Baseball’s most compelling pennant race in 1974 took place in the American League East, where the Baltimore Orioles won 27 of their final 33 games to edge out the New York Yankees for their fifth division title in six years. The Orioles finished the regular season with a record of 91-71, just two games ahead of the Yankees. The Boston Red Sox came in third, seven games off the pace.
The Orioles hardly overwhelmed their opponents on offense, finishing just ninth in the junior circuit with 659 runs scored. DH Tommy Davis and second baseman Bobby Grich were the team’s top two hitters. Davis led the Birds with 84 runs batted in and a .289 batting average. Grich knocked in 82 runs and finished first on the team with 19 home runs and 92 runs scored.
The Orioles’ greatest strength continued to be their pitching, which placed second in the league with a 3.27 team ERA. Mike Cuellar served as staff ace, finishing 22-10, with a 3.11 ERA and 20 complete games. Ross Grimsley posted 18 victories, threw 17 complete games, and led the club with a 3.07 ERA and 296 innings pitched. Dave McNally gave the team another 16 wins.
Baltimore subsequently faced the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS for the second straight year. The A’s captured their fourth consecutive Western Division title by finishing the regular season with a record of 90-72, five games in front of the runner-up Texas Rangers, who actually scored one more run (690) than the division champions. A.L. MVP Jeff Burroughs led the Rangers on offense, batting .301, topping the circuit with 118 runs batted in, and placing among the leaders with 25 home runs, a .405 on-base percentage, and a .504 slugging average. The Rangers also had one of the league’s best pitchers in Ferguson Jenkins, who led all A.L. starters with 29 complete games, tied for the league lead with 25 wins, and finished among the leaders with a 2.82 ERA, 225 strikeouts, and 328 innings pitched. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they had no one else on their staff to complement Jenkins. Texas finished 10th in the American League with a 3.82 team ERA.
Meanwhile, the A’s led the league with a team ERA of 2.95, and their pitching staff included the junior circuit’s top hurler. Catfish Hunter earned A.L. Cy Young honors by finishing the year with a record of 25-12, to tie Jenkins for the league lead in victories. He also led all A.L. starters with a 2.49 ERA, and he placed near the top of the league rankings with 318 innings pitched and 23 complete games.
Hunter received a considerable amount of support from an Oakland lineup that included Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, and Reggie Jackson. Bando batted only .243, but he hit 22 home runs and finished second in the league with 103 runs batted in. Rudi also hit 22 homers, batted .293, placed third in the league with 99 runs batted in, and topped the circuit with 39 doubles. Jackson followed up his 1973 MVP campaign by finishing second in the league with 29 home runs, driving in 93 runs, scoring 90 others, and batting .289.
The A’s outstanding team balance enabled them to defeat the Orioles in four games in the ALCS. After Baltimore took Game One by a score of 6-3 behind Mike Cuellar, Oakland swept the final three games, posting victories of 5-0, 1-0, and 2-1. Ken Holtzman and Vida Blue tossed consecutive shutouts in Games Two and Three, with Blue allowing the Orioles just two hits in his Game Three gem.
Oakland and Los Angeles subsequently waged California's version of a Subway Series, with the A’s prevailing in five games. Nevertheless, the Series turned out to be extremely competitive, with four of the five contests ending in identical 3-2 scores. Rollie Fingers earned Series MVP honors by appearing in four of the five contests, saving two games, winning another, and compiling a 1.93 ERA. The A’s victory made them the only team other than the Yankees to win three straight world championships.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• August 12 - Nolan Ryan of the California Angels struck out 19 batters in a 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
• September 7 - During a 3–1 win over the Chicago White Sox, Ryan had a fastball clocked at 100.8 miles per hour — the fastest pitch ever recorded.
• September 12 - Tigers pitcher John Hiller picked up his 17th victory in relief, establishing in the process a new American League record.
• September 24 - Al Kaline of the Tigers collected his 3,000th career hit during a 5-4 Detroit victory over Dave McNally and the Baltimore Orioles. Kaline retired at the end of the season, leaving him just one home run shy of becoming the first American Leaguer to reach 3,000 hits and 400 homers.
• October 3 – The Cleveland Indians named Frank Robinson their new manager, making Robinson the first black skipper in major league history.
• November 27 - Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for two years as a result of Steinbrenner's conviction for making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and other politicians.
• December 31 - After earning his freedom through arbitration over missed insurance payments by the Oakland Athletics, Jim "Catfish" Hunter signed a record $3.75 million five-year contract to pitch for the New York Yankees.
• Minnesota’s Rod Carew led the American League with a .364 batting average, 218 hits, and a .435 on-base percentage, and he finished second with 38 stolen bases.
• Chicago’s Dick Allen topped the circuit with 32 home runs and a .563 slugging average.
• Ron LeFlore made his debut with the Detroit Tigers after being released from prison the previous year.
• On June 4 in Cleveland, 10-cent beer night resulted in a near riot and the forfeit of the game to Texas.
• Milwaukee's Don Money set a new major league record for third basemen by compiling a .989 fielding average.
• Money's record streak of 261 consecutive errorless chances at third base ended.
• Mike Hargrove of the Rangers earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors by batting .323, driving in 66 runs, and compiling a .395 on-base percentage.
• Nolan Ryan threw a no-hitter against the Twins on September 28.
• Steve Busby of Kansas City tossed a no-hitter against Milwaukee on June 19.
• Dick Bosman of Cleveland threw a no-hitter against Oakland on July 19.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Jim Bottomley, Jocko Conlan, Sam Thompson, and Cool Papa Bell.
• The Yankees traded Bobby Murcer to the Giants for Bobby Bonds.
• Gaylord Perry tied a Cleveland Indians record by winning 15 games in a row.
• Hall of Famers Harry Hooper, Dizzy Dean, and Sam Rice all passed away.
• Baltimore's Bobby Grich set a new major league record for second basemen by compiling 484 putouts over the course of the season.
• Nolan Ryan led the major leagues with 333 innings pitched and 367 strikeouts.
• Oakland's Bill North led the American League with 54 stolen bases.
- 1974 ALCS, 1974 World Series, Al Kaline, American League, Baltimore Orioles, Billy North, Bobby Bonds, Bobby Grich, Bobby Murcer, Bowie Kuhn, Catfish Hunter, Dave McNally, Dick Allen, Dick Bosman, Don Money, Fergie Jenkins, Frank Robinson, Gaylord Perry, Gene Tenace, George Steinbrenner, Jeff Burroughs, Joe Rudi, John Hiller, John Mayberry, Ken Holtzman, Mike Cuellar, Mike Hargrove, Nolan Ryan, Oakland Athletics, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Rollie Fingers, Ron LeFlore, Ross Grimsley, Sal Bando, Steve Busby, Tommy Davis, Vida Blue