In spite of outstanding individual performances by the American League’s top two pitchers, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, the 1997 campaign proved to be a huge offensive year throughout the league. Led by A.L. MVP Ken Griffey Jr., who topped the circuit with 56 homers, the Seattle Mariners established a new major league record by hitting 264 home runs as a team. The Mariners also finished first in the league with 925 runs scored. Meanwhile, Mark McGwire slugged 34 homers for Oakland before a July 31 trade sent him to St. Louis, where he clubbed another 24 round-trippers. McGwire’s 58 long balls represented the highest total compiled by any player since Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing single-season mark when he homered 61 times for the Yankees in 1961.
The Mariners’ powerful offense enabled them to capture their second A.L. West title in three years, as they compiled a record of 90-72 that left them six games ahead of the second-place Anaheim Angels. In addition to topping the circuit in runs scored and homers, Seattle finished first in the league with a .485 team slugging average and placed near the top of the rankings with a .280 team batting average and a .355 team on-base percentage. Jay Buhner, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Ken Griffey Jr. all had big years for the Mariners. Although Buhner batted just .243 and struck out a league-leading 175 times, he hit 40 homers, drove in 109 runs, and scored 104 others. Rodriguez hit 23 home runs, scored 100 runs, and batted .300. Martinez went deep 28 times, knocked in 108 runs, scored 104 others, and placed second in the batting race with a mark of .330. Junior earned A.L. MVP honors by batting .304 and topping the circuit with 56 home runs, 147 runs batted in, 125 runs scored, 393 total bases, and a .646 slugging average.
More than just an offensive juggernaut, the Mariners also had three outstanding hurlers at the top of their starting rotation. Jamie Moyer went 17-5 with a 3.86 ERA. Jeff Fassero won 16 games, posted a mark of 3.61, and struck out 189 batters. Randy Johnson served as the ace of the staff, going 20-4, with a 2.28 ERA and 291 strikeouts.
Despite the exceptional numbers Johnson compiled for Seattle, Roger Clemens ended up winning the Cy Young Award for the fourth time in his career. Pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays, who finished last in the A.L. East with a record of 76-86, Clemens captured the pitcher’s version of the Triple Crown by leading all A.L. hurlers with 21 wins, a 2.05 ERA, and 292 strikeouts. He also finished first with nine complete games, three shutouts, and 264 innings pitched.
The Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees both finished well ahead of Toronto in the East, with the Orioles claiming their first division title in 14 years by concluding the campaign with a record of 98-64 that left them two games ahead of the Yankees in the final standings. New York advanced to the playoffs as the American League’s wild-card entry.
The Orioles managed to edge out the Yankees for first place even though they scored 79 fewer runs than their division rival, while also allowing their opposition to cross the plate only seven fewer times. Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Cal Ripken Jr., B.J. Surhoff, and Brady Anderson led Baltimore’s well-balanced offensive attack. Palmeiro hit 38 home runs and drove in 110 runs. Although injuries limited Alomar to only 112 games, he batted .333. Ripken hit 17 home runs and drove in 84 runs. Surhoff knocked in 88 runs and batted .284. Anderson scored 97 runs and batted .288. Meanwhile, Mike Mussina and Randy Myers anchored Baltimore’s pitching staff. Mussina finished 15-8, with a 3.20 ERA and 218 strikeouts. Myers led the league with 45 saves.
Although the Yankees finished just behind Baltimore in the standings, they had a deeper pitching staff and a more potent offense. Andy Pettitte finished 18-7 with a 2.88 ERA. David Cone went 12-6 and placed among the league leaders with a 2.82 ERA and 222 strikeouts. David Wells won 16 games. After replacing John Wetteland as the team’s closer, Mariano Rivera won six games, compiled a 1.88 ERA, and placed second in the league to Myers with 43 saves.
On offense, Derek Jeter batted .291 and finished near the top of the league rankings with 116 runs scored and 190 hits. Paul O'Neill batted .324 and drove in 117 runs. Bernie Williams knocked in 100 runs, scored 107 others, and batted .328. Tino Martinez earned a second-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting by batting .296, scoring 96 runs, and finishing second in the league with 44 home runs and 141 runs batted in.
While Baltimore and New York spent the entire year battling for the top spot in the East, the Cleveland Indians created a comfortable margin between themselves and the rest of the A.L. Central, en route to claiming their third consecutive division title. The Indians finished the regular season with a record of 86-75, six games ahead of the runner-up Chicago White Sox, and eight games in front of the third-place Milwaukee Brewers.
The White Sox featured two of the league's top sluggers in Frank Thomas and Albert Belle. After leaving Cleveland via free agency during the off-season, Belle hit 30 homers and knocked in 116 runs. Thomas hit 35 home runs, drove in 125 runs, scored 110 others, and topped the circuit with a .347 batting average.
Cleveland, though, had more team balance, placing second in the league with 220 home runs, a .358 team on-base percentage, and a .467 team slugging average, and finishing third with 868 runs scored and a .286 team batting average. David Justice hit 33 home runs, knocked in 101 runs, and placed among the league leaders with a .329 batting average. Moving over from third base to replace Eddie Murray as the team's regular first baseman, Jim Thome hit 40 homers, drove in 102 runs, and scored 104 others. Manny Ramirez hit 26 long balls, scored 99 runs, and finished fourth in the batting race, with a mark of .328. Omar Vizquel batted .280, scored 89 runs, stole 43 bases, and won his fifth consecutive Gold Glove for his brilliant work at shortstop. Catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. had the finest season of his career, hitting 21 home runs, driving in 83 runs, and batting .324. Acquired from San Francisco during the off-season, third baseman Matt Williams hit 32 homers and drove in 105 runs.
Not nearly as impressive on the mound, Cleveland finished just ninth in the league with a team ERA of 4.73. Although both men compiled an ERA well in excess of 4.00, Charles Nagy and Orel Hershiser served as the club’s top two starters. Nagy posted 15 victories, while Hershiser finished second on the team with 14 wins.
Even though the Indians won their division, their mediocre pitching made them a slight underdog heading into their first-round playoff matchup with the wild-card Yankees. Nevertheless, Cleveland prevailed in five games, coming from behind to take the final two contests after initially falling behind, two-games-to-one. Sandy Alomar Jr. delivered the pivotal blow, staving off elimination for his team by tying Game Four with a solo homer against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the eighth inning. Cleveland then went on to defeat the favored Orioles in six games in the ALCS, after Baltimore earlier eliminated Seattle in four games in the other Division Playoff Series. The Indians ousted the Orioles from the postseason tournament even though Baltimore outscored them over the course of the Series, 19-18, out-homered them, 7-5, and held their lineup to a team batting average of just .193.
Cleveland subsequently faced the N.L. wild-card Florida Marlins in the World Series in what turned out to be a highly entertaining Fall Classic. After splitting the first two games in sunny Miami, the teams were greeted by high winds and freezing rain when they traveled to Cleveland. The Marlins won two of the three contests played in the Indians’ home ballpark, coming out victorious in a 14-11 Game Three marathon that lasted more than four hours. Chad Ogea stepped up for the Tribe after the teams returned to Florida for Game Six, evening the Series at three games apiece with a 4-1 win.
Game Seven evolved into a classic, with the Marlins scoring single runs in the seventh and ninth innings to overcome an early 2-0 deficit. The contest eventually entered the bottom of the 11th inning, where Florida pushed across the winning run on an error, a walk, an infield out, and an RBI single by shortstop Edgar Renteria. The 3-2 victory gave the Marlins their first world championship, in just their fifth year of existence.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• May 13 - Eddie Murray collected two hits in Anaheim's 8–7 win over the Chicago White Sox. The game was the 3,000th of Murray's career, making him only the sixth player in history to reach that mark. (Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, and Stan Musial were the others).
• May 25 - The Minnesota Twins retired Kirby Puckett's uniform number 34 in a 90-minute pregame ceremony.
• August 31 – The New York Yankees retired Don Mattingly’s uniform number 23.
• October 11 – Baltimore’s Mike Mussina established a new postseason record for a losing team by striking out 15 batters during a 2-1 loss to Cleveland.
• October 27 – The Detroit Tigers broke ground on their new ballpark.
• Sandy Alomar Jr. batted .367 and knocked in 10 runs in a losing effort against the Florida Marlins in the World Series.
• In the 50th year since Jackie Robinson broke the color line, baseball announced plans to retire his No. 42 permanently.
• The major leagues instituted interleague play. On June 12, the Giants beat Texas 4-3 in the first interleague game.
• Indians catcher Sandy Alomar's two-run homer carried the American League to a 3-1 All-Star Game win in Cleveland.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Phil Niekro.
• Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra (30 home runs, 98 RBIs, 122 runs scored, .306 average) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Juan Gonzalez of Texas hit 42 homers and drove in 131 runs despite missing the first month with a thumb injury.
• Anaheim’s Tim Salmon hit 33 home runs, knocked in 129 runs, and batted .296.
• Former All-Star centerfielder and labor-relations trailblazer Curt Flood died at age 59.
• Randy Johnson of the Mariners struck out 19 batters twice during the season.
• First baseman Eddie Murray retired with 504 homers and 3,255 hits.
• On November 5, the Milwaukee Brewers agreed to move from the American League to the National League for the 1998 season.
• Baseball held an expansion draft on November 18 to stock its two new teams: the American League's Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the National League's Arizona Diamondbacks.
- 1997 ALCS, 1997 ALDS1, 1997 ALDS2, 1997 World Series, Albert Belle, Alex Rodriguez, American League, Andy Pettitte, B.J. Surhoff, Baltimore Orioles, Bernie Williams (New York Yankees), Bobby Bonilla, Brady Anderson, Cal Ripken, Jr., Chad Ogea, Charles Nagy, Cleveland Indians, David Cone, David Justice, David Wells, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Eddie Murray, Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, Jamie Moyer, Jay Buhner, Jeff Fassero, Jim Thome, Jose Mesa, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Kenny Lofton, Kirby Puckett, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mo Vaughn, New York Yankees, Nomar Garciaparra, Omar Vizquel, Orel Hershiser, Rafael Palmeiro, Randy Johnson, Randy Myers, Roberto Alomar, Roger Clemens, Sandy Alomar, Seattle Mariners, Tim Salmon, Tino Martinez