Center Stage During the Golden Age: the Best MLB Pitchers of the 1970s

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The 1970s are widely considered baseball’s “Golden Age.” Stars were born in the MLB and they were everywhere as the sport started to gravitate toward the marketing of personalities. Pete Rose, Brooks Robinson, Johnny Bench, Jim Palmer, Nolan Ryan, Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson. The birth of free-agency occurred in the 70s, which changed the landscape of the game forever. The pursuit of “game changing players” skyrocketed salaries all around as teams threw money around in an apparent auction to buy the best players possible. Baseball players were “hip” now and had the smoothest last names. Pete Rose was “Charlie Hustle,” “Hammerin” Hank Aaron, “The Ryan Express” Nolan Ryan, “Space Man” Bill Lee and the one and only “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson. Jackson epitomized “swagger” way before there was a such thing. His confidence was reflected by his style of play and his quotes are classic and endless. “I didn’t come to New York to be a star, I brought my start with me.” And his most famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”
It was also the “Golden Age” for pitchers as there was no such thing as a “pitch count.” Nobody kept track of that blasphemy! In today’s game, if a pitcher reaches 100 pitches they are immediately taken out of games for fear of an arm injury. In the 70s, pitchers routinely threw over 200 pitches and nobody give it a second though. Complete games were the norm and relief pitchers were non-existent. And these guys still pitched successfully for decades! Protein shakes after games or workouts? No, these guys had a beer and a cigar! Yes it was that type of game: raw! If you started a game, you had every intention of finishing it. 100 pitches meant you were halfway through! The game was now dominated by bigger than life stars and pitchers who did not hesitate to hit you in the head and stare you down after you got up and dusted yourself off. These are the Top 5 MLB Pitchers of the 1970s:

5 Nolan Ryan (New York Mets, California Angels)Â

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The “Ryan Express” is a must in any list consisting of top pitchers. It does not matter if it is a list of the best pitchers of All-Time or top pitchers in the decades he was active in, from the 60s to the 90s. It is impossible to figure out just how Ryan lasted so long. He was throwing in the 100 miles per hour range for approximately two decades. In today’s game, any pitcher with that type of arm is monitored like an inmate on death row and has an innings limit for a full season (like Stephen Strausberg). But not Ryan, he was an MLB original gangster. A throwback. He simply pitched and struck a lot of people out, staying in shape and taking care of his arm the old-school way: pure, genuine hard work with no short cuts. His legendary arm is unquestionably the most durable and fascinating the sport has ever produced. Ryan went 155-146 with a 3.14 ERA, striking out a decade-leading 2,678 hitters in 2,465 innings. He tossed 164 complete games, 42 of which were shutouts. Ryan amassed an incredible four no-hitters in the decade and was a five-time All-Star. Unfortunately, Ryan played for subpar teams which detrimentally affected his win/loss record.

4 Gaylord Perry (San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres)

Gaylord toyed with hitters’ bats as they tried to stick him but could not quite nail him. Perry went 184-133 with a 2.92 ERA in the decade, striking out 1,907 batters in 3,211 innings. Perry also threw 197 complete games and 36 of those were shutouts, and was also a four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young award winner.

3 Steve Carlton (St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies)

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Carlton went 178-126 with a 3.18 ERA in the decade, striking out 2,097 batters in 2,746.2 innings. He hurled 165 complete games and 32 of those were shutouts. Carlton was also was a five-time All-Star and a two-time Cy Young award winner in the 1970s. This left handed pitcher left quite an impression on the decade that won’t soon be forgotten.

2 Tom Seaver (New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds)

Seaver managed to go 178-101 with a 2.61 ERA in the decade, punching out 2,304 in 2,913.2 innings of work. Seaver also tossed 147 complete games, 40 of which were shutouts. In 1978, he also threw a no-hitter. Seaver was an eight-time All-Star and a two-time Cy Young award winner in the 70s, thus making him deserving of this prestigious spot on this list.

1 Jim Palmer (Baltimore Orioles)

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Palmer is the only pitcher on this list who played an entire decade (and his entire career) on the same team. He was the face of the Baltimore Orioles and the most dominating pitcher of the 1970s. Palmer baffled hitters to the tune of 186 wins and 103 losses, while maintaining a 2.58 ERA and securing eight 20-win seasons. Palmer struck out 1,559 batters in 2,745 innings and threw 175 complete games with 44 shut outs mixed in. He was also a six-time All-Star, a three-time Cy Young award winner in the decade, and won the second of his three World Series Championships in 1970. This impressive resume not only makes Palmer the best pitcher of the 1970s, but also places him as a strong contender for the best pitcher of all time.

These five guys dominated the game during baseball’s “Golden Age.” Whether it “The Ryan Express” or Gaylord Perry, when any of these arms stepped on that rubber they controlled the game and hits were hard to come by. These are the Top 5 MLB Pitchers of the 1970s. Wouldn’t you agree?

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