The Baltimore Orioles continued their domination of the American League East in 1971, capturing their third consecutive division title by finishing the campaign with a record of 101-57, 12 games ahead of the second-place Detroit Tigers. By surpassing 100 victories for the third straight season, the Orioles became the first team since the 1942-1944 St. Louis Cardinals to win at least 100 games three straight years.
Once again the American League’s most well-balanced team, the Orioles finished first in the junior circuit with 742 runs scored, a .261 team batting average, and a 2.99 team ERA. Reigning A.L. MVP Boog Powell posted subpar numbers, finishing the year with only 22 home runs, 92 runs batted in, 59 runs scored, and a .256 batting average. However, the rest of Baltimore’s lineup picked up the slack. Frank Robinson led the team with 28 home runs, placed second in the league with 99 runs batted in, and batted .281. Brooks Robinson hit 20 homers and drove in 92 runs. Don Buford hit 19 homers, batted .290, and led the A.L. with 99 runs scored. Merv Rettenmund batted .318, knocked in 75 runs, and scored 81 others.
The Orioles’ greatest strength, though, lay in their pitching staff, which featured four 20-game winners. Dave McNally finished 21-5 with a 2.89 earned run average. Jim Palmer compiled a record of 20-9, threw 20 complete games and 282 innings, and led the staff with an ERA of 2.68. Mike Cuellar also posted a mark of 20-9, and he pitched to an ERA of 3.08 and led the team with 21 complete games and 292 innings pitched. Pat Dobson gave the Birds a fourth 20-game winner, going 20-8, with a 2.90 ERA, and tossing 18 complete games and 282 innings.
While the Orioles continued to reign supreme in the A.L. East, the Oakland Athletics replaced the Minnesota Twins as the Western Division’s dominant team, winning their first of five consecutive division titles. The A’s finished the regular season with a record of 101-60, 16 games in front of the runner-up Kansas City Royals.
Also an extremely well-balanced ball club, the Athletics finished tied for third in the league with 691 runs scored, and they placed second in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 3.05. Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, and Bert Campaneris paced the A’s on offense. Jackson batted .277, drove in 80 runs, scored 87 others, and finished among the league leaders with 32 home runs. Bando earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by hitting 24 homers and knocking in 94 runs. Campaneris scored 80 runs and finished fourth in the league with 34 stolen bases.
Meanwhile, the duo of Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue anchored Oakland’s pitching staff. Hunter finished 21-11, with a 2.96 ERA, 273 innings pitched, and 16 complete games. Blue earned A.L. Cy Young and MVP honors by compiling a record of 24-8, leading the league with a 1.82 ERA and eight shutouts, and finishing among the leaders with 24 complete games, 312 innings pitched, and 301 strikeouts.
However, Blue and the rest of the young A’s struggled against the more experienced Orioles in the ALCS, losing the Series in three straight games. Blue surrendered five runs to the Birds in his lone start, dropping a 5-3 decision. Baltimore took the other two contests by scores of 5-1 and 5-3.
The Orioles subsequently got off to a fast start against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series, grabbing an early two-games-to-none lead in the Fall Classic. The Pirates rallied to win the next three games at home, though, forcing Baltimore to stave off elimination with a 10-inning victory in Game Six. Pittsburgh’s Steve Blass out-dueled Mike Cuellar in the decisive seventh contest, earning his second Series win by throwing a complete-game four-hitter. The 2-1 Pirates’ victory gave them their first world championship in 11 years. Roberto Clemente earned Series MVP honors by batting .414, with 12 hits and two home runs.
While the Orioles clearly established themselves as the strongest team in the A.L. East during the regular season, the two best players in the division performed for other teams. Detroit Tigers left-hander Mickey Lolich had a sensational season, compiling a record of 25-14, to lead all A.L. hurlers in victories. Lolich also posted an ERA of 2.92, and he topped the circuit with 308 strikeouts, 376 innings pitched, and 29 complete games. His 45 starts and 376 innings pitched represented the highest totals compiled by any pitcher since the Dead-ball Era.
Meanwhile, New York Yankees centerfielder Bobby Murcer had arguably the finest season of any position player in the league. Murcer hit 25 home runs, finished among the league leaders with 94 runs batted in, 94 runs scored, and a .543 slugging percentage, placed second in the batting race with a mark of .331, and led the league with a .429 on-base percentage.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• May 6 - Commissioner Bowie Kuhn signed Major League Baseball to a $72 million television contract with NBC.
• July 7 - Commissioner Kuhn announced that players from the Negro Leagues elected to the Hall of Fame would be given full membership in the museum. It had previously been announced that they would be honored in a separate wing.
• July 13 - In an All-Star Game featuring home runs by future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew, and Frank Robinson, the American League triumphed over the National League 6-4 at Tiger Stadium. The A.L. victory was the only one the junior circuit registered between 1962 and 1983. Jackson’s mammoth home run was later estimated to have traveled some 520 feet.
• August 10 – Minnesota’s Harmon Killebrew became the tenth member of the 500 home run club during a 4-3 loss to Mike Cuellar and the Baltimore Orioles.
• September 13 – Baltimore’s Frank Robinson became the 11th player to reach 500 career home runs.
• December 10 - The California Angels traded star shortstop Jim Fregosi to the New York Mets for four players, including Nolan Ryan.
• Chicago's Bill Melton led the American League with 33 home runs.
• Baltimore became the only pennant-winning team in major league history to have four 20-game winners.
• Cleveland third baseman Graig Nettles compiled a major league record 412 assists.
• Minnesota’s Tony Oliva won his third American League batting title with a mark of .337, and he also topped the circuit with a .546 slugging average.
• Cleveland first baseman Chris Chambliss (nine home runs, 48 RBIs, .278 batting average) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Harmon Killebrew led the league with 119 runs batted in and 114 walks.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Jake Beckley, Dave Bancroft, Chick Hafey, Harry Hooper, Joe Kelley, Rube Marquard, George Weiss, and Satchel Paige.
• At the end of the year, the Orioles traded Frank Robinson and reliever Pete Richert to the Dodgers for four players.
• Hall of Famers Heinie Manush, Goose Goslin, and Elmer Flick all passed away.
• Minnesota's Cesar Tovar led the American League with 204 hits, 25 more than any other player in the circuit.
• Kansas City’s Amos Otis and Fred Patek finished first and second in the league with 52 and 49 stolen bases, respectively.
- 1971 World Series, Al Kaline, American League, Amos Otis, Baltimore Orioles, Bert Campaneris, Bill Melton, Bobby Murcer, Boog Powell, Bowie Kuhn, Brooks Robinson, Catfish Hunter, Cesar Tovar, Chris Chambliss, Dave McNally, Don Buford, Frank Robinson, Freddie Patek, Graig Nettles, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Fregosi, Jim Palmer, Merv Rettenmund, Mickey Lolich, Mike Cuellar, Nolan Ryan, Oakland Athletics, Pat Dobson, Reggie Jackson, Roberto Clemente, Sal Bando, Sam McDowell, Steve Blass, Tony Oliva, Vida Blue