On MLB Monday in late June 2021, we hit the middle years of the 1970s—where only three teams won the World Series between 1972 and 1978, and we had matchups between those three teams twice as well, meaning squads from Cincinnati, New York, and Oakland were everywhere in this decade.
This time out shows us the last great season for the Big Red Machine, a group that won the National League pennant four times in seven seasons from 1970 to 1976. Who will win the individual awards, though?
1976 AL MVP: Thurman Munson (original), George Brett (revised)
The New York Yankees won the AL East by 10.5 games, and their catcher—Thurman Munson, the 1970 AL ROTY winner—was voted the MVP. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals outlasted the Oakland Athletics in the AL West by 2.5 games, ending the A’s five-year dominance of the division. So, did Munson deserve the MVP nod?
Well, it’s complicated, but … no. Munson was fourth on the Yankees among position players for WAR (5.3), so he wasn’t even the best player on his own team. In fact, third baseman Graig Nettles (8.0) led the AL in WAR, while center fielder Mickey Rivers (6.4) and left fielder Roy White (5.5) also outpaced Munson. That leaves Nettles atop our preliminary list, although with so many Yankees playing well, none of them were truly MVPs.
Any one of them could have been replaced by the average player, and New York still would have won the division. That’s why Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett (7.5) gets our MVP nod, as his team would not have won its division without his valuable contributions as the second-best player in the AL behind Nettles.
His traditional numbers: league-best marks in hits (215), triples (14), batting average (.333), and total bases (298). Brett also added 1.1 dWAR at a key position for the Royals.
1976 NL MVP: Joe Morgan (original, confirmed)
With the Cincinnati Reds winning the NL West by 10 games, and the Philadelphia Phillies winning the NL East by 9 games, this MVP debate comes down to Reds second baseman Joe Morgan (9.6 WAR) and Phils 3B Mike Schmidt (8.0). Both are equally valuable, in the sense their respective teams may not have won the division titles without them. Morgan has won three of our last four NL MVPs, too, of course.
The next-best players in the league were Reds 3B Pete Rose (7.0) and Philly CF Gary Maddox (6.4), so each top player also had some help on his team, respectively. Both Morgan and Schmidt also played good defense, winning Gold Gloves, although Morgan’s 0.4 dWAR probably didn’t deserve such a recognition.
However, Schmidt did lead the NL in strikeouts (149), even though he walked 100 times and lead the league in home runs (38), total bases (306), and HBP (11). Cutting those Ks in half would have made a huge difference in WAR, obviously. At age 32, Morgan merely led the senior circuit in OBP (.444), SLG (.576), OPS, and sacrifice flies (12) while hitting .320—the last year of his long career that he would hit over .300 during the regular season.
We’re going to give the nod to Morgan again, based on Schmidt’s Ks, though. That’s too hard to overlook in this close, comparative analysis.
1976 AL Cy Young: Jim Palmer (original), Vida Blue (revised)
Baltimore Orioles ace Jim Palmer won another AL Cy vote, despite finishing just fifth in WAR (6.5) and his team finishing 10.5 games out of first place. The top-four pitchers in the junior circuit were Detroit Tigers rookie Mark Fidrych (9.0), Oakland veteran Vida Blue (7.6), California Angels fireballer Frank Tanana (7.5), and Texas Rangers stalwart Bert Blyleven (6.5).
The Tigers won just 74 games, so that means Fidrych really pitched in a vacuum, despite all the media hype at the time surrounding his peculiarities. Blue’s Oakland squad finished just 2.5 games out of first place, while the Rangers and Angels were also-ran squads in the AL West behind the A’s.
Thus, we strip Palmer of this award and give it to Blue instead, for these numbers: 18-13, 2.38 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, 6 shutouts, and 298 1/3 innings. This is Blue’s second AL Cy, and it is the second one we’ve taken away from Palmer, as well.
1976 NL Cy Young: Randy Jones (original), John Montefusco (revised)
San Diego Padres star Randy Jones (4.5 WAR) somehow won the NL Cy vote, despite pitching for a team that finished 16 games under .500 while posting a relatively low WAR mark. The three best pitchers in the league were San Francisco Giants ace John Montefusco (6.9), Atlanta Braves veteran Phil Niekro (6.7), and Giants workhorse Jim Barr (5.6).
But the Giants finished just one game ahead of the Padres in the standings, while the Braves finished three games below San Diego. Needless to say, it was not a good year for pitchers in the National League. Therefore, by default, we give this award to The Count, who also won the NL ROTY last year.
His traditional numbers: 16-14, 2.84 ERA, 1.176 WHIP, 6 shutouts (tops in the league), and 253 1/3 innings. Montefusco made the All-Star team for the only time in his career, and it was all downhill from here, but he really did start his career off with a bang by the Bay.
1976 AL ROTY: Mark Fidrych (original, confirmed)
This was not even unanimous at the time, probably because the Tigers were so bad, but there also was not much competition this season for the AL ROTY: Fidrych gets the nod, easily, thanks to a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA, a 1.079 WHIP, and 250 1/3 IP. He only struck out 97 batters, which is odd, but clearly, he was inducing a lot of outs.
1976 NL ROTY: Butch Metzger & Pat Zachry (original), Zachry (revised)
Somehow there was a tie for this award in the voting process at the time, between Padres long reliever Butch Metzger (1.4 WAR) and Reds starter Pat Zachry (3.5). In addition to the obvious WAR difference, we know San Diego stunk, while Cincinnati was positioning itself as a division winner. The weighted value there is significant.
Zachry’s numbers, for those at home: 14-7, 2.74 ERA, 1.240 WHIP, and 204 IP—not a bad rookie effort in the middle of a pennant chase for the defending champions.