1970 Baltimore Orioles
108 – 54 (0.667)
The centerpiece of a dominant three-year run, the 1970 Baltimore Orioles are perhaps not so well remembered as the 1969 edition that was upset by the Miracle Mets or the 1971 club that featured four 20-game winners. While there was little difference between the three teams, the 1970 version staked its claim as the best of the bunch by accomplishing what the other two couldn’t manage — winning the World Series.
Boasting three-game twenty winners of their own, three Gold Glove winners, three future Hall of Famers and the AL MVP, the Orioles steamrolled through the AL East, winning 108 games to finish 15 lengths ahead of the second-place Yankees. In the playoffs they dispatched the Twins in three consecutive games for the second straight season and erased the bitter memories of the previous October’s shortcomings by dropping just one game to a talented but inexperienced Cincinnati club in the Fall Classic.
Like all the great Orioles teams of the 60’s and 70’s, their calling card was superior starting pitching. With a rotation fronted by right-hander Jim Palmer and southpaws Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally, the Birds were a barnstorming batting slump waiting to happen, a veritable Murderer’s Row of pitchers. The trio all topped 20 victories, combining for 64 wins and 54 complete games while finishing among the top four in both innings pitched and winning percentage. Picking an ace from the triumvirate would be as difficult as beating them, but Palmer might get the nod based on his 2.71 ERA (second in the AL) and league-leading five shutouts. Rounding out the rotation, right-handers Tom Phoebus and Jim Hardin made sure that the opposition didn’t catch any breaks even when they weren’t facing the big three.
With so much talent among the starters, relievers seemed almost superfluous, but manager Earl Weaver had no shortage of quality arms to choose from in his bullpen. The relief corps was fronted by the righty/lefty combo of Eddie Watt and Pete Richert, who picked up seven wins apiece while combining for 25 saves. Right-hander Dick Hall (51 hits and just six walks in 61 innings) chipped in with 10 wins out of the pen, and Baltimore even managed to re-acquire veteran right-hander Moe Drabowsky, hero of the club’s 1966 World Series triumph, in a June trade with Kansas City.
The strength of the pitching staff may have overshadowed a powerful lineup that led the league in runs scored. (The Orioles also allowed the fewest runs in the AL, outscoring their opponents by 218 runs.) Left fielder Don Buford teamed with center fielder Paul Blair at the top of the batting order, racking up 35 home runs, 40 stolen bases and 201 runs scored between them. First baseman John “Boog” Powell benefited most directly from Buford and Blair’s talents, as the brawny slugger rode his 35 home runs and 114 RBIs to the league MVP award. Those trying to pitch around Powell were faced with the unenviable task of facing the Orioles veteran leaders, Frank and Brooks Robinson. Batting .306, right fielder Frank finished second on the team to Powell with 25 home runs.
Brooks, meanwhile, in the midst of 16 consecutive Gold Gloves for his nonpareil work at third base, drove in 94 runs and would cement his reputation as one of baseball’s greats by almost single-handedly dismantling the Reds at the plate and in the field during the World Series. “I will become a lefthanded hitter to keep the ball away from that guy,” Reds catcher Johnny Bench said after the Series.
Filling out the lineup, catcher Elrod Hendricks knocked 12 home runs with 41 RBIs in just 322 at-bats, while second baseman Davey Johnson (a Gold Glove winner along with Brooks and Blair) batted .281 with ten home runs. Shortstop Mark “The Blade” Belanger hit just .218, but his defensive wizardry more than made up for his lack of production at the plate. A testament to the team’s strength and depth, outfielder Merv Rettenmund batted a team-high .322 with 18 round trippers in only 338 at-bats but couldn’t win a regular job. Steady Andy Etchebarren backed up Hendricks behind the plate, while Terry Crowley served as the club’s top pinch-hitting threat.