1970 One for the Brooks

In a preview of the decade to come, the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles dominate and square off in the World Series—highlighted by Oriole third baseman Brooks Robinson's defensive heroics.

Nothing—absolutely nothing—was going to get past Brooks Robinson during the 1970 World Series. The third baseman’s numerous gems, coupled with his potent hitting, propelled the Orioles to a world title over Cincinnati.

Brooks Robinson took the first ground ball hit to him in the 1970 World Series and threw it over the head of first baseman Boog Powell. Oh boy, thought Robinson, this is not the way to get another Series started.

The early gaffe would be the one and only blemish for Robinson, not so arguably the best defensive third baseman in history. Exhibiting a flawless and spectacular blend of fielding seldom seen before or since, Robinson lifted his Baltimore Orioles to a commanding Fall Classic triumph over the Cincinnati Reds, erasing bad memories of a Series gone haywire the year before against the Amazin’ Mets.

A gentleman of a ballplayer, Robinson was immensely popular with the Oriole faithful who pinned the title “Mr. Oriole” upon him. The reasoning went beyond adoration. A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Robinson began his big league career with the Orioles at the tender age of 18, a year after the team arrived in Baltimore from St. Louis; he’d been there ever since. It took awhile for his hitting game to take hold, but he became a prominent enough batter to receive one AL Most Valuable Player award in 1964 through a spikeRobinson’s .317 batting average, 28 home runs and 117 RBIs would all be personal bests. in his offensive numbers. But he still often wasn’t clumped with the grand hitters of the day, people like Mays, Aaron, Mantle and Clemente. His nationwide identity crisis deepened in 1966 when the Orioles won the World Series primarily behind another guy named Robinson—Frank, the superstar slugger.

Ever since he led American league third basemen in fielding percentage for the first time in 1960, Brooks Robinson undoubtedly played to a consistently higher level through 1970. Here’s how he compared to his peers during this time.

But Brooks Robinson’s role with the Orioles wasn’t popularized for getting hits at the plate, but for taking them away in the field.

Robinson was the best defensive third baseman ever to play the game of baseball. He worked tirelessly in his early years to fine tune his glovework, and it all began to pay off in 1960 with the first of 16 straight Gold Gloves, the first of 15 straight All-Star Game appearances, and the first of nine years during the 1960s leading AL third basemen in fielding percentage. The uncanny magnetism to scoop anything hit near and not so near Robinson made him clearly without peer.

The Orioles, intent on overcoming their downfall in the 1969 World Series against the Mets, bullied through the AL competition as if in a foul and vengeful mood. Behind manager Earl Weaver, the Orioles once again exhibited little or no weaknesses and ran away with the AL East title with a 108-54 record. Their highly balanced offense was led by Boog Powell, another popular Oriole who captured the AL MVPUnderscoring the Orioles’ knack to reach base, Powell walked 104 times to finish third in AL on-base percentage at .417. with a .297 batting average, 35 home runs and 114 RBIs. Baltimore’s 3.15 earned run average was the AL’s best, and they fielded three of the league’s seven 20-game winners—including Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally, who co-led the AL with 24 each. Defensively, the Orioles proved that great fielding didn’t begin and end with Robinson, as Gold Gloves were also handed out to center fielder Paul Blair and second baseman Davey Johnson.

The Minnesota Twins, now piloted by Bill Rigney after the tumultuous ousting of Billy Martin, managed not to lose a step by winning their second straight AL West title. But by not adding a step, they were doomed to failure once more against the mighty Orioles in the ALCS.

Much like the year before, the Twins were knocked out by Baltimore in three straight. But at least in 1969 they gave the Orioles a fight; this time, there was little punch in a team blown out in all three losses by a combined score of 27-10.

Victims of a big upset in the 1969 World Series, the Orioles were determined not to be underwhelmed by their 1970 Series opponent: The Cincinnati Reds. But given the emerging powerhouse rising out of sparkling new Riverfront Stadium, the Reds were hardly one to get non-pulsed about.

The Reds were the youngest team in the majors, with all of their everyday players, starting pitchers and top relievers all under the age of 30. Their rookie manager was also the youngest, though at the age of 36, George “Sparky” Anderson looked older than half of the game’s other managers with his fast-graying hair and gravelly voice. Anderson’s confident and feisty leadership—which led to his nickname years before as a minor league player—was crucial to providing his players with a newfound sense of tenacity.

Anderson was not above selling his inner thoughts to the press. It was one thing for Anderson to predict at spring training that the Reds would win the National League West, a bold promise given the tough and experienced competition expected from divisional rivals Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But Anderson went further; he said the Reds would win it by ten games.

Sparky would collect.

The Reds stormed out of the gate and never let up, losing hold of first place only for a single day in the season’s first week. They had fulfilled Anderson’s promise even before the season was halfway over, achieving a ten-game lead that would never regress. When the schedule ran itself out, the Reds had won a franchise-record 102 gamesThe Reds’ best record, by percentage, remained at 96-44 from 1919., finishing 14.5 over the second-place Dodgers.

Pete Rose shows a national audience that he’ll give his all even in an ‘exhibition’ such as the All-Star Game, bowling over Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse to score the winning run for the National League. Rose was slightly hurt but was fine within days; the career of Fosse, who suffered a separated shoulder, never recovered.

As it would throughout the 1970s, the Reds were powered mostly by a prodigious offense. Catcher Johnny Bench, who ignited a trend behind the plate by catching one-handed, devastated opposing pitching when he came to bat—leading the majors with 45 home runs and 148 RBIs in only his third full season at age 22. Cuban native Tony Perez might have grabbed the NL MVPPerez finished third in the MVP voting, behind Bench and Billy Williams. had it not been for Bench, the third baseman hitting .317 with 40 homers and 129 RBIs. Lee May added 34 homers and 94 RBIs at first base. Cincy’s three starting outfielders—Pete Rose, Bobby Tolan and Bernie Carbo—each hit above .310; Tolan led the majors with 57 stolen bases.

Though statistically in the shadows, the 29-year-old switch-hitting Rose was clearly the inspirational leader for the Reds—if not the City of Cincinnati, where he was born and raised.

Most baseball nicknames are derived from inside jokes, but it didn’t take an insider to figure out why Rose was called Charlie Hustle“Charlie Hustle” was pinned on a young Rose by Yankee pitching great Whitey Ford after watching him sprint to first on a walk.. Not blessed with great speed—Rose rarely stole more than ten bases a year—he made up by using every ounce of grit and determination to get two, maybe three, bases on a play when most anyone else would have settled for one. On the crack of a bat, Rose knew how far he intended to go on the basepaths, and he generally succeeded.

The Charlie Hustle image grabbed the national spotlight when, before his hometown fans at Riverfront Stadium, Rose bowled over catcher Ray Fosse at the All-Star Game—winning the game for the NL and ruining Fosse’s career, the Cleveland Indian catcher never fully recovering from a shoulder separation. It showed the world—and certainly his opponents, who probably already knew—that Rose would give a million per cent whether he was playing an intrasquad tune-up or the seventh game of the World Series.

Before 1970, only the Houston Astrodome and the infield at Chicago’s Comiskey Park were outfitted with artificial turf. But in 1970, the synthetic material players and purists loved to hate was rolled out in St. Louis and at new ballparks in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati—and by the mid-1970s, over a third of all major league venues would follow suit before retracting. By 2010, only domed facilities in Toronto and Tampa Bay continued to perform on the fake sod..

The switch from rustic Crosley Field to modern Riverfront Stadium was timely for the Reds, who won with equal vigor at both parks. The team’s dominant and lively play combined with the new stadium’s presence resulted in a team-record 1.8 million fansThe Reds had drawn a million fans only four times at Crosley, with 1.1 million the previous high water mark in 1956..

For the NLCS, the Reds would square off against the Pittsburgh Pirates, brought back to the postseason for the first time since 1960 thanks to the return of manager Danny Murtaugh, marking his second comeback as Pirate leader. Like the Reds, Pittsburgh had strong hitting, no-name pitching and a new multi-purpose, artificially turfed stadium whose looks and name (Three Rivers Stadium) confused many with Riverfront Stadium. But there was no confusing the Reds’ towering level of superiority compared to the Pirates.

While few were surprised that Pittsburgh would go three-and-out against Cincinnati in the NLCS, what was surprising was that the Reds’ unknown soldiers—their pitchers—would be the stars. The Cincinnati staff allowed three Pittsburgh runs through the entire series, pretty much bailing out a Red offense that played below its game with only three runs in each of their victories.

Amazingly, the Reds’ rotation had risen to the occasion in the NLCS as a wounded bunch, with three of its five starters—including left-handed 20-game winner Jim MerrittThe 26-year old Merritt developed a sore arm that sent his career into a tailspin, winning only seven more games after 1970.—either on the shelf or threatening to land there. That, Sparky Anderson knew. What his Reds were unprepared for as they entered the World Series was how unworldly the opposing third baseman was going to be in stopping them cold.

Brooks Robinson surveyed the artificial turf at Cincinnati before Game One and, although not wild about playing on a surface akin to a parking lot, admitted that its predictable infield bounces would make him feel defensively “invincible” at third base. Proof of that came in the Reds’ sixth, when Lee May led off with a smash down the third base line—which Robinson snared at with a brilliant, diving backhanded stab. Having deprived the Reds of the go-ahead run in a 3-3 game, Robinson provided it himself an inning later with a solo home run that proved to be the winning score.

Robinson’s astounding defense continued throughout the Series at a level that he later would say was the most consistently brilliant of his career, leaving fans open-mouthed and Cincinnati players shaking their heads in utter frustration. In Game Three, “Hoover”—as the Reds had begun to nickname him—made for an especially sparkling exhibition at the hot corner by sending Red hitters back to their dugout with one great play after another.

As if his defense wasn’t enough, Robinson was equally rough on Cincinnati pitching at the plate. He knocked in the tying run and scored the winner in a 6-5 Game Two comeback, erasing an early 4-0 Red lead; in Game Three, he belted a two-run double in the first inning to set the Orioles on their way to a 9-3 rout; and in Game Four, he went 4-for-4 with his second Series home run, although it wasn’t enough as the Reds avoided the sweep with an eighth-inning rally to win, 6-5.

Fittingly, Robinson fielded and threw the final out in Game Five to extinguish what little suspense was left to an easy Series triumph; there was no suspense in the Series MVP voting, given to Robinson for stellar defense and a 9-for-21 (.429)His ALCS numbers included, Robinson batted .485 with two home runs and six RBIs for the 1970 postseason. performance at the plate.

The Orioles had triumphed, the rotten fortune of 1969 was turned around, and the man behind it all, the one formerly standing in the shadows alongside the national spotlight, finally basked in its powerful glow.


1971 baseball historyForward to 1971: Dynasty on the Rise After years of constant losing, the colorful Charles Finley finally has a winner with the A's in Oakland.


1969 baseball historyBack to 1969: The Amazin' Mets The New York Mets, perennial laughingstocks of the 1960s, perform a stunning about-face to end the decade.


1970s baseball historyThe 1970s Page: Power to the Player Curt Flood's sacrificial stand to win free agency opens the door for the biggest challenge yet to the reserve clause, which is eventually shattered—but not without fans suffering from numerous player strikes and holdouts.


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1970 Standings

National League East
Pittsburgh Pirates
89
73
.549
---
Chicago Cubs
84
78
.519
5
New York Mets
83
79
.512
6
St. Louis Cardinals
76
86
.469
13
Philadelphia Phillies
73
88
.453
15.5
Montreal Expos
73
89
.451
16
National League West
Cincinnati Reds
102
60
.630
---
Los Angeles Dodgers
87
74
.540
14.5
San Francisco Giants
86
76
.531
16
Houston Astros
79
83
.488
23
Atlanta Braves
76
86
.469
26
San Diego Padres
63
99
.389
39
American League East
Baltimore Orioles
108
54
.667
---
New York Yankees
93
69
.574
15
Boston Red Sox
87
75
.537
21
Detroit Tigers
79
83
.488
29
Cleveland Indians
76
86
.469
32
Washington Senators
70
92
.432
38
American League West
Minnesota Twins
98
64
.605
---
Oakland A's
89
73
.549
9
California Angels
86
76
.531
12
Kansas City Royals
65
97
.401
33
Milwaukee Brewers
65
97
.401
33
Chicago White Sox
56
106
.346
42

1970 Postseason Results
NLCS Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh, 3-0.
ALCS Baltimore defeated Minnesota, 3-0.
World Series Baltimore (AL) defeated Cincinnati (NL), 4-1.


It Happened in 1970

Here Comes the Flood
Curt Flood, a solid outfielder and consistent .300 hitter throughout the 1960s for the St. Louis Cardinals, is traded to the Philadelphia Phillies—but refuses to report to his new team, demanding to be made a free agent instead. When Commissioner Bowie Kuhn denies Flood’s request, Flood sues Major League Baseball for $4.1 million, claiming the reserve clause is illegal. His fight takes nearly two years and ultimately ends up at the U.S. Supreme Court—which upholds earlier rulings against Flood.

The large bloc of public support for Flood, combined with a strengthened players union behind Marvin Miller, telegraphs to baseball owners that the reserve clause’s days may be numbered anyway.

They Should Give Him an Award Every Day
After receiving his 1969 Cy Young Award in a pregame ceremony at Shea Stadium, Tom Seaver of the New York Mets goes out and ties the major league record for most strikeouts in a nine-inning game with 19, while breaking another all-time mark by striking out ten consecutive batters—the last ten he faces—in a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on April 22. The game record has since been broken, but the consecutive mark remains intact.

The Ultimate Insult, In More Ways Than One
When the Mets and Padres reconvene nearly two months later on July 21, Padre pitcher Clay Kirby is throwing a no-hitter after eight innings—but is trailing, 1-0. In desperate need of a run, Padre manager Preston Gomez removes Kirby for pinch-hitter Cito Gaston in the bottom of the eighth—infuriating the hometown fans in San Diego. Gaston strikes out, the Padres do not score, and Kirby’s replacement, Jack Baldschun, allows two runs in the ninth and the Padres lose, 3-0.

And This Time, Cincinnati, No Stuffing
Voting for the All-Star Game is returned to the fans for the first time since 1957, when fans in Cincinnati voted repeatedly and placed seven Reds on the National League’s starting roster. Ironically, this year’s Midsummer Classic will take place in Cincinnati, with only two Red starters: Tony Perez and Johnny Bench.

Ball Four, You’re Out
Jim Bouton, winner of 21 games in 1963, 18 in 1964—and 11 over the next five years after being besieged with arm problems—writes Ball Four, a controversial book covering his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots. The book breaks baseball’s rule of thumb discouraging players from revealing the private lives of major league ballplayers and management. Bouton is called on the carpet and officially “censured” by commissioner Kuhn, and retires after another dismal year pitching for the Houston Astros. In part because of the publicity generated by Kuhn’s rebuke, Ball Four becomes a bestseller.

The Fall of Denny McLain, Parts I, II & III
Detroit pitcher Denny McLain—just two years removed from his sensational 31-6 campaign of 1968—is suspended three times in 1970, twice by Kuhn and once by the Tigers. The initial Kuhn suspension covers the first half of the season, after McLain is found connected with local gambling undesirables. The second by Kuhn occurs on September 9 and lasts the rest of the season after a number of behavioral incidents including an alleged report of McLain waving a gun in a Detroit restaurant. In between, the Tigers ground him for a week after he dumps ice on sports reporters asking about his gambling involvement. What little time McLain does spend on the mound is mediocre, going 3-5 in 14 starts with a 4.62 earned run average.

Calling a Different Kind of Strike
At the outset of the postseason, major league umpires begin a strike in an effort to seek pay wages for League Championship Series and World Series games. The owners’ quick counteroffer is accepted, and the umpires are back at work after just one day on the picket line. In their place, minor league umpires work the first games of each LCS.

Ellis, D. on LSD
Dock Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates hurls a no-hitter against the Padres on June 12, surviving eight walks, a hit batsmen—and the hallucinatory drug LSD, which Ellis later claims he was on while pitching the game. The Pirates win in the first game of a doubleheader, 2-0.

Nice, Big Round Numbers
Ernie Banks, 39, hits his 500th career home run on May 12; Hank Aaron, 36, collects his 3,000th hit on May 17, and Willie Mays, 39, does the same on July 18.

Millenary Billy
The Cubs’ Billy Williams becomes the first National Leaguer ever to play 1,000 consecutive games when he takes the field on April 30 against Atlanta. The streak will get the better of him late in the year when, exhausted, he asks to sit out a September 3 game against Philadelphia, ending his run at 1,117 games. Steve Garvey will surpass his mark in 1983.

He’s Pitching A Thousand
Hoyt Wilhelm, 46, becomes the first major league pitcher to appear in 1,000 games when he takes the mound for the Braves in a relief appearance, May 10 vs. St. Louis. Wilhelm, who began his career in 1952, will appear another 70 times over the next two years before retiring in 1972.

The Pilots’ One-Way Ticket to Milwaukee
Two weeks after going bankrupt—and a week before the regular season begins—the Seattle Pilots are no longer after just one year in the majors. The franchise is purchased and relocated to Milwaukee—where they’ll be known as the Brewers—by a group of Milwaukee businessmen led by future baseball commissioner Bud Selig. It marks the permanent return of baseball to Milwaukee four years after the Braves departed.

Perry, Perry Excellent
The Brothers Perry, Gaylord and Jim, become the first siblings to each win 20 games in the same year. They both do one better, co-leading their respective leagues in wins. Jim Perry wins 24 for the Minnesota Twins (tying him with Baltimore Oriole starters Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally), while Gaylord Perry takes 23 for the San Francisco Giants to match the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bob Gibson.

Lucky Seven
Detroit shortstop Cesar Gutierrez, entering the second game of a June 21 doubleheader at Cleveland having gone hitless in his last 18 at-bats, sets a modern major league mark by collecting seven hits in seven at-bats in a 12-inning, 9-8 Tiger win. Wearing no. 7, Gutierrez collects six singles—three of them infield hits—and a triple among his seven hits. It’s a remarkable achievement in an otherwise unremarkable career, in which Gutierrez lasts four years with 128 total hits and a .235 batting average.

The Butler Did It
Another Gutierrez triple hit during the year results in an embarrassing moment for Kansas City pitcher Bill Butler on April 30. The Royals claim Gutierrez missed the bag rounding first, so Butler throws over an appeal toss—which goes wildly past first baseman Mike Fiore. The loose ball allows Gutierrez to score. The Royals overcome the blunder and defeat the Tigers in ten innings, 3-2.

Something Not to Shoot For
The Giants’ Bobby Bonds strikes out 189 times, breaking a record he set just two years earlier. The new mark will stand, “surviving” close calls from other players who will avoid breaking the record by sitting out of action towards the end of the season; Adam Dunn will finally be the one player man enough to break the mark in 2004.

The Pajama Game
The Pittsburgh Pirates become the first team to wear double-knit, softball-style uniforms, replacing the button-down variations of old and igniting a colorful (if not garish) fashion trend that will continue into the 1980s.

New Ballparks

Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati and Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh To argue that these two facilities were separated at birth is not an overstatement; it’s an understatement. Both were modern, circular, fully enclosed, multi-purpose stadia with artificial turf. Both began construction in 1968. Both opened for business two weeks apart in the middle of the 1970 season. Both were destroyed by demolition experts shortly after the Turn of the Millennium. Both were situated alongside rivers near downtown. And there was even confusion in their names, both of which had the word “river” in it. Finally, both Riverfront and Three Rivers would host the 1970 NLCS, with respective tenants in the Reds and Pirates fighting it out.

Riverfront Stadium—it wasn’t named that until five weeks after it opened—showed more modern signs of the times with an underground parking garage and metric distance markers on the outfield wall. Three Rivers Stadium was designed in part by Michael Baker Jr., whose architectural firm also drew up the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. While there was no parking under Three Rivers, there were skunks—one of which arose on the turf during a 1986 game, causing a slight delay and many plugged noses among players and fans.


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