In 1966 a team led by Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, and Boog Powell bested the L.A Dodgers and Sandy Koufax to win the first World Series title in Baltimore Orioles history. Four years later that same dominant core of players would go on to beat a team that would later referred to as “The Big Red Machine” to win their second World Series title. In a 5-year stretch from 1969-1974, the Orioles would only miss the playoffs once. Among those teams, the 1970 Baltimore Orioles are considered the best team in franchise history; but how do they compare to the 1929 Philadelphia Athletics?
The 1970 Orioles core featured Frank Robinson batting .306; the only player with a batting average over .300 in the starting line-up. Still, there were a lot of solid contributors – players like Boog Powell who had 35 homeruns and 114 RBIs and the always reliable Brooks Robinson who was an All-Star for 15 straight years. He more than made up for his lackluster offense with defense that earned him 16 straight gold gloves at third base. That is the most gold gloves won by a third basemen in the history of baseball and is tied with Jim Kaat for the most all time. Overall, the Orioles posted a .269 batting average with an average of 17 homeruns, 68.37 RBIs and 67.75 walks per starter.
The Orioles pitching staff had a total of 60 complete games with 54 of them coming from 3 players. Led by Jim Palmer, the 1970 O’s had 3 hurlers with 200+ innings and flirting with 200 strikeouts. In addition to Palmer, the Orioles staff featured Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally; both helped lead the team to a record of 108 and 54; in the top 10 for most wins in a season. The Orioles are also the only team in MLB history to have 3 pitchers (Palmer, Cuellar and McNally) finish in the top 5 of Cy Young award voting. Score-wise the O’s pitchers had averaged 15.8 wins over 235.66 innings pitched with a 3.20 ERA and an incredible 144.8 strikeouts.
The ’29 Athletics had a special advantage over most teams. While the ’27 Yankees had Miller Huggins, the ’76 Reds had Sparky Anderson and the ’70 Orioles had Earl Weaver as their managers, the ’29 A’s had Connie Mack. Mack, a 5-time world series champion manager, coached for 53 years, 50 with the Athletics. Think about it this way: the Head Coach/Manager with the longest active tenure with one team is Greg Popovich who has been with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs for 20 years; that is not even half way to Mack’s 50 years with one team. Mack is remembered as one of the greatest managers in the history of baseball. The “Tall Tactician” put the ’29 A’s hitters in position to have a mean of a .307 batting average, 13 homeruns, 83.5 RBIs and 55.6 walks.
Athletics pitching led by Lefty Grove won 104 games in a 150 game season. Playing half of their games in a pitcher-friendly Shibe Park with dimensions of 378 feet down the left field line 515 feet to straight away center and 340 feet down the right field line, the top A’s 5 starters only allowed 55 homeruns all season. With a .693 winning percentage the Athletics pitchers helped the team cruise through, not only the season, but the playoffs as well. The 1929 playoffs were capped off with an impressive 4-1 series victory over the Chicago Cubs in the 21st year of what would become a 108 championship drought. The A’s compiled a 3.45 ERA over 221.94 innings pitched with 100.6 strikeouts and these numbers led them to an average of 16.8 wins as a staff.
In the end the 1970 Orioles outranked the 1929 Athletics 5-3 thanks to some incredible pitching numbers. The most impressive of which was their average of 144.8 strikeouts which was over 40 Ks higher then the Athletics. Make sure to keep an eye out for the next part of the series which will feature the 1986 New York Mets.