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The Narrative of the 1970 MLB Season

The Baltimore Orioles came into the 1970 baseball season feeling the need for redemption. The Orioles had produced a great team in 1969, but suffered an upset loss in the World Series to the New York Mets. In 1970, the Orioles finished the job.

Baltimore went to the early lead in the AL East. The New York  Yankees, with a good young catcher named Thurman Munson, challenged early on. The Detroit Tigers, only two years removed from a World Series title, hung in the race for half the season. The Boston Red Sox had stars, in Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Smith. But after the All-Star break, the Birds pulled away.

Boog Powell had an MVP year at first base. Davey Johnson was one of the AL’s top second baseman. The trio of Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Mike Cueller made for a dynamite starting rotation. The Orioles went into the postseason with a  dazzling 109 wins.

The Cincinnati Reds were on a similar trajectory. The Reds blew open the NL West race behind an MVP season from catcher Johnny Bench. Tony Perez was playing third base in 1970 and he had a big year. Pete Rose was in leftfield. The core of the Big Red Machine was coming together. Cincinnati won 102 games.

Both teams had challengers in their respective League Championship Series. The Minnesota Twins had two great hitters in Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. They had the league’s best reliever in Tom Hall and its best starter—Jim Perry won the Cy Young Award. Minnesota kept the Oakland A’s and California Angels at a comfortable arm’s length for most of the season and then finished the AL West race off with room to spare.

The best divisional race came in the NL East. The Pittsburgh Pirates welcomed back manager Danny Murtaugh, who had been in charge during their legendary 1960 World Series championship season. The Pirates got challenges. The defending champion Mets stayed in the race the entire way. The Chicago Cubs got a terrific year from Billy Williams, who was the runner-up to Bench in the MVP voting. The St. Louis Cardinals had the great Bob Gibson on the mound and Gibson won a Cy Young Award. Pittsburgh’s 89 wins were enough to clinch in the season’s final week.

Baltimore and Minnesota was an ALCS rematch. The Orioles had swept the Twins out in 1969 and they did the same in 1970. Powell continued the momentum of his great regular season and Baltimore won three straight in what was then a best-of-five round.

Two new ballparks were showcased in the NLCS. The Reds had opened Riverfront Stadium, while the Pirates moved into Three Rivers Stadium. Both moves took place mid-season. The stadiums were of the artificial turf, cookie-cutter variety that became all too common in the coming decade. These two stadiums in particular would be showcased quite a bit in October.

All of the games in this NLCS were good ones, with pitching being the dominant factor. The difference is that the Reds had speedy centerfielder Bobby Tolan. He was the difference-maker as Cincinnati won three consecutive tight ones.

The stage was set. Baltimore and Cincinnati were the league’s two best teams, each had their respective league’s MVP and each validated their dominance with an LCS sweep. A battle was anticipated in the World Series. Instead, this culminating moment of the 1970 season turned into the Brooks Robinson show. The veteran Baltimore third baseman made spectacular plays in the field, essentially saving a pair of one-run road wins to open the Series. He was terrific with his bat, spearheading an Oriole attack that came back from multi-run deficits several times. The anticipated battle turned into a Baltimore redemption tour. They won the championship in five games. The 1970 baseball season ended with the Orioles bringing home their second title in five years.