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Top 10 MLB Players of the 1970s

photo by Rick Dikeman, 1975, CC 1.0 Public Domain

The 1970s featured some of the most dominant teams in Major League history. Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine," Oakland's "3-peat" A's, Earl Weaver's Baltimore Orioles and a revival of the New York Yankees dynasty were well-rounded squads that could compete with the best of any era. But you can't have a great team without great players, and the decade included some of the most dynamic players of all-time. From Hall of Fame hurlers to iconic sluggers, this list includes the ten best players of the 1970s.

1) Joe Morgan

No player contributed more to his team in the 1970s than Joe Morgan. The Hall of Famer hit for average and power, had outstanding speed, and was a superb fielder at second base for Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine." Morgan's greatest strength, however, was his ability to get on base. In addition to his 1,450 hits, he walked 1,071 times while striking out only 517 times in the decade. His .403 on-base percentage ranked second among players in the 70s. In 1975-76, Morgan had the two greatest seasons of his career, winning back to back National League MVPs while leading the Reds to two straight World Series titles. In 1975, he hit .327 with 17 home runs, 94 RBIs, 107 runs and 67 stolen bases, and led the league with 132 walks, a .466 OBP and .974 OPS. The next season he hit .320 with 27 homers, 111 RBIs, 113 runs and 60 steals, while leading the NL with a .444 OBP, .576 slugging percentage and 1.020 OPS. Morgan also won a Gold Glove each season. For the decade, the Reds' great was a nine-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner.

2) Pete Rose

Baseball has never seen a more intense competitor than Pete Rose. The man known as "Charlie Hustle" was the catalyst behind Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine," using his intensity and versatility to lead the Reds to four pennants and two World Series championships. Rose was an All-Star at three different positions in the decade: outfield, first base and third base. He was a Gold Glove winner as an outfielder, and led the league in fielding percentage at both third base and the outfield. At the plate, the Reds' All-Star was one of the toughest outs in the game. He hit .314 and led all Major League players with 2,045 hits in the decade. He also had 783 walks against only 464 strikeouts. Rose was at the top of his game in the postseason, hitting .318 with a .376 OBP and .862 OPS in 42 games. He was named the 1975 World Series MVP, hitting .370 with a .966 OPS in the Reds' classic seven-game triumph over the Boston Red Sox. Rose was a nine-time All-Star in the decade, and led the NL in times on base five times, hits and doubles four times, and runs three times. In 1973, the all-time hits leader won both NL MVP and a batting title, hitting .338 with an NL-high 230 hits.

3) Johnny Bench

Johnny Bench is arguably the greatest all-around catcher in baseball history. The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer possessed a strong and accurate arm, the ability to handle pitchers, and was one of the league's most prolific power hitters at the plate. Bench was one of the decade's most decorated players, with 10 All-Star selections, eight Gold Gloves and two National League MVP awards (1970, 72). In 1970, he led the NL with 45 home runs and 148 RBIs, and posted a .587 slugging percentage and .932 OPS. In 1972, he once again led the NL in home runs (40) and RBIs (125), while posting a .541 slugging and .920 OPS. Bench was an integral part of four pennant winners and two World Series championship teams, hitting .266 with 10 homers, 20 RBIs, 27 runs and a .527 slugging percentage in 45 postseason games. In 1976, he was named World Series MVP, hitting .533 with two homers, six RBIs and a 1.667 OPS. Bench finished the decade with 290 home runs, 1,013 RBIs and an .840 OPS.

4) Reggie Jackson

Reggie Jackson acquired the nickname "Mr. October" for good reason, as the star slugger dominated the postseason in the 1970s, hitting .305 with 14 home runs, 38 RBIs and a .965 OPS in 53 games. The Hall of Famer was even more dominant in the World Series, hitting .360 with nine homers, 23 RBIs and an astonishing 1.228 OPS in 24 games. Jackson's heroics helped lead the Oakland A's to three straight championships from 1972-74 and the New York Yankees to back to back titles in 1977-78. He was named World Series MVP in both 1973 and 77, hitting .450 with five homers, eight RBIs and a 1.792 OPS in the latter. In the series-clinching game six win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Yankees slugger made history by hitting three home runs on three pitches from three different pitchers. In the regular season, Jackson had 292 homers, 922 RBIs, 183 stolen bases and an .870 OPS. He was selected to eight All-Star games in the decade, and was named the 1973 American League MVP.

5) Willie Stargell

Willie Stargell began the 1970s on a high note, averaging 36 home runs and 105 RBIs with a .577 slugging percentage and .958 OPS from 1970-74. In 1971, he led the Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series championship, hitting .295 with 125 RBIs, a 1.026 OPS and a league-high 48 home runs. In 1973, the Hall of Famer led the National League with 44 homers, 119 RBIs, a .646 slugging percentage and 1.038 OPS. The Pirates All-Star remained one of baseball's most dangerous hitters throughout the 70s, but injuries limited his playing time mid-decade. Stargell would finish the decade on top, though, winning National League MVP and leading Pittsburgh to another World Series title in 1979. The now 39-year-old "Pops," as he was affectionately called, was named both National League Championship Series MVP and World Series MVP, hitting .415 with five home runs, 13 RBIs, a .927 slugging percentage and a 1.362 OPS in 10 games. For the decade, Stargell led all Major Leaguers with 296 home runs, a .555 slugging percentage and a .929 OPS.

6) Jim Palmer

Jim Palmer was the 1970s winningest pitcher, posting a 186-103 record and eight 20-win seasons. But Palmer did more than just rack up wins on a great team. He had a stellar 2.58 ERA and 1.152 WHIP, and led all pitchers with 44 shutouts in the decade. For his efforts, the Baltimore Orioles ace won three Cy Young awards, was named to six All-Star teams, and garnered four Gold Gloves for his excellent play in the field. With Palmer at the top of the rotation, the Orioles remained in contention all decade long, winning five division titles, three American League pennants and a World Series championship in 1970. In 13 postseason appearances, Palmer was 5-2 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.220 WHIP.

7) Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver took the momentum from his 1969 Cy Young season with New York's "Miracle" Mets and carried it through the next decade. In the 1970s, he had a 178-101 record, a 2.61 ERA, a 1.083 WHIP and 2,304 strikeouts. The Mets ace was rewarded with eight All-Star selections and two Cy Young awards. Seaver dominated NL competition, leading the league in strikeouts five times, and ERA and WHIP three times each. In five postseason starts, "Tom Terrific" had a sparkling 2.04 ERA and 1.034 WHIP for the pennant-winning Mets in 1973 and the division champion Cincinnati Reds in 1979.

8) Rod Carew

Rod Carew was one of the purest hitters the game has ever seen. The Hall of Famer led all Major Leaugers with a .343 average and .403 on-base percentage, and won six American League batting titles in the decade. The Minnesota Twins second baseman flirted with .400 in 1977, finishing the year with a .388 average en route to winning AL MVP. In addition to winning the batting title, Carew led the AL in hits (239), runs (128), triples (16), OBP (.449) and OPS (1.019) in 1977. While known mostly for his prowess at the plate, Carew was also dangerous on the basepaths, stealing 253 bases and legging out 80 triples in the decade.

9) Nolan Ryan

Few pitchers struck more fear in hitters than Nolan Ryan. When adjusted to modern radar gun specifications, Ryan's fastest pitch in the decade was estimated at an astonishing 108.5 miles per hour, the highest ever. The flame throwing Texan struck out 2,678 batters in the 1970s, leading the league seven times. He recorded 300 or more strikeouts five times, including a Major League record 383 in 1973. Even though he lacked run support pitching behind mediocre offenses, Ryan's electric stuff often made more than a run or two unnecessary. From 1973-75, the California Angels All-Star threw four of his record seven career no-hitters, and his 42 shutouts in the decade ranked second among all pitchers.

10) Bobby Bonds

In today's game, the combination of power and speed is a sure-fire formula for a Major League superstar. In the 1970s, no player mastered this formula better than Bobby Bonds. The All-Star outfielder had four seasons of at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases, and nine with at least 20 in each category. The talented Bonds didn't stay in one place for long, having played for six different teams in the decade, but he was productive wherever he went. In the 70s, Bonds had 280 home runs, 856 RBIs, 1,020 runs and 380 stolen bases. Equally adept in the field as he was at the plate, Bonds also won three Gold Gloves.

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