Monday, August 16, 2010

Flashback: 1970's Baseball

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-Digger's Daily-

1970's baseball. When the game was still a game before agents, widespread drug usage, steroids and owners turned commissioners. All Star Games were played for the love of the game. World Series games thrilled with historic moments. Free agency was born. Bubble gum was still in nearly every pack of baseball cards. Starting pitchers went the distance with regularity. Players seldom begged out of games with minor injuries. George Steinbrenner buys the Yankees. Final seasons for superstar players such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson and so many more heroes. Unfortunately, tragedy struck too when the world lost the likes of Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente in a plane crash during a humanitarian mission (1972). Another sombering plane wreck in mid 1979 took the life of Yankees captain Thurmon Munson.

The 70's also gave us a few dominating teams. Oakland won the World Series three straight from 72-74. The Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds) played in three straight, winning two (75-76). Steinbrenner's Yankees were dismal when he first took over. Before the decade ended they resumed winning ways taking two titles of their own in 1977-78. Current day laughingstock Baltimore Orioles were great for most of the decade. Led by Earl Weaver they won the AL East 5 times. Pittsburgh was great back then too led by Clemente and Willie Stargell winning 6 NL East crowns. Tommy LaSorda's Los Angeles Dodgers went toe to toe vs Sparky Anderson's Reds. LA finished 2nd 6 times but did win their way into 3 World Series appearances (won 1974). The Boston Red Sox had some powerhouse teams which just missed during the curse years and played in one of the most memorable World Series ever in 1975 vs Cincinnati.

I was just starting to learn of MLB back then being only 5 years old in 1970. I started going to games and was lucky enough to personally meet some of my all time favorites from Willie Mays to Pete Rose to Rusty Staub. During these formative baseball years of my youth, as with millions of others kids, Strat-O-Matic Baseball played a large roll. So did having, trading, flipping and studying thousands of Topps Chewing Gum baseball cards. Believe it or not, I even selected a few of players pictures used on the actual cards in the late 70's.

Playing Strat-O-Matic was great fun. Setting lineups for all MLB teams quickly became the focus of classroom daydreaming and writing down lineup matchups for World Series, All Star Games or upcoming Mets battles. A few of my 70's favorites:

Cincinnati: Pete Rose (3B), Ken Griffey, Sr. (RF), Joe Morgan (2B), Tony Perez (1B), Johnny Bench (C), George Foster (LF), Cesar Geronimo (CF), Davey Concepcion (SS). Tony Perez might be one of the most under appreciated player outside of Cincy.

Boston: Cecil Cooper (DH/1B)), Dwight Evans(RF), Fred Lynn (CF), Carl Yastrzemski (1B/LF), Jim Rice (LF), Carlton Fisk (C), Rico Petrocelli (3B), Rick Burleson (SS), Denny Doyle (2B)... Rick Wise (SP).

Los Angeles: Davey Lopes (2B), Bill Russell (SS), Reggie Smith (RF), Steve Garvey (1B), Ron Cey (3B), Dusty Baker (LF), Rick Monday (CF), Steve Yeager/Joe Ferguson (C), Andy Messersmith (SP).

Yankees: Mickey Rivers (CF), Roy White (LF), Thurman Munson (C), Reggie Jackson (RF), Chris Chambliss (1B), Craig Nettles (3B), Lou Piniella (DH), Willie Randolph (2B), Bucky Dent (SS)... Ron Guidry (SP).

Mets: Willie Mays (CF), Felix Millan (2B), Rusty Staub (RF), John Milner (1B), Cleon Jones (LF), Wayne Garret (3B), Jerry Grote/Ron Hodges (C), Ted Martinez/Bud Harrelson (SS), Jon Matlack (SP).

Many memorable moments from wide ranging events. Playing catch and pitching to my dad. Hank Aaron become All Time Home Run King. Carlton Fisk's 1975 World Series game winning homer. Willie Mays on his knees in disbelief at home plate in 1973 World Series Game 3 in Oakland protesting a blown call. Pete Rose vs Bud Harrelson fight during 1973 NLCS. 1978 Boston vs New York pennant race and one game playoff. Reggie Jackson vs Billy Martin square off in Fenway. Tug McGraw and "You Gotta Believe". Catfish Hunter. Joe Rudi crashing into walls. Carl Yastrzemski. Rollie Finger's mustache. Nolan Ryan's 100 mph fastball's and no hitter's. Mike Marshall pitches in 106 games (1974). Curt Flood's anti-trust suit vs MLB. Marvin Miller becomes MLBPA leader.

All just snippets in time so many years later. Frozen moments of remembering when baseball was still baseball. When players played for the love of the game. It would have been fun to watch the Ruth/Gehrig, DiMaggio/Williams or Brooklyn Dodgers era's too. Growing up in the 70 was great nonetheless.

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