It's the 1974 baseball season that Al Downing is most noted for. Downing pitched for four teams and appeared in three World Series. As a Yankee in 1964, he led the American League in strikeouts. Seven seasons later, he went 20-9 with the Dodgers. However, most fans remember the 17-year veteran for something other than his career feats. On April 8 at 9:07 p.m. EST, a national television audience watched Downing serve up the pitch that Hank Aaron hit out of the ballpark for his 715th home run -- a new major league record.
The shot ended a mini-controversy. Braves owner Bill Bartholomay wanted Aaron to sit out the opening three-game series at Cincinnati, hoping his aging star would break the record before a packed hometown crowd. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, however, insisted Aaron play. And on the first swing of his first at-bat of the year, the 40-year-old outfielder tied Babe Ruth's seemingly unreachable record. By season's end, Aaron had upped his career total to 733.
Other notable milestones involved Redbirds Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. En route to a disappointing 11-13 season, the 38-year-old Gibson became only the second pitcher to record 3,000 Ks, while the 35-year-old Brock hit .306 and established a new steals record, swiping 118.
In the American League, Detroit's Al Kaline wrapped up an outstanding 22-year career by collecting his 3,000th hit (also finishing with 399 homers). Angels flamethrower Nolan Ryan notched his third career no-hitter.
The one record-setter who figured in a pennant race was Dodger reliever Mike Marshall. Los Angeles won the National League West, finishing 4 up on Cincinnati, as the Cy Young winner appeared in an unprecedented 106 games, winning 15 and leading the league with 21 saves.
Teammate Steve Garvey (.312 average, 21 homers, 111 RBI) won the MVP Award. Garvey also hit .389 in the National League Championship Series to lead LA over Pittsburgh three games to one. The Pirates had won the National League East on the bats of Richie Zisk (100 RBI), Al Oliver (.321 average), and Willie Stargell (25 home runs).
The Oakland A's displayed the form that made them World Champions in 1972 and 1973, finishing 5 games ahead of Texas. Catfish Hunter (25-12) won the 1974 Cy Young Award, and Reggie Jackson (.289 average, 29 home runs, 93 RBI) supplied the pop.
The most compelling pennant race of the season came in the American League East. Baltimore rallied to win 27 of 33 to edge the Yankees by 2 games. However, the Orioles were no match for the A's in the American League Championship Series, falling three games to one.
Oakland and Los Angeles waged California's version of a Subway Series. The first three games were decided by the identical scores of 3-2. Jackson's homer gave Oakland the edge in game one, and Los Angeles evened the Series in game two when Marshall picked off designated runner Herb Washington to kill a ninth-inning rally.
In game three, the A's capitalized on two Dodger errors, giving them a two-games-to-one World Series lead. Oakland won game four 5-2, as pitcher Ken Holtzman, who had logged in two regular seasons without an at-bat, belted a home run.
In game five, with his team trailing 3-2, Dodger Bill Buckner was gunned down trying to stretch a double into a triple in the eighth inning. A's reliever Rollie Fingers preserved the win, giving Oakland its third title in as many years. It was the only non-Yankee three-peat in World Series history.
Check out headlines and summaries of major stories from the 1974 baseball season on the next page.
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1974 Baseball Season Headlines
Rod Carew Leads American League in Batting
Rod Carew was the greatest singles hitter of his era. He led the American League in batting seven times in his 19-year career. In 1974, he had a loop-high .364 average, although he socked just three homers and knocked in only 55 runs. In his career to that point, Carew had been named to seven All-Star teams; he lost the 1970 season due to military service.
Steve Garvey Named 1974 National League MVP
Nicknamed "Senator" for his post-baseball career aspirations, Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey played in his first World Series in 1974. Although his team bowed to the A's, Garvey achieved an excellent season: a .312 average, 21 homers, and 111 RBI. His performance earned him 1974 National League Most Valuable Player honors. Voted to a starting position in the 1974 All-Star Game by write-in ballots, the powerhouse took the game's MVP honors.
Fergie Jenkins Wins 25
Following his worst season with the Cubs (14-16 in 1973), Fergie Jenkins was traded to Texas for Bill Madlock and Vic Harris. The Rangers received quick dividends from the deal: Jenkins tallied 25 victories to tie for the lead in the American League in 1974. Ironically, the Cubs picked up Jenkins again in 1982. After pitching two seasons in Wrigley, he retired with 284 career wins.
Mike Schmidt Tops National League in HRs
Mike Schmidt clubbed 36 homers in 1974, his second full season in the majors, to lead the National League. On his way to 116 RBI, he also topped the loop with his .546 average. He is acknowledged as the greatest third baseman of all time.
Johnny Bench Leads National League in RBI
Johnny Bench had a National League-leading 129 RBI in 1974 while taking the Reds to a second-place finish, 4 games behind the Dodgers. It was the third RBI crown for perhaps the greatest catcher of all time. Bench was voted to the All-Star lineup 13 years in a row and won ten consecutive Gold Gloves.
Mike Marshall Cops Cy Young
Before winning the 1974 National League Cy Young Award, Mike Marshall was known to fans as Jim Bouton's cerebral teammate in the book Ball Four, Bouton's account of the sport of baseball. As a doctoral candidate in kinesiology, Marshall used his study of human performance to resurrect his pitching career. He went from a 5-8 record with the Expos in 1971 to 15-12 with the Dodgers in 1974. His knuckleball carried him to 21 saves, best in the loop.
Jeff Burroughs an MVP Surprise
Perhaps the decade's least likely Most Valuable Player, Ranger Jeff Burroughs batted .301 with 25 homers and 118 RBI (tops in the American League) in 1974. As the first draft pick in 1969, the outfielder/first baseman often clashed with Ted Williams, the Senators' manager, yet later credited Williams with improving his batting.
Joe Rudi Soars in 1974 Series
Joe Rudi was the quiet superstar of the boisterous A's. His glovework earned him two Gold Gloves, the first of which he received in 1974. He led the American League in doubles that year with 39. His ability was most evident in the seventh game of the 1974 World Series. His home run in the seventh inning broke the two-all tie and proved to be the margin of victory for the A's.
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More 1974 Baseball Season Headlines
Check out more headlines of the 1974 baseball season, including outstanding performances by Joe Rudi, Lou Brock, and others:
Lou Brock Pilfers 105 Bases
On September 10, 1974, Lou Brock broke the single-season stolen base mark set by Maury Wills in 1962. During the game, Brock reached base on singles in the first and seventh innings, on both occasions stealing on an 0-1 pitch to Ron Hunt to rack up swipes No. 104 and 105. Bob Boone was the catcher on both thefts.
Al Oliver Posts .321 Average
The license plate on outfielder Al Oliver's car read "AL HITS." During his first six seasons with the Pirates (through 1974), Oliver had a .294 lifetime average and played in four National League Championship Series. His slashing line drive hitting was the perfect complement to Willie Stargell's power strokes. In 1974, Oliver batted .321 with 11 homers and 85 RBI.
Reggie Jackson: HR Off the Bat
Reggie Jackson smacked a home run in his first at-bat in the 1974 World Series. Jackson was called "Mr. October" in honor of his myriad heroics in postseason play. Highlights of his postseason career include a .417 average in the 1975 ALCS; a .450 average, five homers, and eight RBI in the 1977 World Series; and a .462 average and six RBI in the 1978 ALCS.
Steve Garvey Heats Up in 1974 World Series Debut
Steve Garvey was introduced to the Dodgers by his father, who drove the team bus. Some 15 years later, Garvey won the 1974 National League MVP Award and led his team to the World Series. In his first Series, Garvey led the club in batting with a .381 average and eight hits. He would go on to play in five World Series and bat a combined .319 -- though with only one homer.
Dodger Davey Lopes Swift at Second
As a second baseman, Davey Lopes was a member of a Dodger infield that remained intact longer than any infield in major league history. As one of the best base-stealers in the game, he matched a major league record by swiping five bases in one game in 1974.
A's Edge Out LA
Attempting to score on a fly ball by Reggie Jackson to Joe Ferguson, Sal Bando got nailed in an eighth-inning rundown in game one of the 1974 World Series. Bando finished the five-game tournament with a dismal .063 average, three runs scored, and two RBI. His teammates continued their solid showing to take the opening game 3-2.
Hank Aaron Racks Up No. 715
A national television audience viewed a rare weeknight broadcast -- and part of history -- on April 8, 1974. In a game between the Braves and the Dodgers, Hammerin' Hank Aaron smacked an Al Downing fastball into the hands of Braves reliever Tom House, who was sitting in Fulton County Stadium's left-field bullpen. It was Aaron's record-shattering 715th home run.
Joe Rudi Slams the Clincher for 1974 World Series
Following a six-minute delay in which officials removed debris thrown on the field by Oakland fans, Joe Rudi of the A's stepped in to face Dodger ace Mike Marshall in game five of the 1974 World Series. Rudi crushed Marshall's first pitch into the stands for the third and winning run of the deciding game. Marshall was the winner of the 1974 National League Cy Young Award.
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1974 Baseball Season Highlights
Hank Aaron became the home-run king during the 1974 baseball season, setting a new major league record when he cracked his 715th homer. Below, you will find more highlights from the 1974 baseball season:
- Oakland wins its third consecutive American League flag.
- Dodgers triumph in the National League.
- A's need only four games to subdue Orioles in the American League Championship Series.
- LA likewise dispatches Pittsburgh in four games in the National League Championship Series.
- A's take third consecutive World Championship in five games.
- Joe Morgan tops National League in OBP (.430).
- LA reliever Mike Marshall appears in every 1974 World Series game, saving one and losing one.
- For the third World Series in a row, no pitcher turns in a CG.
- Four of the five 1974 World Series games are 3-2 affairs, and only Oakland's Joe Rudi (four RBI) knocks in more than two runs.
- A's players win the championship despite dislike for owner Charley Finley and, in some cases, for one another.
- Dodger Steve Garvey is National League MVP.
- Ranger Jeff Burroughs wins American League MVP after topping the American League in RBI (118) and runs produced (177).
- Both Hunter and Jenkins tie for major league lead in wins with 25.
- 1974 National League Cy Young winner Mike Marshall appears in major league record 106 games and is first reliever to cop the award.
- Hank Aaron hits major league record 715th career homer on April 8 off Al Downing of Dodgers.
- Phillie Mike Schmidt tops the majors with 36 homers.
- Rod Carew takes American League bat crown (.364).
- White Sox Dick Allen tops the American League in homers (32) and SA (.563).
- Pete Rose makes major league record 771 plate appearances.
- Ron LeFlore debuts with the Tigers the year after being released from prison.
- On June 4 in Cleveland, 10-cent beer night results in near riot and forfeit of game to Texas.
- Milwaukee's Don Money sets a new major league season FA record for third basemen (.989).
- The Orioles set an American League record when they win five straight games by shutouts.
- Johnny Bench leads National League with 129 RBI and 315 total bases.
- Rose tops major league with 110 runs and 45 doubles.
- Atlanta's Ralph Garr tops the National League with a .353 batting average, 214 hits, and 17 triples.
- National League wins 1974 All-Star Game 7-2 at Pittsburgh for 11th win in last 12 games.
- Mike Hargrove of the Rangers named 1974 American League Rookie of the Year.
- Bake McBride of the Cardinals selected 1974 National League Rookie of the Year.
- Hank Aaron defeats Japanese slugger Sadaharu Oh 10-9 in a specially arranged home run contest in Tokyo.
- Nolan Ryan fires a no-hitter vs. Twins on Sept. 28.
- Steve Busby of KC no-hits Milwaukee on June 19.
- Dick Bosnian of Cleveland no-hits Oakland on July 19.
- Pittsburgh's Richie Zisk has 21 RBI in a ten-game span.
- Ray Kroc buys the Padres.
- George Steinbrenner is suspended by commissioner Bowie Kuhn because of his part in the Watergate scandal.
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More 1974 Baseball Season Highlights
- Al Kaline gets his 3,000th hit, then retires after the season.
- Kaline nearly becomes the first American Leaguer to reach 3,000 hits and 400 homers, finishing with 399 home runs.
- Cards beat Mets 4-3 on September 11 in 25-inning night game.
- Braves' Buzz Capra tops major league in ERA (2.28).
- Lou Brock shatters major league record, stealing 118 bases.
- Danny Murtaugh hired to manage Pirates a National League-record fourth different time.
- Catfish Hunter becomes free agent because of a faux pas by owner Finley, signs with Yankees for 1975 season.
- Cleveland swaps Pedro Guerrero to LA for Bruce Ellingsen.
- Giants trade Bobby Bonds to Yankees for Bobby Murcer.
- Cleveland trades Chris Chambliss and two other players to Yankees for Fritz Peterson and three other players.
- After the season, Atlanta deals Hank Aaron to Milwaukee for Dave May and a minor leaguer.
- Nolan Ryan wins American League record 22 games for a last-place team.
- Gaylord Perry ties Cleveland record by winning 15 games in a row.
- The baseball is now made out of cowhide instead of horsehide.
- Harry Hooper dies.
- Dizzy Dean dies.
- Sam Rice dies.
- Baltimore's Bobby Grich sets major league record for second basemen with 484 putouts for the year.
- Ron Hunt leads National League a record seventh consecutive year in being hit by pitches.
- On September 7, Nolan Ryan becomes first to throw a pitch clocked at over 100 mph.
- Brooks Robinson tops American League in assists at third base a record eighth time.
- Money's record streak of 261 consecutive errorless chances at third base ends.
- Marshall is only pitcher in history to work over 200 relief innings in a season (208).
- Mets' Ed Kranepool sets major league record with his .486 BA as a pinch hitter.
- Ryan tops major league in innings with 333 and Ks with 367.
- Phil Niekro and LA's Andy Messersmith lead the National League in wins with 20.
- Niekro leads National League in innings (302) and CGs (18).
- Jenkins tops major league with 29 CGs, one more than Perry.
- Hunter leads American League in ERA (2.49).
- New York's Jon Matlack leads National League with seven shutouts; Boston's Luis Tiant likewise tops American League with seven shutouts.
- White Sox Terry Forster leads major league with 24 saves; Marshall tops National League with only 21 despite being in 106 games.
- Oakland's Bill North leads American League in steals (54).
- Atlanta's Darrell Evans tops major league with 126 walks; Oakland's Gene Tenace leads American League in walks with 110.
- Carew leads major league in hits (218) and OBP (.435).
- Rudi tops American League in total bases (287) and doubles (39).
- Carl Yastrzemski leads American League in runs with just 93; it's the last time Yaz will lead the American League in a major department.
- California's Mickey Rivers leads American League in triples with 11.
- Texas, in its first full year under Billy Martin, finishes second with 84 wins, a 27-game hike over its 1973 performance.
- New York loses American League East race to Orioles by just 2 games -- the closest the Yankees have come to first place since 1964.