After winning the American League Cy Young Award in 1974, Catfish Hunter became a free agent when Oakland A’s owner Charley Finley failed to live up to the full terms of the pitcher’s contract. Hunter subsequently signed a five-year $3.75-million deal with the Yankees on December 31, 1974 that helped usher in the era of big-money free agency.
Even without Hunter, the A’s managed to capture their fifth consecutive A.L. West title in 1975. Oakland finished the season with a record of 98-64, seven games ahead of the ever-improving second-place Kansas City Royals. The Athletics remained an extremely well-balanced ball club, placing second in the junior circuit with 758 runs scored and a team ERA of 3.27. Vida Blue established himself as the ace of the staff in Hunter’s absence, leading the team with a record of 22-11, a 3.01 ERA, 189 strikeouts, and 278 innings pitched. Ken Holtzman finished second on the club with 18 victories and a 3.14 ERA. Meanwhile, Rollie Fingers anchored the bullpen, saving 24 games and winning 10 others, while appearing in a league-leading 75 games.
Gene Tenace, Joe Rudi, Claudell Washington, and Reggie Jackson all contributed significantly on offense. Tenace hit 29 homers and drove in 87 runs. Rudi batted .278, homered 21 times, and knocked in 75 runs. The 20-year-old Washington batted .308, drove in 77 runs, scored 86 others, and stole 40 bases in his first full season. Jackson remained the focal point of Oakland’s attack, topping the circuit with 36 home runs and placing among the leaders with 104 runs batted in, 91 runs scored, and 303 total bases.
In spite of the impressive numbers Jackson posted, John Mayberry of the runner-up Royals established himself as the Western Division’s premier slugger over the course of the regular season. The big first baseman earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by batting .291, scoring 95 runs, and finishing near the top of the league rankings with 34 home runs and 106 runs batted in.
While Oakland remained the dominant team in the West, the balance of power shifted in the Eastern Division with the arrival of two outstanding rookies in Boston. Fred Lynn and Jim Rice helped lead the Red Sox to a record of 95-65 that earned them their first A.L. East title. The Baltimore Orioles placed second in the division, 4 ½ games back, while the New York Yankees finished a distant third, 12 games off the pace.
The Red Sox combined solid pitching with the league’s most potent offense to claim their first A.L. East crown. Rick Wise, Luis Tiant, and Bill Lee served as Boston’s “Big Three” at the top of their starting rotation, combining to win a total of 54 games between them. Meanwhile, Lynn, Rice, and Carlton Fisk paced a Red Sox offense that topped the junior circuit with 796 runs scored and a team batting average of .275. Although limited by injury to only 79 games, Fisk batted .331, drove in 52 runs, and scored 47 others, in only 263 official at-bats. Rice hit 22 homers, knocked in 102 runs, scored 92 others, and batted .309, en route to earning a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting. Fellow rookie Lynn won the award for his brilliant all-around play. In addition to playing a superb center field for the Red Sox, Lynn hit 21 home runs, placed among the league leaders with 105 runs batted in and a .331 batting average, and led the A.L. with 103 runs scored, 47 doubles, and a .566 slugging percentage. By being named both A.L. MVP and Rookie of the Year, Lynn became the first player to earn both honors in the same year.
The Red Sox made quick work of the Athletics in the ALCS, sweeping the three-time defending world champions in three straight games, while outscoring them by a combined margin of 18-7. Boston then faced in the World Series a powerful Cincinnati Reds team that posted 108 victories during the regular season. Although they entered the Fall Classic as heavy underdogs, the Red Sox took the Reds to the limit, engaging them in one of the most memorable World Series ever.
Luis Tiant baffled Cincinnati’s lineup in Games One and Four, giving the Red Sox their only two wins in the first five contests. Facing elimination in Game Six, Boston overcame a 6-3 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning when pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo delivered a game-tying three-run homer. The two teams batted into the 12th inning, when Carlton Fisk sent the Series to a decisive seventh game by hitting Pat Darcy’s first offering high off the left field foul pole. The Red Sox subsequently appeared to be in good position to capture their first world championship in 57 years when they held a 3-0 lead heading into the top of the sixth inning of Game Seven. But the Reds rallied, scoring four unanswered runs in the final four frames, to hand the Red Sox their third World Series defeat in as many tries.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• June 1 – California’s Nolan Ryan pitched his fourth career no-hitter, winning 1–0 over the Orioles, to tie the record set by Sandy Koufax.
• June 18 - Fred Lynn drove in 10 runs with three home runs, a triple and a single during a 15–1 Boston victory over the Detroit Tigers. Lynn's 16 total bases tied an American League record.
• August 2 - At Shea Stadium, the New York Yankees defeated the Cleveland Indians 5-3 in Billy Martin's debut as Yankee manager. Martin replaced the fired Bill Virdon as Yankee skipper the day before.
• November 10 - The Kansas City Royals released slugger Harmon Killebrew, ending a 22-year Hall of Fame career marked by 573 home runs.
• December 23 – Arbitrator Peter Seitz announced a landmark decision in favor of the Players’ Association, making pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free agents. John Gaherin, chairman of the owners’ Player Relations Committee, immediately fired Seitz following the ruling. McNally, who retired on June 8, never again pitched in the major leagues.
• Returning to Milwaukee as a member of the Brewers, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s career RBI record of 2,211.
• Baltimore’s Jim Palmer earned A.L. Cy Young honors for the second time by compiling a record of 23-11, leading the league with a 2.09 ERA and 10 shutouts, and placing among the leaders with 323 innings pitched and 25 complete games.
• Frank Robinson took over as manager of the Cleveland Indians, making him the first black skipper in major league history.
• Four A's pitchers combined to no-hit California on September 28.
• Milwaukee’s George Scott led the American League with 109 runs batted in and 318 total bases, and he tied Reggie Jackson for the lead with 36 home runs.
• Brooks Robinson led American League third basemen in fielding average a record 11th time.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Ralph Kiner, Bucky Harris, Earl Averill, Billy Herman, and Judy Johnson.
• Hall of Famers Casey Stengel, Lefty Grove, and Joe Medwick all passed away.
• The Tigers lost 19 games in a row.
• The Yankees traded Bobby Bonds to the Angels for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa at the end of the year.
• Brewer Mike Hegan's record streak of 178 consecutive errorless games at first base ended.
• Catfish Hunter had a big first year in New York, tying Jim Palmer for the league lead with 23 victories, compiling a 2.58 earned run average, and leading all A.L. hurlers with 328 innings pitched and 30 complete games. Hunter remains the last major league pitcher to complete as many as 30 games in a season.
• Yankee teammate Thurman Munson placed among the league leaders with 102 runs batted in, a .318 batting average, and 190 hits.
• California’s Frank Tanana broke teammate Nolan Ryan’s stranglehold on the strikeout title by fanning a league-leading 269 batters.
• Kansas City’s George Brett batted .308, drove in 90 runs, and led the American League with 195 hits and 13 triples.
• Minnesota’s Rod Carew won his fourth consecutive batting title with a mark of .359. He also topped the circuit with a .421 on-base percentage.
More From Around the Web
Among thousands of high-spirited Boston Red Sox and Chicago ...
On July 31, 1996, the New York Yankees acquire slugging DH/f ...
On July 31, 1990, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan of the Texas Rang ...
- 1975 ALCS, 1975 World Series, American League, Andy Messersmith, Bernie Carbo, Bill Lee, Bill Virdon, Billy Martin, Bobby Bonds, Boston Red Sox, Brooks Robinson, Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, Charles Finley, Claudell Washington, Dave McNally, Ed Figueroa, Frank Robinson, Frank Tanana, Fred Lynn, Gene Tenace, George Brett, George Scott, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Palmer, Jim Rice, Joe Rudi, John Mayberry, Ken Holtzman, Lee May, Luis Tiant, Mickey Rivers, Mike Hegan, Nolan Ryan, Oakland Athletics, Pat Darcy, Peter Seitz, Reggie Jackson, Rick Wise, Rod Carew, Rollie Fingers, Ron LeFlore, Thurman Munson, Vida Blue