All-Decade Team: 1970's NL

We started the process of choosing a 1970's NL team about a week ago. As mentioned in our previous All-Decade selection piece, these teams are getting more and more difficult to choose and we'll get into the specific debates of this team later in this post.  The 1970's NL squad, overall, is very strong and there were many names on this 1970's NL team that were easy to choose because of the greatness of the players that played during the 1970's.  Johnny Bench, Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan were arguably the best at their respective positions, all-time.  The infield would match up well against most all-franchise and all-decade teams and the top of the rotation would rival some of the better ones out there (Seaver and Carlton are as good as it gets).

We left some good pitchers off of this list but the debate for the last spot on our rotation came down to J.R. Richard and Don Sutton.  Sutton, a Hall of Famer, earned his Cooperstown enshrinement primarily because of his longevity, pitching 23 seasons in the big leagues, amassing 324 wins.  Sutton was a very good pitcher who was sometimes great but almost always overshadowed.  Richard, by contrast, sputtered the first half of the decade before finding success in 1976.  That year, he won 20 games while posting a 2.75 ERA.  J.R. dominated the rest of the decade and his 313 strikeouts in 1979 remains an Astros single-season franchise record.  In my opinion, there is no question as to who you would rather have in a big game in his prime - J.R. Richard was one of the most dominant that has ever pitched.  The question is, who is the better representative for the decade.  As mentioned, Richard didn't really hit his stride until 1976 while Sutton pitched every season compiling 166 victories to just 110 losses while posting a 3.07 ERA and 1.108 WHIP.  Very respectable and deserving of the nod.

For the position players, the major sticking points were in the outfield and at shortstop.  In the outfield, it came down to a  pick three of Dave Parker, Lou Brock, Cesar Cedeno, Greg Luzinski and George Foster.  My initial thoughts were that the outfield would be Brock, Foster and Parker but interestingly, Cedeno might have actually been the most decorated and well rounded of the group in the 70's.  He held a .289 BA in the 70's to go along with 148 HR, 427 SB, 671 RBI, 777 R an OPS+ of 128 and five Gold Gloves.  Quite impressive.  After deciding on Cedeno, our efforts focused on the three remaining big bats, Parker, Luzinski and Foster. Parker was the most dominant of the three and although he missed a little bit of time in the decade, we felt that he deserved to make the team because he did play in 8 seasons in the 70's and he was arguably one of the top 5 hitters in this decade, in his prime.  For that reason, Cobra was well deserving of the nod.  The final outfield spot became power versus speed - Foster/Luzinski or Lou Brock.  Brock was winding down his illustrious career in the 70's and his final few seasons were a bit weak compared to what he did in the early part of the decade but what he did in the early part of the decade made him a worthy recipient, in our minds.  He stole an 68 bases per season, on average between 1970 and 1976, including his 118 base swipes in 1974 (fourth best all-time).  Brock, the Hall of Famer, also hit +.300 seven seasons in the 1970's and showed up on the MVP ballots six times. Foster was probably the next best choice in our minds but his inconsistency early on was hard to overlook.  He didn't really hit his stride until 1976 and truly broke out in 1977, his MVP campaign in which he hit .320 with 52 HR and 149 RBI.  Prior to that, he hit .263 with an average of 18 HR per 162 games.  It was a tough call and I'm sure there will be plenty of people that disagree but we felt that Brock was the right pick.

And this is where things got fun... there were really two shortstops that stood out in the National League in the 1970's - Larry Bowa and Dave Concepcion.  Admittedly, my knee-jerk reaction was that Dave Concepcion was the better pick.  On the surface, they were both light-hitting shortstops with slick gloves so the first thing that jumps out at you is Concepcion's Gold Gloves (five GG's to Bowa's 2) however, when you look at some of the underlying numbers, there is an argument to be made that Bowa may have been the better shortstop in the 1970's.  In fact, the argument was made by Bowa who hung an interesting nickname on Dave Concepcion - Elmer.  The story goes (see page 89) that Bowa once asked Concepcion if his name was Elmer.  Before Concepcion could answer, Bowa produced a couple of newspaper box scores... underlined, E - Concepcion.  The nickname stuck with Concepcion; his most intimate colleagues (Joe Morgan, included) still refer to him as Elmer, today.  All kidding aside, Bowa led the league in fielding percentage five times in the 70's and only finished outside of the top 5 once in the decade.  Concepcion, by comparison led the league once and finished outside of the top 5 five times.  Bowa only completed one season in the 1970's where his fielding percentage was lower than .975.  Concepcion had two seasons in the 1970s' where his fielding percentage was higher than .975.  Bowa also turned more double plays in the 70's and had 500 more assists as a shortstop.  To be fair, Concepcion's strength was his range and he was a better shortstop in terms of getting to balls deep in the hole; he led the league in range factor twice in the 70's compared to just once for Bowa.  I think that the conclusion that I draw with regards to fielding is that Bowa was more sure-handed and perhaps a bit safer whereas Concepcion had better range and was perhaps a bit riskier.  As mentioned earlier, neither were particularly strong hitters - Concepcion had 70 HR in the 1970's to Bowa's 11 but Bowa had 74 triples to Concepcion's 31 and nearly 300 more hits.  In total, Bowa had more total bases than Concepcion in the 1970's and more stolen bases.  Bowa was also revered for his bunting and sac hitting abilities; a better situational hitter.  Bowa had 116 sac hits in the 1970's to Concepcion's 48 and he grounded into 49 fewer double plays.  I'd And then there's the "grit" factor.  Bowa was known as a fierce competitor and a spark plug; never afraid to speak his mind.  He was a bit of a lightning rod - he wore out his welcome in Philadelphia and never found favor in Chicago.  In terms of career, there is no doubting that Concepcion was the better player but in Bowa's prime years, the 70's, he was right there with Davey.  In fact, and I will leave you with this, Bowa showed up on four MVP ballots in the 1970's compared to just two for Concepcion. 

Here's our team.  Let us know what we missed.

C - Johnny Bench
1B - Steve Garvey
2B - Joe Morgan
SS - Larry Bowa
3B - Mike Schmidt
IF - Pete Rose
OF - Willie Stargell
OF - Cesar Cedeno
OF - Dave Parker
OF - Lou Brock
SP - Tom Seaver
SP - Steve Carlton
SP - Phil Niekro
SP - Don Sutton
RP - Mike Marshall

2 comments:

  1. Concepcion. Easily. The reason he only showed up on 2 MVP ballots is that he was arguably the SEVENTH best player on his team in many seasons where he was actually a good player!

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  2. Thanks so much for commenting. Bowa / Concepcion was one of the most difficult selections we've ever had for any all-time team. I'm not sure how you could say that Concepcion was easily more deserving of the nod on this team than Bowa. Again, we made mention to the fact that career wise, there was no question... Concepcion was better... but for this decade, it was close.

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