Best teams of 1971-1975

Two starkly different clubs come to mind when the first half of the 1970s is under discussion.

One is the powerful, devastatingly efficient Cincinnati Reds, known for their conservative dress code. The other is the free-swinging, pitching-rich Oakland Athletics, famed for their mustachioed insouciance.

Those two franchises fielded three of the four best teams — and five of the best eight — during the period from 1971 through 1975, which is our topic today. (Click here to see my previous ratings for 1961-1965 and 1966-1970.)

The 1975 Reds, immortalized as the Big Red Machine, took first place in the half-decade’s standings. Cincinnati’s team score of 90.713 on the 100-point scale was easily the best during the 1971-1975 span, and it outranked 99.7 percent of all 1,656 clubs that played during baseball’s entire Modern Era, which began in 1961. (Click here to learn more about team score.)

Oakland won three of the five world titles in this five-year period, bookended by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971 and the Reds in 1975.

Scroll below to see the list of the 10 best teams from 1971 to 1975. Each is shown with its win-loss record and the share of Modern Era clubs that it outperformed.

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1. Cincinnati Reds (1975)

  • Record: 108-54

  • Team score: 90.713 points

  • Modern Era percentile: 99.7%

  • Manager: Sparky Anderson

  • Stars: Second baseman Joe Morgan was a near-unanimous choice as the National League’s Most Valuable Player. He batted .327, won a Gold Glove, and led the league in walks (132) and on-base percentage (.466). Catcher Johnny Bench topped the club with 110 runs batted in.

  • Bottom line: The Reds struggled early in the year, splitting their first 40 games and falling five behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West as of May 20. But they played at a blistering .721 pace (88-34) the rest of the way, capping the season with a seven-game triumph over the Boston Red Sox in a memorable World Series.

2. Pittsburgh Pirates (1971)

  • Record: 97-65

  • Team score: 87.094 points

  • Modern Era percentile: 99.2%

  • Manager: Danny Murtaugh

  • Stars: Right fielder Roberto Clemente posted a torrid .341 batting average and won his usual Gold Glove (his 11th straight). First baseman Willie Stargell ripped 48 home runs and finished second (to Joe Torre of St. Louis) in the MVP voting.

  • Bottom line: The Pirates moved into first place in the NL East on June 10 and remained there for the rest of the season. They cruised to an 11-game lead before taking their feet off the gas. Pittsburgh lost the first two games of the World Series, but bounced back to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in seven.

3. Oakland Athletics (1974)

  • Record: 90-72

  • Team score: 86.731 points

  • Modern Era percentile: 99.1%

  • Manager: Al Dark

  • Stars: Catfish Hunter enjoyed his greatest year on the mound, leading the AL with 25 victories and a 2.49 ERA and winning the Cy Young Award. Right fielder Reggie Jackson paced the team with 29 homers and also stole 25 bases.

  • Bottom line: Oakland grabbed the AL West lead in mid-May and never relinquished it. The A’s then went a combined 7-2 in the playoffs, winning their third straight world championship with relative ease.

4. Oakland Athletics (1972)

  • Record: 93-62

  • Team score: 84.430 points

  • Modern Era percentile: 98.5%

  • Manager: Dick Williams

  • Stars: Versatile left fielder Joe Rudi hit 19 homers and batted a team-leading .305. He was the runner-up in MVP voting to Chicago’s Dick Allen. Catfish Hunter led the Oakland staff with a dazzling 21-7 record and 2.04 ERA.

  • Bottom line: Oakland’s first world title didn’t come easily in 1972. The Athletics squeaked by the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, three games to two, and edged the Cincinnati Reds, four games to three, in the subsequent World Series.

5. Baltimore Orioles (1971)

  • Record: 101-57

  • Team score: 83.333 points

  • Modern Era percentile: 98.3%

  • Manager: Earl Weaver

  • Stars: Third baseman Brooks Robinson played his usual Gold Glove defense, drove home 92 runs, and finished fourth in the balloting for the American League’s Most Valuable Player. Right fielder Merv Rettenmund chipped in a .318 batting average and 75 RBIs.

  • Bottom line: The Orioles breezed to the AL East title by 12 games over the second-place Detroit Tigers, then swept Oakland in the AL Championship Series. They kept their momentum (for awhile) in the World Series, seizing a two-game lead before losing to Pittsburgh in seven.

Next five

  • 6. Los Angeles Dodgers (1974), 102-60, 97.7%

  • 7. Oakland Athletics (1973), 94-68, 97.0%

  • 8. Cincinnati Reds (1972), 95-59, 95.4%

  • 9. Baltimore Orioles (1973), 97-65, 92.3%

  • 10. Boston Red Sox (1975), 95-65, 91.2%

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