The 1975 baseball season was the year of the catfish. In the early 1960s, Charles O. Finley of the A's signed a teenage country boy named Jim "Catfish" Hunter. Although Hunter's first five big league seasons were far from spectacular (he went 55-64), the ace turned in blockbuster years from 1970-1974, going 106-49.
But after his Cy Young season in 1974, Hunter and Finley engaged in a bitter contract dispute. As a result, Hunter became a free agent, and on New Year's Eve 1974, Catfish celebrated the signing of a five-year, $3.75-million deal with the Yankees. Thus began the era of big-money free agency.
The 1975 A's managed to win the American League West without Hunter. Vida Blue stepped in as the staff's ace, going 22-11. Ken Holtzman went 18-14, and reliever extraordinaire Rollie Fingers notched ten wins and 24 saves. Oakland's Reggie Jackson led the league with 36 homers, and a 20-year-old Athletic named Claudell Washington hit .308 with 40 stolen bases.
Baltimore -- the unanimous preseason pick in the American League East -- won 90 games, but Boston surprised everyone by finishing 4½ games in front of the Orioles. Rookies Fred Lynn (.331 average, 21 homers, 105 RBI) and Jim Rice (.309 average, 22 homers, 102 RBI) sparked the Sox, as Lynn became the first player to win both the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards in the same season. The Sox also featured established hitters like Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk, as well as pitchers Rick Wise (19 wins), Luis Tiant (18), and Bill Lee (17).
Elsewhere in the American League, Minnesota's Rod Carew won his fourth consecutive batting title with a .359 average. Hank Aaron, Milwaukee's designated hitter, blasted 12 home runs, upping his total to 745, and Angel Nolan Ryan pitched no-hitter No. 4.
Twenty eight years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, Frank Robinson became the first black manager in major league history. The 39-year-old skipper led Cleveland to a fourth-place finish, and also played in 49 games, belting nine home runs.
Two power-hitting lefties carried Pittsburgh to the National League East title. Thirty-five-year-old Willie "Pops" Stargell hit .295 with 90 RBI, and 24-year-old Dave Parker batted .308 with 101 RBI.
Cincinnati's Big Red Machine (108-54) ran away with the West, boasting an All-Star lineup that included league MVP Joe Morgan (.327 average, 94 RBI), Johnny Bench (110 RBI), Pete Rose (210 hits, 47 doubles), Tony Perez (109 RBI), Ken Griffey (.305), Dave Concepcion (.274), and George Foster (.300, 23 homers). The Reds led the National League by huge margins in runs (840), stolen bases (168), saves (50), and fielding average (.984).
The Reds and the Sox swept their respective League Championship Series, setting the stage for one of the most dramatic World Series in baseball history. Cincinnati crawled out to a three-games-to-two lead, which included three one-run games. But the real fun didn't start until the sixth game in Boston.
The two teams battled into the 12th inning of game six, when Fisk, the Sox leadoff hitter, blasted a long fly ball to left. The ball had home run distance and stayed fair, giving Fisk a home run and Boston a 7-6 come-from-behind victory.
Game seven was almost as intense. Boston jumped to a 3-0 lead, the Reds tied it in the seventh, and Morgan won it in the ninth with a run-scoring single. Many feel the 1975 Series helped spark baseball's popularity, which soared in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
Check out headlines and summaries from the major stories of the 1975 baseball season on the next page.
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