As we start making our way through the 1970s on MLB Monday, we come to a special year—50 years ago from this season, in fact. It also marks the fact we have been doing this column for 60 editions now, since we started with the 1911 season for the American and National leagues. Hard to believe, huh?
Never fear; we are just getting started, both overall and for this week … read on!
1971 AL MVP: Vida Blue (original), Sal Bando (revised)
In a season where no offensive player posted more than 7.5 WAR, it makes sense that voters chose a pitcher—Oakland Athletics southpaw Vida Blue—for the MVP Award. We can’t do that, however, so here are the five best position players in the AL: Cleveland Indians third baseman Graig Nettles (7.5); New York Yankees left fielder Roy White (6.7); Yankees center fielder Bobby Murcer (6.5); A’s right fielder Reggie Jackson (6.4); and Oakland third baseman Sal Bando (6.4).
The Yankees won jus 82 games while finishing 21 games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East, and Cleveland posted a 60-102 record, so that reduces our options to the two players from the AL West champions: Jackson and Bando. They have equal WAR marks, so you know where this analysis headed, as the A’s won their division by 16 games over the Kansas City Royals.
Both players were positive defenders, but Bando’s glove was 0.6 dWAR better at a more important position in the field, and Jackson topped the AL in strikeouts, which is a negative. Thus, in a surprise, we give this MVP to Bando for the following stats: 24 home runs, 94 RBI, 86 walks, .828 OPS, and 1.1 dWAR. Captain Sal would have a better season in 1973, but this effort was good enough in this unique season for him to win this award.
1971 NL MVP: Joe Torre (original), Roberto Clemente (revised)
There were closer pennant races in the senior circuit, and these were the top five offensive players: Pittsburgh Pirates LF Willie Stargell (7.9 WAR); Pittsburgh RF Robert Clemente (7.3); Atlanta Braves first baseman Hank Aaron (7.2); San Francisco Giants RF Bobby Bonds (6.7); and Giants CF Willie Mays (6.3).
Somehow, the voters gave the MVP to St. Louis Cardinals 3B Joe Torre (5.9), mostly because of his offense—while ignoring his absolutely atrocious defense (-2.4 dWAR). With the Cards finishing 7 games behind the Pirates in the NL East, it’s clear that Torre probably cost St. Louis its shot at the pennant with his hole-filled glove at the hot corner.
The Giants won the NL West by 1 game over the Dodgers, so the Pittsburgh and S.F. players are our top candidates here, although we’d like to point out that Aaron topped the NL with a 1.079 OPS at age 37, while Mays was best in on-base percentage (.425) at age 40. Incredible efforts by both men, really, even if the Braves came in third behind the Giants and the Dodgers.
Obviously, all four pennant-winning players are deserving of this award, so we need to start with dWAR: Stargell actually posted -0.4 dWAR, while Clemente came in at 1.8 dWAR. So the Great One gets the mantle for the Pirates. Meanwhile, for the Giants, both Bonds (-0.1 dWAR) and Mays (-0.2 dWAR) came in right below average, so by defensive prowess, we give this award to Clemente—who also hit .341 with an .871 OPS at age 37.
Remember, we took away Clemente’s NL MVP in 1966, so it feels like justice to award him this honor.
1971 AL Cy Young: Vida Blue (original, confirmed)
The top three pitchers in the junior circuit were Chicago White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood (11.7 WAR), Oakland ace Blue (9.0), and Detroit Tigers veteran Mickey Lolich (8.5). The ChiSox finished under .500 overall, while the Tigers came in behind the Orioles by 12 games. Wood’s incredible WAR was fueled by 334 innings and a 1.91 ERA in 44 games (22 of them complete). But he didn’t lead the AL in any of the major statistical categories.
Meanwhile, Blue posted 24 wins for a division winner, while leading the league in ERA (1.82), shutouts (8), WHIP (0.952), fewest hits allowed per 9 IP (6.0), and most Ks per 9 IP (8.7) as well. Oh, and he tossed 312 innings himself. For the record, Lolich topped his peers in wins (25), starts (45), complete games (29), innings pitched (376), and Ks (308). His 2.92 ERA was quite higher than Wood’s or Blue’s marks, respectively, however.
We confirm Blue’s vote win here, due to the quality of his innings for a pennant winner, although clearly Wood and Lolich had great seasons themselves.
1971 NL Cy Young: Ferguson Jenkins (original), Tom Seaver (revised)
The Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets both finished 14 games behind Pittsburgh in the NL East, and their respective aces—the Mets’ Tom Seaver (10.2 WAR) and the Cubs’ Ferguson Jenkins (10.1 WAR)—were the two best pitchers in the league, by far. So which one is going to get our nod for the Cy Young? Jenkins won the vote at the time, with 11 more first-place votes than Seaver.
We think we know why, too: His 24 wins looked nice on paper, even though Seaver led the NL in ERA (1.76), strikeouts (289), and WHIP (0.946) while winning “only” 20 games. Jenkins’ numbers—2.77 ERA, 263 Ks, and 1.049 WHIP—are good, yet he also gave up the most hits (304) and HRs (29) in the league.
The Cubs ace did throw 38 more innings on the year, but Seaver was clearly the better pitcher, in terms of quality and value, as the voters were swayed by the one big number for Jenkins. We took away Seaver’s ’69 Cy, so we are happy to reward him with this one in return.
1971 AL ROTY: Chris Chambliss (original), Paul Splittorff (revised)
We have no idea why Cleveland 1B Chris Chambliss won the AL ROTY vote with just 0.5 WAR, but we do find it interesting that the Indians had both Nettles and Chambliss on their roster during the 1971 season as both would go on to play for the Yankees in three straight World Series by the end of the decade.
But we digress, as there were four better rookies in the junior circuit this season: Milwaukee Brewers starter Bill Parsons (3.1 WAR), Kansas City Royals starter Paul Splittorff (2.3), Boston Red Sox second baseman Doug Griffin (0.9), and A’s CF Ángel Mangual (0.7). The Brewers won 69 games to finish last in the AL West, while the Royals finished second behind the A’s. Boston finished 18 games out of first in the AL East.
Parsons actually posted a losing record (13-17) for Milwaukee, while Splittorff also did the same (8-9) for the Royals. However, Splittorff’s ERA (2.68) was a lot more respectable, and both Griffin (.610 OPS) and Mangual (.686 OPS) were terrible hitters. Mostly by default, we give this award to the Kansas City rookie hurler.
1971 NL ROTY: Earl Williams (original, confirmed)
This is an easy one, as Braves utility man Earl Williams (3.3 WAR) was clearly the best rookie in the league. Splitting time at catcher, third base, and first base, he posted an .815 OPS with 33 HRs and 87 RBI for the 82-win Braves, who finished third behind S.F. and L.A. in the NL West.
Philadelphia Phillies CF Willie Montañez (1.9 WAR) deserves a shout out here, too, even though his team finished in last place among NL East teams. He hit 30 HRs with 99 RBI himself, but clearly, Williams carried more value on a semi-contending team.