1971: baseball nirvana
I wish I could put myself in a time machine and go back to the summer of 1971.
Sure, I would not be blogging if it were August 1971. Sure, I would not be playing Buzztime trivia if it were August 1971. The American economy wasn’t in great shape in August 1971, and Nixon made a foolish mistake by taking the United States off the gold standard.
There were good things about 1971, though. The Brady Bunch was on the air. Gas was 30 cents per gallon; even with inflation, that’s $1.90, 45 cents less than what I paid last night when I filled up in Salina.
Major League Baseball was certainly better in 1971.
Hank Aaron hit a career high 47 home runs as he drew closer and closer to Babe Ruth’s record of 714, once thought to be unbreakable. In his final season with the Giants, Willie Mays led San Francisco to the National League West championship in yet another epic battle with the Dodgers. San Francisco lost the National League Championship Series to the Pirates in four games in their last postseason appearance until 1987. The Orioles won their third consecutive American League pennant by sweeping the Athletics in the American League Championship Series. It was the Athletics’ first trip to the postseason since 1931, when they were in Philadelphia and led by legendary Connie Mack.
The 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit was one of the most memorable. Aaron and Johnny Bench staked the National League to an early 3-0 lead with home runs, but Reggie Jackson began the American League comeback by launching a monstrous home run off of a transformer on roof above right center. The pitcher who served it up was Dock Ellis, the same Dock Ellis who threw a no-hitter while allegedly under the influence of LSD (his claim) the previous season.
Ellis, the volatile right-hander from Pittsburgh, was the Naitonal League’s starter. The American League countered with Oakland lefty Vida Blue, who went on to win the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. More importantly, it was the first time there were two black starting pitchers in an All-Star Game.
One of the umpires in the 1971 All-Star Game was Jake O’Donnell, who from 1968-71 officiated both in the American League and NBA. O’Donnell resigned from the AL at the end of 1971 to concentrate on basketball. It was a wise move, for Jake worked the NBA Finals every year from 1972 through 1994. O’Donnell is the only man to officiate All-Star games in two major sports.
Also on the umpiring crew that evening in Detroit were future Hall of Famer Doug Harvey, and Don Denkinger, whose moment of infamy in Kansas City was still a long way off.
Nearly every team still wore flannel uniforms in 1971. Sure, they were hot, but they were beautiful for the most part.
The Athletics had a lovely sleeveless vest which came in white, gray and gold, and those could be worn with gold or green undershirts. The Dodgers debuted a new road top with thin blue and white piping along the shoulders. The Padres had a tan road uniform. The White Sox and Phillies both debuted new uniforms, and both would keep them when they switched to polyester the next season. I thought both sets were downgrades; the White Sox’ royal blue and white set of 1969-70 was downright gorgeous, and the Phillies ditched the classic set they debuted in 1950, when the “Whiz Kids” won the franchise’s only pennant between 1915 and 1980.
Three teams wore polyester that season. The Pirates debuted them in July 1970 when they moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium; the Cardinals began 1971 wearing them; and the Orioles gradually switched from flannel to polyester throughout that season, finally ditching flannel for good in the ALCS. Ironically, the 1971 World Series was all polyester, as the Pirates took down the heavily favored Orioles in seven games.
In 1971, the Senators were still in Washington. The Brewers were in the American League West, building healthy rivalries with the Twins and White Sox.
That changed in 1972.
Cheapskate Senators owner Bob Short lied to the American League, claiming he was going broke in the nation’s capital, giving owners a supposed reason to allow the second incarnation of the Senators (the first became the Twins in 1961) to move to Dallas/Fort Worth and become the Texas Rangers. RFK Stadium was not a great facility by any means, but Short traded it for Arlington Stadium, a minor league facility which had no business hosting Major League Baseball. Yet it was the home of the Rangers through 1993.
Dallas/Fort Worth is too big an area for any major sports league to ignore. However, Short was, well, (extremely) short-sighted for deserting the nation’s capital for a dump like Arlington Stadium. Had DFW waited until the American League expanded for 1977, it would have had a stadium which might still be standing, or would have served a team much better than Arlington.
I visited Arlington Stadium a handful of times in my teenage years. I hated the park. Hated it. Those metal bleachers in the outfield were hot enough to fry eggs. Of course, the idiots who expanded the park built bleachers instead of building more decks from foul line to foul line, which would have been better for fans watching the game and the team, since those tickets would have commanded a higher price than bleachers.
The Senators’ shift to DFW prompted AL owners to move the Brewers to the American League East, pissing off the White Sox and Twins, each of whom who lost six games per year against Milwaukee. The Great Lakes trio would not be reunited until 1994 when the American League Central, but that lasted only four seasons, because the Brewers gleefully moved to the National League for 1998.
Speaking of the leagues, another great thing about baseball in 1971: NO DESIGNATED HITTER.
The designated hitter is a pox on baseball. Charlie Finley, you can rot in hell. It is the single worst rule in all of sports. There are many other terrible ones, like the shootout in the NHL and high school football overtime, but the I despise the designated hitter more than any other rule in sports.
Basketball players are not allowed to play only one end of the floor–at least if they want to stay on the court. Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored loads of points during their playing days, but if they didn’t rebound and block shots, they would never have sniffed the Hall of Fame.
Other than the goaltender, hockey players must be good offensively and defensively if they hope to stick in the NHL. Gordie Howe, the NHL’s greatest goal scorer until Wayne Gretzky came along, prided himself as much for his defense as his offense. No opposing winger dared cross Mr. Hockey, or else he would find himself in a world of hurt.
Association football? Same as hockey. Defenders don’t score many goals and forwards don’t play beyond the center line, but a player who is a defensive liability will be on the bench unless he scores goals as frequently as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
Players went both ways in the early days of the NFL, and in college until 1964. Many players at small high schools go both ways, and even at some large ones, because coaches would rather have an excellent athlete who may be fatigued rather than a mediocre one who is fresh.
When Mr. Doubleday invented baseball in the 19th century, he intended for the nine players on the field to specialize in a defensive skill AND be able to swing the bat. Some swing the bat better than others. That’s professional sports.
Major League Baseball is the best of the best of the best. The 750 men who populate the 30 MLB rosters are supposed to be the best in the world. Not all of them have to hit .350 with 50 home runs. Heck, Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith, among many others, were mediocre hitters, but so great with their glove they have plaques in Cooperstown.
I can tolerate–not accept–the DH in Little League and high school. However, at those levels, pitchers are often the best hitters, too, so it’s not necessary in those cases. Little League has a much larger problem than the DH. You’ve probably read my rants about this in earlier posts.
In college baseball, the DH should be abolished, especially in Division I. If a young man is good enough to be pitching at the highest level of college baseball, he should be able to stand in the batter’s box up to four times every week if he’s a starting pitcher.
The National League is going to adopt the designated hitter soon. I am deathly afraid of it. When it happens, I will be back on this blog using language not safe for work. You’ve been warned.
When you went to the ballpark in 1971, there were no silly promotional handouts, no dizzy bat races, no scantily clad 20-something women shooting t-shirts out of air-propelled mini-cannons, and no mascots. Umpires still wore their blazers many days. American League umpires wore the balloon chest protector, leading to the Junior Circuit becoming known as a high-strike lead, contrasting to the National League, where the low strike ruled. Games usually lasted two hours, give or take a few minutes. There a few real doubleheaders, where one ticket got you two games, although there were fewer by 1971 than there had been in 1961, and fewer in 1961 than in 1951.
In my opinion, the best thing about baseball in 1971–and the 34 years prior to that–NO FACIAL HAIR!!!!
In 1971, only the Reds had a rule banning facial hair, but the other franchises unofficially followed suit. Many players had mutton chops and other forms of long sideburns which were in vogue in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but not one player in professional baseball sported a mustache and/or beard.
Unfortunately, this came to an end in 1972. The culprit? Charles O. Finley. I hope you are seriously rotting in hell, Mr. Finley. You were a bastard in so many ways.
Cheapskate Charlie, who refused to pay his A’s (from 1972-86, the Oakland franchise was officially known as the A’s) a living wage, somehow came up with an idea to give each player a $300 bonus if he grew a mustache by Father’s Day. Sure enough, every goddamn A’s player grew one.
The A’s, wearing their new polyester uniforms of “kelly green”, “Fort Knox gold” and “wedding gown white”, ended up in the World Series against the clean-shaven Reds in a series termed by the medias as the “hairs” vs. the “squares”. Oakland won in seven games.
I’m glad I wasn’t alive in 1972. I would not have known who to root for. I despise the Reds for Pete Rose, a gambling pedophile who played dirty. I disliked the A’s for the facial hair, not to mention the strong hate I have for Finley, who pulled the Athletics out of Kansas City after the 1967 season because of his avarice.
The plague known as the DH came into being in 1973. That’s one of two reasons why 1973 was a horrid year for the grand old game. The second was the introduction of one George Michael Steinbrenner, who bought the Yankees from CBS for a paltry $10 million. That season was also the last for the original Yankee Stadium and the first for the facility now known as Kauffman Stadium.
In 2019, finding a clean-shaven MLB player is as hard as finding a four-leaf clover. I don’t get it.
Beards in hockey are ubiquitous in the playoffs. I don’t like them. Wayne Gretzky never grew a playoff beard. He was okay, wasn’t he? At least most hockey players shave them. Baseball players aren’t shaving them, and it’s gross.
I’m surprised there isn’t a huge Detroit Lions fan club in western Kansas because of coach Matt Patricia’s disgusting facial hair. People out here could root for the Lions without feeling guilty, since Detroit plays the Broncos and Chiefs only once every four years. The Lions happen to play both this season, and for some reason, Kansas City has to go back to Ford Field. Under the current schedule rotation, Detroit will go 20 years without visiting Arrowhead. Good work, NFL.
1971 also happened to be a wonderful year in other sports.
- The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship in their third season, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets in four games. Of course, having Lew Alcindor, who had already changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but not yet adopted it on the court, and Oscar Robertson didn’t hurt.
- The NFL in 1971 was fabulous. Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page was the league’s Most Valuable Player. Dallas legend Bob Lilly and the Doomsday Defense powered the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl championship. The Dolphins, who lost Super Bowl VI, won the NFL’s longest game, defeating the Chiefs after seven minutes, 40 seconds of a second overtime period in what was the final NFL game in Kansas City Municipal Stadium.
- College football came down to Big Eight superpowers Nebraska and Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day in Norman. The Cornhuskers survived 35-31, then steamrolled undefeated Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl to finish the first 13-0 season. That Crimson Tide team switched to the Wishbone offense and also fielded its first black players, John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson.
- After the previous three Stanley Cup finals series ended in four-game sweeps (sorry Blues), the Canadiens and Black Hawks played a series for the ages. The home team won each of the first six games, with the series returning to Chicago for game seven. In what turned out to be the final game for Montreal legend Jean Beliveau, Montreal silenced Chicago Stadium by winning 3-2 for the first of its six Stanley Cups in the 1970s.
- UCLA won its fifth consecutive college basketball championship, overcoming determined Villanova 68-62 in the final at the Astrodome. Kansas reached the Final Four for the first time since 1957.
- There were 48 NASCAR Grand National races in 1971, many on short tracks. The next year, the schedule was shortened to 31 races, and Winston cigarettes (🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮) became the sponsor of the top series.
Also in 1971, cigarette advertising on TV and radio was banned following the completion of the Orange Bowl (Nebraska 17, LSU 12) on New Year’s Night.
Too bad H.G. Wells’ vision will never come to light. I’m stuck in this era of beards, tattoos and other things I can’t stand.
I’m not going to apologize for this novella of a post. I needed to say these things.
Maybe Buzztime knew I was blogging about 1971 in baseball. The first question of sports trivia tonight: What award did Ferguson Jenkins win that year? Of course any baseball fan worth his salt knows it was the National League Cy Young.
Tigers and Bluejays…oh my!
Just before I woke up, I had a strange dream.
I discovered a secret passageway between Norton and Stockton high schools. I was trying to make my way from Stockton’s gym to Norton’s, but there was a crush of people. I somehow made it through.
In that same dream, Caitlyn and Peggy suddenly disappeared without telling me where they were going. The case to my cell phone broke. To top it all off, Norton’s wrestling team was competing in a tournament, but the high school I went to, Brother Martin in New Orleans, was in the same tournament. I was upset I was missing that.
Norton and Stockton connected? Sure, I know both are in the Mid-Continent League, but they’re pretty far apart. They’re nowhere near each other; Norton is at the junction of US 283 and US 36, and Stockton is where US 183 and US 24 meet. I could understand if there were a passage between Stockton and Plainville, since they’re in the same county and 15 miles apart, but with Norton? Hmm. But anything is possible in a dream.
Now that I’m awake, I have to get ready for my session with Crista in Hays, and later today, my trip to Norton to watch Caitlyn play volleyball vs. Goodland, Dundy County of Benkelman, Neb., and Stratton, Colo. I missed Caitlyn’s matches Tuesday in WaKeeney, but she and Peggy forgave me. The Bluejays won vs. Oakley and Trego to improve to 5-2 this year.
I had an appointment with Dr. Custer yesterday. I learned something new about her: she has two sons, both born in October, although neither on the 13th, my birthday. I’m glad. I’m certain she’s a super mom. My health is pretty good, although I need to be more vigilant about checking my blood sugar.
If the Royals weren’t finished before, they are now. Losing three consecutive games at home to the Athletics, mired in the basement of the AL West, is inexcusable. Maybe Oakland is extracting its pound of flesh for the loss in the 2014 AL Wild Card game. Then again, the Athletics have always had it in for Kansas City, given the franchise’s pitiful 13-season existence in KC.
Ned Yost is going to rue the day he ever brought Joakim Soria back to KC. Yes, he was an All-Star for Trey Hillman, but now, he’s shot. He would have done much better giving Kelvim Herrera the closer’s role when Wade Davis went down. Greg Holland wasn’t an option since he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery. Royals fans should not be that sad. It wasn’t that long ago avoiding 90 losses was reason to celebrate.
I’m going to have to drive back to Russell after my appointment with Crista. Not ideal, but if I went straight to Norton, I’d be there before noon. The other option is to drive all the way to Colby, go up to Atwood and then over to Norton, but that would burn too much gas. Not a big deal.
Vin Scully SUPERIOR. Jack Buck INFERIOR.
Last night was the 26th anniversary of one of the most memorable home runs in Major League Baseball history. One which I remember quite well because I watched it two days after my 12th birthday.
Game one of the 1988 World Series. The Oakland Athletics, in the Series for the first time since the Swinging A’s dynasty of 1972-73-74 which featured Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, was heavily favored to defeat the Dodgers.
The Athletics won 104 games in the regular season under Tony LaRussa, led by the first person to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season, Jose Canseco. Of course, it turned out Canseco was juiced to the max on steroids, as was Mark McGwire, his “Bash Brother”. Oakland had a strong pitching staff led by starters Dave Stewart and Bob Welch, and a lights out closer, Dennis Eckersley, who was a top flight starter in Cleveland and Boston before injuries took their toll. After a failed stint with the Cubs, “The Eck” hooked up with LaRussa in Oakland, and the rest was history, as he became one of the best closers in the game.
The Dodgers didn’t do much of anything well, but they had the best starting pitcher in the game in 1988. Orel Hershiser broke what was thought to be an untouchable streak, pitching 59 consecutive scoreless innings to break the record of 58 2/3 set 20 years earlier by Dodger Hall of Famer Don Drysdale, who later became a broadcaster for the franchise.
Los Angeles had the National League’s Most Valuable Player, Kirk Gibson, but he was hampered by severe injuries during the postseason, and although he was on the World Series roster, it was not expected he would play.
Nobody thought the Dodgers would get past the Mets, who won 100 games, in the NLCS, but Tommy Lasorda’s club did just that, getting a game seven shutout from Hershiser.
Three nights later, the Dodgers took a 2-0 in the first inning of the Series opener on a Mickey Hatcher home run, but the Athletics got those runs right back and more in the second on a Canseco grand slam off Tim Belcher.
That would be it for Oakland’s scoring. The bullpen trio of Tim Leary, Brian Holton and Alejandro Pen held the Athletics to a mere four hits over the final seven innings, allowing the Dodgers to stay in the game, although the only run they scored in the middle seven innings came on Mike Scioscia’s RBI single in the sixth.
Holding a 4-3 lead, Eckersley came on for the bottom of the ninth. He retired Scioscia on a popup and struck out Dave Hamilton, leaving the Athletics one out away from their first Series victory since, ironically, they finished off the Dodgers in game five of the 1974 Series to wrap up their third consecutive title.
Pinch hitter MIke Davis worked a walk, keeping Los Angeles alive. With the pitcher’s spot in the order up, Lasorda called upon his injured star.
Gibson looked worse than lame when he hobbled to the plate. Let’s put it this way: if Gibson were a horse, he would have been put down. I thought to myself he had better hit a home run, because if he has to run, it would be disastrous.
Gibson fell behind 0-2, but he fouled off a couple of pitches and worked the count to 2-2 when Davis stole second. Now, if Gibson could drive the ball down the line or put one in the gap, Davis could score from second and the game would be tied. Lasorda could pinch run for Gibson and Steve Sax would come to the plate with the chance to win it.
Eckersley threw ball three to Gibson, who then remembered a piece of advice by Dodger scout Mel Didier, a Louisiana native and LSU graduate. Didier’s scouting report on Eckersley stated that against a left-handed batter with a full count, The Eck would go almost exclusively to a backdoor slider.
Sure enough, Eckersley threw a slider. Gibson connected and the ball took off towards the right field pavilion. Canseco gave it a look but knew his team was doomed.
The ball landed 12 rows in the seats. Gibson limped around the bases as his incredulous teammates and those in the original crowd of 56,000 who did not leave early to beat the traffic went crazy.
Two calls of that home run have been immortalized. The one I will always remember, the far better call in my opinion, was Vin Scully’s call on NBC. It took all of nine words.
“HIGH FLY BALL INTO RIGHT FIELD….SHE IS GONNNNE!”
Jack Buck’s call on CBS Radio was far too wordy. His last line of “I don’t believe what I just saw” was nearly as long as Scully’s entire call of the play. I was not a Jack Buck fan, and that call was simply over the top. Too much. Shut up, Jack.
The Athletics were finished. Hershiser pitched another shutout in game two, and although Oakland won game three at home on a McGwire home run in the bottom of the ninth, it was simply a stay of execution. The Dodgers won games four and five, with Hershiser getting the win in the finale to earn World Series MVP honors.
I was glad to see the Athletics lose. I thought they were an arrogant group of punks who thought the championship was their god given right. As it turned out, they were nothing more than just a bunch steroid bullies.
While Oakland won the 1989 Series over the Giants in a sweep, the Athletics were swept by the Reds in 1990. I didn’t like that Cinicnnati team, either, because of the Nasty Boys, namely Rob Dibble and Norm Charlton.
The years 1988 through 1994 nearly turned me off of Major League Baseball. Then again, I’m way too much of a sports fan to abandon MLB totally.
MLB’s second act at its end
The 162nd game of the Major League Baseball season will be meaningful for four teams in particular, maybe more.
NOTE: the second act is the regular season. The first is spring training, the third is the postseason. At least I can spin it that way.
The Central divisions of both leagues are still in question. The Tigers in the American League and Cardinals in the National League each have a one-game lead, but both missed opportunities to close out today.
Detroit lost its second consecutive game at home to last place Minnesota, 6-1, while St. Louis fell in Phoenix to the Majors’ worst team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, 5-2.
The Pirates came back from an early 3-0 deficit in Cincinnati and went to extra innings, but the Reds’ Todd Frazier launched a grand slam in the bottom of the 10th to doom Pittsburgh, 10-6. The Pirates must win tomorrow and the Cardinals must lose to Arizona to force a one-game playoff Monday in St. Louis. Regardless of what happens, the Pirates will be no worse than a wild card and play the Giants in the one-game playoff.
The Royals almost came back, but left a runner stranded in the ninth as they lost to the White Sox in Chicago, 5-4. If the Royals and Tigers end up tied, the playoff is Monday in Detroit. The worst that can happen to the Royals is the wild card game is in Kansas City. It will be the first playoff game at Kauffman Stadium since October 27, 1985,, the night the Royals won the World Series by blowing away the Cardinals 11-0. Back then, the stadium was known as Royals Stadium, the playing surface was artificial–the hard stuff, not the rubbery faux grass you see today–the seats were hard red plastic, and there was no replay screen, although there was the original crown scoreboard in center field.
Oakland still has a hold on the second wild card, but just barely. If Seattle can oust the Angels tonight, it will come down to tomorrow. The Athletics would have to lose and the Mariners would have to win, but there would still be hope in the Pacific Northwest. Every eye in Seattle and Washington State would be watching the M’s, because the Seahawks have a bye tomorrow.
The Brewers FINALLY clinched a winning season tonight by beating the Cubs 2-1. Milwaukee was 73-58 on the morning of August 25, and it has gone 9-21 since. Ouch. Pittsburgh was six games out of first on that earlier date.