A record 43 million took themselves out to the ball game in what could be called the year of the hitter—or the rabbit ball. Home runs were up 18%, there was an average of nine runs a game, highest in 18 years, and the combined batting average of both leagues was .265, the best since the early '50s. At age 40, Lou Brock got his 3,000th hit and Carl Yastrzemski, same age, did likewise, which together with his 400th home run made him the first American Leaguer to attain both milestones. Pete Rose had his 10th 200-hit season, the only player ever to do so. Jamie Quirk also set a record: by hitting one home run, he passed Frank Quilici for most career homers (6) hit by a player whose name begins with Q.
California's sweet victory in the West didn't come easily. The Angels had a total of 47 injuries, from Rod Carew, who missed two months with a torn ligament in his thumb, to most of the starting pitching staff, including Nolan Ryan, Frank Tanana and Chris Knapp. The Angels finished the season with a 4.34 ERA, the highest of any divisional or pennant winner since 1930.
Like Kansas City, Minnesota was in contention until late September despite a marked lack of speed and power. The Twins yielded third place to Texas on the next to last day of the season. Although the Rangers set team records in home runs, RBIs, hits and batting average, for the most part it was business as usual—squabbles, griping and bad trades. Royals Manager Whitey Herzog called Seattle the most improved club in the division. The Mariners were led by DH Willie Horton, 36, who hit .279 and had 29 homers and 106 RBIs. For the White Sox, who had a 27-27 record after Tony LaRussa replaced Don Kessinger as manager, it will be remembered as the year of the wreck, as in Veeck, after Comiskey Park hosted a disco-demolition, which demolished the field and forced cancellation of two games. The A's were still in Oakland, barely.
In the East, Baltimore reigned supreme. Although the Brewers won a team-record 95 games for a .590 percentage—good enough for first in both Western Divisions—and got .300 hitting from Sixto Lezcano, Paul Molitor and Cecil Cooper, they fell far short of catching Baltimore. Boston led the league in batting, but slid to third because of injuries and poor pitching. The Yankees won their last eight and still finished 13½ games back. In Sparky Anderson's first year of a five-year Detroit contract, the Tigers wound up nine games over .500. Dave Garcia replaced Jeff Torborg, and the Indians finished above .500 for the first time in three years. The only team in the division below .500 was Toronto, which lost 109 games. The Jays finished 50½ games behind the Orioles.
Rose was gone and Sparky Anderson had been fired. The Big Red Machine, sputtering for two years, was a clunker. But Cincinnati built another model out of a few old parts and many new ones and it purred. The team ERA dropped .23 to 3.58, and with Sparky, a/k/a Captain Hook, gone, complete games rose from 16 to 27. Tom Seaver was again terrific, winning 11 straight to finish 16-6. Mike LaCoss won 14, Tom Hume saved 17, and young Frank Pastore emerged as a strong starter. Ray Knight was mighty like a Rose, hitting .318.
For 124 days Houston occupied first place, capitalizing on speed (190 stolen bases), pitching (3.20 ERA, 55 complete games, 19 shutouts) and defense. Joe Niekro won 21 games, J. R. Richard 18, the latter striking out 300 for the second straight year.
While the Dodgers were collapsing, the Giants spent the season in turmoil. They were dubbed the "God Squad" by local writers, accused of not hustling, and of shrugging off losses with "It's God's will." Joe Altobelli, last year's Manager of the Year, got the blame and the ax. He was replaced by Dave Bristol.
San Diego's 1978 rookie of the year, Ozzie Smith, went 0 for 32 at the start of the season and Cy Young Award winner Gaylord Perry quit near the end of it, and nothing except Dave Winfield was good in between. Phil Niekro won 21 games for last-place Atlanta, becoming the first National Leaguer in 75 years to win and lose at least 20. And he and brother Joe became the first siblings in the league to win 20 the same year.
Pittsburgh and Montreal provided the closest division race, the Pirates winning on the final day of the season. Willie Stargell had a vintage year for Pittsburgh (32 homers), and Dave Parker hit over .300 for the fifth straight season. The Expos had six pitchers with double-figure wins, led by Bill Lee (16-10).
While Keith Hernandez of St. Louis won the batting title, teammate Garry Templeton became the first player in history to get 100 hits lefthanded and 100 righthanded, batting exclusively from the right side in his last nine games to do so. The Phils phaded phast, the Cubs gave it a shot until September, the Mets were simply shot from the start.
THE INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONS
Niekro, J., Hou.