The 1971 baseball season was Vida Blue's year -- until October, when the veteran Baltimore Orioles showed the 21-year-old Oakland pitcher what pressure baseball was. They themselves were then taught a lesson by the Pittsburgh Pirates, World Series winners for the first time since 1960.
Blue's phenomenal first full season -- 24-8, 301 strikeouts, a league-leading 1.82 ERA, eight shutouts -- earned him both the American League's Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Awards. The Rookie of the Year was first baseman Chris Chambliss of last-place Cleveland with a .275 average, nine home runs, and 48 RBI. Minnesota's Tony Oliva won the batting title at .337. Detroit's Mickey Lolich led the league with 25 wins, and Chicago's Bill Melton had a circuit-best 33 home runs.
Individual honors in the National League were won by Atlanta's Earl Williams, whose 33 homers and 87 RBI won him the 1971 Rookie of the Year Award; Joe Torre of St. Louis, who led the league with a .363 average and 137 RBI and was named Most Valuable Player; Willie Stargell, whose 48 home runs topped the circuit and propelled Pittsburgh to a division title; New York's Tom Seaver, whose 1.76 ERA was best in the league; and Cy Young Award winner Ferguson Jenkins, who logged the most innings (325) and won the most games (24) with a 2.77 ERA for the Cubs.
Pittsburgh's speed, power, defense, and pitching were too much for the National League East. Roberto Clemente led with a .341 average. His 86 RBI ranked second on the team, right behind Stargell's 125. Although no Pirate pitcher won 20 games, the hurlers were well-balanced and had an ace in the hole in Dave Giusti, whose palmball brought in five wins and a loop-high 30 saves.
In the NLCS, the Pirates overpowered the Giants, who had followed Bobby Bonds (.288 average, 33 home runs, 102 RBI) to a division title by 1 game over theDodgers. After losing game one to the Giants, the Pirates turned on the power. They surged to a 3-1 tournament victory that featured a three-homer second game by first baseman Bob Robertson and homers by Richie Hebner in games three and four.
Catfish Hunter scored
21 victories in the
With Catfish Hunter's 21-11, 2.96 ERA season and the muscle of Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Rick Monday, and Mike Epstein, Blue and the A's marched to a 101-60 record and a 16-game edge over Kansas City for the AL West title. The Orioles won 101 games as well, on the pitching of a record-tying four 20-game winners: Dave McNally (21-5), Mike Cuellar (20-9), Pat Dobson (20-8), and Jim Palmer (20-9). The Orioles also led the American League in runs scored for a convincing 12-game lead over second-place Detroit.
Orioles pitching was the key to their 3-0 sweep of the A's in the ALCS. Baltimore's hitting, however, couldn't keep pace in the 1971 World Series, and Pittsburgh won in seven contests behind two complete game wins by Steve Blass. Blass was called upon after Baltimore whipped the Bucs at home 5-3 and 11-3. The Pittsburgh pitcher responded with a three-hitter and a 5-1 win.
Baltimore scored three runs in the top of the first inning of the next game -- but it was 22 innings before the O's scored again, as Bruce Kison and then Nelson Briles and Bob Moose kept them in check (Briles pitched a shutout in game five).
The O's came back to win game six in ten innings, but Blass slammed the door in game seven with a four-hit, 2-1 win.Check out headlines and summaries from the 1971 baseball season on the next page.
To learn more about baseball, see:
- 1970 Baseball Season
- 1972 Baseball Season
- Baseball History
- How Baseball Works
- How the Baseball Hall of Fame Works
- How Minor League Baseball Teams Work
- Babe Ruth