Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Alex Gordon chases 20th home run to avert history

Being a St. Louis Cardinals fan, the 1968 team is one of my favorites.

The Cardinals were 97-65 that season and my all-time favorite player, Bob Gibson, established a major league record with a 1.12 ERA. Gibson started 34 games, finished 28 of them, pitched 13 shutouts and was 22-9.

The mystery there is how Gibson lost nine games.

Well, it’s because most of the games in which Gibson pitched – in fact most of the games played in baseball that season – were low scoring. It was the year of the pitcher and hitters were left in the dust. Because offense was so hard to find in 1968, MLB lowered the pitching mound the next season, from 15 inches to 10, to try and give hitters a boost.

The Cardinals, who came within a game of winning a world championship before ultimately losing to the Detroit Tigers, batted only .249 as a team. They were without a 20-home run hitter (Orlando Cepeda’s 16 led the way) or an 80-RBI producer (Mike Shannon’s 79 was tops).

It’s the last time, in fact, that a team has reached baseball’s postseason without a player with either 20 homers or 80 RBIs. Folks, that could be about to change.

The Kansas City Royals are in the driver’s seat for a wild-card spot in the American League playoffs. KC finishes up the regular season with four games in Chicago against the White Sox, starting tonight. KC is two games behind Detroit in the AL Central but tied with Oakland in the wild-card race. Seattle is wheezing at three games out, so it’s like the A’s and Royals will occupy the wild-card spots. It’s just a matter of who gets the home game Tuesday.

As you know, the Royals have been offensively challenged all season. Currently, left fielder Alex Gordon leads KC in home runs (19) and RBI (73).

Unless he hits one over the fences in U.S. Cellular Field in the next four days, or goes on an RBI binge, the Royals will be the first team since the 1968 Cardinals to reach the postseason without someone who can boast of 20 homers or 80 RBIs.

Offense across baseball is down this season, but nowhere near the ineptitude of 1968, when Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a .301 batting average.

There were pockets of offense then. Frank Howard of the Washington Senators led the majors with 44 homers and drove in 106. Ken Harrelson of the White Sox had 35 homers and 109 RBI.

In the National League, Pete Rose batted .335 for the Cincinnati Reds while Willie McCovey of the Giants had 36 homers and 105 RBI.

But that season belonged to the pitchers.

The San Francisco Giants’ Juan Marichal was 26-9 with a 2.43 ERA. Luis Tiant of the Indians was 21-9 with a 1.60 ERA. And Detroit’s Denny McLain went 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA. He’s the most recent 30-game winner in major league history.

Offense is down this season, for sure, but nothing like it was down in 1968. Here are some comparisons:

1968 American League batting

Runs – 3.41 per team, lowest in league history

Hits – 7.61 per team, lowest in league history

Batting average – .230, lowest in league history

On-base percentage – .297, lowest since 1908

Slugging percentage – .339, lowest since 1918

OPS – .637, lowest since 1910

Home runs – 0.68 per team, lowest since 1954

2014 American League batting

Runs – 4.19 per team, lowest since 1981

Hits – 8.67 per team, lowest since 1971

Batting average – .253, lowest since 1972

On-base percentage – .316, lowest since 1972

Slugging percentage – .391, lowest since 1990

OPS – .707, lowest since 1981

Home runs – 0.89 per team, lowest since 1992

1968 National League batting

Runs – 3.43 per team, lowest since 1908

Hits – 8.21 per team, lowest since 1916

Batting average – .243, lowest since 1908

On-base percentage – .300, lowest since 1908

Slugging percentage – .341, lowest since 1918

OPS – .641, lowest since 1918

Home runs – 0.55 per team, lowest since 1946

2014 National League batting

Runs – 3.95 per team, lowest since 1992

Hits – 8.46 per team, lowest since 1991

Batting average – .249, lowest since 1989

On-base percentage – .312, lowest since 1989

Slugging percentage – .383, lowest since 1992

OPS – .694, lowest since 1992

Home runs – 0.83, lowest since 1992

Thanks for reading.