Whether one viewed 1970 as the end of the 60s or the start of the 70s was ultimately immaterial in baseball terms. Because in terms of the baseball season, 1970 was definitely one to remember. From the eclipsing of baseball’s most prominent career record to the emergence of some very talented young players, to the first signs of promise in the sophomore efforts of the 1969 expansion clubs and finally to arguably the best pennant race (albeit in divisional format) in history, 1970 had a lot going on.
The Beatles break-up was on the minds of many in the summer of ’70, but another breaking was going on as Mickey Mantle claimed the throne as baseball’s all-time home run king. The 38-year-old Yankee slugger belted the 715th homer of his career on August 31st against Baltimore. Though Mantle had put his partying days behind him, he surely missed his running buddies of days past after the milestone with Whitey Ford retired and Billy Martin managing in Atlanta. Mantle finished the year with 721 (and had a season total of 40) raising speculation as to how long he could keep going and just how high he could push the record.
Youth was definitely being served as well. The young expansion teams were much more competitive than they had been in their first season despite win totals that might have indicated otherwise. The Kansas City Royals showed improvement from their pitchers and their win total jumped from 40 to 51 wins. The Seattle Pilots shifted east to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Seattle had overachieved in the eyes of many in ’69, and their wins did drop in ’70 (from 63 to 45) but their batting average went up… a bit. In the NL, the Montreal Expos saw both pitching and hitting improve and had a modest gain of three wins over 1969 while the San Diego Padres went down a bit win-wise, but did improve in both hitting and pitching. With some promising youngsters on the farm, things are starting to look up for the new quartet of clubs.
The more traditional youth – rookies, that is – also showed up in a big way in 1970. AL Rookie of the Year Buddy Bell hit .350 for the White Sox. Runner-up was New York’s Cesar Cedeno who despite not having a regular position, played all three OF spots and 1B and hit .312 with 37 doubles in 507 at-bats. In the NL, Jon Matlack wasn’t satisfied with being Rookie of the Year – he also claimed the Cy Young and was 2nd in MVP voting after turning in a 23-5, 2.19 campaign for the suddenly contending Mets. Cincinnati’s John Mayberry hit 26 homers and batted .273 after coming over from Houston via trade. And Cardinals CF Richie Zisk wasn’t a rookie, but he was just 22 – very young to hit .294 with 39 HRs and 117 RBIs.
The AL East race was only a race for about half the season before the Yankees again kicked into overdrive on their way to 117 wins and another postseason berth. Mantle wasn’t MVP this time around – that went to team mate Bobby Murcer who emerged as a legitimate all-around star. In addition to his stellar defense in center, Murcer hit .345 with 33 HRs, 113 runs scored and 115 runs batted in. Jim Kaat continued to look like the biggest steal in New York since the Dutch bought Manhattan with a 22-6 mark and 2.36 ERA.
The Angels were nearly as unstoppable (and as injury plagued) in 1970 as they had been the year before. They equaled the Yankees 117 wins with their mixture of stellar pitching and hitting, again leading the league in both runs scored and runs allowed. They also copped the Cy Young for the 2nd straight year, although instead of Dean Chance (who was hurt again), this time it was Fred Newman, who was healthy all year long and racked up quite the season for himself: 24-6, 2.22 ERA over 291.1 innings. With the usual pieces in place in the batting order, the lineup was again a juggernaut, led by Jim Fregosi (.337, 105 RBIs), Thurman Munson (.330, 29 HRs), Harmon Killebrew (.300, 29 HR, 110 RBI) and Rick Reichardt (.310, 35, 100).
While the AL races were both decided early such was not the case in the National League where both races came down to the wire. In the West, the usual California duo of the Giants and Dodgers was right there in the mix, but the it was the Houston Astros who won the division. The Astros made some big acquisitions that played key roles for the team in 1970: Vada Pinson, Joey Jay and Pete Ward came over from Cincinnati and all made positive contributions but it was the addition of Claude Osteen from Washington that was the biggest pickup for Houston. Osteen went 20-8 with a 2.65 ERA to take over the ace role and with holdovers Don Sutton, Bob Bruce, Ken Johnson and the aforementioned Joey Jay, gave the Astros enough pitching to match LA and San Francisco and make up for a relatively pedestrian offense.
The East was even crazier – not only were three teams in the mix on the season’s final weekend, but two of them won 102 games and the division-winning Phillies won 103. One of the runners-up were the perennially contending Cardinals, but the other was the New York Mets, rising from mediocrity (or worse) for the first time since joining the league in 1962. New York was powered by the league’s best pitching, headed up by the lefty-righty duo of Jon Matlack and Tom Seaver joined by Jerry Koosman and Mike Cuellar. Despite the Mets’ league-best pitching and the Cardinals’ league-best hitting, it was the Phillies who, with MVP and Gold Glover Dick Allen leading the way, were well-rounded enough to edge both for the division title.
In the ALCS, the Yankees avenged their loss to the Angels in ’69 and the NLCS saw the Astros defeat the Phillies to reach their first World Series. Both series went the distance.
The World Series also went the distance, with the Yankees relying on crafty veteran Jim Kaat, who claimed the MVP award for his pitching brilliance. Kaat won two starts in the LCS against the Angels, allowing one run in each game (both complete games) and then topping that with a pair of shutouts – including one in game seven – against the Astros.