The major leagues underwent drastic changes in 1969, increasing its number from 20 to 24 teams and adopting a new four-division setup. Under the new format, the regular season was used to determine the four division champions (two in each league), who then squared off in a pair of five-game playoff series used to determine the two league champions. The two league champions then opposed each other in the traditional World Series.
The Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots joined the fraternity of American League ball clubs, while the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres became the National League’s newest members. Both the Royals and Pilots took up residence in the A.L. West, joining the Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and California Angels. The highly-competitive A.L. East featured the league’s last three pennant winners, the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, and Detroit Tigers, along with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, and Washington Senators. Following the 1969 season, the Pilots moved from Seattle to Milwaukee and renamed themselves the Brewers. Just two years later, the Senators left Washington for Texas, leaving the nation's capital without a franchise of its own for the first time since the turn of the century. The new team in Texas was renamed the Rangers, and they switched places with the Brewers, with Milwaukee moving to the A.L. East and Texas taking over their spot in the A.L. West.
Other significant changes implemented prior to the start of the 1969 campaign involved the lowering of the pitching mound from 15 to 10 inches, and the restoration of the pre-1963 strike zone. The Rules Committee instituted both changes with the intent of restoring a semblance of balance to the national pastime, which had come to be dominated by pitching the previous few years.
Once the regular season began, the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins clearly established themselves as the class of the American League, easily winning their respective divisions. The Orioles finished first in the East with a record of 109-53, a full 19 games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers. The Twins captured the Western Division title, concluding the regular season with a record of 97-65, nine games in front of the runner-up Oakland Athletics.
The Twins featured the American League’s most potent offense, topping the junior circuit with 790 runs scored. Cesar Tovar and Rod Carew provided speed at the top of the batting order, while Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew supplied much of the power in the middle of the lineup. Leadoff hitter Tovar batted .288, scored 99 runs, and stole 45 bases. Number two hitter Carew led the American League with a .332 batting average, stole 19 bases, and scored 79 runs. Oliva hit 24 homers, drove in 101 runs, scored 97 others, batted .309, and led the league with 197 hits and 39 doubles. Killebrew batted .276, scored 106 runs, and topped the circuit with 49 home runs, 140 runs batted in, 145 bases on balls, and a .427 on-base percentage, en route to earning A.L. MVP honors.
Minnesota also had a solid pitching staff that finished third in the league with a 3.24 team ERA. Jim Perry was the club’s most effective starter, compiling a record of 20-6 and a 2.82 ERA. Dave Boswell finished 20-12 with a 3.23 ERA. Meanwhile, Ron Perranoski served as the team’s closer, winning nine games in relief and leading the league with 31 saves.
A beautifully-balanced ball club, the Baltimore Orioles scored only 11 fewer runs than the Twins, and they led the American League with an exceptional team ERA of 2.83. Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and Jim Palmer all excelled as members of Baltimore’s starting rotation. Cuellar finished 23-11, with a 2.38 ERA, 18 complete games, and 291 innings pitched. He shared Cy Young honors with Detroit’s Denny McLain. McNally compiled a record of 20-7, along with a 3.22 ERA. Palmer finished 16-4 and placed second in the league with a 2.34 ERA.
Don Buford, Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Boog Powell all made significant contributions to the Orioles on offense. Buford batted .291, compiled a .397 on-base percentage, and scored 99 runs. Blair hit 26 homers, drove in 76 runs, scored 102 others, batted .285, and stole 20 bases. Brooks Robinson homered 23 times and drove in 84 runs. Frank Robinson hit 32 homers, knocked in 100 runs, and led the club with 111 runs scored and a .308 batting average. Powell earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by batting .304 and placing among the league leaders with 37 homers and 121 runs batted in.
Although Baltimore swept Minnesota in three straight games in the first American League Championship Series, the Twins put up a good fight in Games One and Two, losing both contests in extra innings. The Orioles won the Series clincher in convincing fashion, though, posting an 11-2 victory on the strength of 18 hits and a complete-game effort by starting pitcher Jim Palmer.
However, the “Miracle” New York Mets stunned the heavily-favored Orioles in the World Series, defeating them in five games after dropping the first contest in Baltimore. New York’s outstanding young pitching staff held Baltimore’s vaunted lineup in check throughout the Fall Classic, limiting the Orioles to a team batting average of just .146. After posting a .333 batting average against the Twins in the ALCS, Frank Robinson batted just .188 against the Mets. Meanwhile, Baltimore regulars Brooks Robinson, Dave Johnson, Don Buford, and Paul Blair hit a combined .080.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• March 1 - Mickey Mantle announced his retirement.
• April 11 - Seattle successfully inaugurated Major League Baseball at Sicks Stadium‚ as pitcher Gary Bell defeated the Chicago White Sox 7–0.
• Bowie Kuhn replaced Spike Eckert as baseball commissioner.
• Detroit's Denny McLain earned a share of the Cy Young Award by leading the league with 24 wins, nine shutouts, and 325 innings pitched. McLain also compiled an ERA of 2.80 and threw 23 complete games.
• Rod Carew tied Pete Reiser’s major league single season record by stealing home seven times.
• Dave McNally set an Orioles franchise record by winning 15 games in a row.
• Hired to manage the Washington Senators, Ted Williams led the team to its first winning record in its nine-year history.
• Twins manager Billy Martin beat up one of his own pitchers, Dave Boswell.
• Boston's Rico Petrocelli established a new record for American League shortstops by hitting 40 home runs.
• In the middle of a personal 15-game winning streak, Jim Palmer threw a no-hitter against the Oakland A’s on August 13.
• Cleveland's Sam McDowell led the league with 279 strikeouts.
• Hoyt Wilhelm became the first pitcher in major league history to achieve 200 career saves.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, Stan Coveleski, and Waite Hoyt.
• Kansas City’s Lou Piniella (11 home runs, 68 RBIs, .282 batting average) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Cleveland traded Luis Tiant and Stan Williams to Minnesota for Graig Nettles, Dean Chance, and two other players.
• Washington's Dick Bosman led the league with a 2.19 ERA.
• Oakland's Reggie Jackson hit 47 home runs, knocked in 118 runs, and led the American League with 123 runs scored and a .608 slugging average.
• A’s teammate Sal Bando hit 31 homers, drove in 113 runs, scored 106 others, and batted .281.
• Seattle's Tommy Harper led the league with 73 steals.
• Washington’s Frank Howard hit 48 home runs, knocked in 111 runs, scored 111 others, and batted .296.
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