As we move toward summertime on MLB Monday, it’s time to look at the final year of the Swingin’ A’s dynasty from Oakland: So far, this roster that is the only non-Yankees squad to win three straight World Series has not won a single award from us in the prior two seasons (1972, 1973). Will that change in 1974?
Only one way to find out, so read on for the exciting answer!
1974 AL MVP: Jeff Burroughs (original), Bobby Grich (revised)
The three best position players in the league this season were Minnesota Twins second baseman Rod Carew (7.5 WAR), Baltimore Orioles 2B Bobby Grich (7.3), and Oakland Athletics right fielder Reggie Jackson (5.7). Last year, Reggie won the MVP vote, but we gave the award to Grich. This year, Texas Rangers RF Jeff Burroughs (3.6 WAR) laughingly won the MVP vote, just because he led the AL in RBI (118).
But he posted -2.9 dWAR for a team that finished second in the West Division by 5 games, so it’s possible Burroughs actually cost his team a postseason spot with his brutal defense. Meanwhile, Carew won the batting title (.364) as the Twins finished 8 games behind Oakland in that AL West chase.
And here’s the rub: Baltimore won the AL East Division by 2 games, thanks to Grich’s 1.6 dWAR and his offensive output (19 home runs, 82 RBI, 17 steals, 90 walks, and 20 HBPs). He was more vital to the Orioles’ success than Jackson was to the A’s success, so Grich wins another MVP nod from us. How is this guy not in the Hall of Fame?!
1974 NL MVP: Steve Garvey (original), Jim Wynn (revised)
The Los Angeles Dodgers won the NL West by 4 games over a loaded Cincinnati Reds team, and Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey won the MVP vote with just 4.4 WAR—including -0.9 dWAR. Clearly, this award needs to be re-assigned, with the Pittsburgh Pirates winning the NL East by 1.5 games over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt (9.8 WAR) was the best player in the league, even though his team finished 8 games out in the NL East. The next-best guys were Reds 2B Joe Morgan (8.6), Cincy catcher Johnny Bench (7.8), Dodgers center fielder Jim Wynn (7.7), and Atlanta Braves third baseman Darrell Evans (7.2).
The Reds couldn’t win with Morgan and Bench, strangely, so how valuable could either have been, really? Bench won our nods for 1968 NL ROTY and 1970 NL MVP, while Morgan took home our NL MVPs in both the last two seasons. Neither gets our hardware this season.
This comes down to Schmidt’s outstanding season for an also-ran team and Wynn’s very good season for a winner as both guys were very positive defenders:
- Schmidt: 36 HRs, 116 RBI, 23 SBs, .941 OPS
- Wynn: 32 HRs, 108 RBI, 18 SBs, .884 OPS
Again, we know Schmidt had the better season, but it took a near-historical effort for him to even carry the Phillies within 8 games of the division title. Wynn, on the other hand, was the best position player on a division winner. While it doesn’t matter to us, per se, the Dodgers star did finish ahead of Schmidt in the MVP vote at the time, probably for this reason. In the end, leading your team to the postseason matters, so Wynn gets our nod, surprisingly.
1974 AL Cy Young: Catfish Hunter (original, confirmed)
Vote winner Catfish Hunter (6.9 WAR) finished sixth in the AL for value, and his A’s won the AL West for the fourth straight season. Did he do enough in our estimation to keep this trophy? It really depends on context for the five pitchers who topped him in WAR, of course.
Here they are: Cleveland Indians veteran Gaylord Perry (8.5); Minnesota Twins workhorse Bert Blyleven (7.8); Boston Red Sox wizard Luis Tiant (7.7); Texas Rangers ace Ferguson Jenkins (7.7); and Chicago White Sox southpaw Jim Kaat (7.1). Incidentally, Perry won our 1970 NL Cy, although we stripped him of his 1972 AL Cy. We also stripped Jenkins of his NL Cy in 1971. Aren’t we mean?
Cleveland and Chicago did not post winning records, so we have to lose Perry and Kaat from our list of finalists here; both guys were good, but pitching in pressure vacuums doesn’t carry the value we want here, of course. The Twins finished 8 games behind the A’s, which—like Carew above—also eliminates Blyleven from consideration. None of these three pitchers actually led the league in a significant category.
Meanwhile, Boston finished 7 games behind the Orioles, and Texas fought to that second-place finish to Oakland by 5 games. Tiant led the league in shutouts (7), while Jenkins topped the circuit in wins (25) and complete games (29). Hunter outdid them both by winning 25 games to match Jenkins, while also topping all his peers in ERA (2.49) and WHIP (0.986).
Jenkins’ edge over Hunter in WAR isn’t enough to warrant his elevation above Catfish in our Cy estimation, and Tiant’s was basically in the same vacuum as Blyleven’s Twins. Therefore, we will confirm Hunter’s Cy Young nod here. He becomes the first and only Swingin’ A’s player to win one of our major awards during their World Series run.
1974 NL Cy Young: Mike Marshall (original), Phil Niekro (revised)
As a reliever, Dodgers veteran Mike Marshall (3.1 WAR) somehow won the NL Cy vote, as he appeared in a whopping 106 games, finished 83 of them, winning 15 times, and making 21 saves. He is not going to win our hardware here, however, as that WAR mark is just ridiculously low, even if he did toss 208 1/3 innings.
The best pitchers in the league were New York Mets ace Jon Matlack (9.1 WAR), Braves knuckleballer Phil Niekro (7.9), and San Francisco Giants swingman Jim Barr (6.3). The problem here is that the Mets finished 20 games under .500, wasting Matlack’s effort two years after he won the NL ROTY. Meanwhile, the Braves finished 14 games behind the Dodgers, and the Giants won just 72 games.
That basically makes this award Niekro’s by default: He won 20 games while posting a 2.38 ERA in 302 1/3 IP. He led the league in wins, complete games (18), and innings pitched. That is good enough for us, under the circumstances.
1974 AL ROTY: Mike Hargrove (original), Jim Sundberg (revised)
The Rangers’ unlikely charge to second place behind the A’s was fueled by players like Burroughs and Jenkins, but also by two rookies: first baseman Mike Hargrove (3.3 WAR) and catcher Jim Sundberg (4.0). Hargrove won the vote by hitting .323 with 66 RBI, but he was a negative defender (-0.7 dWAR) at an “easy” position. Meanwhile, Sundberg posted 1.6 dWAR behind the plate while adding just enough offense (62 walks, 36 RBI).
This makes it straightforward to strip Hargrove of the hardware and give it to Sundberg, really. Like Burroughs above, Hargrove hurt his team with his defense, and that could have been the difference between a division title and a second-place finish.
1974 NL ROTY: Bake McBride (original, confirmed)
The two top rooks in the senior circuit were Houston Astros outfielder Greg Gross (4.7 WAR) and St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Bake McBride (4.3). The latter won the vote, as the Cards finished just 1.5 games out of first place in the NL East, while the ‘Stros finished at .500 in the NL West.
McBride hit .309 with 56 RBI, 30 SBs, and 43 BBs, and he was a positive defender. Meanwhile, Gross hit .314 with 76 walks, but he actually got caught stealing 20 times (compared to just 12 successful steals), and he didn’t hit a single home run.
It’s easy to confirm McBride’s award here, helping his team fly high to a near division title, as Gross’ value was inflated by playing for an average team.
Check in every Monday for our MLB awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!