After back-to-back seasons of excellent pennant races, 1966 dawned with the promise of more hard-fought battling between the powers in both leagues. This time there’d be some new blood in the mix, especially in the National League where for the second straight season a team put on a historic display of brilliance – and for the third straight season, a new club laid claim to the pennant.
The American League race was as good as ever with no less than five clubs battling throughout the season. The usual suspects from Baltimore, Chicago, Minnesota and New York were joined by the Boston Red Sox, who spent a good chunk of the schedule in the driver’s seat before ultimately falling just short at the very end with the defending World Champion O’s again claiming the flag. Baltimore won by just one game over Boston, with Chicago three back. Both the Twins and Yankees fell fast in the last month due to injuries with Detroit moving up into fourth with a strong 89-win campaign.
Baltimore was again led by Boog Powell, who captured his second MVP in three years with a near-Triple Crown as he led the league in home runs (45) and RBIs (112) but finished second to Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in average. With a from-nowhere strong season by little known Lloyd Ferroux and good solid seasons out of Brooks Robinson (.305-13-80) and Davey Johnson (.293-28-98), the Orioles lineup carried the team with none of the pitchers having outstanding individual seasons and the staff as a whole being solid, but unspectacular.
Detroit ace Mickey Lolich was a repeat Cy Young winner, going 21-8 with a 2.47 mark for the surging Tigers. The Rookie of the Year came from the Washington Senators – LF Nelson Gardner took home the hardware after a debut that saw him hit .296 with 25 homers and 87 RBIs for last-place Washington.
The NL was again a story of a juggernaut overwhelming all opposition – and a Phillies team that was again great, but came up short of the prize. Where the Giants had dominated in 1964, injuries, especially those of Willie Mays, took the defending NL champs down several pegs to a fourth-place finish. Stepping into the lead role was the Cincinnati Reds. The team that had traded away slugger Frank Robinson in 1964 had finally matured and took the senior circuit by storm, winning 111 games and finishing a tidy 12 games up on the Phils after leading the league virtually wire-to-wire.
Behind a starting rotation that featured a pair of 22-game winning Jims in Cy Young – and MVP- winner Maloney (22-7, 2.05) and O’Toole (22-8, 2.61) and Joey Jay (19-8, 2.62) the Reds overcame injuries to (among others) new acquisition Al Downing (11-2, 2.57) due in large measure to a lineup that hit a collective .281 and crossed the plate 822 times. Led by young stars like Pete Rose (.307), Rick Monday (.333-19-71) and especially Tony Perez (.358-27-90), the Reds lineup was just as dominant as the ’65 Giants’ had been, even if they didn’t have quite as much power.
With Maloney claiming both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards, a run of the postseason honors for Cincinnati was avoided only by Houston Astros’ rookie Don Sutton edging Rick Monday for the Rookie of the Year award. Sutton went 16-11 with a 2.28 ERA for a team that finished at an even 81-81. Monday’s .333 average might have won him the award most years, but perhaps the voters felt too much hardware was already settling in the Queen City. It was a strong year for rookies – Roy White of the Cardinals finished third in the ROY voting after putting up a league best 13 triples to go along with 28 doubles and 18 home runs.
This time the World Series was no contest. The Cincinnati Reds were just too much for the Orioles, knocking off the defending champs in a four-game sweep capped by a game four that saw them score seven runs over the last two innings to erase a 7-2 deficit and claim the franchise’s first title since 1940.