It’s always fun to read posts that name all-decade teams throughout baseball’s rich history. One twist I don’t think I’ve seen is an all-decade team of non-HOFers. As it’s not only the decade I fell in love with baseball but also a decade that’s particularly overlooked by HOF voters, the 1970s feels like the right place to start. I don’t think this team would beat the 1970s all-decade team of HOFers, but I wouldn’t expect any blowouts either.
- Starter – Thurman Munson – 1970 AL Rookie of the Year, 1976 AL MVP, 7 all-star selections, and 3 Gold Gloves–all by the age of 32. I remember him as having more pop than his stats actually show. But maybe that’s because 15 HRs for a catcher used to be a lot. I personally dig his 1978 Topps card–I’m a sucker for the bright, blurry crowds that hallmarked so many of the backgrounds in that set–but it’s his 1971 Topps card that many collectors consider a Top 10 card of the decade.
- Backup – Ted Simmons – 5 all-star selections in the decade (8 overall) for this switch-hitting backstop who seemingly flirted with .300/20/100 every year of the decade. In all honesty, I don’t LOVE any of Ted’s cards from the 1970s, but I’d probably go with 1974 if I had to choose. There’s kind of a Rembrandt darkness to the shot.
- Starter – Steve Garvey – His 1974 NL MVP season kicked off the first of 6 all-star seasons in the decade (10 overall) to go with 4 straight Gold Gloves. A threat every season to bat .300, collect 200 hits, and drive in 100 runs, not to mention a monster in the postseason. And more importantly (to me), Garvey was a freaking God to the kids of Los Angeles in the late 70s and early 80s. A ritual of the spring was to be the first to rip a Garvey from a pack, at which point you could either keep the Garvey and rule collecting for a good week or so or else trade the Garvey for pretty much the best 10 cards in some other guy’s collection. 1981 was the year I came in first, and I kept the card–I wasn’t an idiot!
- Backup – Dick Allen – While some of his best years came in the 1960s, Allen still took home the 1972 AL MVP and made four all-star teams in the 1970s. As an added bonus, Dick’s 1971 cards (regular issue and Super) were the first ever Topps cards to feature a player with a mustache.
- Starter – Bobby Grich – The 1970s included 4 all-star selections and 4 Gold Gloves. Particularly notable was his 1979 season in which Bobby batted .294 with 30 HR and 101 RBI. Fans who actually watched Grich play knew he was very good for his position but not great. Then the sabermetricians came along and told us we were wrong–we had actually been witnessing one of the best second basemen of all time!
- Backup – Davey Lopes – With “only” two all-star selections and Gold Gloves during the decade, Lopes is included mainly for his speed. From 1973-1979, Lopes averaged 53 steals per year, and–as his 1976 Topps Record Breaker card shows–almost never got caught!
- Starter – Pete Rose – Averaged 205 hits per year over the decade, which is pretty insane. Now for good measure throw in 9 all-star selections (!) and the 1973 NL MVP award. Based on games played, Rose probably belongs atop the list of outfielders, but memories of his 1976, 1977, and 1979 Topps all-star cards are too burned in my memory to take him off third base. Rose is of course subject to some of the most vigorous HOF debates around. I used to be a strong advocate, but I think I’m finally at peace with his omission. That said, I think the LAMEST THING EVER would be to induct him posthumously (since his ban is only a “lifetime” ban).
- Backup – Bill Madlock – Batted .320 for the decade and won two of his four batting titles. Also batted .375 for the Bucs in the 1979 World Series. Despite bearing the nickname “Mad Dog,” I gotta say Madlock has some of the warmest smiles you’ll see on a baseball card.
- Backup – Graig Nettles – I’ll give the team a second backup here since you never know if Rose might end up somewhere else in the field (or God knows where off the field!). Nettles may be best known to 1980s baseball card collectors as the guy with the toughest error card (“C” Nettles) from the 1981 Fleer set, but he was also at times the reincarnation of Brooks Robinson at third–especially in the postseason–and a very solid power hitter, swatting 252 homers in the decade and 390 in his career.
- Starter – Dave Concepcion – 6 of his 9 all-star selections came in the 1970s, along with 5 Gold Gloves. The one year Concepcion wasn’t an all-star between 1973 and 1982 came in his best season, 1974, when he batted .281 with 14 HR and 41 SB. Still, despite Concepcion’s perennial all-star status, he always struck me as one of the least intimidating guys ever to make it onto cardboard. His 1977 pose reminds of that guy on your Little League team who was scared to bat and jumped out of the box every time the pitcher went into his motion.
- Backup – Bert Campaneris – 5 all-star selections in the decade along with the final 2 of his 6 stolen base titles. I’m at a loss to recall what book this might have been, but I distinctly remember learning about Campaneris for the first time by reading a book about the greatest baseball players ever. Ruth, Gehrig, Campaneris, Cobb, … right? As for his best cardboard, why not take 1976 Topps, where either an Oakland Athletic or a New York Yankee hogged every all-star card except… (I’m gonna leave it blank as a trivia question for readers.)
- Starter – Dave Parker – The Cobra remains in my mind one of the top all-around baseball talents anywhere. His 1978 NL MVP season was one of the best of the decade, and his back-to-back batting titles in 1977-1978 contributed to a .317 mark for the decade. While Parker’s 1976 Topps card was named “best of the year” by Wax Pack Gods, my favorite might be his 1979 Topps, if for no other reason than the totally bananas uniform!
- Starter – George Foster – Three straight RBI titles between 1976-1978 highlighted what might have been the decade’s top three-year peak, and his 1977 season (.320, 52, 149) was easily the decade’s finest. Top card was 1978, just to flip it over and drool over those stats.
- Starter – Fred Lynn – The first 5 of Lynn’s 9 consecutive all-star selections came in the 1970s, started off by his famous 1975 ROY/MVP campaign and book-ended by a 1979 campaign that was even better. It’s a funny thing…at the close of the decade, if you were a GM and could build a team around player, I have to imagine the first names that would come to mind would be Lynn, Parker, Garvey, Foster, Rice, J.R. Richard, and Ron Guidry. Hard to believe only one made the Hall–and just barely at that!
- Backup – Amos Otis – The man known as A.O. was a five-time all-star and three-time Gold Glover in centerfield for the Royals. Otis also twice topped the A.L. in doubles and in 1971 stole bases to pace the junior circuit. Rather than feature his best cardboard, let me put in a plug for his Kansas City Monarchs bobblehead, with all proceeds benefiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
- Backup – Don Baylor – Groove finished the decade with a bang, taking home the 1979 AL MVP award with a .296/36/139 season that led his Halos to their first ever division title. Baylor’s 1970s accomplishment also included four of his eight “hit by pitch” titles and a personal high of 52 stolen bases in 1976.
- Backup – Dave Kingman – Here is a man who would fit right into today’s “feast or famine” approach to hitting, able to hit tape measure homers or whiff with the very best of them. While his batting average toiled around .230 for much of the decade, Kingman finished with a fantastic .288/48/115 season in 1979 that included one of the top slugging averages of the decade (.613). And of course, his 1978 Topps card was something to behold!
- Backup – Bobby Bonds – Looking at his stats again reminded me why I loved getting this guy’s card from packs in the late 1970s, and that was even before the card backs showed steals! His 162-game averages for the decade are just ridiculous. We all know Bonds as one of baseball’s top 30-30 men, but he is actually a 30-40 man for the entire decade with 162-game averages of 31 home runs and 42 stolen bases. Other notable 162-game averages include 112 runs, 94 RBIs, and 150 strikeouts. That final tally seemed like a lot back then but nowadays it would put Bonds squarely into the “contact hitter” category.
- Starter – J.R. Richard – Here is a pitcher whose career trajectory was not unlike that of Sandy Koufax over his first ten years–five or so pedestrian seasons followed by total domination of the league followed by career-ending medical issues in his prime. Particularly noteworthy was his dominance of the Dodgers, going 13-0 with a 1.57 ERA over the final 17 contests of his career. J.R. is also the only player I know of who had both a “missing” card (1973 Topps) and an “extra” card. Though J.R.’s last MLB appearance was at the 1980 All-Star Game, he nonetheless earned a spot in the 1982 Topps set.
- Starter – Vida Blue – Three 20-win seasons, two more 18-win seasons, the 1971 AL MVP and Cy Young Awards, four all-star selections, three World Series rings, and a 300 K season made Blue one of the most accomplished pitchers of the 1970s. While 1971 was clearly Blue’s best (and really, one of THE best ever), he showed he was no flash in the pan by closing out the Topps decade with an All-Star card in the 1979 set.
- Starter – Luis Tiant – Among pitchers with over 100 wins in the 1970s, Tiant’s .607 winning percentage for the decade is right up there near the top. His three 20-win seasons also put him in select company among non-HOFers. Besides sporting a fantastic fu-manchu on his 1974 Topps card, Tiant may have also been part of the best father-son pitching duo ever. (Read this quick bio to see just how great the elder Tiant was as a pitcher in Cuba.)
- Starter – Mike Cuellar – Cuellar won 102 games over the five year stretch from 1970-1974, including a career high 24 in 1970.
- Backup – Ron Guidry – Louisiana Lightning only pitched three full seasons in the 1970s, but they were so good that he still made my all-decade team. His 1978 AL Cy Young Award season (25-3, 1.74) remains one of the best pitching seasons of the modern era, and his postseason record for the decade was a perfect 4-0.
- Backup – Wilbur Wood – Used primarily in relief over the first decade of his career, Wood won 20+ games each of his first four seasons as a starter, including two 24-win seasons. Also one of the few pitchers of the modern era to top 20 losses more than once.
- Backup – Tommy John – Known these days more for the surgery and high-end underwear that bears his name, John also posted a .613 winning percentage for the decade, along with two 20-win seasons.
- Backup – Jim Kaat – Most of Kaat’s best seasons came in the 1960s, but the decade of the 1970s still featured seven of Kaat’s then-record 16 Gold Gloves and a pair of 20-win seasons with the White Sox.