Major League Baseball added four new teams for 1969 and to say it had a significant impact on both leagues would be a monumental understatement.
For one thing, for the first time ever, the leagues split into divisions, adding a round of playoffs before the World Series. The League Championship Series would pit the divisional winners against each other for the pennant and a berth in the Fall Classic. The pitching mound was also lowered (a result of the overpowering pitching performances of the past few seasons) – and that would result in much more offense (the AL’s ERA jumped from 3.33 in 1968 to 4.10 and the NL’s increased from 3,36 to 3.99).
But that’s just structural – the impact on the field of four new teams (who all struggled to compete) gave rise to several super teams as the new clubs struggled to be competitive and existing powers like the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants all put up big victory totals – but the biggest of all came from a new power: the California Angels.
California ran away with the AL West, setting a new standard for victories with 124, behind an overwhelming assortment of pitching riches and a powerful (and mainly young) lineup. Veterans Harmon Killebrew (40 HRs), Jim Fregosi (.319 avg, 34 HRs) were joined by youngsters Thurman Munson (.351 average), Richie Hebner (.333, 19 HRs, 122 RBIs) and Rich McKinney (.299, 18 HRs, 100 BBs) to power a lineup that scored 946 runs (an average of 5.8 per game). When coupled with a pitching staff that allowed just 3.1 runs per game, well, it’s obvious how that turned out. Six Angels had double-digit victories and though none topped 20, that was largely due to an injury suffered by Dean Chance, who was 17-1 with a 1.99 ERA when he was lost for the season on July 30th (Chance earned the Cy Young for his brilliant, though curtailed, season). In fact, if the Angels had an Achilles heel, it was injuries to the pitching staff as only Newman and Bo Belinsky were healthy enough to top 200 innings.
The Yankees won the AL East with three fewer victories than the 115 they had in ’68. The big news for the Bombers was the season turned in by 37-year-old Mickey Mantle. Not only did he hit .345, but Mantle finally harpooned his white whale by eclipsing the 60 homers of Babe Ruth (and in 154 games – no asterisk needed) and then adding a 62nd blast to top Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. For his efforts Mantle claimed his seventh MVP award.
In the National League, the Phillies returned to the top, claiming the division title behind the league’s 3rd-best pitching staff and a lineup anchored by the ever-dangerous Dick Allen (.316, 29 HRs). Philly finished seven games ahead of Chicago. The Cubs were powered – literally – by NL MVP Ron Santo. The third sacker hit .353, hit 28 HRs, scored 108 times and drove in 124 runs.
The NL West was a battle of juggernauts. The defending NL champion Dodgers got a second-straight Cy Young season from Sandy Koufax (23-5, 1.80 ERA, 276 Ks) en route to 108 victories. But their rivals from up the coast in San Francisco were even better. The Giants won 111 games in a return to the type of dominance that won them 113 games in 1965. Despite age and injury Willie Mays managed to hit 25 HRs in just 274 ABs and Willie McCovey hit 26 in 296 ABs. There was plenty of power in other places too – Larry Hisle (34), Orlando Cepeda (32), and Jim Ray Hart (29) were all locked in all season long. The Giants hit 240 homers as a team, 63 more than the Dodgers 2nd place total of 177. The Giants pitching was hampered by injury as well, with no one making it to the 200 inning mark. And though the team’s 3.31 ERA wasn’t stellar by recent standards, it was good enough for second place behind the Dodgers’ ridiculous 2.57 ERA.
The first ever LCS matchups saw the Angels and Giants emerge from the fray to set up a matchup that seemed destined, and marked the first ever all-California World Series. And what a series it was with the Angels managing to emerge with a victory in seven games. Jim Fregosi was the Series MVP, carrying on from a red-hot LCS to finish the postseason with a .352 average.