The 1970 baseball season began with two of the game’s biggest stars out of uniform. Newly-elected baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Denny McLain indefinitely for the star pitcher’s alleged involvement in a bookmaking operation. Meanwhile, Gold Glove centerfielder Curt Flood elected not to report to the Phillies after the St. Louis Cardinals included him in a seven-player deal they completed with Philadelphia at the end of the previous season. Instead, Flood chose to pursue an antitrust lawsuit challenging baseball’s reserve clause, which gave team owners the right to trade players against their wishes. Additional news off the field included the relocation of the Seattle franchise to Milwaukee and the censorship of Astros pitcher Jim Bouton by Bowie Kuhn for the release of his controversial memoir, Ball Four.
Once the regular season got underway, it soon became apparent that the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins were likely to experience little difficulty repeating as division champions in the American League. The Orioles ended up compiling a record of 108-54 during the campaign, en route to finishing 15 games ahead of the second-place Yankees in the A.L. East. The Twins similarly dominated the Western Division, posting a mark of 98-64 that left them a full nine games in front of the runner-up Oakland Athletics.
A well-balanced ball club, the Twins finished third in the junior circuit in runs scored, and they also placed second in team ERA. Veteran right-hander Jim Perry anchored Minnesota’s starting rotation, earning A.L. Cy Young honors by tying for the league lead with 24 victories, compiling a 3.04 ERA, and throwing 279 innings. On offense, Cesar Tovar provided a spark at the top of the batting order, hitting .300, placing among the league leaders with 120 runs scored, 195 hits, and 30 stolen bases, and topping the circuit with 36 doubles and 13 triples. Tony Oliva had a big year, hitting 23 home runs, driving in 107 runs, batting .325, and leading the league with 204 hits and 36 doubles. Harmon Killebrew earned a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by batting .271, scoring 96 runs, and finishing among the league leaders with 41 home runs, 113 runs batted in, 128 walks, and a .411 on-base percentage.
The Orioles clearly established themselves as the American League’s best team for the second straight year, leading the league with 792 runs scored and a team ERA of 3.15. On offense, Frank Robinson hit 25 home runs, knocked in 78 runs, and batted .306. Brooks Robinson hit 18 homers, drove in 94 runs, and batted .276. Paul Blair hit 18 homers and scored 79 runs, while Don Buford hit 17 homers and led the team with 99 runs scored. After finishing second in the voting to Harmon Killebrew one year earlier, Boog Powell earned A.L. MVP honors by batting .297 and placing among the league leaders with 35 home runs and 114 runs batted in.
Still, the Orioles’ greatest strength may well have been their pitching. Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar tied for the league lead with 24 victories, compiling records of 24-9 and 24-8, respectively. McNally also pitched 296 innings, while Cuellar threw 297 frames and led the league with 21 complete games. Jim Palmer finished 20-10 with a 2.71 ERA, and he led all A.L. hurlers with 305 innings pitched and five shutouts.
After sweeping the Twins in the ALCS for the second straight year, the Orioles entered the World Series against the powerful Cincinnati Reds seeking to redeem themselves for their poor performance against the New York Mets in the previous year’s Fall Classic. Cincinnati’s batting order included table-setters Bobby Tolan and Pete Rose, as well as sluggers Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Lee May. However, aided by Brooks Robinson’s outstanding glove work at third base, Baltimore’s superior pitching prevailed, holding Cincinnati’s vaunted lineup to a team batting average of just .213. The Orioles took the Series in five games, with Robinson earning Series MVP honors by batting .429, with two homers and six runs batted in.
Although the Orioles and Twins finished well ahead of their closest competitors in their respective divisions, many of the league’s best players performed for other teams. The Boston Red Sox finished third in the A.L. East, 21 games behind Baltimore. Nevertheless, they featured one of the most potent offenses in the junior circuit, scoring only six fewer runs than the Orioles and leading the league with 203 home runs and a .262 team batting average. Centerfielder Reggie Smith hit 22 homers, scored 109 runs, and batted .303. Shortstop Rico Petrocelli hit 29 home runs and drove in 103 runs. Right-fielder Tony Conigliaro, still on the mend from his serious 1967 beaning, hit 36 home runs and finished second in the league with 116 runs batted in. Carl Yastrzemski established himself as arguably the league’s finest all-around player over the course of the season, hitting 40 home runs, knocking in 102 runs, finishing a close second in the batting race with a mark of .329, and topping the circuit with 125 runs scored, 335 total bases, a .453 on-base percentage, and a .592 slugging percentage.
Tommy Harper also had an exceptional all-around year for the Milwaukee Brewers, who finished fourth in the A.L. West, 33 games behind the first-place Twins. Batting leadoff for the Brewers while splitting his time between the outfield, third base, and second base, Harper hit 31 home runs, knocked in 82 runs, scored 104 others, batted .296, and finished second in the league with 38 stolen bases.
Frank Howard had a huge year for the Washington Senators, who finished last in the East, 38 games behind the Orioles. The mammoth slugger batted .283, scored 90 runs, and led the league with 44 home runs, 126 runs batted in, and 132 bases on balls.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• February 19 - Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced the suspension of Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, effective April 1, for McLain's alleged involvement in a bookmaking operation. Although indefinite at the time of the announcement, the suspension later was set at three months.
• April 1 - The Milwaukee Brewers organization, headed by Bud Selig, purchased the Seattle Pilots franchise for $10,800,000
• April 7 - Major league baseball returned to Wisconsin after a four-year absence as the Brewers played their first game in Milwaukee, losing to the California Angels 12–0 before a crowd of 37,237.
• May 10 - Hoyt Wilhelm made his 1,000th pitching appearance; the first pitcher in history to do so.
• Alex Johnson of the Angels barely edged out Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski for the batting title with a mark of .329.
• New York’s Thurman Munson (six home runs, 53 RBIs, .302 batting average) captured A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• The Conigliaro brothers, Tony and Billy, hit a sibling record 54 homers for Boston.
• Vida Blue of Oakland threw a no-hitter against Minnesota on September 21.
• Clyde Wright of California tossed a no-hitter against Oakland on July 3.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Lou Boudreau, Earle Combs, Ford Frick, and Jesse Haines.
• Cleveland Indians rookie catcher Ray Fosse sustained a career-threatening injury in a home-plate collision with Pete Rose at the All-Star Game when Rose bowled him over while scoring the winning run.
• Chicago’s Luis Aparicio won the last of his nine Gold Gloves at shortstop.
• Baltimore’s Paul Blair won the third of his eight consecutive Gold Gloves as an American League outfielder.
• Cleveland’s Sam McDowell won 20 games, compiled a 2.92 ERA, threw 19 complete games, and led all A.L. hurlers with 305 innings pitched and 304 strikeouts.
• Hall of Famer Ray Schalk died.
• Jim Bouton's book Ball Four became a huge success after it hit bookstores.
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- 1970 ALCS, 1970 World Series, Alex Johnson, American League, Baltimore Orioles, Bert Campaneris, Billy Conigliaro, Boog Powell, Bowie Kuhn, Brooks Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Cesar Tovar, Clyde Wright, Curt Flood, Dave McNally, Denny McLain, Don Buford, Frank Howard, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Hoyt Wilhelm, Jim Bouton, Jim Palmer, Jim Perry, Joe Coleman, Luis Aparicio, Mike Cuellar, Minnesota Twins, Paul Blair, Ray Fosse, Reggie Smith, Rico Petrocelli, Sam McDowell, Thurman Munson, Tommy Harper, Tony Conigliaro, Tony Oliva, Vida Blue