Baseball’s 70s Mighty Have Fallen Hard

by Kevin Burton

   When I was growing up in the 70s these teams were baseball royalty: Cincinnati, Oakland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. 

   Of the 40 division titles available in the decade in the old playoff format, those four teams won 22 of them.  That was five each for Oakland and Baltimore, six each for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

   Eight of the World Series were won by those teams, three for Oakland, two each for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, one for Baltimore.  The two other series wins went to the New York Yankees, which were fueled by stars Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, from the Oakland dynasty and Don Gullett from the Reds.

   Every year from 1970 through 1975, three of those teams won their divisions. Four times in the decade, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1979 the World Series featured two of those teams. 

   You think of that era and you think of Jackson and Hunter, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Vida Blue, and the Reds big four, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench.

   Now?

   Now all four teams are floundering; Cincinnati is by far the worst in baseball. 

   Of course the 70s were a long time ago. It’s not surprising that a team’s fortunes would fall and rise several time in that amount of time.

   But it was jarring to see Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports writing May 12 about the utter despair of those four fan bases.

   A glimpse into the futility courtesy of Keyser. First, the worst, Cincinnati:

   “On the day of the team’s home opener, the son of the Reds’ controlling owner Bob Castellini was asked why fans should continue to have faith in the organization that hasn’t won a postseason game in a decade and chose to dump talent following a season in which they finished with a winning record,” Keyser wrote.

   “’Well, where are you going to go? Let’s start there. I mean, sell the team to who?” Castellini said in a radio interview. “That’s the other thing – you want to have this debate? If you want to look at what would you do with this team to make have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists? It would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And so be careful what you ask for.”

   “Rather than give fans a reason to believe, he opted to sneer at them for not having better options. And then immediately juxtaposed their own forced fidelity with a barely veiled threat to take the team out of Cincinnati,” Keyser wrote.

    “What did the fans do to deserve the kind of sentiment that seems to be coming from the ownership?” wrote Stephen Palluconi, 36, of Westchester, Ohio.

   “For a couple of years in the early 2010s, the Pirates snuck into the postseason with a wild-card berth. None of those trips went particularly well. Outside that, they’re working on extending three full decades of disappointment this year,” Keyser wrote.

  “The Pirates farm system now ranks highly — with top prospects like Oneil Cruz suspiciously still spending time in the minors — but fans have a clear sense of who is to blame. Four years ago, over 60,000 people signed a petition imploring owner Bob Nutting to sell the team.”

   “Their attendance has been in the bottom five since 2017, and this season it’s lower still. With the average crowd size below 12,000 through the first month of the season,” Keyser wrote.

   The A’s have a dump of a stadium that serves as a backdrop for the most recent talent dump.  It’s no secret that the team is investigating the option of following the football Raiders to Las Vegas.

   “Being an A’s fan was starting to feel like a bad Lifetime movie,” Danny Willis of Concord, California, wrote — threats to leave followed by charming success; teardowns; a hope that sufficient love, loyalty (and money) will convince them to stay.”

   The team’s lease at the Coliseum runs through only 2024 and extending it is essentially not an option given the state of the stadium.

   “Oakland’s in a critical situation,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in October. “We’ve had to open up the opportunity to explore other locations just because it’s dragged on so long. Frankly, in some ways we’re not sure we see a path to success in terms of getting something built in Oakland.”

     “The Orioles lost over 100 games the past three full seasons, and yet the city seems to have hope. This year, their attendance is up slightly, currently sitting at 22nd in baseball, the highest of these four teams.

   “I believe that where the Orioles are, in comparison to the other teams you listed in your tweet, is an entirely different position,” wrote Dan Krotz of Damascus, Maryland. He acknowledged that the rebuild was brutal, “but we’re at a point now where we’re coming out of it and can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.”

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