike date had the Yankees leading the Orioles by 2 games in the East, and the Athletics leading the Rangers by 1 1/2 games in the West, these teams were declared the first-half winners of their divisions. But when the split-season plan barred first-half winners from repeating as divisional champs, the Yankees dawdled to a sixth-place finish in the East’s second-half race. Thus the Milwaukee Brewers won the second-half Eastern race by 1 1/2 games over the Red Sox. In the West, the Athletics lost the second half to the Royals by 1 game.
At this point, the split-season script called for a best-of-five-games playoff series to determine the divisional championships. In the East the series went the full five games before the Yankees defeated the Brewers, but in the West the scrappy Athletics swept the Royals. Then in the ensuing League Championship Series the Yankees swept the Athletics. Although the Yankees won the 1981 AL pennant, their overall record was bettered by two other teams. The Yankee victory owed to its pitching staff, whose 2.90 ERA led the league; starters Ron Guidry and Dave Righetti combined for 19 wins, and reliever Goose Gossage saved 20 games. As for the Athletics, whose overall record was the AL’s best, they led the league in homers. The Athletics were led by outfielder Rickey Henderson, who batted .319 and led the league in stolen bases, and pitcher Steve McCatty, whose 14 wins and 2.32 ERA led the league. As for the Yankees, their comeuppance came in the World Series. Matched against the resilient Dodgers, the Yankees took the first two games, but then were ignominiously swept. And by losing three games in relief, Yankee pitcher George Frazier added his name to the annals of World Series goats.
In the dog-eat-dog competition of the next six AL seasons, the Yankees failed to win another divisional title. In 1982 the Brewers squeaked to a 1-game win over the Orioles in the East. In winning, the Brewers batted .279 and the team’s 216 homers topped the majors, with shortstop Robin Yount winning MVP honors for his .331-29-114 batting exploits. Outfielder Gorman Thomas led the league with 39 homers and drove in 112 runs. And infielders Cecil Cooper (.331-32-121) and Paul Molitor (.302-19-71) complemented Yount’s stickwork. But the pitching was shaky, except for starters Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell, who combined for 35 victories. Veteran reliever Rollie Fingers saved 29 games, so the late-season injury that sidelined this mustachioed ace was a crusher. In the West, the California Angels won a close race by 3 games over the Royals. A good hitting team, the Angels finished right behind the Brewers in hitting and homers, and their pitching bettered the Brewers. Starter Geoff Zahn’s 18 wins led the staff. Offensively, a quartet of expensive recent acquisitions paced the attack, including infielders Rod Carew (.319) and Doug DeCinces (.301-30-97), and outfielders Fred Lynn (.299) and Reggie Jackson (39 homers and 102 RBIs). Jackson’s 39 homers tied Thomas for the league leadership, and the veteran drove in 101 runs. When these two well-matched teams met in LCS play, for a time it seemed likely that Angel manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant. The Angels took the first two games at home, but were swept by the Brewers in Milwaukee. Thus the Brewers became the first major league team to win an LCS after losing the first two games. But in World Series play it was the Cardinals who rebounded from a 3-2 deficit to defeat the Brewers. This latest loss was the fourth in a row by an AL entry.
But over the next three seasons, three different AL teams ended the NL streak by winning world titles. In 1983 the Orioles drove to a 6-game victory over the runner-up Tigers in the Eastern Division. Pitchers Scott McGregor (187), Mike Boddicker (168), Storm Davis (137), and reliever Tippy Martinez (with 21 saves) headed the league’s second-best pitching staff. At bat the Orioles hit .269, and the team’s 168 homers led the majors. Shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.’s .318-27-102 batting won him MVP honors, while first baseman Eddie Murray weighed in with .306-33-111 clouting. Meanwhile, in the West the long-dormant Chicago White Sox stormed to a 20-game victory over the Royals. In landing their first divisional title, the White Sox drew 2 million fans, who saw young Ron Kittle win Rookie of the Year honors with his 35 homers and 100 RBIs. Although lacking a .300 hitter, the White Sox got plentiful power from outfielder Harold Baines (20-99), catcher Carlton Fisk (26-86), and DH Greg Luzinski (32-95). What’s more, the White Sox boasted a pair of 20-game winners in Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt (24-10) and Rich Dotson (22-7). Behind Hoyt, the White Sox won the first LCS game, but the Orioles swept the next three games to win the pennant. The Orioles then dropped the opening game of the 1983 World Series at home, but then swept the Phillies to end the AL’s humiliating losing streak.
The following year another new champion surfaced in the AL East, which was now being touted as the strongest division in the majors. Riding the momentum of a 355 breakaway gait, the Detroit Tigers went on to win 104 games, enough to lap the Toronto Blue Jays by 15 games. It was indeed a vintage year for manager Sparky Anderson’s all-conquering Tigers. Offensively the Tigers led the league in hitting (.271) and homers (187). Shortstop Alan Trammell batted .314, and outfielder Kirk Gibson and catcher Lance Parrish combined to produce 60 homers and 189 RBIs. To top it off, the Tigers also fielded the league’s best pitching staff. Starters Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox turned in 54 victories and reliever Willie Hernandez, a recent acquisition from the Phillies, saved 32 games. In 32 of his 33 game-saving situations, Hernandez met the test–an achievement that won him both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Meanwhile, in the weaker Western Division the Royals eked a 3-game win over the Angels and Twins, but the Royals won only six more games than they lost. The Royals batted .268, with outfielder Willie Wilson and DH Hal McRae topping the .300 mark. But the pitching was mediocre and the staff depended heavily on reliever Dan Quisenberry, who saved 44 games. When the Tigers and Royals faced off in LCS play, the Tigers won the 1984 AL pennant by dispatching the Royals in three games. And in World Series action, the Tigers easily defeated the San Diego Padres in five games. By skippering the Tigers to victory, Sparky Anderson became the first manager to win World Series titles in both the American and National leagues.
But the Tigers’ view from the top was a brief one. In 1985 they fell 15 games off the pace, leaving the Eastern field to the Blue Jays and Yankees. And at the close of the season, the Blue Jays topped the Yankees by 2 games, to win their first divisional title since joining the AL in the mini-expansion of 1977. The rise of the Blue Jays owed much to general manager Pat Gillick, who, by dint of shrewd trades and canny selections in annual surplus-player drafts, swiftly assembled a pennant contender. In 1985 the Blue Jays’ pitching staff led the league, and outfielder Jesse Barfield (.289-27-84) powered an offense that produced a .269 team batting average and 158 homers. Pitcher Dave Stieb’s 2.48 ERA led the league’s pitchers, although his 14-13 record was disappointing. Starters Doyle Alexander and Jimmy Key combined for 31 victories, and Dennis Lamp posted an 11-0 record in relief. In the lightly regarded Western Division, meanwhile, the Royals became the only AL team of this brief era to repeat as divisional champs. In winning by a single game over the Angels, the Royals batted only .252, but powered 154 homers. Third baseman George Brett’s .335-30-112 led the hitters, and first baseman Steve Balboni drove in 88 runs and hit 36 homers. The pitching was good. Young Bret Saberhagen’s 206, 2.87 ERA won him the Cy Young Award, Charlie Leibrandt’s 17 wins came on the league’s second-best ERA, and reliever Dan Quisenberry saved 37 games. When the Blue Jays and Royals squared off in the newly extended seven-game LCS, the Blue Jays took a 31 lead, but the gritty Royals came on to win in seven games, beating the Blue Jays in their home roost the last two games. In the World Series, the resilient Royals staged yet another memorable comeback against the favored Cardinals. After losing the first two games at home, the Royals fell behind 31, but rallied to win the next three games. This latest World Series victory extended the AL’s winning streak to three.
In another topsy-turvy campaign, the 1986 Red Sox dethroned the Blue Jays in the East. The Red Sox took the lead in June and hung on to win the division pennant by 5 1/2 games over the Yankees. A .271 team batting assault was fronted by batting champ Wade Boggs (.357-8-71) and outfielder Jim Rice (.324-20-110). Boston’s overall pitching was mediocre, but starter Roger Clemens led all pitchers with a 244, 2.48 effort that won the big righthander both the MVP and Cy Young awards. While the Red Sox were winning in the East, the Royals faded in the West as arm miseries tolled on young Saberhagen. Thus the Angels won the division by 5 games over the Texas Rangers. Rookie first baseman Wally Joyner, who replaced the great Carew, batted .299-22-100 to head the Angels’ weak .255 batting. But Angel pitching ranked second in the AL, with Mike Witt winning 18 on a sparkling 2.84 ERA, Kirk McCaskill and veteran Don Sutton combining for 32 wins, and reliever Donnie Moore saving 21 games.
When the Angels took a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in LCS play, it now appeared as if manager Gene Mauch might win his first pennant in twenty-five years at the helm of major league teams. Indeed, in the fifth game Mauch’s Angels were one pitch away from a league title, but the Red Sox rallied to win the game on heroics by Dave Henderson. The Red Sox then took the next two games at home to land the 1986 AL pennant. In the World Series the Red Sox jumped to a 3-2 lead over the Mets and appeared on the verge of winning their first world title since 1918, but the Mets crushed the dream by winning the last two games at Shea Stadium.
As a climax to the eighty-six-year history of the AL, the 1987 season provided a storied campaign. In a frenetic season which saw AL sluggers set yet another homer mark and attendance climb to new heights, both divisional races were fiercely contested. In the East waged an epic struggle that ended in a 2-game victory by the Tigers. With seven games to play, the Blue Jays led by 3 1/2 games, but incredibly they lost all seven, including three vital games to the Tigers in Detroit. Hefty .272 batting and a major-league-leading 225 homer barrage powered the Tigers, whose shaky pitching staff was bolstered by the September acquisition of veteran Doyle Alexander from the Braves. By posting a 5-0 record with the Tigers, Alexander was named Pitcher of the Month by The Sporting News. Among the offensive standouts, shortstop Alan Trammell batted .343-28-105, young catcher Matt Nokes, who replaced the departed Parrish, batted .289-32-87, and forty-year-old first baseman Darrell Evans hit 34 homers and drove in 99 runs. With Anderson’s Tigers posting the best record in the majors, scant hope was afforded the Western-winning Minnesota Twins, who defeated the Royals by 2 games to win their first divisional title. Indeed, the Twins surrendered more runs (806) than they scored (786). But the Twins batted .261 and poled 196 homers; outfielder Kirby Puckett (.332-28-99) led the hitters, with outfielder Tom Brunansky and infielders Kent Hrbek and Gary Gaetti combining for 97 homers and 284 RBIs. On the other hand, Twins’ pitchers allowed a horrendous 4.63 ERA. But the staff’s most respectable member, Frank Viola, stood out as the winningest left-handed pitcher in the majors over the past four seasons. In 1986 Viola posted a 17-10, 2.90 ERA, and veteran Bert Blyleven recorded a 15-12 mark.
Matched against the Tigers in LCS play, the Twins were scorned as hometown dependents whose outstanding home record owed to the vagaries of their much-maligned domed stadium. But the Twins thrashed the Tigers in five games to win their first AL pennant in twenty-two years. Moreover, they went on to beat the crippled Cardinals in a seven-game World Series struggle by scoring all of their victories in their cozy “homer dome’ before capacity crowds of screaming, hankie-waving fans. Thus the 1987 World Series stood out as the first where all victories were won on home fields. And the Twins were indeed fortunate to have hosted four of the games in their favorite bailiwick.
In 1988 a timely rule change which redefined the strike zone helped to quell the raging homer epidemic. In an anticlimactic season that saw batting and power hitting tail off, the well-balanced Oakland Athletics dominated the AL West from the start. The A’s 104 victories topped the majors and lapped the runner-up Minnesota Twins by 13 games. League-leading pitching, paced by Dave Stewart’s 21 wins and reliever Dennis Eckersley’s 45 saves, carried the A’s, who were powered by young outfielder Jose Canseco’s .307-42-124 batting. Canseco also stole 40 bases to become the first player to notch at least 40 homers and as many stolen bases. Meanwhile the AL East saw the only hotly contested divisional race in the majors, as the Boston Red Sox edged the Detroit Tigers by a single game; only 3 1/2 games separated the Red Sox from the sixth place Yankees. Barely playing .500 ball at the All-Star break, the Red Sox changed managers–from John McNamara to Joe Morgan–and staged an extended winning streak that carried them to the top. Despite a late-season slump, they hung on to win. Leading the Boston attack, perennial batting champ Wade Boggs batted .366 to lead the majors and outfielder Mike Greenwell weighed in with a .325-22-119 performance. Ace pitchers Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst each won 18 games and newly acquired reliever Lee Smith saved 29; still, the Red Sox needed the timely pitching of Mike Boddicker, who joined the staff from the Orioles late in the season and won seven games for Boston. However, the Red Sox were mismatched against the A’s, who stormed to a sweeping victory in LCS play on the strength of Canseco’s three homers and Eckersley’s four saves in relief of the starters. In the World Series the A’s were held in check by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitchers, notably Orel Hershiser–whose three hits in Game 2 exceeded the Series total of Canseco and Mark McGwire combined.
But the resilient A’s came back with a vengeance in 1989. Newcomers included outfielder Rickey Henderson, re-acquired from the Yankees, and veteran pitcher Mike Moore, picked up in the re-entry draft. Moore signed for $1.9 million, which he repaid by winning 19 games with a nifty 2.61 ERA. Moore buttressed a pitching staff headed by Dave Stewart, whose 21 victories marked the third consecutive year he matched or topped 20 wins. Bob Welch added 17 victories and reliever Dennis Eckersley saved 33 games. Offensively, Henderson led the league in stolen bases (72) and tied for the lead in runs scored (113). Henderson’s production offset the loss of slugger Canseco, who missed 88 games because of an injury. Returning to action, Canseco hit 17 homers to augment the 33 hit by McGwire, who drove in 95 runs. Manager Tony LaRussa’s team batted .261 with 127 homers. Meanwhile in the AL East, Manager Frank Robinson took over the helm of the hapless Orioles, who won but 54 games in 1988, and drove them to within two games of the divisional championship. For this achievement Robinson was voted AL Manager of the Year, thus becoming the first black manager to win the award in both major leagues. But the AL East championship went to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were skippered by Cito Gaston. In 1989 Gaston took over a 12-24 team and drove them to a 2-game victory over the Orioles, thus becoming the first black manager to land a divisional title. Toronto’s pitching staff was the best in the East, but ranked only fourth in the AL. Dave Stieb’s 17-8 pitching led the hurlers, while six Blue Jay sluggers, led by AL homer champ Fred McGriff’s 36 blows, reached double figures in homer production. But when the Blue Jays faced the A’s in LCS play, the A’s crushed them in five games. And matched against the NL Giants in the earthquake-ravaged Bay Area World Series, the A’s swept to victory. For pitching two of the four victories, Stewart was named the Series MVP.
Embattled Decade Campaigns: NL, 1981-1990
Although less competitively balanced than the AL, the NL campaigns of this era were hotly contested. Each one of the twelve teams won a divisional title in these years. But the Dodgers won four Western titles and captured two league pennants and two world titles, and in the East the Cardinals won three divisional races and three league championships, yet won only one World Series. Dual divisional titles were won by the Mets, Giants, and Cubs, and singletons were won by the Expos, Padres, Phillies, Braves, Astros, Pirates, and Reds.
When the long players’ strike of 1981 gutted team playing schedules by an average of 55 games, the split-season format was unveiled upon resumption of play in August in hopes of salvaging the campaign. By dint of their 1.5-game lead over the Cardinals on the June 11 strike day, the Phillies were declared first-half winners in the East; and by virtue of a mere half-game lead over the Reds on that fatal date, the Dodgers became the first-half winners in the West. These were close calls to be sure, but no closer than the results of the second-half races. In the NL East, the Montreal Expos finished a half-game up on the luckless Cardinals, while the Houston Astros edged the snakebit Reds by 1.5 games in the West.
As frustrated runners-up in two close calls, the Cardinals and Reds with the best overall record in the NL received no recognition. However, the defiant Reds later raised their own homemade pennant as a symbol of protest. In the playoffs for the divisional titles, the Expos beat the Phillies in five games to win in the East, and the Dodgers rallied from a 2-1 deficit in games to beat the Astros in the West.
The division-winning Expos and Dodgers then met in the usual League Championship Series, which the Dodgers won. Once again rallying from a 2-1 deficit, manager Lasorda’s men edged the Expos. In winning the NL’s forlorn 1981 championship, the Dodgers batted .262, led the league in homers with 82, and fielded the league’s second-ranked pitching staff. Rookie pitcher Fernando Valenzuela won his first eight games and finished with a 13-7 mark to pace the staff, while outfielders Pedro Guerrero (.300-12-48) and Dusty Baker (.320-9-49) led the batting attack.
In World Series play, the Dodgers once again dug themselves a hole by losing the first two games. But once again they rebounded, this time sweeping their old Yankee tormentors to win the 1981 world title.
With the game’s image blighted by the “dishonest season” of 1981, the NL sorely needed a dramatic flourish to regain its credibility. Mercifully this was supplied by the extremely close divisional races of 1982. In the NL East a four-team struggle ended with the Cardinals topping the Phillies by 3 games. At bat the Cardinals hit .264, but with scant power (67 homers). Outfielder Lonnie Smith was the only regular to top the .300 mark, but first baseman Keith Hernandez batted .299 and drove in 94 runs, and outfielder George Hendrick powered the team with his .282-19-104 hitting. By way of compensation, the Cardinals led the league in fielding and stolen bases, and owned the league’s second-best mound corps. Starters Joaquin Andujar and Bob Forsch each won 15 games, and ace reliever Bruce Sutter won 9 and saved a league-leading 36 games.
In the West, meanwhile, the Braves won their first 13 games and hung on for dear life thereafter to edge the Dodgers by a game. Offensively, the Braves batted only .256, but led the league in homers with 146. Outfielder Dale Murphy’s 36 homers generated a league-leading 109 RBI, and third baseman Bob Horner hit 32 homers and drove in 97 runs. Veteran knuckleball hurler Phil Niekro’s 17-4 effort headed the pitching staff, which needed every one of reliever Gene Garber’s 30 saves. In LCS play the Braves’ mediocre pitching tolled as the Cardinals swept to victory. In ensuing World Series play, the Cardinals fell behind the heavy-hitting Brewers 3-2, but rallied to win the final two games at home. This latest World Series victory was the fourth straight for NL contenders.
When the Cardinals succumbed to poor pitching in 1983, the Phillies snatched the Eastern title by 6 games over the Pirates. The Phillies did it with a brilliant stretch drive, winning twenty-one of their last twenty-five games. Offensively, the aging Phillies batted only .249, but third baseman Mike Schmidt’s 40 homers led the league, and his 109 RBI led the team. A sound pitching staff, fronted by John Denny’s Cy Young Award-winning 19-6 effort and reliever Al Holland’s 25 saves was a decisive factor in the victory.
Meanwhile, in the West the Dodgers also mounted a September stretch drive to topple the Braves by 3 games. Like the Phillies, the Dodgers’ .250 hitting was lackluster, but the team led the league in homers (146); outfielder Guerrero’s 32 homers and 103 RBI headed the assault. A major factor was the team’s pitching staff, whose 3.10 ERA was the league’s best. Valenzuela and Bob Welch combined for 30 victories, and reliever Steve Howe saved 18. In LCS play, veteran hurler Steve Carlton’s two victories paced the Phillies to victory in four games. However, the Philadelphia “Wheeze Kids” fell to the Orioles in five games in the 1983 World Series.
As the Phillies sank to fourth place in 1984, the long-suffering Chicago Cubs notched their first pennant of any sort since 1945. In downing the Mets by 6.5 games in the East, the Cubs staged a second-half rally, fronted by ex-Phillie infielder Ryne Sandberg’s MVP-winning .314 batting. Dodger castoff Ron Cey contributed 25 homers and 97 RBI, and young first baseman Leon “Bull” Durham weighed in with 23 homers and 96 RBI. And the pitching staff was bolstered by yet another recent acquisition, Rick Sutcliffe, whose 16-1 record won him the Cy Young Award. Starter Steve Trout chipped in with 13 victories, and reliever Lee Smith won 9 games and saved 33.
While the Cubs were winning in the East, another newcomer, the San Diego Padres, easily won the Western title by 12 games over the runner-up Braves. The Padres batted .259, with young outfielder Tony Gwynn leading the league with his .351 batting. The team’s modest total of 109 homers was augmented by third baseman Graig Nettles and outfielder Kevin McReynolds, each of whom poled 20. More distinguished was the pitching staff, whose 3.48 ERA ranked third in the league. Able starters Eric Show, Ed Whitson, and Mark Thurmond combined for 43 victories, and veteran reliever Goose Gossage won 10 and saved 25 games.
In LCS play the Cubs pounded out a pair of early victories at Wrigley Field, but the surprising Padres swept the next three games at home to become the first NL team ever to win an LCS after losing the first two games. Sad to say, however, the Padres’ world title hopes went aglimmering as the Tigers trounced them in five games in the 1984 World Series.
The following year the Cardinals won another NL pennant. In fending off the rising New York Mets by 3 games in the East, the Cardinals relied on league-leading batting and base stealing. Outfielder Willie McGee’s league-leading .353 batting won him the MVP Award, and outfielder Vince Coleman won Rookie of the Year honors by stealing 110 bases-a new record for a rookie. Among other stalwarts, second baseman Tom Herr batted .302; first baseman Jack Clark, recently acquired from the Giants, hit 22 homers and drove in 87 runs; and shortstop Ozzie Smith, who won the league’s Gold Glove Award for a sixth straight year, batted .276. What’s more, Cardinal pitching ranked second in the league, with ex-Pirate John Tudor leading the hurlers with a 21-8, 1.93 ERA performance. Starters Andujar (21 wins) and Danny Cox (18 wins) lent sturdy support, as did relievers Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley. The pair’s 30 saves compensated for the loss of free agent Sutter.
As the Cardinals were winning in the East, the Dodgers went on to win the Western title by 5.5 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Dodgers’ .261 hitting was led by outfielder Guerrero’s .320-33-87 hitting. Better still, the Dodger pitching corps led the majors with a 2.96 ERA. The starting quartet of Orel Hershiser, Bob Welch, Jerry Reuss, and Fernando Valenzuela produced 64 wins, and the bullpen saved 31 games.
In LCS play, the well-armed Dodgers took the first two games of the newly established seven-game format, but the Cardinals swept the next four to win the NL pennant. Pitted against the underdog Royals in the 1985 World Series, the Cardinals won three of the first four games, including the first two in the Royals’ home lair. But the Royals won the fifth game at St. Louis and the final two games back home. The sixth game was marred by a disputed call at first base that gave the Royals a life of which they took full advantage. The Royals then won the final game in an 11-0 laugher, and their victory extended the recent AL World Series winning streak to three years.
The following year the New York Mets ended the AL’s victory flurry with a dramatic win. In dominating the NL East, the 1986 Mets won 108 games to lap the runner-up Phillies by 21.5 games. Offensively, the versatile Mets led the league in hitting (.263), poled 148 homers, and stole 118 bases. First baseman Keith Hernandez (.310-13-83) headed the charge, with outfielder Darryl Strawberry and catcher Gary Carter powering a combined 51 homers and 198 RBI. As icing on their victory cake, the Mets fielded the best pitching staff in the majors. Starters Bob Ojeda (18-5), Dwight Gooden (17-6), Sid Fernandez (16-6) and Ron Darling (15-6) were formidable, as was the bullpen duo of Roger McDowell (14 wins, 22 saves) and Jesse Orosco (8 wins, 21 saves).
While the Mets were compiling the best record in the majors, the Houston Astros were winning the Western Division by 10 games over the Reds. Offensively, the Astros batted .255 with 125 homers. Outfielder Kevin Bass batted .311-20-79 to head the hitters, while first baseman Glenn Davis powered 31 homers and drove in 101 runs. Backing the Hitters was the league’s second-best pitching staff, fronted by Mike Scott’s 18-10 hurling, which was accompanied by a league-leading 2.22 ERA.
While the outcome of the LCS appeared to be a foregone conclusion, the Astros hung tough before losing in six games to the Mets. The Red Sox also fell to the Mets in World Series play, but not before throwing a scare into manager Davey Johnson’s crew. Indeed, the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead in games before the Mets rallied to win the final two games at Shea Stadium.
The following year most observers picked the swaggering Mets to repeat, but the resilient Cardinals took the 1987 Eastern title by 3 games. Although outhit by the league-leading Met batters, the Cardinals mustered .263 hitting, which they backed by stout relief pitching to pull off their victory. Offensively, the Cardinals’ 94 homers were the fewest by any major league team this season, but first baseman Jack Clark bashed 35 and drove in 106 runs. Third baseman Terry Pendleton drove in 96 runs, while shortstop Ozzie Smith drove home 75 runs with nary a homer to his credit. But the Cardinals atoned with a sprightly running game led by outfielder Vince Coleman, who topped 100 seasonal steals for the third straight season. Likewise the shaky pitching staff that completed only ten games was backed by a redoubtable relief crew whose ace, Todd Worrell, saved 33 games.
Meanwhile in the NL West, the Giants won over the bridesmaid Reds by 6 games. The Giant victory was a dramatic turnabout for a team that in 1985 had finished last in their division with 100 losses. A fine balance of hitting and pitching made the difference in 1987. At the plate the Giants batted .260 with 205 homers and were led by first baseman Will Clark’s .308-35-91 pyrotechnics. Moreover, the pitching staff boasted the league’s best ERA, even if the Giant starters completed only 28 games. What mattered was that relievers Scott Garrelts and Jeff Robinson combined for 22 wins and 31 saves.
When the Giants met the Cardinals in LCS play, injuries to Jack Clark and Pendleton cast the Cardinals as underdogs. But the Cardinals won their third NL title of the era by overcoming a 3-2 deficit in games with a pair of home-field victories. In World Series play, it was the crippled Cardinals who were favored over the unheralded Twins, but the American Leaguers won four games, all of them in their cozy domed stadium, to edge the Cardinals in seven games.
The pitching rule modification that stemmed the homer tide in 1988 wreaked havoc with NL batters in 1988 as only five regulars attained the .300 mark. Although no New York Met batter joined this circle, Darryl Strawberry boomed a league-leading 39 homers and drove in 101 runs and outfield mate Kevin McReynolds produced a .288-27-99; they powered the Mets to 100 victories and an easy 15-game victory over the Pirates in the NL East. With a 2.91 ERA, the Mets also boasted the best pitching staff in the majors. David Cone led the starters at 20-3 and Dwight Gooden and Ron Darling combined for 35 wins. Relievers Randy Myers and Roger McDowell saved 42 games.
In the West, meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the lead in July and hung on to win by 7 games over the Cincinnati Reds who along the way got a rare perfect-game pitching performance from Tom Browning. But the Dodgers held claim to the best individual pitching performance of the year when their ace, Orel Hershiser, finished the regular season with a new record of 59 scoreless innings. In addition to a 23-8 record Hershiser led all NL pitchers in innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts. Offensively the modest Dodger attack was powered by newly acquired free agent Kirk Gibson (.290-25-76) and veteran outfielder Mike Marshall (.277-20-82).
The lightly regarded Dodgers were afforded little chance against the Mets in LCS play. But the Dodgers prevailed in seven games with Hershiser starting three games and relieving in another. And then they upset the Oakland Athletics in the World Series, despite crippling injuries to Gibson, pitcher John Tudor, and catcher Mike Scioscia.
But there was no encore to such heroics, and the 1989 Dodgers fell to fourth place in the NL West. An impotent .240 batting average that included only 89 homers sabotaged the pitching staffs major league-leading 2.95 ERA. Hershiser again led the league in innings pitched and finished second in ERA, but was held to a 15-15 performance. And the workload took its toll on the Dodger ace, who was sidelined by a crippling shoulder injury at the outset of the 1990 season.
As the struggling Dodgers fell from grace, the Giants and the Padres battled for the 1989 Western title. The talent-laden Reds straggled in fifth, as the investigation of their manager, Pete Rose, culminated in his expulsion from the game. San Diego’s reliever Mark Davis saved a league-leading 44 games for the Padres. Offensively, Tony Gwynn’s league-leading .336 batting and 203 hits and Jack Clark’s 26 homers, 94 RBI, and a major-league-leading 132 walks fronted a Padre attack that fell three games short of their goal. The victory went to manager Roger Craig’s Giants, whose pitching staff, headed by Scott Garrelts’ league-leading 14-5 winning percentage and 2.28 ERA, ranked third in the league. At bat, out-fielder-third baseman Kevin Mitchell won MVP honors by blasting a matchless 47 homers and 125 RBI. First baseman Will Clark weighed in with a .333 batting mark and scored 104 runs to lead the league. That the Giants’ .250 team batting average ranked fourth in the league underscored the NL’s impotent batting, which averaged .246 and produced only five .300-plus batters.
While the Giants eked out a narrow victory in the West, manager Don Zimmer’s Chicago Cubs coasted to a six-game victory over the much-touted, but underachieving Mets in the East. A league-leading .261 batting attack, paced by first baseman Mark Grace’s .314 hitting and second baseman Ryne Sandberg’s .290 batting, compensated for the pitching staff’s sixth-place ranking in the league.
In LCS play the Giants downed the Chicagoans in five games, but then were victimized by the Oakland A’s, who swept to victory in the World Series of 1989.
If the status quo was the rule in the AL in 1990, it was otherwise in the NL as the teams resumed play after the lockout-delayed start of the season. When the smoke of battle lifted, the reigning divisional winners of 1989 were dethroned by a pair of fifth-place finishers of the previous year. In gaining the heights in the NL East, the Pittsburgh Pirates won by 4 games over the underachieving New York Mets. Outfielder Barry Bonds batted .301-33-114 and stole 52 bases, and first baseman Bobby Bonilla added 32 homers and 120 RBI to propel the Pirates. A 22-game winner, Doug Drabek, led the staff, which received a 6-2 boost from Zane Smith, acquired from the Montreal Expos in August.
In the NL West the Cincinnati Reds won four fewer games than did the Pirates, but the team’s 91-70 log topped the Los Angeles Dodgers by 5 games. In winning the Western title, the Reds took over on day one and after winning their first seven games, they clung to the top all the way to become the first NL team to accomplish this feat since the inauguration of the 162-game schedule in 1962.
Starters Jose Rijo and Tom Browning combined for 29 wins, but the Reds’ bullpen crew, the self-styled “nasty boys” Ron Dibble and Randy Myers, saved 42 games. Among the hitters, rookie Hal Morris played in 107 games and batted .340 and regulars Barry Larkin and Mariano Duncan batted .300. Chris Sabo and Eric Davis combined for 49 homers. Manager Lou Piniella, one of many Steinbrenner managerial castoffs, replaced Pete Rose, who watched the Reds’ fall exploits from his prison vantage point.
When the Pirates and Reds clashed in LCS play, the Pirates won the opener but fell to the Reds in six games. Given little chance against the Oakland A’s, the NL champion Reds opened the World Series by shutting out their rivals 7-0 behind Jose Rijo. Then with Rijo adding another victory and Hatcher smacking 9 hits in 12 at bats for a new World Series batting mark, the Reds swept the A’s! This unexpected victory, reminiscent of the 1914 sweep of the Philadelphia A’s by the lowly Boston Braves, brightened a season that appeared to be ill-starred at its outset by the bitter labor struggle.
This is the eleventh installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at: http://goo.gl/E4adJX.
Embattled Decade Campaigns: 1981-1990
The conservative mood that gripped the nation in the late 1970s also held sway during these years and helped to catapult Ronald Reagan to landslide victories in the presidential elections of 1980 and 1984. Indeed, ex-movie actor Reagan was no stranger to baseball fans, many of whom saw him play the role of ex-pitching great Grover Cleveland Alexander on the silver screen. And now, as an avowed conservative, President Reagan sought to divert the nation’s economy toward a free-enterprise course by such tactics as cutting federal taxes and reducing federal domestic spending programs. At the same time Reagan advocated a powerful national defense posture aimed at combating the spread of international communism.
But Reagan’s first term was darkened by an economic recession which contributed to high unemployment. Especially hard hit by unemployment were minorities and blue-collar workers in declining industries. Among the declining industries were such former bellwether industries as steel and mining, whose sagging production was attributed to foreign competition. However, the American economy in the main continued to shift from its former heavy-industrial base to its present emphasis on high technology and information and services production.
Nevertheless, before Reagan’s first term ended, such factors as federal tax cuts and falling inflation and interest rates spurred an economic recovery which continued into 1987. The boomlet reduced unemployment, but for most workers wage increases were small, and some 20 million Americans still remained at or near the poverty level in 1987. Indeed, some critics faulted Reagan’s economic policies for favoring the well-to-do, whose ranks by 1987 included a million millionaires and a score of billionaires among a population of 240 million.
But prospects for continuing affluence dimmed as the year 1987 closed amidst fears of an impending recession. In October the nation’s burgeoning national debt (estimated at $2.6 trillion) and a chronic foreign-trade imbalance triggered financial panics in domestic and foreign stock markets. Aggravated by the festering Iran-Contra scandal and the naval confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf, the economic crisis boded ill for the Reagan Administration and for the nation’s future.
Moreover, other menacing problems clouded the nation’s future. Among them was the epidemic of drug abuse which defied efforts at punitive control. According to a 1985 estimate, the multibillion-dollar illegal drug industry was being supported by 20 million American consumers. Included were scores of professional athletes who confronted their officials with the knotty problem of disciplining abusers without violating their civil rights.
And yet for all the sobering national problems, most Americans of these years enjoyed moderately prosperous lifestyles. For this accomplishment, the two-paycheck family trend was largely responsible. By 1987 working women, whose ranks included most wives, accounted for more than half of the American labor force.
Buoyed by the additional income, most Americans continued to spend lavishly on leisure and recreational activities. According to one report, Americans in 1987 were spending well over $50 billion a year on gambling, sports betting, and physical activities alone. And among the host of available leisure activities, television viewing, especially televised sports programs, maintained a leading position.
Certainly America’s continuing infatuation with major sports was a blessing for baseball as revenues from live attendance and television continued to grow at a record-setting pace. At the same time, however, spiraling player salaries pitted players against owners in a series of pitched battles on the labor front.
Indeed, embattled relations between players and owners was a leitmotif of this era. In 1981 the failure of owners and players to agree on a new labor contract triggered a crippling baseball strike-the worst in the history of major league baseball since the 1890 debacle. A major bone of contention was the owners’ demand that a club receive a veteran player as compensation for losing a player in one of the annual re-entry drafts. When the deadline for an agreement expired with no compromise, the players struck on June 11, 1981. Once the strike began, it lasted some fifty days and wiped out a third of the season’s playing schedule. The strike cost the united players at least $30 million in lost salaries, and the owners lost an estimated $116 million in revenues. However, the owners were partly compensated by $50 million in strike insurance. On the last day of July, a compromise ended the great player strike.
The owners won their point on the player compensation issue, but they had to settle for an indirect approach. Thus when a team lost a player in a re-entry draft, the team got to choose a veteran player from a pool of surplus players provided by all major league teams. For their part, the players also successfully fended off the owners’ demand for a ceiling on salaries. Agreement on these and lesser issues produced a fifth Basic Agreement, which ran through the season of 1984. The eleventh-hour agreement saved what was left of the 1981 season, but the salvage format devised by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn drew much criticism. Kuhn’s plan called for a split-season campaign, a format which had been tried and discarded as unsatisfactory in 1892.
Under Kuhn’s scheme, the first-half winners were those teams which led their divisions at the time of the June 11 player walkout. The second-half winners would be the teams that led the divisions at the close of the campaign after the resumption of play in August. By ruling first-half winners ineligible to repeat as champions, Kuhn’s plan of scheduling a round of playoffs to decide the divisional championships in each league was assured. Thus a separate best-of-five playoff series was scheduled to settle first the matter of the 1981 divisional championships. Thereafter, the winners engaged in the usual best-of-five game series to determine the champions of each league. Although the format worked as planned, it was faulted for producing lackadaisical play on the part of three of the four first-half winners and for reducing attendance in the second half of what writer Red Smith called “the dishonest season.
Nor did the great strike of 1981 end the tensions between the embattled players and owners. When the fifth Basic Agreement expired at the end of 1984 with no agreement in place, a new strike threat loomed in 1985. With salaries continuing their upward spiral, averaging $363,000 in 1984 with 36 players paid at least a million dollars that year, the owners determined to arrest the trend.
Correctly zeroing in on salary arbitration as the cause of runaway salaries, the owners demanded that a player wait more than the current two-year period before becoming eligible for salary arbitration. In addition, the owners renewed their demand for a ceiling on salaries. Naturally the players resisted, and when no agreement was reached, the players struck on August 6, 1985. But this time the walkout lasted only two days; obviously neither side wanted a repeat of the 1981 ordeal. Following the resumption of negotiations, a sixth Basic Agreement was promulgated. The new contract compromised on the major issues. For their part, the owners failed to get a salary ceiling, but the players agreed to wait three years instead of two to become eligible for salary arbitration.
The players won increased pension benefits, which now would pay a retired veteran with ten years of major league service an annual pension of $91,000! And the owners also won their demand to increase the popular League Championship Series playoffs to a best-of-seven-games format beginning with the 1985 season.
Still, the new four-year Basic Agreement failed to end the hostilities between players and owners. As salaries continued to soar, the owners unilaterally cut team player rosters to twenty-four men and proceeded to boycott the re-entry drafts of 1985-1987. Despite the presence of veteran stars on the auction blocks in those years, there were no bidders. In retaliation, the Players Association charged collusion and filed separate grievances for each of the two boycotted drafts. In September 1987 arbiter Thomas Roberts ruled in favor of the players in the first of those suits, that of 1985. Shortly thereafter, arbiter George Nicolau ruled against the owners in the 1986 and 1987 cases of alleged grievances. The rulings awarded damages of $280 million to the players involved. As a result the chastened owners engaged in open bidding in the re-entry markets of 1988 and 1989. But the Players Association insisted on further collusion protection, which became part of the seventh Basic Agreement that was negotiated after the 1990 lockout. A proviso in that agreement imposed triple damages for any repetition of owner collusion in the signing of free agents.
Still, whatever the outcome of this impending struggle, the players of this era were obvious winners on the salary front. In 1982, the year after the great strike, salaries averaged $250,000. Two years later the average salary climbed to $330,000, almost the same as that of the highest-paid manager, Tom Lasorda of the Dodgers. Then in 1986 the average salary peaked at $412,000 before falling slightly to $410,000 in 1987.
The decrease was due in part to teams releasing veteran players and calling up minor leaguers, some of whom could be paid the minimum salary of $62,500. But the decrease was a minor one as annual payrolls for major league clubs in 1987 topped $295 million. Of course, payrolls varied from team to team; in 1987 the Yankee payroll of $18.5 million topped all others, while the $5.6 million payroll of the Seattle Mariners was the lowest of the twenty- six teams.
Average figures also failed to tell the full story of player gains of this era. Boosting average salary figures were the growing number of million-dollar-a-year players. In 1984 there were twenty; in 1985, thirty-six; in 1986, fifty-eight; and in 1987, fifty-seven.
Among these plutocrats were a number of $2-million-a-year men, including slugger Mike Schmidt of the Phillies. In signing a two-year contract late in 1987, Schmidt successfully bucked the rumored attempt by owners to hold salaries at $2 million. In Schmidt’s words, “I wanted the salary to read $2.25 million probably more for negotiating reasons for my fellow players. . . . I want my fellow players to know that’s what top dollar is now.’ Small wonder then that salaries of baseball players now exceeded those of any rival team sports in America.
In defense of these astronomical player salaries, one could cite major league baseball’s continuing prosperity. In this era, annual attendance at major league games repeatedly set new records. After the jarring strike of 1981 limited attendance to 22 million, attendance rebounded to a record 45 million the following year. And despite the national recession, that record fell in 1983. And, after falling by a mere 800,000 in 1984, attendance continued upward. In 1986 annual attendance totaled 47,500,000 and in 1987 it topped 52 million. As in every year since its mini- expansion in 1977, the AL led in attendance, and in 1987 the AL outdrew the NL by 2.5 million.
But as always, attendance was unevenly distributed among the clubs. Until 1987 only the Dodgers had topped the 3 million mark in annual attendance, which they did on several occasions, but that year the NL Mets and Cardinals also cracked that barrier. Meanwhile, no AL team had broken the 3 million attendance barrier, but in 1987 the Toronto Blue Jays neared the mark, and in 1988 the Twins surpassed it. Moreover, the attendance picture was brightening for teams located in older cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, where demographic reports showed a reversal of population losses.
However, revenues from soaring attendance alone could not have supported the astonishing salaries of this era. What made the difference was television revenue, which some critics blamed for stimulating the trend by casting ballplayers in the company of highly paid TV celebrities. Be that as it may, in 1983 major league officials negotiated a $1.1 billion, six-year network television contract. When the contract took effect in 1984, revenues from network and local TV sources exceeded those of ticket sales. Although revenues from local TV contracts tended to favor teams that were located in the more lucrative local TV markets, the network TV contract in its final year of 1989 promised a hefty $230 million for all clubs to divide.
Nevertheless, it was too soon to write finis to the old adage that “at the gate is baseball’s fate.’ In 1985 a reported decline in network TV advertising sales raised the specter that the overexposure of televised sports programs would reverse the trend. Should ratings of televised sports programs decline further, the amount of revenue from network TV would be further reduced.
At this time critics blamed drug abuse by players for lessening the popularity of major sports. But surprisingly baseball’s popularity was little affected by revelations of drug abuse by players of this era. In 1980 director Ken Moffett of the Players Association admitted that as many as 40 percent of major league players might be drug abusers. In 1983 the problem reached serious proportions when three Kansas City Royals players were sentenced to jail terms as convicted users. That same year a Dodger pitcher was suspended, and in 1985 a San Diego Padres player was traded for similar offenses. And in 1985 baseball’s public image was further tarnished by revelations coming from two Pittsburgh court trials of drug sellers. The testimony named seventeen players as drug users. Although these revelations had no discernible impact on the game’s popularity, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth chose to treat the matter as a major scandal.
But the commissioner’s attempt to force all players to submit to periodic drug tests ran afoul of the Players Association, which insisted that the issue be addressed through collective- bargaining procedures. Still, Ueberroth suspended the accused players and, as a condition for reinstatement, forced each player to donate up to 10 percent of his salary to charities and to engage in antidrug campaigns.
After ruling on this matter, Ueberroth announced at the opening of the 1986 season that the drug problem in baseball was solved. But this face-saving claim ignored the reality of the national epidemic of drug abuse and was mocked by the failure of President Reagan’s vaunted 1986 antidrug crusade. Indeed, it is most unlikely that the game has been purged of drug abuse, and the problem of devising a punitive policy continued to be an unresolved issue facing the game as it entered the decade of the 1990s.
That major league baseball’s popularity was so little troubled by drug scandals, strikes, soaring salaries, or even the economic recession owed much to the dazzling style of play. Indeed, fans of this era witnessed the apotheosis of the big-bang offensives. In the AL, where sluggers consistently outhomered NL swingers by wide margins, homer records fell like sheaves. Over this seven-year span AL sluggers averaged 2,000 homers a year, with record- breaking seasons succeeding each other over the years 1985-1987. In 1985 AL sluggers bashed 2,178; in 1986, 2,240; and in 1987, a gargantuan 2,634 homers were struck. What’s more, NL sluggers in 1987 weighed in with 1,824 homers to break their league’s 1970 record.
Major league baseball’s 1987 cannonade saw twenty-eight players hit 30 or more homers, including twenty American leaguers. Rookie Mark McGwire of the Oakland Athletics led the AL with 49–an all-time seasonal mark by a yearling, the feat won McGwire a unanimous vote for Rookie of the Year honors. Meanwhile, Andre Dawson of the Cubs matched McGwire’s output and won the NL MVP Award despite his team’s last-place finish in the NL East. Among the most consistent sluggers of this era, Mike Schmidt of the Phillies led NL sluggers four times, while Dale Murphy of the Braves twice topped the league. By the end of the 1988 season, Schmidt’s total of 542 homers ranked him with the all-time leading clouters and following his retirement early in the 1989 season, Schmidt was named Player of the Decade by The Sporting News. And at the end of the 1987 season, Reggie Jackson retired from the AL wars with a lifetime total of 563 homers. Jackson’s passing from the game left a lonesome gap in AL power circles which young Goliaths like McGwire, Pete Incaviglia, Jose Canseco, George Bell, and Jesse Barfield seemed destined to fill.
But if this era’s homer production was unprecedented, seasonal batting achievements were ordinary. Thanks to its designated hitter rule, AL batters annually surpassed NL hitters, with seasonal AL averages topping .260 while those of the NL hovered around the .255 mark. In the NL, black stars continued their batting leadership. Black stars won all of the NL batting titles of this era, with veteran Bill Madlock of the Pirates capturing a pair and young Tony Gwynn of the Padres winning three. It was otherwise in the AL, where a single dominating hitter, third baseman Wade Boggs of the Red Sox, captured four batting titles. An ideal leadoff hitter, the lefty-swinging Boggs batted .349 as a rookie in 1982. Over the next five seasons Boggs averaged a Cobbian .368. Moreover, in 1987 Boggs belted 24 homers to triple his best seasonal homer output thus far. In 1989, he became the first AL player to post seven consecutive 200-hit seasons.
Among the memorable batting feats of this era, Pete Rose gained immortality on September 4, 1985, when the Cincinnati player- manager’s single off pitcher Eric Show of the Padres broke Cobb’s lifetime record of 4,191 hits. To be sure, Rose needed 2,300 more at bats than Cobb did to turn the trick, but the forty-four- year-old sparkplug put his feat into proper perspective when he said, “I might not be the best player, but I got the most hits.’ Indeed, and when Rose retired from active play at the end of the 1986 season, he had extended the total hit record to 4,256. While nothing touched Rose’s accomplishment, the explosive 1987 season saw Don Mattingly of the Yankees match Dale Long’s feat of homering in eight consecutive games, while Paul Molitor of the Brewers hit safely in 39 consecutive games, and rookie catcher Benito Santiago of the Padres hit safely in 34. Santiago’s feat won for him NL Rookie of the Year honors.
In the offensive category of stolen bases, NL speedsters perennially topped their AL counterparts. At this time the newly crowned prince of thieves was outfielder Vince Coleman of the Cardinals. In 1985 Coleman set a rookie record with 110 steals, and at the end of the 1987 season he became the first player ever to swipe 100 or more bases in three consecutive seasons. However, Coleman had yet to top the latest seasonal record of 130 thefts, set by outfielder Rickey Henderson of the Oakland Athletics in 1982.
Indeed, in 1990 Henderson broke Ty Cobb’s AL record for the most steals, zipped by the mark of Sliding Billy Hamilton, and zeroed in on Lou Brock’s major league record.
Not surprisingly the offensive pyrotechnics of these years had pundits wondering whatever had happened to pitching. Indeed, seasonal ERAs skyrocketed in both leagues, with the AL average well above 4.00 and that of the NL above 3.70. Of course this meant that the always volatile pitching-batting equilibrium was again out of whack. For the latest imbalance, observers proffered such explanations as livelier balls, narrowed strike zones, pitchers’ fears of retaliation if they threw inside to batters, pitchers relying too much on breaking pitches, and managers relying more on their bullpen and demanding too little of their starters. Indeed, the numbers of complete games pitched by starting pitchers declined as managers relied more on specialized relief pitchers. Among the bullpen specialists, the most celebrated continued to be the firemen who were counted to come on late in a game to save a victory. Among the best were Dan Quisenberry, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Todd Worrell, Dave Righetti, Gene Garber (who notched his 200th career save in 1987), and Lee Smith, who set a record by recording 30 or more saves in three consecutive seasons.
Still, it seemed evident that more than yeomanlike relief work was needed to restore pitching to a proper balance with hitting. For now, managers complained of poorly trained pitchers, while pitchers blamed prevailing rules for favoring batters. Nor was it surprising that some pitchers were smuggling in illegal scuffed-ball and spitball deliveries.
However, good pitchers were by no means extinct. In this era Nolan Ryan hurled a record-setting fifth no-hitter in 1981. And at the end of the 1988 season, the forty-one-year-old fireballer, who had lost little of his earlier velocity, extended his all-time leading strikeout total to 4,775 whiffs. Indeed, in 1987 Ryan’s 270 strikeouts led the NL, and his 2.76 ERA hardly justified his 816 won-loss record. In 1989, the forty-two-year-old Ryan fanned 301 batters and topped the 5000 mark in In strikeouts. 1990 the venerable fireballer hurled a sixth no-hitter to break his earlier record of five, and in 1991 he hurled his seventh.
Among the promising younger pitchers, Dwight Gooden of the Mets blazed his way to a 244, 1.53 ERA, with 268 strikeouts in 1985. And the following year Roger Clemens of the Red Sox also went 244 to become the first starting pitcher in fifteen years to win the AL MVP Award. Naturally Clemens also won the Cy Young Award that year, and when the ace went 209 in 1987, despite early-season ineffectiveness caused by his salary holdout, Clemens won a second Cy Young Award. By winning two straight, Clemens joined the select company of Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain, and Jim Palmer as the only pitchers to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards. And in 1988 Orel Hershiser’s performance from August through October was unprecedented.
The concluding Part 12 tomorrow.
This is the tenth installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at: http://goo.gl/E4adJX.
Campaigns of the ’70s: AL, 1969-1980
Upstaged by the NL in the first two expansion moves, the AL was forced to take drastic measures to gain parity with the NL in attendance and offensive performances. To this end such measures as new park construction and franchise shifts contributed, but most decisive were two bold unilateral moves whereby the AL adopted the designated hitter rule in 1973 and undertook its mini-expansion in 1977. By these strokes the AL ensured its perennial domination, both at bat and at the turnstiles.
But if AL leaders expected the new divisional format of the 1969 expansion move to produce competitive balance, they were disillusioned.
Indeed, throughout this era pennant monopoly was the rule in both AL divisions. Over the twelve campaigns of 1969-1980, the Orioles and Yankees dominated the Eastern Division, while the Athletics and Royals ruled the West. By winning six Eastern Division races and finishing second four times, the Orioles now reigned as the winningest team in the majors. For their part, the reviving Yankees won four Eastern races, which left but two for outsiders to divide. In the AL West, it was much the same story. There the Oakland Athletics won five races, the Kansas City Royals won four, and the Minnesota Twins won two, leaving only one for an outsider to claim.
In the first expansion season of 1969, the Baltimore Orioles asserted their balanced power, which made them the most victorious major league team of this era. Under sophomore manager Earl Weaver, the Orioles stormed the Eastern Division, their 109 victories lapping the runner-up Tigers by 19 games. It was the first of three consecutive Eastern titles for the Birds, with top-ranked pitching the key to each success.
In 1969 the Oriole staff was the league’s best, with Mike Cuellar (23-11) and Dave McNally (20-7) setting the pace. At bat the Orioles were powered by first baseman Boog Powell (.304-37-121) and outfielder Frank Robinson (.308-32-100). In the West, meanwhile, the Twins were winning the first of two consecutive titles. Victors by 9 games over the Athletics that year, the Twins led the league in batting and relief pitching. Offensive standouts included Rod Carew, whose .332 hitting topped the league, and Harmon Killebrew, whose league-leading 49 homers and 140 RBI won the veteran slugger the MVP Award. But when the divisional titlists squared off in the first American League Championship Series, the Orioles brushed the Twins aside in three games. The sweep gave the Orioles a fourteen-game winning streak to take to the World Series. But after winning the opening game against the New York Mets, the Orioles surprisingly lost the next four.
In 1970 the crestfallen Orioles came back nearly as strong and downed the Yankees by 15 games to repeat as Eastern champs. Once again manager Earl Weaver’s pitching corps was the league’s best. Starters Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally each won 24 and Jim Palmer won 20. At the plate the Orioles batted .257, with outfielder Merv Rettenmund’s .322 leading the team batting, and Powell (35-114) and Frank Robinson (25-78) supplying the power. In the West, the Twins also repeated, again topping the Athletics by 9 games and again leading the league in hitting and relief pitching. This time the team batted .262, but Killebrew (41-113) again powered the club. An injury to Carew limited his play, but even so the infielder batted .366.
Taking up the slack this year were outfielders Tony Oliva (.325-23-107) and Cesar Tovar, who hit .300. However, when the Twins met the Orioles in LCS play, they were again swept. And this time the Orioles went on to score an avenging victory in World Series play. In crushing the Reds in five games, the Orioles blasted fifty hits; the star Oriole performer was future Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, who batted .429 and dazzled the Reds with his brilliant fielding at third base.
It was a glorious victory for the Orioles, but astonishingly this well-armed team would not win another world title in this era. In 1971 the Orioles captured a third straight Eastern title by thrashing the Tigers by 12 games. It was a vintage season for Baltimore, which could boast league-leading hitting and pitching, including a quartet of 20-game winning pitchers in Cuellar, McNally, Palmer, and Pat Dobson.
Offensively, outfielder Rettenmund (.318) fronted the team’s .261 batting attack, and Powell, Frank Robinson, and Brooks Robinson powered the assault with a combined 70 homers and 283 RBI. In the West, the fading Twins now yielded to the surging Oakland Athletics, who notched the first of five consecutive Western titles in 1971. In matching the Orioles’ victory total of 101 games, the Athletics crushed the expansion Kansas City Royals by 16 games. For the A’s, rookie pitcher Vida Blue won 24 games with a league-leading 1.82 ERA, and Jim “Catfish” Hunter won 21. Hunter’s nickname was hung on the hurler by the team’s flamboyant owner, Charley Finley, who also tried unsuccessfully to get Blue to change his first name to “True.” Offensively, the A’s lacked a .300 hitter, but third baseman Sal Bando (24-94) and outfielder Reggie Jackson (32-80) provided power aplenty. But when the Athletics met the Orioles in LCS play, they were swept by the Orioles. It was the third consecutive LCS sweep by the Orioles. However, the Orioles lost a seven-game World Series struggle to the Pittsburgh Pirates, led by MVP Roberto Clemente.
In the wake of that loss, the Orioles fell from the top, and the balance of power now shifted to the West, where the volatile Athletics won the first of three consecutive AL championships. In the strike-shortened season of 1972, the A’s won the Western title by 5.5 games over the Chicago White Sox. Left fielder Joe Rudi batted .305, and first baseman Mike Epstein and outfielder Reggie Jackson combined for 51 homers as the A’s rolled up 93 wins to head the AL. Moreover, the pitching staff was the league’s best; Hunter and Ken Holtzman combined for 40 victories, and reliever Rollie Fingers won 11 and saved 21 games. In the East the strike-shortened schedule enabled the Tigers to eke a half-game victory over the runner-up Red Sox by dint of playing and winning one more game than the Bostonians. Manager Billy Martin’s Tigers batted a mere .237, with no .300 hitter among the regulars, but lefty Mickey Lolich’s 22 wins fronted the league’s second-best pitching corps. In LCS play the weak-hitting Tigers held out for five games before succumbing to the A’s, who went on to defeat the Reds in a seven-game World Series struggle. With slugger Jackson sidelined by an injury, unheralded catcher Gene Tenace took up the offensive slack. Tenace batted .348 and won three World Series games with timely hits.
Over the next two seasons, the Athletics continued their winning ways, twice downing the Orioles in LCS play and twice defeating NL contenders in World Series action. In 1973 the garishly clad A’s defeated the Royals by 6 games in the West. Jackson’s league-leading 32 homers and 117 RBI powered the team, which also got superb pitching from Hunter (21-5), Holtzman (21-13), Blue (20-9), and reliever Fingers, who saved 22 games with a 1.92 ERA. That year the Orioles returned to the top in the East by downing the Red Sox by 8 games. In this first season under the designated hitter rule, the Orioles were paced by DH Tommy Davis, who batted .306 and drove in 89 runs. Palmer headed the pitching staff, which was the league’s best, with a 22-9 mark;
Cuellar won 18; and McNally and young Doyle Alexander combined for 29 wins. In the aftermath the Orioles battled the A’s in a tense LCS matchup which went the full five games before Hunter’s shutout pitching decided the issue. Then, in World Series action against the New York Mets, the Athletics rallied from a 3-2 deficit to land a second world title. Home runs by Reggie Jackson and Bert Campaneris settled the issue in Game Seven.
In 1974 the Athletics won a third consecutive World Series banner, a feat thus far unmatched under the major leagues’ divisional format. In winning the Western race by 5 games over the Texas Rangers, the light-hitting (.247) A’s were backed by the best pitching corps in the majors. Hunter’s league-leading 25 wins and 2.49 ERA led the staff, who also got 19 wins from Holtzman, 17 wins from Blue, and 18 saves from the redoubtable Fingers. Although lacking a .300 hitter, the team was powered by Bando (22-103), Jackson (29-93), and outfielder Joe Rudi (.293-22-99). In the East, the Orioles won a fifth divisional flag by 2 games over the Yankees. League-leading fielding and sturdy pitching from Cuellar (22-10), McNally (16-10), and Ross Grimsley (18-13) carried the Orioles. In LCS competition the A’s lost the opening game, but swept the next three to claim the league pennant. Pitted against the Dodgers in the World Series, the bickering Athletics, who squabbled among themselves and with their owner, nevertheless downed the Dodgers in five games. It was the A’s third straight World Series victory, and astonishingly the team’s bullpen saved or won all twelve of the games won by the Athletics in their remarkable three-season skein.
But the 1974 league championship was the last by an Athletic team until 1988. Years of bickering between the players and owner Charley Finley wore on the team, and the loss of pitcher Hunter to the Yankees was a crushing blow. Hunter’s loss was Finley’s fault; after Finley reneged on the terms of Hunter’s contract, Hunter sought arbitration, and the ruling allowed the pitcher to become a free agent. Nevertheless, in 1975 the A’s won the Western title for a fifth straight year as they outlasted the Royals by 7 games. Despite the loss of Hunter, the team’s pitching was the league’s second best.
Blue won 22 games, Holtzman 18, and Fingers won 10 and saved 24. Offensively, outfielder Claudell Washington led the team with .308 batting, and Jackson drove in 104 runs and hit a league- leading 36 homers. However, the league’s power balance now shifted eastward, where the next five AL champions would be crowned. First of the Eastern powers to emerge were the 1975 Red Sox, who defeated the Orioles by 4.5 games. The team’s pitching was mediocre, but hefty .275 batting bolstered the assault. Rookie outfielder Fred Lynn’s .331-21-105 hitting won him both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors, but outfielder Jim Rice (.309-22-102) came close to matching Lynn’s production, while DH Cecil Cooper and catcher Carlton Fisk each topped the .300 mark. In the LCS faceoff, the Red Sox ended Oakland’s domination with a three-game sweep. But in World Series action, the Red Sox lost an epochal seven-game struggle to the Cincinnati Reds.
Boston slipped to third in 1976, as another power rose in the AL East.
After a twelve-year hiatus, the Yankees regained the heights and held the high ground for the next three seasons. For the Yankee renaissance much of the credit belonged to the team’s wealthy and erratic owner, George Steinbrenner. After purchasing the team from the CBS Network in 1973, Steinbrenner boldly promised Yankee fans a pennant within three years. And in 1976, his words rang true.
Moreover, the timing was propitious. In 1976 the team returned to its newly refurbished Yankee Stadium after spending two seasons at Shea Stadium in Queens. Under equally brash manager Billy Martin, whom Steinbrenner would fire and rehire five times, the Yankees romped over the runner-up Orioles by 10.5 games. League-leading pitching, including 53 wins from starters Hunter, Dock Ellis, and Ed Figueroa, and a league-leading 23 saves from reliever Sparky Lyle eased the way. The team’s .269 batting effort was led by outfielder Mickey Rivers, who batted .312, catcher Thurman Munson’s .302 and 105 RBI, and third baseman Graig Nettles’ league- leading 32 homers. Meanwhile, the surging Kansas City Royals were breaking Oakland’s stranglehold in the West. In downing owner Finley’s decimated A’s by 2.5 games, the Royals matched the .269 batting mark of the Yankees. Third baseman George Brett’s .333 topped the league’s hitters, but DH Hal McRae was only a point behind at .332, and his 73 RBI bettered Brett’s total. The 1976 victory was the first of three straight Western titles by the Royals, who became the first of the AL’s 1969 expansion teams to win a divisional pennant. In LCS play the Royals and Yanks battled for five games before first baseman Chris Chambliss won the pennant for the Yankees with a ninth-inning homer in the final game at Yankee Stadium. However, the Yankees were no match for Cincinnati’s powerful “Big Red Machine,” which swept to a four-game victory in the World Series.
Over the winter Steinbrenner strengthened his team by acquiring slugger Reggie Jackson in the re-entry draft. Jackson responded by batting .286 with 32 homers and 110 RBI as the Yankees edged the Orioles by 2.5 games in the 1977 Eastern race. Overall the team batted .281, with Rivers’ .326 batting leading the team, Munson weighing in with .308-18-100 stickwork, and Nettles driving in 107 runs on 37 homers. Young Ron Guidry (16-7) led the starting pitchers, with Figueroa winning 16, newly acquired Don Gullett winning 14, and reliever Lyle saving 26. In the West, meanwhile, the Royals repeated as they downed the Texas Rangers by 8 games. The Royals batted .277, with outfielder Al Cowens (.312-23- 112) leading the team, Brett batting .312, and McRae adding 21 homers and 92 RBI. The Royal pitching staff was the league’s best; Dennis Leonard won 20 games to lead the league, Paul Splittorff won 16, and the bullpen posted a league-leading 42 saves. In another LCS donnybrook, the Yankees edged the Royals in five games to land a second consecutive AL pennant. And in World Series action the Yankees trounced the Dodgers in six games. For the Yankees, the highlight came in the final game at the Stadium, when Jackson slugged three homers. In the afterglow of the victory, a candy bar was named for Jackson, who also wore the sobriquet of “Mr. October” for the remainder of his colorful career.
In an unforgettable encore performance, the Yankees repeated in 1978 after staging one of the most storied comebacks in baseball history. During much of the turbulent campaign, the Yankees trailed the slugging Red Sox. Midway in the campaign Steinbrenner sacked the volatile Martin for insubordination and replaced him with Bob Lemon. Under Lemon, the Yankees recuperated from a spate of injuries and crushed the Red Sox in two series to gain a tie by the season’s end. In the sudden-death playoff game for the Eastern title, pitchers Ron Guidry and Goose Gossage held off the Red Sox, while homers by Jackson and shortstop Bucky Dent capped a 5-4 victory at Fenway Park. That year the Yankee pitchers posted a league-leading 3.10 ERA;
Guidry’s 25 wins (he lost only 3) and 1.74 ERA were the league’s best, and Gossage won 10 and saved 27 games. Outfielder Lou Piniella’s .314 batting led the team, which was powered by Jackson (27- 97), Nettles (27-93), and Chambliss (who drove in 90 runs). Meanwhile, the upstaged Royals were winning a third consecutive Western title, this time by 5 games over the California Angels. With no .300 hitter in the regular lineup, the Royals batted .268; outfielder Amos Otis led the hitters with .298-22-96 batting. Starting pitchers Leonard and Splittorff combined for 40 victories, and reliever Al Hrabosky saved 20 as the Royals compiled the league’s second-best pitching record. But the Yankees toppled the Royals in four games in LCS play. When World Series play began, the Yankees lost the first two games to the Dodgers, but then swept the next four games to cap a legendary campaign with a second straight world title.
Although Steinbrenner continued to spend heavily on free agents, the 1979 Yankees fell to fourth place in the Eastern Division. By winning 102 games, manager Earl Weaver led the Orioles to an 8-game win over the second-place Milwaukee Brewers. League- leading pitching, paced by Mike Flanagan’s 23-9 effort, led the Orioles, whose offense was powered by first baseman Eddie Murray (.295-25-99) and outfielder Ken Singleton (.295-35-111). While the Orioles winged to the top in the AL East, the California Angels ended the Royals’ Western reign by scoring a 3-game victory. The Angels’ victory ended years of frustration for owner Gene Autry, who had spent $15 million on playing talent since 1961. In 1978 two of Autry’s recent acquisitions paid off as Rod Carew batted .318 and Don Baylor won the MVP Award for his .296-36-139 production. But the Angels’ pitching corps compiled a vulnerable 4.34 ERA, and in LCS play the Orioles dispatched the Angels in four games. But the Orioles now faced their old Pirate tormentors in the World Series. In an eerie repeat of their 1971 matchup, after leading by three games to one in this 1979 encounter, the Orioles lost to the Pirates in seven games.
As the era ended, the Yankees rebounded to edge the Orioles by 3 games in the East. In the close race, Steinbrenner’s latest re-entry draft acquisitions, infielder Bob Watson and pitcher Rudy May, made the difference. May won 15 games, and his 2.47 ERA led the league; Tommy John won 22, Guidry won 17, and the fireballing Gossage saved 33 games in relief. Watson’s .307 batting led the hitters, but Jackson batted .300 and his 111 RBI came with a league-leading 41 homers. This year, however, the Yankees were outmatched by the Royals. Rebounding to win the Western Division by 14 games over the Athletics, the Royals batted a league-leading .286. Brett’s .390 batting, which included 24 homers and 118 RBI, was the best batting mark in the majors since 1941. Outfielder Willie Wilson batted .326 and catcher-outfielder John Wathan batted .305. Pitcher Leonard won 20, and a Yankee castoff, lefty Larry Gura, won 18, with relief ace Dan Quisenberry saving 33 games to tie Gossage for the league lead. In LCS play the Royals, who had feasted on the Yankees during the season, swept the New Yorkers. In the wake of that loss, owner Steinbrenner sacked manager Dick Howser, despite the 103 victories the Yankees had compiled under Howser’s leadership. By then, the Royals had lost to the Phillies in six games in the 1980 World Series.
Thus the era ended with the NL boasting two straight World Series triumphs which the senior circuit would extend to four in the early 1980s.
Campaigns of the ’70s: NL, 1969-1980
In this era the NL also failed to achieve the competitive balance envisioned by its 1969 expansion. Over the twelve NL campaigns of these years, both divisions were ruled by powerful dynasties. In the East, the Pirates won six races, the Phillies four, and the Mets two. In the West, the Reds won six races, the Dodgers three, with the Braves, Giants, and Astros as single-season winners.
Yet it was one of the league’s lesser powers, the New York Mets, who made a rousing success of the first NL campaign under the new divisional format. Like the moonwalking American astronauts of that summer, the Mets also realized an “impossible dream,” and their unlikely triumph became the sports story of that memorable year in the nation’s history. In a baseball version of Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches yarns, the forlorn Mets shook off the effects of their horrendous 394-737 won-loss record, which the team had painfully compiled over seven zany seasons of NL play, and won the 1969 Eastern Division race by 8 games over a cocky Chicago Cub team.
What’s more, the Mets turned the trick by winning 38 of their last 49 games, mostly due to good pitching. Young Tom Seaver’s league-leading 25 victories and Jerry Koosman’s 17 headed a pitching staff whose 2.99 ERA ranked second in the league. However, a puny .242 team batting average, fronted by outfielder Cleon Jones’ .340-12-75, afforded little hope against the Western champion Atlanta Braves, winners by 3 games over the Giants. For the Braves, who led the NL in fielding, Hank Aaron’s .300-44-97 batting, and Rico Carty’s .342-16-58 effort in limited action, excelled. Pitcher Phil Niekro won 23 and Ron Reed won 18 as the staff turned in a 3.53 ERA. But in the NL’s first League Championship Series, the impotent Mets turned tartars; scoring 27 runs in three games, they swept the favored Braves. However, the Mets appeared to be ludicrously mismatched against the versatile Orioles in the following World Series. But after losing the opening game, the Mets swept the Orioles in the next four games to realize their “impossible dream.” In the afterglow, an outpouring of “Metomania” swept the country, and a dozen hastily written books celebrating the team’s victory were churned out.
The following year the powerful Pittsburgh Pirates ruthlessly banished any hopes of a continuing competitive balance in the NL East. Over the next six seasons, the Pirates captured five Eastern pennants, including three in a row over the years 1970-1972. In 1970 the Pirates baptized their newly occupied Three Rivers Stadium by downing the Cubs by 5 games and raising their first divisional flag.
The Pirates batted .270, with Roberto Clemente hitting .352 and catcher Manny Sanguillen batting .325. With a 3.70 ERA, their pitching was shaky, but reliever Dave Giusti saved 26 games. Coincident with the Pirates’ rise, another power moved to the top in the West as the Cincinnati Reds, now ensconced in their new Riverfront Stadium, scored a crushing 14-game win over the runner-up Dodgers. At the plate the Reds matched the Pirates’ batting, while leading the league in homers with 191. Catcher Johnny Bench’s 45 homers and 148 RBI led all sluggers and won him MVP honors. Infielders Pete Rose (.316) and Tony Perez (.317-40-129), and outfielder Bob Tolan (.316) added to the hit parade which was needed to bolster the pitching staff. The team’s starting pitchers completed only 32 games, which inspired the bullpen to compile a league-leading 60 saves. And yet the staff’s 3.71 ERA was only a point above that of the Pirates. In the LCS that year, the Reds swept the Pirates, but then the Reds fell to the avenging Orioles in the 1970 World Series.
The following year manager Danny Murtaugh led his Pirates to a 7-game win over the Cardinals in the NL East. At the plate the Pirates upped their batting to .274 as Clemente (.341) and Sanguillen (.319) maintained their pace, while outfielder Willie Stargell’s league-leading 48 homers powered the team’s league-leading 154-homer assault. In the West, poor pitching consigned the Reds to fourth place, leaving the field to the Giants and Dodgers. After leading most of the way, the Giants faltered in the stretch, but hung on to win by a game over the Dodgers. League-leading fielding buoyed the Giants, who batted only .247. Outfielder Bobby Bonds’ .288-33-102 was the best effort by a regular. Future Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry combined for 34 victories as the staff’s 3.33 ERA came close to matching the Pirates’ mark of 3.31. In LCS play the Pirates lost the opening game, but swept to victory. And when matched against the Orioles in the World Series, the Pirates lost the first two games, but then rebounded to win in seven.
The Pirate victory triggered a spate of destructive riots in Pittsburgh, but any fears by city fathers of future riots to come were banished by the shortcomings of the Pirate teams.
Although the 1972 Pirates romped to an 11-game victory over the Cubs in the East, another six seasons would pass before the Bucs won another NL pennant. Future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente batted .312 and notched his 3,000th career hit as the Pirates matched their .274 batting mark of 1971. Outfielder Al Oliver batted .312 and infielder Richie Hebner batted .300, while Stargell powered the attack with 33 homers and 112 RBI. Led by starting pitcher Steve Blass (198) and reliever Giusti (22 saves), the pitching staff posted a 2.81 ERA. In the West, meanwhile, the Reds rebounded to win by 10 games over the Houston Astros.
The acquisition of infielder Joe Morgan strengthened the Reds, who also got another MVP performance from Bench. The catcher’s 40 homers and 125 RBI led the league, and infielder Rose batted .307. But the pitching staff completed only 25 games. The best effort by a starter was Gary Nolan’s 155 mark, but the bullpen, led by Clay Carroll’s league-leading 37 saves, saved 60 games. In LCS action the Reds rallied from a 21 deficit to win the league pennant in five games. In the decisive game, played in Cincinnati, the Reds won 43. In the ninth inning of that game, Pirate reliever Bob Moose wild-pitched the winning run home. But when the Reds faced a 31 deficit in the World Series, their rally fell short as the Athletics hung on to win the world title in seven games.
Over the winter, Clemente’s tragic death while on a mercy mission to Nicaragua was a crushing blow to the Pirate cause. Even so, the 1973 Pirates hung close, finishing third in a weak Eastern Division.
On the strength of a lackluster 82-79 record, the Mets edged the Cardinals by 1 game. Offensively the Mets batted a meager .246 with only 85 homers, but Seaver’s 19-10 pitching and league-leading 2.08 ERA and reliever Tug McGraw’s 25 saves compensated. In the West the Reds outlasted the Dodgers by 3 games to win the divisional pennant. Led by Rose’s league-leading .338 hitting, the Reds batted .254 and hit 137 homers. Perez batted .314-27-101, Morgan batted .290-26-82, and Bench drove in 104 runs. The Reds also led the league in stolen bases and fielding, and the pitching staff ranked fourth, just behind the Mets. Not surprisingly, the Reds were touted as LCS favorites, but the Mets edged them in five games to emerge as the NL’s standard bearer in the World Series. Astonishingly the Mets took a 3-2 lead in the first five Series games against the Athletics. Had they hung on to win with their puny seasonal record, it would have gone into the record books as a quirky record. But the A’s quashed this prospect by snagging the final two games to win the 1973 World Series.
As the impotent Mets faded in 1974, the Pirates rose again to win the next two Eastern races before yielding to the rising Phillies. Unsurpassed .274 team batting boosted the Pirates to a thin 1-game win over the Cardinals in the East. Outfielders Richie Zisk (.313-17-100), Al Oliver (.321 and 85 RBI), and Stargell (.301-25-96) powered the team, whose pitching staff posted a 3.49 ERA. But the league’s balance of power was shifting westward, where the Dodgers and Reds would monopolize the next five NL pennants. In the 1974 Western Division race, the Dodgers defeated the Reds by 4 games.
Backed by the most durable infield in baseball history, in Steve Garvey, Dave Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey, the 1974 Dodgers batted .272. First baseman Garvey, who would set an NL record in consecutive games played, led the assault that year with a .312-21-111 performance which won him MVP honors. Outfielder Jim Wynn added 32 homers and 108 RBI. Pitchers Andy Messersmith and Don Sutton combined for 39 wins to head the league’s top-ranked pitching staff, but reliever Mike Marshall won the pitching honors with his 15 victories and 21 saves. What’s more, fireman Marshall appeared in a record 106 games. In the LCS playoff the Dodgers dispatched the Pirates in four games, but the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Athletics in five games.
It was the third consecutive Series victory for the Athletics, but the powerful Cincinnati Reds reversed the trend in 1975-1976. Dubbed “the Big Red Machine,” the perennially pitching-poor Reds got only 22 complete games from their starters in 1975, but the team’s crushing offense buried the runner-up Dodgers by 20 games. Heading the team’s .271 batting offensive was second baseman Joe Morgan, who won MVP honors for his .327 batting and 94 RBI. Third baseman Rose and outfielders Ken Griffey and George Foster topped .300 at bat, and first baseman Tony Perez and catcher Bench drove in a combined 219 runs. In the East the Pirates beat the Phils by 6 games to win a second straight divisional title. The Pirates batted .263 and led the league in homers. Outfielder Dave Parker (.308-25-101) and first baseman Stargell (.295-22-90) powered the team, and catcher Manny Sanguillen batted .328. And the pitching staff’s 3.02 ERA bettered the Reds. But the Reds swept the Pirates in LCS play and went on to beat the Red Sox in a tense seven-game World Series classic. In the final game at Boston the Reds overcame a 30 Boston lead. Morgan’s single in the ninth inning provided the margin of victory as the Reds won 43. The victory was the Reds’ first World Series triumph since 1940.
Nor did they stop there. The following year, as the NL celebrated its hundredth anniversary, the all-conquering Reds downed the Dodgers by 10 games in the West on the strength of league leadership in batting, homers, RBI, stolen bases, and fielding. Morgan’s .320-27-111 batting won the infielder a second straight MVP Award, Rose batted .323, and the outfield of Griffey (.336), Cesar Geronimo (.307), and George Foster (.306) all topped the .300 mark. Foster’s 121 RBI led the league, and the bullpen fronted by Rawly Eastwick led the league in saves. In the East it was the Phillies’ misfortune to have to face this wrecking crew in LCS play. That year the Phillies finally won an Eastern title, the first of three consecutive victories, all coming at the expense of the Pirates. In 1976 the Phillies trounced the Pirates by 9 games. Slugging third baseman Mike Schmidt led the league in homers with 38 and drove in 107 runs, and the outfield of Jay Johnstone, Garry Maddox, and Greg Luzinski all topped the .300 mark, with Luzinski batting in 95 runs. Steve Carlton (207) headed a pitching staff that bettered the mediocre Reds’ staff, but otherwise needed the 36 saves posted by the relief corps of Ron Reed, Tug McGraw, and Gene Garber. The LCS matchup between the Reds and the Phillies was a foregone conclusion which the Reds decided with a sweep. The Reds then went on to sweep the Yankees in the World Series to become the first NL team since 1922 to win back-to-back world titles.
But the Big Red Machine blew a gasket in 1977. The loss of ace pitcher Don Gullett to the re-entry draft (and the Yankees) and a dubious trade which sent first baseman Perez to the Expos created weaknesses that not even the midseason acquisition of pitcher Tom Seaver from the Mets could assuage. Nor could Foster’s herculean batting, which produced a league-leading 52 homers and 149 RBI together with a .320 batting average. As the pitching-poor Reds faltered, the Dodgers brushed them aside to win the Western title by 10 games. League leadership in homers (191) and pitching buoyed the Dodgers. A successful arm operation gave a new life to lefty Tommy John, whose 20 victories led the pitching staff. Offensively, outfielder Reggie Smith’s .302-32-87 led the attack, with outfielder Dusty Baker and infielders Garvey and Ron Cey each topping the 30 mark in homers. Meanwhile, the Phillies repeated in the East, their 101 victories leading the league and topping the runner-up Pirates by 5 games. The Phillies led the league in batting at .279. Outfielder Luzinski’s .309-30-130 was his best effort, and Schmidt again powered 38 homers while driving in 101 runs. Carlton led the pitchers with 23 victories, and Larry Christenson’s 196 mark was his best in the majors; moreover, the bullpen’s 43 saves topped the league. Still, the Dodgers defeated the Phillies in four games in the LCS. However, the Dodgers got their comeuppance from the Yankees, who won the 1977 World Series in six games.
Although the victory margin for both teams was skimpier, the 1978 divisional races repeated the scenario of the previous year. In the West the Dodgers repeated by edging the Reds by 2 «games. Once again the pitching staff was the league’s best (3.12 ERA). Starters Burt Hooton, Tommy John, Don Sutton, and Doug Rau won 66 games, and reliever Terry Forster saved 22. Garvey headed the team’s .264 batting attack with .316-21-113 stickwork; and Cey, Reggie Smith, and Rick Monday combined for 71 homers to head the team’s league-leading homer barrage. In the East the Phillies won for a third straight year, but by a skimpy 1-game margin over the Pirates. Luzinski’s 35 homers and 101 RBI paced a weak .258 batting assault; and Carlton (with 16 wins) and Dick Ruthven (with 13 wins), and relievers Ron Reed and McGraw led the Phils’ pitching staff, which was the best in the Eastern Division, but a far cry from the Dodgers’ mark of 1978. In LCS play the Dodgers again trounced the Phillies in four games, but again the Dodgers fell to their old Yankee nemesis in six games.
As the decade waned, the Pirates returned to power in the East by edging the runner-up Expos by 2 games. It was the sixth Eastern title of this era for the Pirates, who batted a lusty .272 but whose mediocre pitching staff depended heavily on its superb bullpen headed by Kent Tekulve, who appeared in 94 games and saved 31. Third baseman Bill Madlock’s .328 batting led the team along with Parker (.310-25-94) and Stargell, whose 32 homers helped drive in 82 runs. At the same time in the West, the Reds also won their sixth divisional title of the era, beating the Astros by 1 «games. With Rose gone by way of the re-entry draft, his replacement Ray Knight batted .318 and, along with outfielders Griffey (.316) and Foster (.302-30-98), paced the team’s .264 batting. Seaver’s 16 victories led the team’s mediocre pitching staff. The two rival dynasties met for a last time to date in LCS play with the Pirates sweeping the Reds. In World Series action the Pirates fell behind the Orioles three games to one, but swept the last three games for a stunning victory.
In 1980 the Phillies ended a thirty-year drought by winning an NL pennant. Goaded by manager Dallas Green, the Phillies won 21 of their last 28 games to eke a 1-game victory over the Expos in the East. An MVP performance by slugger Schmidt, who hit 48 homers and drove in 121 runs, powered the Phils, who also got .309 batting from outfielder Bake McBride, and .282 batting and inspired leadership from the transplanted Pete Rose. Lefty Carlton’s 24 wins led the league and won him the Cy Young Award, and Dick Ruthven won 17, while bullpen stalwart Tug McGraw saved 20 games. In the West the Dodgers and Astros finished in a dead heat as the front-running Astros lost their last three games to the visiting Dodgers. But in a sudden-death playoff for the Western Division title, Joe Niekro pitched the Astros to a 71 victory over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. The Astros got .309 hitting from outfielder Cesar Cedeno, and the team batted .261, but the punchless offense produced only 75 homers. But the Astros’ pitching staff was the league’s best. Joe Niekro won 20 games, Nolan Ryan won 11, and Vern Ruhle won 12. Ruhle’s pitching compensated for the loss of power pitcher J.R. Richard, who had compiled a 104, 1.89 record when he sustained a career- ending stroke. In LCS play the Phils and Astros battled through five games, with the rebounding Phillies scoring two extra-inning victories in Houston to land the pennant. Thus emboldened, the Phillies went on to beat the Royals in a six-game World Series tussle. It was the Phillies’ first world championship in the club’s ninety-seven-year history as an NL team.
But in the season after Philadelphia’s momentous victory, which saw the local police deploying mounted troopers and guard dogs to restrain the delirious Philadelphia fans, the major leagues were staggered by a crippling player strike.
Part 11 tomorrow.
This is the ninth installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at: http://goo.gl/E4adJX.
Campaigns of the ’60s: AL, 1961-1968
The AL had already expanded to ten teams in 1961, when the NL played its last season under the traditional eight-club format with its hallowed 154-game schedule. In a close race the 1961 Cincinnati Reds edged the Dodgers by 4 games. Stout pitching, paced by starters Joey Jay, whose 21 wins led NL pitchers, and Jim O’Toole (19 wins), and 40 saves by the relief corps headed by Jim Brosnan and Bill Henry, carried the team. At bat the Reds batted .270, with outfielders Frank Robinson (.323-37-124) and Vada Pinson (.343-16-87) powering the attack. But when the Reds met the Yankees in World Series play, they succumbed in five games.
By first expanding to ten teams in 1961, the AL led the NL both in attendance and in hitting. But when the NL followed suit in 1962, the AL was annually worsted in both categories. And when the hitting famine ravaged the major leagues late in this era, except for their leadership in homer hitting, AL batters suffered more.
To add to AL woes, the Yankees continued to monopolize pennants and overall attendance. Four more victories over the years 1961-1964 extended the Yankees’ latest consecutive string of pennants to five, during which time the New Yorkers attracted 40 percent of the league’s attendance. However, the latest Yankee surge was marred by losses in their last two World Series appearances. And in the wake of their loss to the Cardinals in the 1964 World Series, the Yankees collapsed suddenly and ignominiously.
Thereafter, another twelve seasons would pass before a Yankee team again rose to the top of the league. But if rival clubs welcomed the tyrant’s fall, they also discovered the draining impact of a weakened Yankee club on AL attendance.
In the AL’s first expansion campaign, the 1961 Yankees powered their way to an 8-game win over the Tigers. With Roger Maris bashing a new seasonal record of 61 homers and Mantle poling 54, the Yankees unleashed a record seasonal team barrage of 240 homers. Maris also led the league in RBI with 142, and Mantle knocked in 128. Ace pitcher Whitey Ford’s 25 victories led the league’s hurlers and reliever Luis Arroyo’s 29 saves was tops in the league. While some observers blamed the Yankee power explosion on the expansion draft, which supposedly weakened pitching staffs around the league, the Yankees had no trouble downing the NL champion Reds in six games in the 1961 World Series.
In 1962 the Yankees won again, beating the Twins by 5 games.
League-leading .267 batting and pitcher Ralph Terry’s league-leading 23 victories spearheaded the attack. The switch-hitting Mantle’s .321 batting topped the team, but this time around the Maris-Mantle slugging combination tailed off to a more modest 63 homers and 189 RBI. Then, in a seven-game struggle that was drawn out by unprecedented rain delays, the Yankees defeated the Giants in the 1962 World Series. In the dramatic final game, Terry pitched a 1-0 shutout, but second baseman Bobby Richardson gloved a screaming liner by Giant slugger Willie McCovey to save the Yankee victory. In retrospect the Yankee glory years ended with the 1962 victory. With Mantle sidelined much of the 1963 season, the Yankees batted only .252, but still romped to an easy 10.5-game victory over the hard-hitting Twins. Superb pitching by Ford (whose 24 wins led the league) and by Bouton (who won 21 games) sparked the drive. But in World Series play the Yankees were swept by the Dodgers. Still, the Yankees mounted one last winning effort in 1964. Rallying from six games back in the late going, the team overtook the White Sox and Orioles to win by 1 game over the White Sox. Mantle’s last great batting effort (.303-35-111) powered the team, and Ford, Bouton, and Al Downing combined for 48 pitching victories. But it took a nine-game winning streak in September, highlighted by the pitching of rookie Mel Stottlemyre, to turn the trick. However, the Yankees again fell in World Series play, this time losing to the Cardinals in seven games.
In the wake of that loss, like the wonderful one-hoss shay, the aging Yankees collapsed “all at once and nothing first.” In 1965 the team sank to sixth place and in 1966 they finished last. The suddenness of the team’s collapse was reflected in AL attendance figures; in 1965 AL attendance lagged 5 million behind that of the NL. Into the breach left by the faltering Yankees rushed other contenders, but no team held the heights for more than a single season. First to reach the top were the Minnesota Twins, who won the 1965 race by 7 games over the White Sox. Outfielder Tony Oliva topped all hitters with .321 batting and paced the team’s league-leading .254 hitting. Aging slugger and future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew hit 25 homers. Pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant’s 21 wins led all pitchers; Jim Kaat won 18, and reliever Al Worthington won 10 and saved 21. But for a third consecutive time the NL prevailed in World Series action, as the Twins lost to the Dodgers in seven games.
The AL ended its string of World Series losses in 1966, and with this victory the league’s teams weaned themselves of Yankee dependence.
Indeed, over the preceding eighteen seasons no AL team but the Yankees had won a world title. In exorcising that bugaboo, the Baltimore Orioles began by dispatching the Twins by 9 games. Outfielder Frank Robinson keyed the team’s .258 batting assault with league-leading .316-49-122 hitting. The performance won Robinson a Triple Crown and placed him in the records as the first player ever to win an MVP Award in both major leagues. Infielders Brooks Robinson and John “Boog” Powell combined to drive in 209 runs, and the Oriole bullpen corps saved 51 games to make life easier for the young starting pitchers. But in the 1966 World Series three of these pitching prodigies, Jim Palmer, Wally Bunker, and Steve Barber, hurled consecutive shutouts as the Orioles swept the favored Dodgers.
The rising Orioles were destined to become the AL’s winningest team of the next 20 years, but in 1967 they slumped to sixth place, which opened the door of opportunity to yet another contender. In a close race the Boston Red Sox won their first pennant since 1946 by edging the Tigers by a game. In winning the Red Sox overcame the loss of promising young outfielder Tony Conigliaro, who suffered a career-threatening beaning; at the time of his accident, Conigliaro had 20 homers and 67 RBI. But future Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski won a Triple Crown on .326-44-121 batting to front the team’s league leadership in batting (.255) and homers (158). Pitcher Jim Lonborg’s 22 wins led the league and reliever John Wyatt saved 20 games. But like their forebears of 1946, the 1967 Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series encounter.
In the last year of the ten-club format, the AL race produced the weakest seasonal hitting of this century. As the Red Sox faded, the Detroit Tigers won by 12 games over the reviving Orioles. Although batting a mere .235 as a team, the Tigers led the league in homers, paced by outfielder Willie Horton, who slugged 36. And considering that the best hitting team in the league that year, the Oakland Athletics, batted .240, the Tigers’ offensive was proportionately respectable. Moreover, the Tigers boasted pitcher Denny McLain, who won 31 games and lost 6 with a 1.96 ERA. Matched against the Cardinals in the 1968 World Series, the Tigers lost three of the first four games. But pitcher Mickey Lolich won two of the next three, to spark the Tigers to a dramatic comeback victory. It was Detroit’s first world title since the war year of 1945.
As the year of 1968 ended, the owners voted to join with the NL in expanding the circuit to twelve teams beginning in 1969. Mercifully for beleaguered batters, the owners also accepted a rules committee proposal to penalize pitchers. Thenceforth in both major leagues the strike zone would be narrowed and pitching mounds would be lowered.
Campaigns of the ’60s: NL, 1961-1968
Although the NL expanded a year after the AL took the first step, the senior circuit was quick to reassert its offensive superiority. In its brief seven-season span as a ten-team circuit, the NL won four of the seven World Series encounters and seven of eight All-Star Games. Moreover, in six of the seven seasons NL batters topped AL batters in hitting and in stolen bases. And although the AL was better-balanced competitively in this era, as the Dodgers and Cardinals were monopolizing six of the seven NL races, attendance at NL games far surpassed AL attendance.
In 1962 the NL opened its first season as an expanded circuit, with most teams drained of their reserve strength by the expansion draft. In the ensuing campaign, the Dodgers and Giants staged a torrid race.
But a late September losing streak by the Dodgers enabled the Giants to draw even at the close of the playing season. To settle the issue, the fourth postseason playoff in NL history was scheduled, with the Dodgers astonishingly involved in all of them. And when Dodger relief pitchers blew a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning of the decisive third game, the Dodgers lost a playoff for the third time. For their part, the Dodgers were led that season by pitcher Don Drysdale, whose 25 wins led all pitchers, and by outfielder Tommy Davis, whose .346 batting and 153 RBI led all NL hitters. But the hard-hitting Giants led the league in batting (.278) and in homers (204). Superstar Willie Mays led the Giant attack with .304 batting, 141 RBI, and a league-leading 49 homers. Fellow outfielders Felipe Alou and Harvey Kuenn topped the .300 mark, and first baseman Orlando Cepeda weighed in with .306 batting, 35 homers, and 114 RBI. Pitcher Jack Sanford won 24 games, and Juan Marichal and Billy O’Dell combined for 37, while reliever Stu Miller saved 19. However, the Giants lost a seven-game World Series duel to the Yankees.
Thereafter the Dodgers and Cardinals divided the remaining six NL championships of this era. In 1963 the Dodgers won by 6 games over the Cardinals. The team batted a modest .251, but Tommy Davis batted .326 to notch his second straight NL batting title, and shortstop Maury Wills batted .302 and led the league in stolen bases with 40. What really counted was the pitching, as the staff’s 2.85 ERA was the league’s best. That year lefty Sandy Koufax began a four-year skein of mastery that would propel him into the Hall of Fame. The ace’s 25 wins and 1.88 ERA topped all hurlers, and reliever Ron Perranoski’s 21 saves was the league’s second best mark. In the 1963 World Series, the team’s dominant pitching limited Yankee batters to a .171 batting average as the Dodgers swept to victory.
Dodger pitching again topped the league in 1964, with Koufax winning 19 and leading all hurlers with a 1.74 ERA, but poor hitting consigned Alston’s men to sixth place. In a hotly contested five-team race, the Phillies led the pack by 6.5 games with 12 games remaining on the schedule. But ten consecutive losses dropped the Phillies into a second-place tie with the Reds. The Phillies’ swoon opened the gate for the Cardinals, who won 28 of their last 30 games. This brilliant stretch drive enabled the Redbirds to eke a one-game victory over the Phillies and Reds. The Cardinals’ league-leading .272 batting made the difference. Infielders Bill White and Ken Boyer combined for 45 homers and 221 RBI, and outfielder Curt Flood batted .311. But the timely acquisition of outfielder Lou Brock from the Cubs was decisive.
Brock batted .348 in 103 games for the Cardinals and his 43 stolen bases ranked just behind Wills’ total. And starting pitchers Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, and Curt Simmons combined to win 57 games. Yet so unexpected was the Cardinal victory that team manager Johnny Keane had signed a midseason pact to manage the Yankees the following year. The situation raised eyebrows when the Cardinals squared off against the Yankees in the 1964 World Series, but lame-duck Keane led the Cardinals to a seven-game victory over the Yankees.
In the wake of Keane’s departure, the 1965 Cardinals dropped to seventh place. Into the power vacuum rushed the Dodgers, who gained the high ground and held it for two seasons against determined opposition from the Giants. Each Dodger victory was a near thing; in 1965 the Dodgers edged the Giants by 2 games, and the following year by 1.5. In winning the 1965 pennant, the Dodgers batted a skimpy .245, with nary a .300 hitter in the regular lineup. But once again the Dodger pitching was superb; lefty Koufax won 26 on a 2.04 ERA, to top all NL hurlers, and Don Drysdale added 23 wins. And it was Koufax’s shutout pitching in the seventh game of the World Series which led the team to victory over the Twins.
Over the winter Koufax and Drysdale staged an unprecedented joint holdout for salaries that were commensurate with their worth to the team. The two aces won salaries in the $100,000 range although these were grudgingly granted by owner O’Malley. But with Dodger home attendance topping the 2 million mark for the past eight seasons, such salaries were affordable. And in the case of Koufax, it was money well spent. In the close race of 1966 the lefty won 27 games with a 1.73 ERA, both league-leading figures. Drysdale slipped to 13-16, but reliever Phil “the Vulture” Regan saved 21 games. Such heroics were needed as the team batted only .256 with only Tommy Davis, in limited duty, topping the .300 mark. And in the 1966 World Series, the team’s poor batting tolled as they were swept by the Orioles.
At the close of the 1966 campaign, the chronic arthritis in Koufax’s pitching arm forced the ace to retire at the peak of his career. Thus disarmed, the weak-hitting Dodgers fell from contention. Not so the Cardinals, who perched atop the NL for the next two seasons as they twice drubbed the perennial bridesmaid Giants. In 1967 the Cardinals won by 10.5 games, and in 1968 they won by 9. With Gibson sidelined for much of the 1967 season, the Cardinal bullpen responded by leading the league in saves. At bat the Cardinals hit .263, with Flood batting .335 and first baseman Orlando Cepeda batting .325 and driving in a league-leading 111 runs. Outfielder Lou Brock weighed in with .299 batting, and his 52 stolen bases led the league. In the 1967 World Series, Brock’s .414 batting and seven stolen bases, and Gibson’s three pitching wins and 26 strikeouts, highlighted the Cardinals’ victory in the seven-game struggle with the Red Sox.
The following year a healthy Gibson won 22 games with a league-leading ERA of 1.12. In support of the black ace, pitchers Nelson Briles, Steve Carlton, and Ray Washburn combined to pitch 46 victories. Offensively, Brock’s 62 steals led the league and Flood batted .301. As a team the Cardinals batted only .249, but in this “year of the pitcher,” when overall NL batting stood at .243, it was enough. In the 1968 World Series, Gibson fanned a record 35 batters, but Flood’s misjudging of Jim Northrup’s fly ball in the seventh game allowed the Tigers to break through and complete their memorable come-from-behind victory.
As the curtain descended on the 1968 season, the major league owners now embarked on a second phase of expansion that would usher in a rich era of cash and glory for the major league game.
The Expanding Majors: 1969-1980
As the stormy sixties drew to a close, the nation united in applauding the successful moon landing by American astronauts in the summer of 1969. And if the strident countercultural protests lingered into the new decade, they lost their steam when the Vietnam War ended in 1973. The nation still had to weather a major political storm in 1974, when the Watergate scandal forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon, but the passing of that crisis marked the ending of the era of social turbulence. By then, a conservative reaction was ascendant and was marked by such themes as religious and patriotic revival and continuing fears of Communist expansionism.
In retrospect, mounting economic problems turned public attention from social protests to the harsh realities of earning a living. In 1973-1974 the nation suffered its worst economic recession since the thirties. A frightening accompaniment to the recession was mounting “stagflation”, a combination of inflation and rising unemployment. Indeed, by the end of the seventies an estimated 24 million Americans were living at or near the poverty level. To cope with the problem, millions of wives and mothers entered the labor force. As a result, the nation’s birthrate declined sharply over the years 1973-1979. Nevertheless, abetted by the falling death rate, the population continued to grow; from a level of 204 million in 1970, the population reached 226 million by 1980.
The trend toward dual-income families in this era translated into rising incomes (albeit, inflated dollars) for most Americans. Nor did rising prices for consumer goods dampen the people’s ardor for leisure and recreational pursuits. By the end of the decade, annual spending for recreation reached $40 billion. And because watching televised sports maintained its status as one of the most favored leisure outlets, the popularity of major team sports like baseball increased. For major league club owners of this era, this translated into heftier profits from television sources and surging attendance at the turnstiles. Happily for major league baseball interests, such increasing prosperity followed hard after its latest expansion movement. In 1968 major league owners voted to add two teams to each league, thus increasing the 1969 major league membership to twenty-four teams. Under the new format, which imitated professional football’s earlier and successful experiment, each league was realigned into six-team Eastern and Western Divisions. The 162-game seasonal schedule was retained, with each team playing its intradivisional opponents eighteen times and outsiders twelve times. At the close of a season, the new format called for the two divisional winners in each league to meet in a best-of-five-game playoff series to determine the league championship. Afterward, the champions of each league would meet in the usual World Series competition to determine the ultimate winner.
Supporters of this revolutionary new format touted its successful precedent in pro football and its competitive advantage over the recent ten-team system. Proponents also counted on the lure of each season’s divisional races to sustain public interest; after all, such races would return four winners each season instead of two. Furthermore, a divisional winning team got to fly a pennant even if it subsequently lost out in the league championship playoffs. Finally, with six teams competing in each division, the worst any team might do was finish a season in sixth place. It was nice sleight-of-hand logic, and it worked.
Events speedily demonstrated the wisdom of such logic. For their part, baseball fans welcomed the new format once they got used to the new teams with their strange-sounding totems, including the presence of a Canadian team, the Montreal Expos, in the major league ranks. In the NL, the Expos joined the Eastern Division along with the Cardinals, Cubs, Mets, Phillies, and Pirates; in the NL’s Western Division, the San Diego Padres were grouped with the Astros, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, and Reds. For its part, the AL installed its two new teams in its Western Division. There the newcoming Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots vied with the Angels, Athletics, Twins, and White Sox. However, this made for a perennially stronger Eastern Division, where the established Indians, Orioles, Red Sox, Senators, Tigers, and Yankees were now arrayed.
For the privilege of obtaining one of the new franchises, each newly admitted NL owner paid $10 million and each new AL owner paid $5.6 million; these initiation fees were divided as a windfall among the established clubs of each league. To stock the new teams with players, another expansion draft was held in each league. The latest draft allowed the new owners to purchase unprotected cullings from the rosters of established teams. And like the first expansion draft, this latest one placed the newcomers at a competitive disadvantage.
In the NL the Expos and Padres long languished in their divisional cellars, and neither entry won a divisional pennant in this era. But such was not the case with the AL’s newcoming Kansas City Royals club. In their first campaign the Royals finished fourth, and over the years 1975-1980 the Royals won four divisional races and a league championship. But on the other hand, the AL’s new Seattle Pilots turned out to be a financial disaster. After finishing last in the AL West in 1969, the bankrupt club was sold to Milwaukee interests.
There the Brewers prospered, but the relocation had the AL pulling NL chestnuts out of a legal fire. For having earlier allowed the Braves to abandon Milwaukee, the NL faced a menacing lawsuit (State of Wisconsin v. Milwaukee Braves), which was quashed by the AL’s decision to relocate the Pilots. But in abandoning Seattle, the AL soon incurred a lawsuit by Seattle interests, a threat that the AL deflected by admitting a new Seattle team, the Mariners, in 1977.
That year the AL’s unilateral expansion move added two new teams, which raised the league’s membership to fourteen clubs while that of the NL remained the same. In addition to the newly admitted Mariners, who joined the Western Division, the AL then added the Toronto Blue Jays to its Eastern Division. This precipitous move resulted in an unbalanced major league format which exists to this day; moreover, since 1977 AL teams have annually played a skewed 162-game schedule.
However, this mini-expansion ploy and another bold move of this era enabled the AL to gain parity with its NL rival. Indeed, drastic measures were needed to restore the AL’s attendance deficit, which, over the years 1970-1976, lagged some 24 million admissions behind that of the NL. In an early effort to regain parity, AL owners in 1972 allowed the moribund Washington Senators to move to Arlington, Texas, where they played as the Texas Rangers in the league’s Western Division. And to balance that move, the Milwaukee Brewers were relocated in the Eastern Division.
But the most controversial of all AL parity measures was the league’s 1973 unilateral adoption of the designated hitter rule. An experiment that was successfully pioneered in the minors, the rule allowed a designated hitter to bat in place of a pitcher in a team’s lineup. It must be admitted that the designated hitter rule helped to remedy the AL’s chronic problem of weak hitting. Only the year before, overall AL batting had averaged an anemic .239. In 1973, with AL teams playing designated hitters, the seasonal batting average rose to .259. Thenceforth AL batting averages always surpassed seasonal NL figures. But the NL stubbornly resisted the innovation, and over the years 1973-1985 the use of designated hitters in World Series competition was limited to alternate years.
Meanwhile, the AL quest for parity was aided by a spate of new ballparks.
Early in this era the NL opened five new parks. Belatedly, the AL followed suit, with four new parks and a major refuRBIhing of Yankee Stadium completed over the years 1972-1977. A new feature of some of the new parks, which affected fielding and batting, was the use of artificial playing surfaces. At the present time, ten major league parks are equipped with artificial playing surfaces. In the NL, where the Houston Astros pioneered in artificial surfacing in 1965, the Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Expos, and Reds now use artificial surfacing. In the AL, the Mariners, Royals, Twins, and Blue Jays now play home games on synthetic turfs.
Along with new parks, other innovations such as promotional giveaways and expanded concession sales and in-park entertainments contributed to soaring attendance at major league games in this era. After holding at 30 million admissions annually over the years 1973-1975, annual attendance at major league games soared to 43 million by 1980. But if rising attendance stimulated rising revenues, so did television. By 1980 income from national and local TV contracts accounted for 30 percent of baseball’s $500 million in revenues of that year. Indeed, throughout the decade baseball’s income from national network TV (which all clubs shared) increased steadily. From $17.5 million in 1971, such contracts returned $27.5 million in 1980. In 1980 this translated into a $1.8 million annual windfall for each team. And considering that such contracts covered only World Series games, league championship playoff games, the annual All-Star Game, and selected weekly and weekend games, such figures were impressive.
Indeed, major league owners might have wrung much more money from network TV sources had they not hewed to the policy of allowing clubs to contract individually with local TV stations. In 1975 local TV revenue totaled $31 million, and by 1980 this figure had nearly doubled. However, local TV income was unevenly distributed, which tended to favor some clubs over others. Thus clubs situated in more lucrative local television markets got the lion’s share of this source of revenue. Still, at the close of this era local TV markets represented the fastest-growing segment of the television industry.
Nor was television income an unalloyed blessing. In this era some critics charged baseball owners with selling out to television interests when they permitted nocturnal broadcasts of World Series games. But the popularity of such games was evinced when an estimated 75 million TV fans witnessed the dramatic seventh game of the 1975 World Series. But if this demonstration of the game’s popularity silenced some critics, others inveighed against the medium’s impact on other areas of the game. Among such criticisms was the charge that TV was transforming ballplayers into highly paid and pampered celebrity entertainers.
Certainly player salaries in this decade soared to heights undreamed of by past generations of players. Even allowing for the bugaboo of inflation, the spiraling salary trend was dazzling. At the outset of this era, both a $100,000 salaried player and a $1 million total player payroll were exceptional. In 1971 player salaries averaged $34,000. But thereafter the average rose to $52,000 in 1976, to $90,000 in 1978, to $100,000 in 1979, and to an astonishing $185,000 in 1980. By 1980, indeed, payrolls of $10 million were common and were defended by director Marvin Miller of the Players Association, who noted salaries amounted to less than 20 percent of revenues.
Truth to tell, much of the credit for enriching players of this era belonged to Miller. By threatening to lead his united players in a strike in 1969, Miller was able to negotiate a second Basic Agreement, which raised the minimum salary, increased the pension fund, and won for players the right to use agents in bargaining for salaries with owners. Then when this contract expired and negotiations for a new Basic Agreement bogged down in 1972, the Players Association staged a thirteen-day strike which shortened that season’s playing schedule by forcing the cancellation of games. In the aftermath of that strike, Miller negotiated a third Basic Agreement, which won for players the right to arbitrate their salary disputes. In retrospect it was this important concession that really fueled the spiraling salary trend.
In 1975 the players scored another major coup, when the Messersmith-McNally case was decided in their favor. That year Dodger pitcher Andy Messersmith refused to sign his 1975 contract and, after playing the season under his former contract, claimed his right to free agency under the existing reserve-clause procedure. Messersmith’s appeal (along with that of pitcher Dave McNally, who chose to retire after the 1975 season) went to a three-member arbitration panel which upheld the players’ claim by a 2-1 vote. Professional arbiter Peter Seitz joined with Miller in supporting Messersmith’s appeal against the negative vote cast by owners’ representative John Gaherin. Certainly the implications of this “Seitz decision” were far-reaching. The decision effectively circumvented the long- established reserve clause which had recently been tested by player Curt Flood (Flood v. Kuhn) before the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the time, in 1972, the court rejected Flood’s appeal by a 5-3 vote, but the court’s ruling suggested that the players might overturn the reserve clause by means of collective bargaining or by legislation. The Messersmith decision was the outcome of collective bargaining. And when the owners failed to overturn the Seitz decision on a legal appeal, they staged a lockout of spring training camps in 1976, claiming that the latest Basic Agreement had expired with no new labor contract in place. However, a compromise reached by the embattled players and owners allowed the 1976 playing season to open on time. And over the following summer, negotiations produced a fourth Basic Agreement, which conceded free agency to six-year veterans. The latest Agreement instituted an annual re-entry draft procedure which enabled qualifying players to auction their services anew. As compensation for losing a veteran player in one of the re-entry drafts, an owner received an extra choice in the annual rookie draft. Thus over the years 1976-1980, some owners bid high prices for the services of veteran free agents. And in turn the gains scored by players in these annual drafts helped to boost the salaries granted by players who opted for salary arbitration procedures.
The combination of re-entry draft bids and salary arbitration awards resulted in spiraling salaries and produced a new breed of player plutocrats. In the first re-entry draft of 1976, outfielder Reggie Jackson received a five-year contract worth $2.93 million from Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. In 1979 the Houston Astros plucked pitcher Nolan Ryan from the re-entry draft by giving the hurler a $1 million annual contract. That same year outfielder Dave Parker wrung a five-year pact worth $900,000 annually from his Pittsburgh owners to dissuade him from entering the re-entry draft.
Thus it was hardly surprising that when the fourth Basic Agreement expired in 1980 the owners determined to halt the salary spiral. Among their demands, owners wanted a veteran player in compensation for a player lost via the re-entry draft. And when negotiations broke down, the threat of another player strike darkened the 1980 season. But in the nick of time a compromise between the embattled groups postponed the debacle for a season.
Meanwhile, the plutocratic players basked in a sunshine of cash and glory. As television celebrities, players of this era stood as a breed apart from those of past generations. More glamorized by television exposure, far more wealthy, and more pampered, some players now indulged in illegal drugs to the point of self-abuse. At this time baseball’s growing problem of drug abuse mirrored a national epidemic of drug abuse which was one of the unhappier legacies from that decade of self-involvement, the embattled sixties.
Yet another survival from that feverish era was the hirsute appearance of many players of this decade. In addition to wearing gaudier uniforms, many players now sported long hair, mustaches, and beards in the fashion of nineteenth-century players. Formerly a symbol of social protest in the sixties, such hirsute appearances now became a widespread affectation of American males. Although some clubs opposed the trend, owner Charles Finley of the Oakland Athletics encouraged it by paying his players $300 apiece to grow faciat hair. Once established, the trend spread widely among players and continues to this day. But appearances aside, this breed of players was more pampered, better doctored and trained, and more ably defended than any of their forebears. Indeed, lesser-paid managers were now hard pressed to discipline their charges.
Continuing the trend of the last two decades, blacks and Hispanics predominated among the splendid performers of these years. In 1974 the number of black major league players peaked at 26 percent, but the figure leveled off at 20 percent by 1979. By then, Hispanic players comprised 10 percent of the major league players. As before, blacks and Hispanics continued to lead the majors in stolen bases, with superstar Lou Brock of the Cardinals setting a new seasonal mark of 118 thefts while en route to shattering Ty Cobb’s lifetime total of 892 bases stolen. In 1974, Hank Aaron broke Ruth’s lifetime homer mark and went on to set a new lifetime mark of 755 clouts. But in toppling the Babe’s record, Aaron went to bat 3,965 more times than the great Yankee slugger.
Moreover, players of the seventies were less easily replaced. In this era the total number of minor leaguers competing for big league jobs averaged about 3,000 in any season. And when Willie Mays retired in 1973, his lifetime total of 660 homers ranked third on the all-time slugging list; behind Mays in the fourth position was Frank Robinson, who retired with 586. And in this decade, Aaron, Al Kaline, Mays, Brock, and Roberto Clemente joined the 3,000 hit club, while Rod Carew captured seven AL batting titles, including four in a row over the years 1972-1975. Moreover, in these years twelve black and Hispanic stars won MVP Awards, and pitchers Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal hurled their ways into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Finally, it was fitting that the leading player celebrity of this era was Reggie Jackson, a slugging outfielder of mixed black and Hispanic parentage. Widely acclaimed for his homer clouting, Jackson’s seven homers in two World Series appearances with the Yankees won him the sobriquet of “Mr. October” and a short-lived “Reggie” candy bar was named for him.
Although they were justly rewarded and celebrated for their feats on the playing fields, black players still faced lingering forms of discrimination. At this time studies showed that black players had to be better-than-average players to make it into the majors. Thus there were few marginal black players on team rosters; moreover, teams were fearful of playing too many black players in a game lest it affect attendance. And retired black players seldom found jobs in baseball as field managers or in top administrative posts. However, Frank Robinson became the first black manager to be hired (and fired), hired by the Cleveland Indians in 1975, fired in 1977, and a few token black umpires also debuted in this era.
At the end of this era, The Sporting News chose the versatile white star Pete Rose as the recipient of its Player of the Decade Award. It was well deserved. In this era, Rose won a pair of NL batting titles and led the league in total hits four times. In 1978 the Cincinnati infielder, who was dubbed “Charlie Hustle,” tied the NL’s consecutive-game hitting record by batting safely in 44 consecutive games. That same year Rose joined the 3,000-hit club and continued his relentless drive to topple Ty Cobb’s lifetime record of 4,191 hits.
White stars also predominated among pitchers of this era. In these years, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Steve Carlton hurled themselves to ultimate memberships in the exclusive 300-victory club. Carlton, Seaver, Perry, Sutton, and Nolan Ryan also were compiling strikeout totals that would later eclipse Walter Johnson’s all-time mark. But with pitching ERAs now hovering above the 3.50 mark each season, managers continued to rely on specialized relief pitchers to bail out starters. Most prized were rally-busting short relievers like Mike Marshall of the Dodgers. In 1974 Marshall appeared in a record 106 games; by winning 15 and saving 21, Marshall won both the NL’s Cy Young and Fireman of the Year awards for his efforts. Other acclaimed short relievers included Rollie Fingers of the Athletics, who won three Fireman of the Year awards, while saving 244 games. Fireballing Goose Gossage thrice led the AL in saves, and in 1978 he fanned 122 batters in his role as Yankee fireman. Sparky Lyle, who pitched for four different clubs in this era, saved 230 games. And late in this era, Bruce Sutter saved 133 games in five seasons with the Cubs.
With pitchers now penalized by a narrower strike zone and lowered mounds, such heroics were needed to cope with the batting resurgence. Offensively teams plied the big-bang tactic with gusto. At this time AL teams regained their power advantage and outhomered their NL rivals in eleven of the twelve seasons. Of course, the AL’s 1977 mini-expansion made this a foregone conclusion. In the first year of that expansion, AL sluggers hammered a record 2,013 homers. By then, hitters in both leagues were swinging at cowhide-covered balls instead of the traditional horsehide-covered spheres. But this necessary innovation failed to produce the overall batting surge forecast by alarmed pundits.
Except for the AL’s unilateral adoption of the designated hitter rule, there were no significant rule changes in these years; most rule changes addressed statistical compilations. And at this time the major league policy of subsidizing the minor leagues was working. With each team spending at least $1.5 million a year to finance up to five minor league teams, by 1977 the minor leagues were stabilized at 17 leagues and 121 teams.
Internally the major leagues were mightily affected by the shift in the balance of power toward players and umpires. The powerful Players Association upset the power balance, as did the Major League Umpires Association. Indeed, umpires had long endured poor pay and job insecurity. But umpires of the 1970s had come a long way since the single-umpire system of the nineteenth century. Not until 1911 did both major leagues adopt a dual-umpire system for every game and the 1930s first saw both major leagues employ three-man crews to work regular season games. By the 1969-1980 era, four-man crews worked each seasonal game and crews for postseasonal games numbered six.
More important, the Major League Umpires Association (MLUA) now became a powerful bargaining agency. After winning collective- bargaining rights in 1970, the MLUA waged a successful strike in 1979, a walkout that lasted until mid-May. When the strike ended, the umpires could celebrate a major victory. Among the concessions they wrung from owners was a maximum salary of $50,000 for twenty- year veteran umps, hefty increases in expense allowances, safeguards against arbitrary dismissals, guaranteed pay for forty-five days in the event of a player strike, and, wonder of wonders, a two-week paid vacation. How the late Bill Klem, who earlier in this century worked each game behind the plate for sixteen seasons, would have welcomed that concession! What’s more, umpire Ron Luciano became a minor celebrity and, in company with others, became the author of books.
Against such power blocs, the owners now deployed their power committees and hired negotiators. As for Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, he continued to occupy what by now was largely a ceremonial post, one mainly responsive to the wishes of the owners. In 1979 Walter O’Malley’s death removed a powerful figure from the owners’ camp. In passing, O’Malley left his enormously profitable franchise as his chief legacy; by 1977 the Dodgers were valued at $50 million, twice the value of most franchises. Thus as the decade of the 1980s dawned, baseball owners were challenged to find a new leader of O’Malley’s stripe and new tactics to restore the balance of power in their favor.
Part 10 next week.
This is the eighth installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at: http://goo.gl/E4adJX.
Postwar Campaigns: NL, 1946-1960
In this era much of the credit for boosting NL stock above that of the AL belonged to Branch Rickey and Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers. Dodger general manager Rickey built the superb farm system which fueled the Dodger dynasty, and it was Rickey too who successfully pulled off the coup of baseball’s racial integration. When Jackie Robinson made his successful debut in 1947, Rickey enjoyed a temporary corner on the market of black players whom his scouts recruited from the fading black majors and from Latin American countries. Moreover, when Dodger owner O’Malley engineered Rickey’s ouster in 1950, the aging genius joined the Pirates and laid the groundwork for that forlorn team’s rise to power. And as a final touch, it was Rickey’s presence among the would-be promoters of the rival Continental League movement in 1959 that goaded major league owners into expanding their circuit in order to deflect the threat.
But the 1957 West Coast move of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants was O’Malley’s doing. Indeed, these moves stirred the Continental League movement. And it was O’Malley, the most powerful and influential owner of this era, who persuaded his colleagues to embark upon the expansionist course. Thus while Rickey and O’Malley plied different courses of action, these embattled rivals together forced major league baseball to adapt to a changing American society. But the rise of the Brooklyn Dodger dynasty in the NL of this era was mostly Rickey’s handiwork. And an effective piece of domination it was. Of the sixteen NL campaigns of this era, the Dodgers won seven and narrowly missed winning three others. And yet the Dodgers, who won only two world titles, were upstaged by an even greater Yankee dynasty. Nevertheless, the Dodgers lorded over other NL teams. In these years the Braves won three pennants and a World Series; the Giants won two pennants and a World Series; and the four one-time winners-the Cardinals, Phillies, Pirates, and Reds- accounted for two World Series victories. At least it made the NL a better- balanced circuit than the Yankee-dominated AL of this era.
As the NL’s postwar era unfolded, the outcomes of the first three campaigns produced an illusion of competitive balance similar to that in the AL. Here too the first three races produced three different winners. The 1946 race pitted the Dodgers against a Cardinal team which Rickey had assembled in his previous tenure at St. Louis. In a donnybrook race, the two teams finished the season in a dead heat.
To settle the issue of this first true deadlock in NL history, a best-of-three playoff series was set, which the Cardinals won by sweeping the first two games. Overall, the Cardinals used league- leading pitching, batting, and fielding to assert their superiority. Pitcher Howie Pollet’s league-leading 21 victories and 2.01 ERA led the pitching staff. And a pair of outfielders powered the Cardinal offensive: Musial’s .365 hitting won the league batting crown, and Enos Slaughter’s 130 RBI topped all others. In the World Series the Cardinals toppled the favored Red Sox in seven games.
As it turned out, St. Louis fans would have to wait another seventeen seasons before a Cardinal team again scaled the heights.
Meanwhile in 1947 attention of fans everywhere riveted upon the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson’s debut as the first black player of the century to play in the majors. When Commissioner Chandler suspended manager Leo Durocher, Burt Shotton took over the reins of the club and stationed Robinson at first base. Advised by Rickey to turn his cheek against racist slurs, which came mostly from the Cardinals and Phillies, Robinson responded stoically and successfully. His .297 batting that year won him NL Rookie of the Year honors, and his example opened the way for more black players to follow. With outfielders Pete Reiser and Dixie Walker topping the .300 mark at bat, and with pitcher Ralph Branca winning a league-leading 21 games and bullpen master Hugh Casey saving a league-leading 18 games, the Dodgers beat the Cardinals by 5 games. That year the Dodgers also had the satisfaction of seeing their hated rivals, the Giants, finish in fourth place despite a record 221-homer barrage. But in World Series play, another local rival, the Yankees, downed the Dodgers in a grueling seven-game struggle.
In 1948 the Dodgers slipped to third as ex-Cardinal manager Billy Southworth drove the Boston Braves to a 6.5;-game victory over his former Redbird team. It was Boston’s first NL pennant since 1914 and its last as a Beantown franchise. Boston’s pitching trio of Johnny Sain (whose 24 victories led all NL hurlers), Warren Spahn, and Vern Bickford fronted the NL’s most effective staff. And the team’s league-leading .275 batting attack was fronted by outfielder Tommy Holmes (.325), and by infielders Al Dark (.322) and Bob Elliott (100 RBI). But when the Braves met the Indians in World Series play, the Indians dispatched the Braves in five games. Landing the 1948 NL pennant was the last gasp of this faltering franchise, which five years later would move to more profitable pastures in Milwaukee.
As the Braves faded in 1949, the Dodgers asserted their dynastic power.
Over the next five seasons the Dodgers won three NL races and lost two others by heartbreakingly narrow margins. In 1949 Robinson’s league-leading .342 hitting helped the Dodgers eke a 1-game victory over the Cardinals. Joining the MVP Award-winning Robinson were black stars Roy Campanella, who batted .287, and pitcher Don Newcombe, whose 17 wins paced the staff. Outfielder Carl Furillo batted .322 and outfielder Duke Snider and first baseman Gil Hodges, who combined for 46 homers and 207 RBI, paced the team’s league- leading homer assault. But then, for a third time, the Dodgers bowed to the Yankees in the World Series.
In 1950 the Dodger “Boys of Summer” lost by 2 games to the Phillies’ “Whiz Kids.” Phillies’ ace Robin Roberts averted a possible deadlock by outpitching Newcombe on the final day of the season. With youngsters Roberts and Curt Simmons combining for 37 wins, and relief ace Jim Konstanty winning 16 and saving 22 for a Most Valuable Player Award performance, the Phillies boasted the league’s best pitching. At the plate the team was powered by Del Ennis, who drove in a league-leading 126 runs, and by young Richie Ashburn, who batted .303. But late in the season the team lost pitcher Simmons to the Korean War military draft. His absence tolled on the Phillies, who were swept by the Yankees in the World Series.
Over the winter of 1950, Dodger owner O’Malley forced Rickey out of his general manager post, but Rickey’s departure spared him the agonies of the Dodgers’ 1951 season. As the fateful campaign unfolded, the Dodgers soared to a 13.5;-game lead in early August. But in the September stretch, the “miracle” New York Giants rose to deadlock the Dodgers at the season’s end. In the unforgettable playoff series between these traditional rivals, the Giants rallied to win the decisive game on outfielder Bobby Thomson’s dramatic ninth-inning homer. In baseball folklore, Thomson’s winning blast is immortalized as “the shot heard round the world.” Indeed, it was a miraculous season as the Dodgers, paced by the hitting of Robinson and Campanella, led Giant hitters by 15 points. But black stars Monte Irvin (who batted .312-24-121) and rookie Willie Mays (who hit 20 homers) powered the Giants, who also got a .303 performance from team leader Al Dark and a .293 performance with 32 homers from the heroic Thomson. Moreover, Giant pitchers Sal Maglie and Larry Jansen each won 23 games, to pace the league-leading Giant pitching staff. However, the Giants’ celebrated “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” was tarnished by defeat at the hands of the Yankees in the 1951 World Series.
But at this point the snakebit Dodgers picked themselves up and went on to capture the next two NL pennants. In 1952 they outlasted the Giants by 4.5; games, and the following year they coasted to a 13-game win over the transplanted Milwaukee Braves.
In the hard-fought 1952 race the Giants suffered the loss of Mays to the military draft. It was a crushing blow for the Giants, but Dodger crushers led the league in homers. Snider, Hodges, and Campanella combined for 75, and this trio drove in nearly 300 runs. The pitching was shaky. Able starters Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine, and Billy Loes won 38 games, but reliever Joe Black made the difference. With a 15-4 record and 15 saves, Black enjoyed the best season of his brief career. The following year, Erskine picked up after the slumping Black and posted a 20-6 record to lead the staff. Behind him the mature Boys of Summer beat a hefty tattoo, leading the league in batting (.285) and homers (208). Rebounding from his previous year’s slump, Furillo batted .344 to lead the league, and Campanella’s .312-41-142 record won him another MVP Award. It added up to a two-year domination of the NL, but in World Series play the Dodger champs twice fell to their Yankee nemesis; in 1952 they lost the Series in seven games, and the following year they fell in six games.
Shortly after the 1953 Series loss, O’Malley picked the little-known Walter Alston to skipper the club. Although Alston would manage the team for twenty-three seasons, a longer skein than any of his managerial colleagues, his 1954 debut was inauspicious. That year the Dodgers lost to the Giants by 5 games. Offensively the Dodgers outbatted and outscored their rivals, but the Giants matched the Dodgers in homer production and fielded the league’s best pitching staff. Returning from military service, Willie Mays led the league in hitting with a .345 mark, and his 41 homers and 110 RBI firmly established his credentials as one of the leading stars of the decade.
That year also saw the ex-bonus baby Johnny Antonelli come into his own as a pitcher. His 21 victories and 2.30 ERA paced the Giant pitching staff, which was the league’s best. But the Giants were cast as underdogs in the World Series against the powerful Cleveland Indians. However, a sensational fielding play by outfielder Mays doused a promising Indian rally in the first game, and key pinch hits by “Dusty” Rhodes in each of the first three games triggered winning rallies. The result was a four-game sweep of the Indians.
But the Giant victory was also the team’s last as longtime residents of New York. Over the next two seasons, the battle-wise Dodgers rebounded to win another pair of back-to-back pennants. Each year it was the Braves who finished second; in 1955 the Dodgers lapped the Milwaukee Braves by 13.5; games, and the following year they held off their rivals by a single game. In 1955 outfielders Snider (.309-42- 136) and Furillo (.314), and catcher Campanella (.318-32-107) paced the offensive. For his heroics, Campanella won his third MVP Award of the decade. Newcombe’s 20 wins headed the dominant pitching staff. In the aftermath of the easy victory, the Dodgers also managed to defeat their Yankee tormentors for the first time as they won the 1955 World Series in seven games.
For the team’s fanatical followers, this was to be the first and only world title they would see flying over Ebbets Field. In 1956 the Dodgers repeated, but only by the narrowest margin. League-leading performances by pitcher Newcombe (27 wins) and Clem Labine (19 saves) and a league-leading 43 homers by Duke Snider were needed to atone for the team’s .258 batting. And in the aftermath of the grueling 1956 campaign, New York-area fans witnessed the last subway World Series matchup between the Yankees and Dodgers. Although the Dodgers won the first two games, they lost the Series in seven games. What’s more, this Dodger team became the victims of the first no-hit game in World Series history when Yankee hurler Don Larsen hurled his perfect game in the fifth game.
As owner O’Malley laid plans for his team’s postseasonal move to Los Angeles in 1957, his Dodger team fell to third. The following season, the team’s first in Los Angeles, they fell further, to seventh place. In these years there was no stopping the well-balanced Milwaukee Braves. As the first breakaway franchise to win a major league pennant in this century, the 1957 Braves attracted over 2 million home fans, who saw the team down the Cardinals by 8 games. Outfielder Hank Aaron’s 44 homers and 132 RBI led the league’s hitters, and veteran pitcher Spahn’s 21 wins led the league’s pitchers. Third baseman Ed Mathews supplied additional power with 32 homers and 94 RBI, and starting pitchers Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl combined for 35 victories. Then in World Series play the underdog Braves treated their fans to Milwaukee’s only world title to this date by downing the Yankees in seven games. The following year the Braves repeated, scoring an 8-game victory over the rising Pirates. Spahn’s 22 victories again led NL hurlers and Burdette added 20 victories. At the bat Aaron showed the way with .326-30-95 hitting, with Mathews adding 31 homers and first baseman Frank Torre batting .309. But in a World Series rematch with the Yankees, the Braves blew a commanding three-games-to-one lead, and the avenging Yankees won in seven games. To the Yankees went the honor of becoming the first team in over thirty years to rebound from such a deficit in World Series play.
As the decade of the fifties drew to a close, the transplanted Los Angeles Dodgers recovered from their seventh-place finish of 1958 to end the Braves’ two-year reign. In a brilliant September stretch drive, the Dodgers won thirteen of fourteen games to deadlock the Braves at the end of the campaign. And for a change the Dodgers won the playoff series by sweeping the Braves in two games to claim the NL pennant. The Braves outhit, outhomered, and outpitched the Dodgers, but the Dodgers led the league in fielding, and outfielders Duke Snider (.308-23-88) and Wally Moon (.302-19-74) supplied power enough, and the bullpen saved 26 games. In World Series action against the White Sox, the Dodgers won in six games. The Dodgers’ victories included a sweep of its three home games, which were played at the Los Angeles Coliseum, where a record 270,000 fans jammed the converted football stadium to witness the triumphs.
But the Dodgers fell to fourth in 1960 as the Pirates, a team constructed by Rickey, beat the Braves by 7 games. Manager Danny Murtaugh’s “Bucs” batted a league-leading .276; shortstop Dick Groat’s .325 batting led the NL hitters, and future Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente batted .314. Vern Law’s 20 pitching victories led the starters, but reliever Roy Face was the bellwether of the staff. Face appeared in a league-leading 68 games, won 10 and saved 24, and posted an ERA of 2.90. In World Series play the Pirates were thrice battered by the Yankees, but they won the 1960 classic in seven games. Second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s tenth-inning homer in the finale at Forbes Field secured Pittsburgh’s first world title in thirty-five years.
The Expansion Era: 1961-1968
In this turbulent decade of American history, major league baseball’s tradition-breaking expansion ranked as one of the lesser social disturbances. A time of massive social unrest, the strident sixties saw most established institutions targeted by would-be reformers. Sparking the fires of unrest were the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, the great black civil rights leader. In the wake of these tragedies came storms of protest demonstrations supportive of increased freedom for individuals and for oppressed minorities. But as the decade wore on, the major focus of the protests centered on the nation’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
This country’s latest struggle against the spread of international Communism began in the mid-1960s and lasted until 1973. An unpopular war, the Vietnam involvement consumed over 50,000 American soldiers’ lives, polarized the nation into factions embattled over the morality of the war, and ended in a political and military defeat. Moreover, the violent protests against the war spilled over into other social institutions. Thus demonstrations and protest movements by black Americans aimed at securing civil rights and economic betterment erupted at times into urban riots. And among other discontented minorities, many women organized into protest movements and demanded economic and political equality. At this time the widespread consciousness-raising appealed to many Americans, who supported such slogans as “Freedom Now” and affected new lifestyles in social relations, speech, clothing, and hairstyles. And by the end of the decade such supporters included numbers of major league ballplayers, who sought relief from long-established paternal controls imposed upon them by baseball law and custom.
Meanwhile, other forces of change were reshaping the nation and its national game. In this decade the nation’s population soared past 200 million, with nearly half that number concentrated in some thirteen sprawling urban regions. Thus even as major league owners embarked upon an initial expansion course in 1960-1961, these new demographics portended further expansion of the two leagues along with the possible relocation of teams now situated in deteriorating urban areas.
Nevertheless, amidst all the disturbing changes the nation’s economy continued to prosper. Although they were sapped by continuing inflation, the average wages of all workers rose to an annual figure of $8,000 by the end of the decade. As a result, annual spending for recreation rose to $18 billion, with television viewing continuing to reign as the most popular leisure outlet.
The continuing popularity of televised sports programs, now shown in color with ever-improving visual effects, was a boon to professional sports. While baseball profited from this popular medium, so did half a dozen rival sports. Among these, professional football expanded rapidly under the impetus of hefty national TV contracts which clubowners shared equally. By occupying most of the major urban regions, pro football now threatened baseball’s pre-eminent position among the nation’s favorite team sports. Indeed, in 1967 professional football’s Super Bowl outscored the World Series in television ratings.
In stark contrast to pro football’s bold expansionist course was major league baseball’s limited expansion movement of these years.
Baseball’s initial expansion took place over the years 1961-1962 and was primarily an attempt to undercut the threat of the rival Continental League. Under this expansion, each major league added two teams and upped its seasonal playing schedule to 162. A significant departure, the addition of eight more games to playing schedules would drastically affect statistical comparisons of seasonal performances. Moreover, each new franchise owner paid $2 million, which was divided among the eight established clubs of each major league, and also participated in an expansion draft, which was used to enable the owners to stock their teams with players. But since established teams were permitted to withhold their best twenty-five players from the pool of eligibles, the new owners were forced to purchase unprotected cullings.
Under these procedures, the AL took the first expansion plunge in 1961. That year the AL added the Los Angeles Angels and a new edition of the Washington Senators. At the request of owner Cal Griffith, the original Senators relocated to Bloomington, Minnesota, where they became the Minnesota Twins. The furor evoked by that breakaway move forced AL owners to admit the new Washington Senators. It was an unwise move, as the franchise languished under weak ownership and poor attendance. In 1972 the Senators moved to Arlington, Texas, where they fared better as the Texas Rangers. Nor did the AL Angels fare well in Los Angeles, where they were upstaged by O’Malley’s Dodgers. However, this well-financed team found prosperity when it was moved to nearby Anaheim in 1965.
For its part the NL did better under its 1962 expansion. That year the NL occupied Houston, where the Colt .45s occupied temporary quarters while awaiting the construction of their new all-weather indoor Astrodome Stadium. When the Astrodome opened in 1965, this expansion team took on a new identity as the Houston Astros. Meanwhile, as part of a deal which allowed the AL to occupy the Los Angeles territory, the NL reoccupied the New York area by admitting the New York Mets. Although the Mets lost 120 games in their first season of play, the team was generously supported by suffering fans, who rejoiced in the return of NL baseball to the Gotham area. After playing its first two seasons in the old Polo Grounds, the Mets moved into newly built Shea Stadium, located in Queens.
Thus did the major leagues move into their first phase of expansion. But each passing season underscored the inadequacy of the ten-club format. Like the twelve-club NL of the 1890s, the ten-club array of the 1960s produced too many losers each season. Annual attendance was disappointing. By 1968, overall major league attendance topped that of 1960 by only 3 million admissions. And added to the problems of this phase of expansion were two controversial franchise shifts. In 1966 the NL’s Milwaukee Braves abandoned that city for Atlanta, and in 1968 the AL’s Athletics departed Kansas City for Oakland, California, where they poached upon the territory of the NL Giants. Each of these breakaway moves aroused protests from fans of the abandoned sites, and each prompted lawsuits which affected future expansion moves.
Meanwhile major league teams continued to face a growing shortage of playing talent. At most schools and colleges, where baseball now ranked as a minor sport, scouts complained that major sports like football and basketball were getting the best athletes. With the minor leagues shrinking alarmingly, major league owners in 1962 adopted a remedial Player Development Plan. Under this scheme, the minor leagues were reclassified, and each major league team agreed to subsidize at least five minor league teams. And to equitably distribute the limited supply of young prospects, the majors in 1965 adopted the radical plan of an annual free agent (rookie) draft. Under its provisions, each major league club in turn picked from a nationwide pool of high school and college prospects. Thus except for prospecting in foreign countries, the annual rookie draft ended the long and colorful era of free-enterprise scouting in America.
Along with the prevailing national mood of liberation for oppressed groups, the chronic player shortage helped to kindle reformist sentiments among this generation of major league players. More pampered and better trained, doctored, and defended than past generations of players, players of this decade demanded improved salaries, pensions, and working conditions. In these years player disdain for traditional authority was rife, and this was candidly spelled out in revelatory books, including bestsellers authored by pitchers Jim Brosnan and Jim Bouton. And in a precedent-shattering move in 1966, Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, acting on the advice of a lawyer, staged a successful joint holdout for hefty salary increases. That same year, player representatives strengthened the moribund Major League Players Association (MLPA) by successfully engineering the election of Marvin Miller, an experienced labor negotiator, to serve as the Association’s executive director. Landing Miller proved to be a master stroke for the players’ cause. By rallying the players and by invoking federal labor relations laws, Miller forced the clubowners to recognize and to bargain collectively with the MLPA. During his seventeen years as executive director, Miller negotiated five Basic Agreements, or labor contracts, which wrung from owners unprecedented concessions and benefits.
The Basic Agreements of 1966 and 1969 increased pension benefits and raised minimum salaries along with other gains. Thus by 1970 average player salaries, which totaled $17,000 in 1965, rose to $25,000. At the same time some twenty players were being paid annual salaries of at least $100,000 a year. But Miller’s greatest coup of this decade was to win the solid support of major league players behind the MLPA. And by the end of this decade, major league umpires also won recognition and bargaining rights under their newly formed Major League Umpires Association.
Among the deserving recipients of increasing salaries were the growing numbers of black players in major league uniforms. By the end of the sixties, well over a hundred black Americans and scores of Latin Americans were playing in the majors. What’s more, their offensive production made a reality of the prevailing Afro-American protest slogan that “black is beautiful.” In these years black hitters dominated major league offenses. In the NL, black stars won seven homer titles, as many MVP awards, and six batting titles. And in the AL, blacks won three batting titles and three MVP awards. Among the reigning black superstars, Willie Mays of the Giants was voted Player of the Decade by The Sporting News; indeed, Mays posted a remote threat to overtake Ruth’s lifetime homer mark. At the end of his career, Mays had powered 660 homers. But by the end of the decade more observers were touting Braves’ outfielder Hank Aaron’s chances of bettering Ruth. Meanwhile at this time, Frank Robinson became the first player to win an MVP Award in each major league, and outfielder Roberto Clemente of the Pirates won three NL batting titles.
Sparkling alongside such stars were white prodigies like Roger Maris, who blasted 61 homers in 162 games in 1961, to set a new seasonal mark for homer production; or Carl Yastrzemski, who won an AL Triple Crown; or Pete Rose, who broke in as a rookie in 1963 with the Cincinnati Reds and would later break Cobb’s lifetime total of 4,191 hits.
Indeed, such offensive performances occurred despite the hitting famine caused by the dominant pitchers of this era. Abetting the hitting famine was the rule that expanded the strike zone for the 1963 season. But improved coaching techniques, improved gloves and defensive strategies, and, above all, the astute deployment of specialized relief pitchers tolled on hitters of the era. As a result, pitching ERAs averaged 3.30 in this era, and in 1968, the notorious “year of the pitcher,” hurlers combined to produce an overall ERA of 2.98, which was the lowest earned run mark in nearly forty years. Not surprisingly, the impact of such virtuosity on hitting was traumatic. In 1967 major league hitters averaged .242, and in 1968 batting bottomed to a nadir of .237. It was that puny mark which prompted remedial action by the rules committee, whose members voted to narrow strike zones and lower pitching mounds for the 1969 season. Such medicine broke the hitting famine, but while it lasted star pitchers made the most of their skills. In 1968 Cardinal ace Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA and fanned a record 35 batters in three appearances in the World Series that fall. That same year, Denny McLain of the Tigers became the first hurler in over thirty years to break the 30-game victory barrier with a 31-6 performance; and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers posted a record 58 consecutive shutout innings. Moreover, in this decade fifteen pitchers would go on to join the ranks of the twenty all-time strikeout leaders.
However, many observers blamed the dominant pitching for lowering seasonal attendance marks in these years. From a record of 15 million in 1966, NL attendance slipped to 11.7 million in 1968, “the year of the pitcher.” Nevertheless, annual NL attendance consistently bettered that of the AL; overall NL attendance of this era topped that of the AL by 16 million admissions. But a major factor accounting for NL attendance strength was the greater number of new ballparks in the senior circuit. In this decade, seven of the ten newly constructed parks were occupied by NL teams. Of these, nine were publicly financed, but the privately financed Dodger Stadium now attracted the lion’s share of NL attendance.
But rising television revenues dispelled some of the anxieties over falling attendance. By 1967, revenues from local and national television contracts rose to $25 million, with no sign of abating. On the other hand, by urging more night games, by raising the value of major league franchises, by making celebrities of players, and by the presence of television entrepreneurs in the ranks of club owners, television was reshaping the game. To some alarmists, television’s influence was menacing. In 1964 the sale of the Yankees to the powerful CBS Network fed fears of excessive television influence. However, such fears were allayed by the declining fortunes of the Yankees under CBS management and by the 1973 resale of the team to private interests.
Part 9 tomorrow.
This is the seventh installment of David Voigt’s history, as fine a brief telling of the tale as I know. This series commenced at: http://goo.gl/E4adJX.
Baseball’s Postwar Era, 1946-1960
Victory in World War Two unleashed a host of pent-up changes which altered American society. Among the most welcomed was a steadily expanding economy which increased jobs, wages, and consumer spending.
Bolstered by such growth industries as housing, television, and automobile production, the tide of economic prosperity transformed the nation into an affluent society of dynamic abundance. Moreover, most Americans shared in the fruits of this abundance. With plenty of discretionary income, Americans spent ever-increasing amounts for leisure and recreational purposes. From a total of $11 billion spent in 1946 on such pursuits, such spending topped $18 billion by 1960. By then, the most popular leisure activity was television viewing, with nearly 80 percent of American households of 1960 boasting at least one TV set. And the number of American households increased sharply along with the nation’s booming population. A postwar marriage boom fueled a fifteen-year-long baby boom to add to the nation’s population growth. And in this era, millions of Americans forsook older cities for new suburban homes, a trend that sped the growth of new urban regions.
But postwar America was also faced with disturbing and controversial changes. At home, long-festering opposition to racial discrimination and segregation now saw black Americans using political action movements to batter away at sources of inequality.
Similarly, increased union activity by organized workers was aimed at securing bigger shares of the fruits of abundance. And on the international front, the nation found itself thrust into a role as defender of the free world against Communist expansion. At this time a mounting arms race with the Soviet Union had America and the Russians stockpiling nuclear weapons and extending their rivalry into space exploration. This international ideological struggle translated at home into increased federal spending for defense and space programs, a continuation of the military draft, and a pervasive fear of Communism which spilled over into political campaigns.
At this time most of these forces and others impacted upon major league baseball. For openers, the rising national prosperity boosted attendance and revenues, but shifting population centers now tempted some club owners to abandon old sites for greener pastures elsewhere. By 1958 five such franchise shifts had occurred. In 1953 the NL Braves became the first breakaway franchise when they abandoned their traditional Boston haunts for Milwaukee; in 1954 the penurious AL Browns departed St. Louis for Baltimore, and the following year the equally penurious AL Athletics moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City. Such moves were controversial, for they destroyed a long-standing, fifty-year-old status quo in major league baseball. But the biggest public uproar echoed from Brooklyn and New York City, when fans of the NL Dodgers and Giants saw these teams move to the West Coast, respectively to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Following upon those moves, a rival major league, the Continental League, threatened to plant teams in some abandoned cities, but mostly in new population centers that now hungered for major league baseball. The urgent need to defuse the Continental League threat and the lesser need to assuage bereft New York fans prompted major league owners to expand the major leagues at the end of this era.
Meanwhile, these breakaway franchise movements, while increasing major league attendance and revenues, were weakening the minor leagues by pre-empting some of the strongest minor league territories. At the same time attendance at minor league games was being undermined by the increasing radio and television broadcasts of major league games. For the minor leagues, such blows were crushers. From an all-time peak in 1949, when the minors fielded 59 leagues with over 7,800 players and attracted 40 million fans, the number of minor leagues steadily dwindled. By the early 1960s, the number of minor leagues had shrunk to nineteen, with fewer than 2,500 players and total annual attendance of less than 20 million fans. By then, major league owners were learning that there was a piper to pay; for the decline of the minors confronted the major leagues with a chronic, persistent problem of talent scarcity. To cope with the knotty talent shortage problem, major league clubs engaged in costly bidding wars for the services of promising young players.
And in addition to bidding for “bonus babies,” major league clubs recruited black players both at home and in Latin America. Since such moves failed to solve the problem of talent scarcity, by the end of this era the majors were challenged to find ways of subsidizing the surviving minor leagues, to prevent these vital nurseries of playing talent from drying up.
But baseball’s talent scarcity problem was also aggravated by the television revolution. As television producers soon learned that other sports attracted viewers, they took to subsidizing rival team sports such as professional football and basketball. As these and other sports gained in popularity, young athletes turned to them in increasing numbers. Indeed, at many schools and colleges baseball now ranked as a minor sport. But television bestowed blessings as well as problems upon baseball. In 1950 baseball telecasting provided $2.3 million in new revenues and by 1960 such annual income topped $12 million. As television income enhanced the value of major league franchises, its potential now became a major consideration in the relocation of franchises. For now, as at the present time, owners clung to the policy of negotiating their own local television contracts. But owners of this era worried over television’s impact on live attendance at games. In 1946 a record 18.1 million fans attended major league games and in 1948 rising annual attendance peaked at 21.3 million. Thereafter annual attendance sagged, falling below the 20 million mark during the 1950s. For this turnabout, some owners blamed television for making a free show of the games. But aging parks, located in congested and declining center cities whose populations were shifting to suburban areas, also accounted for the decline. In other ways television altered the game. The steadily increasing number of night games now transformed major league baseball into a primarily nocturnal spectacle , except at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Night baseball was a trend encouraged by the televising of games as producers found night games to be more profitable. And by making celebrities of players, television triggered a rise in player salaries which would reach astonishing proportions in later years. Moreover, by scooping newspapers on the coverage of the outcome of games, television forced baseball writers to adopt a new, more probing style of baseball coverage. But such mixed blessings failed to deter owners of this era from reaping revenues from local and national television contracts. However, it is unlikely that any owner of this era could have envisioned a coming time when television revenue would exceed that of ticket sales at games. Nor could many owners at the dawn of this era envision the revolutionary impact of the racial integration of baseball.
Nevertheless, in 1947 major league baseball became a major front in the ongoing battle for racial equality. That year Branch Rickey’s “great experiment” introduced Jackie Robinson as the first known black player in this century to play in the major leagues. Playing first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers that year, Robinson endured a trying ordeal of acceptance, but he passed the test magnificently. A .297 batting average sparked a championship season for the Dodgers and won Robinson the Rookie of the Year honors. More important, his success paved the way for other black stars to follow in his footsteps. By 1958 some hundred black Americans and some eighty black Hispanics played in the major leagues, mostly with NL teams, where their feats helped to exalt the NL over the AL. In Robinson’s footsteps there followed such future Hall of Famers as Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks, and Roberto Clemente. However, the opening of doors into the white major leagues doomed the black major leagues to extinction. By 1950 the era of the great black majors was over. As for the white majors, the recruitment of black players only temporarily alleviated the growing talent shortage.
Meanwhile, the postwar surge in labor union activity in the nation at large was exerting its influence on the major leagues. In 1946 a mounting number of grievances against owners prompted major league players to organize under the newly formed American Baseball Guild. Headed by Boston attorney Robert Murphy, this fourth unionizing attempt by major league players now had players forming chapters on each team, electing player representatives, and demanding higher salaries, fringe benefits, and a pension plan. A strike threat that year was defused when owners conceded a minimum salary of $5,000, some fringe benefits, and a pension plan to be funded by national radio and television income. The latter concession was portentous; not only were owners committed to the pension principle, but an important precedent was set by giving players a share in national media revenue. Such concessions undercut the Guild, which soon died out. But when the owners attempted to abolish the pension system in 1953, player representatives from the sixteen clubs hired New York attorney J. Norman Lewis to represent their cause. Out of this crisis came the Major League Players Association; under Lewis’ leadership, the Association fought a successful battle to retain the pension system. But the Association languished after this struggle and late in this era came under the leadership of Robert Cannon, who ran the Association as a company union until 1966. Then, under Marvin Miller’s efficient leadership, the Association became a formidable collective-bargaining agency for the players.
Meanwhile, the Mexican League crisis of 1946 added to the growing tensions between players and owners. That year Mexican League promoters enticed a handful of major league players to jump to Mexican League teams with offers of high salaries. When Commissioner A.B. Chandler blacklisted the jumpers, one of them, Danny Gardella, sued in the federal courts. When a Circuit Court of Appeals found for Gardella, the threat to baseball’s reserve clause was serious enough to persuade the owners to settle the case out of court. Subsequently, congressional investigations into baseball’s monopolistic practices also threatened the reserve clause, but no legislation followed the work of Congressman Emmanuel Celler’s probings.
Nevertheless, by creating the Major League Players Association and by linking pension payments to national television revenues, the militant players of this era laid the groundwork for massive salary breakthroughs to be reaped by a future generation of players. But for now the players had to content themselves with salaries which at least topped those of their forebears. During the 1950s, 75 percent of player salaries ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 a season. However, three superstars , Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial , received annual salaries of $100,000 a season.
But if organized players showed signs of gaining wealth and power, the powers of baseball commissioners were waning. Indeed, when Landis died in 1944, it soon became apparent that the owners would not abide another powerful commissioner. Thus Landis’ successor, Commissioner Chandler, was denied a second term in 1951. For his part, Chandler blamed his assertive stance on such issues as his support of the pension plan, his opposition to Sunday night ball, and his defense of the rights of minor league players, for his ouster. Be that as it may, the flamboyant Chandler was replaced by Ford Frick, who served for fourteen years as the compliant tool of the owners.
At this time the changing ranks of club owners included a new breed of wealthy businessmen who deferred to powerful owners like Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers and Dan Topping of the Yankees. By wielding influence on the owners’ powerful executive committee, their powers far exceeded those of the commissioner.
Among the playing rule changes of this era, the 1950 recodification narrowed the strike zone and a 1954 rule permanently restored the sacrifice fly rule. Of important future significance was a 1959 rule which reacted to the designs of new, publicly financed ballparks in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and which anticipated the coming new park-building boom. This rule ordained that parks constructed after 1959 must conform to minimum distances of 325 feet from home plate to the right and left field fences.
On the playing fields, improved fielding was attributed to bigger, more flexible gloves. And the homer production of this era owed much to players wielding lighter, more tapered bats, to the required use of protective headgear, and to the frequent replacement of balls. A team now used as many as 12,000 balls in a season. Offensively such changes resulted in unprecedented homer barrages, with NL hitters averaging more than 1,100 homers a season during the 1950s. What’s more, NL hitters regularly also bested AL batters in batting averages and stolen bases. Credit for this turnabout went to the greater number of black stars in the NL. Robinson became the first black star to win a Most Valuable Player Award, and after Robinson received that award in 1949, seven black stars, including sluggers Roy Campanella, Ernie Banks, and Willie Mays, won NL MVP awards in the 1950s. But the most celebrated stars of this era were DiMaggio, Williams, and Musial. DiMaggio retired after the 1951 season with a .325 lifetime batting average, while Williams and Musial starred throughout this era. When he retired in 1960, Williams, despite years lost for service in World War Two and the Korean conflict, owned a .344 lifetime batting average, six AL batting titles, 521 homers, and a pair of Triple Crowns. And when Musial retired in 1963, his credentials showed a .331 lifetime batting average, seven NL batting titles, and an NL record of 3,630 lifetime hits, evenly divided at home and on the road.
For the battered pitchers these postwar years were nightmarish. ERAs hovered around 4.00 in the NL and just below that seasonal mark in the AL. To cope with their batting tormentors, pitchers now relied more upon sliders and some clandestinely employed illegal deliveries like the spitball. Managers responded by deploying relief pitchers. At this time “short relievers,” capable of dousing late-inning rallies, now became valued specialists whose exploits were measured by saves and honored late in the era with annual “Fireman of the Year” awards. Among the best of this era’s “firemen” were Joe Page of the Yankees, Jim Konstanty of the Phillies, Roy Face of the Pirates, and the much-traveled Hoyt Wilhelm. Indeed, the knuckleball-throwing Wilhelm lasted twenty-one seasons. When he retired in 1972, he had appeared in 1,070 games, with 227 saves and a lifetime ERA of 2.52. But able starters were by no means extinct at this time.
Among the very best, lefty Warren Spahn of the Braves went on to win 20 or more games in a dozen seasons, and retired with 363 lifetime victories. To honor the outstanding pitchers of each season, in 1956 the annual Cy Young Award was instituted. The first recipient was Don Newcombe, the black pitching ace of the Brooklyn Dodgers. From 1956 through the 1966 season, only one award was given annually in the major leagues, but thereafter the best pitcher of the year in each league received a Cy Young Award.
Baseball’s Postwar Campaigns: AL, 1946-1960
In this era the AL lagged behind the NL both in offensive performance and in annual attendance. For this reversal of fortunes, some observers faulted AL owners for taking a back seat to their NL counterparts in the signing of black stars and in the occupation of such choice sites as Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the AL’s biggest problem was the overwhelming superiority of its own New York Yankees. By winning eleven of fifteen postwar-era campaigns, the Yankees made a mockery of the concept of competitive balance. Moreover, by their perennial dominance, the New Yorkers attracted the lion’s share of AL attendance, to the detriment of their overmatched competitors. Indeed, such was the magnitude of the Yankee oppression that after 1948 no AL team but the Yankees won a World Series until 1966. For their part, the Yankees won nine world titles, thus singlehandedly maintaining the AL’s domination in the annual test of strength between the two majors. Nevertheless, by the end of this era, the growing strength of the NL was evidenced by their team’s victories in three of the last five World Series encounters and by victories in nine of this era’s seventeen All Star Games.
But when each of the first three AL postwar campaigns produced a new champion, prospects for competitive balance looked bright. In 1946 the Boston Red Sox won their first AL pennant since 1918 to help foster this illusion. League-leading hitting by Red Sox batters, fronted by Ted Williams’ .342-38-123 stickwork, and 45 wins posted by pitchers Dave “Boo” Ferriss and Tex Hughson, boosted the Red Sox to 104 wins and a 12-game romp over the defending Detroit Tigers.
But after the Red Sox lost a hard-fought seven-game World Series battle at the hands of the Cardinals, another two decades would pass by before this club won another AL pennant.
As the Red Sox faded to third in 1947, the Yankees rebounded from a third-place finish to notch their first postwar pennant. DiMaggio batted .315 with 20 homers and 97 RBI to lead the team’s .271 batting assault. Besides leading the league in homers and batting, the Yankees also fielded the league’s best pitching staff; Allie Reynolds, newly acquired from Cleveland, won 19, and rookies Specs Shea and Vic Raschi combined for 21 wins. Reliever Joe Page won 14 and tied for league leadership in saves with 17. It was enough to carry manager Bucky Harris’ charges to a 12-game win over the second-place Tigers. Then, for a second time, the Yankees downed the Dodgers in World Series play.
The following year the Yankees, Red Sox, and Indians hooked up in a furious pennant struggle that ended in a tie between the Indians and Red Sox. To settle this first seasonal deadlock in AL history, the two teams played a sudden-death playoff game in Boston. By downing the Red Sox 8-3 in that game, Cleveland won the 1948 AL pennant and went on to beat the Boston Braves in the World Series.
League-leading team batting (.282), homer production (155), pitching, and fielding powered the Indians, whose home attendance of more than 2 million fans was unsurpassed in this era. Player-manager Lou Boudreau led the Indians with a .355 average; outfielder Dale Mitchell batted .336, and outfielder Larry Doby, who joined the team in 1947 as the first black player in the AL, hit .301. Pitchers Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, and Gene Bearden accounted for 59 victories, but the pitching staff got an important boost when owner Bill Veeck acquired the legendary and aging Satchel Paige from the black majors. Paige contributed 6 victories and a save to the team’s winning cause.
At this point the resurging Yankees dashed all hopes of continuing the league’s pattern of competitive balance. Regrouping under manager Casey Stengel, the Yankees snatched ten of the next twelve AL pennants, including a record five in a row beginning with the 1949 conquest. In the torrid 1949 race, the injury-ridden Yankees edged the Red Sox by a game. Needing a pair of victories to overtake and conquer the Red Sox, the Yankees hosted the Bostonians in the closing days of the campaign and won both games. Key performances included relief pitcher Joe Page’s 27 saves and 13 victories, and a .346-14-67 offensive effort by the ailing DiMaggio. Though he was sidelined much of the season by injuries, the Yankee Clipper’s heroics helped to offset Williams’ tremendous performance for the Red Sox. Williams’ .343 batting average was barely edged out by George Kell, and his 43 homers and 159 RBI led all rivals.
Over the next three seasons, the Yankees prevailed in three close races, edging the Tigers by 3 games in 1950, the Indians by 5 games in 1951, and the Indians by 2 games in 1952. Nor did they stop there. In winning for a fifth straight season in 1953, the Yankees enjoyed their only comfortable edge in their record skein as they downed the perennial bridesmaid Indians by 8.5; games. In winning a record five consecutive AL pennants, the great Yankee pitching triumvirate of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and lefty Ed Lopat combined for a sparkling 255-117 won-loss record. That victory total included two no-hitters pitched by Reynolds in the 1951 campaign. In 1950, future Hall of Famer Ed “Whitey” Ford joined the Yankee staff; Ford’s 9-1 pitching performance was a decisive factor in the team’s winning stretch drive of that season. Offensively, manager Stengel relied on star performers like DiMaggio and catcher Yogi Berra and successfully platooned such able hitters as outfielders Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling.
When age tolled on the great DiMaggio, who retired after the 1951 season, or when the Korean War military draft snagged young stars like Ford and Billy Martin, general manager George Weiss summoned rising stars like Mickey Mantle and Gil McDougald from the Yankee farm system. Shrewd trades by Weiss also landed key performers like Johnny Mize, pitcher Ed Lopat, and relief pitcher Bob Kuzava. In World Series action, the relentless Yankees captured five classics in a row. Three times, in 1949, 1952, and 1953, they toppled the Dodgers. In 1950 they swept the “Whiz Kid” Phillies, and in 1951 they defeated the “Miracle Giants” in six games. In two of these encounters, Kuzava’s relief pitching was a deciding factor. And at the pinnacle of their success in 1953, the Yankees could boast of having won their last seven World Series encounters.
The following year, the Yankees won 103 games, their best record under Stengel’s leadership, but manager Al Lopez’s Cleveland Indians won the 1954 pennant with an AL record-breaking 111 victories. Second baseman Bobby Avila’s .341 hitting won the league’s batting title, and Larry Doby’s league-leading 32 homers and 126 RBI headed the team’s league-leading 156 homer barrage. With a 2.78 ERA the team’s pitching staff was unmatched; the starting trio of Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, and Mike Garcia accounted for 65 victories. But like the 1906 Chicago Cubs, who lost the World Series of that year after winning a major league record 116 games, the Indians fell to the New York Giants, who swept to victory in the 1954 World Series.
The 1954 victory was also Cleveland’s last AL pennant to this day. What followed was another assertion of Yankee tyranny. Regrouping in 1955, the Yankees went on to win a string of four consecutive AL pennants. By this time most of the heroes of the 1949-1953 Yankees were gone. To replace the great pitching trio of Reynolds, Raschi, and Lopat, Weiss traded for pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen and summoned catcher Elston Howard, the first black player to wear a Yankee uniform, from the farm system. In a close race the 1955 Yankees edged the Indians by 3 games, with Berra winning his third MVP award for his latest offensive performance. Berra batted a workmanlike .272, and his 27 homers drove in 108 runs. Outfielder Mantle batted .306, and his league-leading 37 homers were accompanied by 99 RBI. And Ford’s 18 wins led AL hurlers. But in World Series action the Dodgers finally turned on their Yankee tormentors as they won the fall classic in seven games.
In 1956 Mantle’s Triple Crown performance (.353-52-130) and Ford’s 19 pitching victories paced the Yankees to an 8-game victory over the Indians. In the aftermath of that victory, the Yankees faced the Brooklyn Dodgers for a seventh and last subway World Series. The next time these two rivals met, the breakaway Dodgers would represent the West Coast city of Los Angeles. What followed was an epochal struggle which the Yankees won in seven games. But Larsen’s brilliant pitching in the fifth game stamped this World Series with the mark of immortality. With the Series tied at two games, Larsen pitched a perfect game; it was the first no-hitter in World Series history and the first perfect game pitched in the majors in over thirty years. But the stubborn Dodgers carried the Series another two games before succumbing.
Over the next two seasons the Yankees won two more AL pennants. In 1957 the Bronx Bombers wielded league-leading batting and pitching to down the runner-up White Sox by 8 games. Mantle’s .365-34-94 performance won the switch-hitting superstar another MVP Award. Rookie shortstop Tony Kubek’s .297 hitting won him Rookie of the Year honors, and rookie Tom Sturdivant’s 16 victories led the pitching staff. Nevertheless, the 1957 Yankees lost the World Series in seven games to the transplanted Milwaukee Braves. But the 1958 Yankees avenged that loss. Winning easily by 10 games over manager Al Lopez’s White Sox, the Yankees led the AL in team batting, homers, and pitching. Turley’s 21 victories led AL pitchers and Mantle’s 42 homers led the league’s sluggers. Then, in a rematch with the Braves, the gritty Yankees overcame a three-games-to-one deficit to win the 1958 World Series in seven games.
The following year slumping performances by Mantle and Turley contributed to the Yankee’s third-place finish. The collapse enabled perennial runner-up manager Al Lopez to drive his Chicago White Sox to a 5-game victory over the Indians. The White Sox batted a weak .250, but they led the league in stolen bases, fielding, and pitching. Veteran pitcher Early Wynn, a future Hall of Famer, notched 22 victories in his last great seasonal performance, and relievers Turk Lown and Gerry Staley fronted the league’s best bullpen crew. But the White Sox lost the 1959 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That fall the decision by AL owners to expand the league to ten teams in 1961 sounded the knell for the league’s hallowed eight-club format and 154-game seasons. As the postwar era ended with the 1960 campaign, the Yankees rebounded to win by 8 games over the Baltimore Orioles. Although soon to pass from the Yankee scene, general manager Weiss pulled off another canny deal by obtaining outfielder Roger Maris from the Kansas City Athletics. With Maris leading the league in RBI, and Mantle in homers, the well-armed Yankees faced the Pirates in the 1960 World Series. Yet despite a World Series record .338 team batting average, which produced three crushing victories over the Pirates, the Yankees lost the classic in seven games. Hard after this defeat, Weiss and manager Stengel were forced into retirement, although the pair soon surfaced in their familiar capacities with the NL’s expansion New York Mets.
Meanwhile, with the passing of the 1960 season, the AL prepared to enter the dawning era of expansion.
Part 8 tomorrow.