Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In Keeping With a Theme...1973

            1973 seemed to be a season where no team wanted to win.
            Okay. that's not true.
            The National League East was the division that had the tightest race, going down to the last day of the season, and then some, before crowning a winner.
            The American League races were pretty tame, with the Orioles and A's winning their respective divisional crowns. The Orioles finding first place for good in early August coasted to an eight game win over the Boston Red Sox; The defending World Champion A's held off the charging young Kansas City Royals by six games, leading the division from August 16th.
            Over in the National League, the Big Red Machine was getting into gear, but were still able to repeat as NL West Champions, hitting first place on Labor Day, and holding off the Dodgers to win by three and a half games.           
            Which brings us to my beloved Mets. On August 30th, they were in last place in the division, but just six and a half games back at that point. They had been as far back as twelve games in July. The "Ya Gotta Believe" team, about which manager Yogi Berra philosophized "It ain't over 'til its over" went on a tear, winning twenty-one of their last thirty to claim the pennant on a rainy afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the Mets and Cubs were scheduled to play a make up doubleheader. (The Mets won the first game negating the need for the second game)
            Led by Tom Seaver in his Cy Young season, the Mets won eighty-two games that year, and thanks to divisional play, made the playoffs and then the World Series. The Mets, who coincidentally were the first ever National League East champions in 1969, would have finished in no better than fourth place if the divisional play had not been instituted.
            Pitching was a bit more prevalent in the National League at the time, which led to the American League's instituting the Designated Hitter rule for the 1973 season. (Hello, Ron Blomberg) The pitcher's that dominated this year pretty much dominated the entirety of the '70s. Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan all had very good seasons. No really substantial offensive numbers happened this year. Rod Carew won the AL batting title by hitting .350, forty-four points above the next runner-up (George "Boomer" Scott and Tommy Davis both hit .306) No American Leaguer scored more than one hundred runs that year, Reggie Jackson led with ninety-nine. But the A's did have four players that scored eighty-nine or more.
            Nolan Ryan set the record for strikeouts, three hundred eighty-three, while pitching the first two no-hitters of his career. There were eleven pitchers in the AL that won twenty or more games, Wilbur Wood paced the league with twenty-four. But this isn't uncommon. There were quite a few pitchers that were still able to pitch three hundred or more innings.
            The National League did have a better year offensively.
            The "Launching Pad" that was Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium hosted the first ever trio of forty home run teammates (Hank Aaron, Darrell Evans and Davey Johnson. Evans would be the first to hit forty homers in both leagues topping that mark with the Tigers in 1984 as well)
            Willie (not yet "Pops") Stargell collected a .646 Slugging Percentage while hitting forty-four homers and driving in one hundred nineteen runs. In fact, there were seven National Leaguers that scored one hundred runs or more. Two unlikely players, from the same unlikely team, led the NL in On Base Percentage. Ron Fairly was at .422 just behind Expo teammate Ken Singleton's .425.
            None of the NL pitchers logged more than three hundred innings, and Cy Young Award winner Tom Seaver led the league with a 2.08 ERA. Only lefty Ron Bryant of the Giants was able to notch twenty wins that season.

            As I mentioned before, the Mets made it to the World Series, beating the Reds on the National League Championship Series three games to two, in a Series that is probably most remembered for the fight between Bud Harrelson and Pete Rose at second base.
            The A's dispatched the Orioles handily in the American League Series three ganes to two, setting up the Mets-A's Series and the last post-season appearance of the great Willie Mays. The "Say Hey Kid' was at the end of his playing days, and was relegated to just a handful of appearances in the post-season. His final season numbers are nothing of note.
            The other thing that seems to have endured in memories from the 1973 World Series involved A's second baseman Dick Green. <>

            In something that I will cover at a later date, I was able to meet and have a few conversations with a baseball lifer named Vern Hoscheit. Among the many jobs that Vern held in baseball was bullpen coach for the Oakland A's during the early 1970's.
            Charley O. Finley purchased the Athletics franchise while they were still in Kansas City. Through many trials and tribulations, he moved the team to Oakland for the 1968 season, prompting U.S. Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri in an appeal to AL President Joe Cronin, to pronounce that "Oakland is the luckiest city since Hiroshima".
            Charley Finley wanted a winning team, and a winning situation, and despite his reputation as a tightwad, could be very generous to his players. But Charley was Charley.
            Vern told me a story of the day in 1971 that the A's won their one-hundreth game of the season, that Charley had placed a one hundred dollar bill in each and every locker after the game. When they won the hundred and first game, there was a one dollar bill in each locker.
            The A's won the World Series in 1972, beating the A's in a classic match-up of pitching, power and strategy, including a phantom intentional walk to Johnny Bench. The A's Championship ring was by all accounts, gorgeous. Standard gold with a kelly green stone, diamond inlaid in the center, in the shape of a baseball diamond, and Charley's famous equation etched on the side S+S=S. (Sweat + Sacrifice = Success)
            At the beginning of the 1973 season, as Finley was distributing the rings, he said something to the effect of 'win this year guys, and I'll make this ring look like a dime store ring'.
            After Dick Green made two errors in the playoffs, he made his third of the post-season in Game 4, Finley essentially tried to 'fire' Green and replace him on the roster with rookie second baseman Manny Trillo. The Mets protested, rightly so, and the A's tried to get Green to admit to a physical ailment. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn got involved, as he often did with Finley and his antics, and decreed that essentially, the roster was set before the series. If Green was injured, that was unfortunate, but Trillo, or any other player could not be added to the post-season roster. 
            As the Series played out, and the A's won their second of three consecutive titles, the bitterness that Finley had over the Dick Green situation, combined with several other factors, including manager Dick Williams resigning at the conclusion of the Series, the Yankees signing of Williams, and the maelstrom that created, when World Series Ring time came around, the gaudiness was also gone. The 1973 A's World Series ring, while still impressive, was essentially a generic championship ring.
            He did make up for it in 1974 though.

            So, on to the season's performances.

            In the official AL MVP Voting, the top vote getters were:
            Reggie Jackson           OAK               32HR  117RBI .293AVG     
            Jim Palmer                   BAL                22-9 2.40 ERA
            Amos Otis                   KC                  26        93        .300
            Sal Bando                   OAK               29        98        .287
            Rod Carew                  MIN                6          62        .350
            John Hiller                   DET                10-5     1.44 ERA        38 Saves (new record)      


            Since the voters were kind enough to vote for 2 pitchers in the top, I will include them in one list as well. Again, comparing them to the league average performance, the top 10 from the AL in 1973 were:
            Reggie Jackson
            Jim Palmer
            Reggie Smith
            George Scott
            John Hiller
            John Mayberry
            Thurman Munson
            Rod Carew
            Carl Yastrzemski
            Amos Otis

            So as far as the best player in the league, the voters got it right.

            The Cy Young voting was a little different, as Hiller didn't get the same consideration in that voting. Whether it was because no reliever had won the award before or not, he didn't fare that well in the voting. But Jim palmer won the first of his three awards:
            Jim Palmer                   BAL                22-9     2.40
            Nolan Ryan                 CAL                21-16   2.87
            Catfish Hunter              OAK               21-5     3.34
            John Hiller                   DET                10-5     1.44     38 saves
            Wilbur Wood              CHI                 24-20   3.46

            And my numbers were:
            Jim Palmer
            John Hiller
            Bert Blyleven              MIN                20-17   2.52
            Catfish Hunter
            Nolan Ryan

            The MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, the one that exceeded their team's performances, that were truly VALUABLE for the American League that season were:
            Thurman Munson        NY                  20        74        .301
            Frank Robinson           CAL                30        97        .266
            George Scott               MIL                 24        107      .306
            Reggie Jackson           OAK               32        117      .293
            Bobby Murcer             NY                  22        95        .304

            Munson provided a solid catcher with some sneaky good offensive numbers as a young catcher in 1973. He was still not yet reaching his 'prime', but I think this shows that the offensive numbers had been there for a while, and the team needed to build around him, which it eventually did.
            And the Most Valuable pitchers were:
            Jim Bibby                    TEX                9-10     3.24
            Gaylord Perry             CLE                19-19   3.38
            John Hiller                   DET                10-5     1.44     38 saves
            Bert Blyleven              MIN                20-17   2.52
            Jim Colborn                 MIL                 20-12   3.18

            Bibby is perplexing here, after coning over from St. Louis, his numbers on the face were not that strong, but when you factor in the 9 wins for a team that only won forty-eight more, they kinda make sense. Remember, these number are measured against his team, and his performance above the team average.

            Over in the National League, their voting results were:

            Pete Rose                    CIN                 5          64        .338
            Willie Stargell             PIT                  44        119      .299
            Bobby Bonds              SF                    39        96        .283     43 SB
            Joe Morgan                 CIN                 26        82        .290     67 SB
            Mike Marshall             MON               14-11   2.66     31 Saves
            Lou Brock                   STL                 7          63        .297     70SB
            Tony Perez                  CIN                 27        101      .314    

            And the Cy Young vote:
            Tom Seaver                 NY                  19-10   2.08
            Mike Marshall             MON               14-11   2.66     31 saves
            Ron Bryant                 SF                    24-12   3.53
            Jack Billingham           CIN                 19-10   3.04
            Don Sutton                 LA                   18-10   2.42

            Performance wise, there were a few surprises, but the top performers by my calculations were:
            Willie Stargell             PIT                  44        119      .299
            Tom Seaver                 NY                  19-10   2.08
            Joe Ferguson               LA                   25        88        .263
            Bobby Bonds              SF                    39        96        .283     43SB
            Darrell Evans              ATL                41        104      .281
            Johnny Bench             CIN                 25        104      .253
            Ken Singleton             MON               23        103      .302
            Joe Morgan                 CIN                 26        82        .290     67 SB
            So, without further adieu, the MOST VALUABLE players in the NL in 1973:      
            Willie Stargell             PIT                  44        119      .299
            Joe Ferguson               LA                   25        88        .263
            Ken Singleton             MON               23        103      .302
            Nate Colbert               SD                   22        80        .270
            Bob Watson                HOU               16        94        .312

            Stargell was easily to most dominant player in the league, leading in homers and RBI. Remember this was a Pirates team that was reeling from the loss of Roberto Clemente in the off-season. This team was the the beginnings of the "We Are Family" championship team of 1979.

            And in pitching:
            Wayne Twitchell         PHI                 13-9     2.50
            Tom Seaver                 NY                  19-10   2.08
            Bill Greif                     SD                   10-17   3.21
            Ken Brett                    PHI                 13-9     3.44
            Steve Renko                MON               15-11   2.81

            Twitchell is one that never really lived up to his promise As you can see from his low ERA, he could really pitch. He was one that bounced around to a few organization, but never really landing anywhere until he got to Philly. 1973 was his best season.

            So there you have it, the 1973 season review, or as I see it forty-two years later.

A Great Father's Day gift idea!

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