The 1970s brought a renewed interest in baseball. The sport seemed to lose its “hipness” in the sixties and early part of the seventies. The 1975 World Series and a new generation of players restored the sport's popularity. However, the national past time would eventually play second fiddle to the NFL by the eighties. Despite this, the sport enjoyed many great moments and performances from its stars. The following is an All-1970s MLB team based on the best single seasons at each position.
First Base: Rod Carew (1977) George Brett is considered the last player to make a real run at .400. People forget Rod Carew’s dynamic 1977 campaign. Carew missed .400 by seven base hits en route to a .388 average. The Twin won the AL MVP and led the league in hitting, runs (128), hits (239), triples (16), OBP (.449), OPS (1.019), and intentional walks (15). He added 38 doubles, 14 home runs, 100 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. The Twins finished fourth in the AL West at 84-77.
First base: Keith Hernandez (1979) Keith Hernandez is the greatest fielding first baseman in history. He won his second Gold Glove award and the batting title in 1979. His on-field play led to his only MVP award. Hernandez was a leader on and off the field, a great fielder, and hitter. He led the league in hitting (.344), runs (116), and doubles (48). Hernandez slapped 210 hits, 11 triples, 11 home runs, and knocked in 105 runs. Additionally, the Cardinal collected 313 total bases, slugged .513, posted a .417 OBP, and had a .930 OPS.
Second Base: Joe Morgan (1976) Hall of Famer Joe Morgan might be the greatest second baseman in history. He is in the conversation with Eddie Collins, Charlie Gehringer, and Rogers Hornsby. The Red collected his second consecutive MVP award and fourth Gold Glove in 1976. Morgan helped lead the Reds to their second consecutive World Series title. He led the league in OBP (.444), slugging (.576), and OPS (1.020). Morgan’s stat line included 113 runs, 151 hits, 30 doubles, 5 triples, 27 home runs, 111 RBI, 114 walks, and .320 average.
Third Base: Joe Torre (1971) All Star Joe Torre played nine seasons with the Braves in Milwaukee and Atlanta before being traded to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda. Torre spent six seasons in St Louis and enjoyed his best season in 1971. The infielder led the league in hits (230), RBI (137), average (.363), and total bases (352). The NL MVP scored 91 runs, slapped 34 doubles, 8 triples, and slugged 24 home runs. His power led to a .555 slugging average and contributed to his .421 OBP and .976 OPS. Torre never made the Hall of Fame as a player, but could have.
Shortstop Toby Harrah (1975) Toby Harrah is often forgotten in the cavalcade of seventies baseball stars. He joined the Washington Senators in 1969, moved with the franchise to Texas, and landed in Cleveland for five seasons before finishing with the Yankees and returning to the Rangers in 1985 and 1986. He made his second All Star Team in 1975. Although he did not lead the league in any offensive category, he was the league’s premier shortstop at the time. Harrah batted .293 with 20 home runs, and 93 RBI from a non-power position. He also scored 81 runs, knocked 153 hits, and walked 98 times. Overall, Harrah finished with a solid .861 OPS and .403 OBP.
Right Field: Reggie Jackson (1977) Reggie Jackson had one of the most stressful seasons in history. In 1977, he joined the New York Yankees and was expected to lead them to the promised land. Jackson had to contend with New York media and fans, the Yankees meddling owner, and a manager that has been described as psychotic. On top of this, he alienated his teammates with some comments in the press. In the end, the Yankees won the World Series over the Dodgers. In Game 6, Jackson blasted three home runs on three pitches. He also homered in his last at bat in Game 5. As a result, “Mr. October” hit four homers in four consecutive at bats. Overall, Jackson hit .286 with 32 home runs, 110 RBI, 93 runs, 39 doubles, 17 steals, .550 slugging, .375 OBP, and .925 OPS.
Left Field: Jim Rice (1978) Jim Rice had a season for the ages in 1978. He led the American League in just about every offensive category on his way to the MVP. The Boston masher led the league in games (163), plate appearances (746), at bats (677), hits (213), triples (15), home runs (46), RBI (139), slugging (.600), OPS (.970), and total bases (406). Rice also hit .315 with a .370 OBP. Historians and fans highly regarded Rice’s 1978 season until the steroid era devalued it in the minds of the uninformed.
Center Field: Fred Lynn (1975) Fred Lynn became the first player to win the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Lynn dominated the game defensively and offensively in 1975. The rookie hit .331 with 21 home runs, and 105 RBI. He led the league in runs (103), doubles (47), slugging (.566), and OPS (.967). The emergence of Lynn and Jim Rice in 1975 resulted in Boston’s first pennant since 1967.
Catcher: Johnny Bench (1970) Johnny Bench experienced perhaps the greatest season for a catcher of all time in 1970. He won his third consecutive Gold Glove while revolutionizing the position defensively. On the offensive front, Bench led the league in home runs (45), RBI (148), and sacrifice flies (11). The catcher batted .293, scored 97 runs, rapped 177 hits, 45 doubles, slugged .587, had 355 total bases, and a .932 OPS. The Reds won the pennant and Bench received his first MVP award to go along with his 1968 Rookie of the Year trophy.
Designated Hitter: Don Baylor (1979) Don Baylor helped legitimize the designated hitter position when he won the 1979 American League MVP award. Baylor played 65 games at DH in 1979 and 97 in the outfield. However, he is remembered primarily as the DH and many consider him the first DH to win MVP. Baylor led the league in games (162), runs (120), and RBI (139). No doubt the DH position allowed him to play every game. He also knocked 186 hits, 33 doubles, and 36 home runs, slugged .530, posted a .901 OPS, and walked 71 times compared to 51 punch outs. The Angels won their first division title that season behind Baylor’s bat and leadership.
Bench: Manny Mota (1972) Manny Mota became synonymous with pinch hitting. In fact, he was immortalized in a scene in the comedy film, Airplane! In 1972, Mota appeared in 118 games, but managed to earn some MVP votes. He hit .323 with 5 home runs and 48 RBI in 371 at bats. His playing time lessened after 1972 and he retired a decade later. Mota eventually became the all-time leader in pinch hits with 150, but that has since been surpassed.
Utility: Pete Rose (1973) Pete Rose entered the majors at second base. The Reds played Rose at second base, first base, and the outfield by 1973. He later moved to third to open a slot for George Foster. In 1973, Rose played left field and won the MVP. He won his third batting title at .338 and led the league with 230 hits. He added a .401 OBP, .838 OPS, 36 doubles, 8 triples, 5 home runs, and 64 RBI to a potent Big Red Machine lineup. It speaks volumes about his performance in 1973 that he won the league MVP on a loaded Reds squad.
RHP: Jim Palmer (1975) MLB Network named Jim Palmer pitcher of the decade for the 1970s. In 1975, Palmer won the second of his three Cy Young trophies. He led the league in wins (23), ERA (2.09), and shutouts (10). Palmer started 38 games, completed 25, struck out 193, and even earned a save in his only relief appearance. The Oriole ace enjoyed his best overall season in 1975.
LHP: Ron Guidry (1978) Arm injuries probably kept Ron Guidry from the Hall of Fame. When healthy, Louisiana Lightning was one of the best lefties of all time. In 1978, Guidry dominated like Lefty Grove. He won the Cy Young and finished second to Jim Rice in the MVP vote. “Gator” led the league in wins (25), win percentage (.893), ERA (1.74), shutouts (9), and WHIP (0.946). He completed 16 of 25 starts and struck out 248 batters. On top of this, he pitched in the Bronx Zoo. Despite all the turmoil, Guidry helped the Yankees in a dramatic comeback against the Red Sox for the AL East crown. New York was 14 games out of first on July 19. They tied Boston for first and the two teams had a playoff to determine the champion. Guidry won Game 163 over Boston with help from Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson, Lou Pinella, and Goose Gossage. In all, Guidry finished an amazing 22 games over .500 in 1978.
LHP: Steve Carlton (1972) The Phillies won 59 games in 1972. Steve Carlton won 27 and the rest of the team totaled 32. “Lefty” won the first of four Cy Young Awards with his 27-10 season. Carlton won the Triple Crown with 27 wins, 1.97 ERA, and 310 strikeouts. He also led the league in game starts (41), complete games (30), and innings (346.1). How many games could he have won on a good team?
Relief Pitcher: Bruce Sutter (1977) The seventies and early eighties were the halcyon years for the relief ace. Closers entered games as early as the fifth inning and finished for clubs. Sparky Lyle won the Cy Young Award in this role. Bruce Sutter garnered the award in 1979 closing out contests. However, his 1977 season proved superior to his Cy Young campaign. Steve Carlton won the 1977 Cy Young Award while Sutter finished sixth. Sutter went 7-3 in 107.1 relief innings. He appeared in 62 games, finished 48, and saved 31. The “Undertaker” struck out 129 batters, posted a 0.857 WHIP, and had a microscopic 1.34 ERA. Sutter eventually led the league in saves on five occasions, made six All Star teams, helped the Cardinals win the 1982 World Series, and landed in Cooperstown with 300 career saves.