1970-Most Valuable Players

December 22, 2009

The most popular movie of 1970 was Airport, a star-studded disaster film, and the biopic Patton was the most honored film at the Oscars, but to me the most interesting movies that came out that year, in terms of understanding the time, are Woodstock, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and Joe. The first movie, Woodstock, is the most well-known, a concert film that presented the hippie subculture for public consumption. The Age of Aquarius was also near the center of the Peter Boyle vehicle Joe, which follows the story of a reactionary proto-Archie Bunker blue collar worker who turns into a hunter of hippies. As for Beneath the Planet of the Apes: it was about a horrific world in its last thrashing moments before complete annihilation. A disturbing toxic landfill of a movie, Beneath fell well short of the critical and popular success of its predecessor, Planet of the Apes, but somehow with its disfigured mutants and atomic terror and narrative disorientation it manages to offer an acute portrait of the spiraling uneasiness of that first year of the decade, which saw the breakup of the Beatles, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and the Kent State Massacre. In 1970, the world felt a little shaky to everyone.

In 1970 I was still a few years away from balancing uncertainty and nightmares with a worship of baseball players, but if I had been old enough I would have taken comfort in the rocklike solidity of Boog Powell and Johnny Bench. I did take solace in both of those individuals anyway by the mid-1970s, when I started buying cards, in part because a bit of their history came to me in this card celebrating their 1970 MVP awards. They had been around for a while by the time I came along, and this felt good. There was gravity in their names. Boog. Bench. They made the world seem sturdy, durable.

Years later, when I was a young man, I watched Beneath the Planet of the Apes for the first time, on video, then stepped out onto the seventeenth story balcony of the apartment where I’d watched the movie and felt a powerful wave of vertigo. The movie, which ends with the white light of atomic bombs, had tapped into some deep insecurities I’d always had about the essential flimsiness of life, and the balcony seemed small and unsafe, though in truth at that moment I would have felt unsafe anywhere.

The moment of panic abated but never fully disappeared, not really. When I was a kid I had an inherent belief that the world was well-made and ably steered by adults who knew what they were doing. Now that I’m an adult I know all too well the potential for mistakes in everything.

It extends everywhere, even to the world of greatest solidity, my baseball cards. Take this card for the 1970 MVPs. Did they even deserve the MVP awards? In the American League, Powell had very good year, but it was decidedly less productive offensively than that of Carl Yastrzemski, and Yaz even stole some bases that year and aided his team by being flexible and splitting his estimable fielding skills between left field and first base as the team needed. Over in the National League, Bench finished behind Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez in slugging percentage and was not among the top ten in on-base percentage. (Bench was arguably the greatest fielding catcher who ever lived, which coupled with his significant offensive production lends legitimacy to his award, but the stat-heads among us might think that his glovework and leadership did not entirely make up for a tenth-place league finish in adjusted OPS.)

Anyway, my unease in the world, my adultness, even my vague understanding of “adjusted OPS,” has its repercussions. I’m a tentative, cautious cipher. Sometimes in the morning I say something to myself that’s vaguely related to a prayer. I wonder if something unusual and amazing will happen during the day. It feels as if it never does. Each day for me is sealed shut somehow. Within the confines of it I have my pleasures, and even once in a while experience something like joy, but is there ever the sense of shattering newness?

I think I used to be closer to a kind of life that would let in the strange light I seem to be lacking. When you’re younger, you stumble into adventures. The truth is, I don’t want adventures. I don’t want to have to rescue someone from a building or invite an unshowered wino to sleep on my couch. I barely even want to have a conversation with anyone. I like my bubble. Leave me alone.

But still, there’s that wondering about newness. It’s partly a request for it and partly a request that it stays away. The train I ride travels along the highway for a while, and yesterday it came to a station stop right next a woman crying inside a car stopped on the shoulder beside the passing lane, the front of the car caved in. I don’t want that kind of newness. But it’s coming. One way or another, it’s coming. This bubble will burst.

I first started writing about this card a couple months ago, believe it or not, after hearing Boog Powell mentioned during a radio broadcast of the Phillies’ pennant-clinching win over the Dodgers. Chase Utley, the Phillies second baseman, had tied with Boog Powell for the record of consecutive playoff games in which he had gotten on base. Utley then got on base in the first game of the World Series and now has the record all to himself, which means we’ll all have less of a chance of hearing the name Boog Powell as we go about our daily rounds.

I for one was glad to hear the name. I always have been, ever since I first read it on a baseball card, the newness of it sending a thrill through my body, a message that new things are OK, that everything will be OK, that the world yet to come will be—ah, you know what? I probably didn’t think any of those things, not really. I’m just trying to reach for something literary and elevated before trudging off through the snow to a train that I hope doesn’t derail. But it’s true: the name Boog did once comfort and thrill me. Still does, just a little. Boog.


  1. Chase Utley was never mentioned on Cheers, but Boog Powell hasn’t been mentioned on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, as far as I know.

  2. I don’t really see a problem with Bench winning the award in ’70. He was a catcher so you have to put his numbers in the context of what other catchers in the league were hitting in 1970. Also his team won the West so that’s another feather in his cap.

    Tony Perez probably should have won the award in 1970. McCovey, Carty and Bonds had great years but there wasn’t really a stand out year like in the American League. Cepeda’s year has a lot to do with Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, his ops+132 isn’t even in the top ten. Actually Bob Gibson was the best baseball player in the National League in 1970.

    Powell wasn’t a great choice in 1970. If they wanted to go with a player from a division winner they should have picked Tony Oliva. Jim Fregosi had a great year in ’70. He was a great fielding short stop who hit 22 HR which was an insane number for a short stop during that era. Tommy Harper, Roy White had great years. But if they wanted to pick the best player in the majors for 1970 then that player was Carl Yasztremski.

  3. As far as “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” it has to be the strangest/weirdest film sequel to a critically and finacially successful movie in film history.

    I can’t think of another film sequel from a major film that was more bizarre illogical and hastly made then this one. You kind of wonder how many drugs the producers/writers were on when they created this film. Earthquakes, Mutant Humans praying to a bomb at St. Patrick’s cathedral, bombed out NYC, Though control, Ape machine guns, Doomsday Bomb, Ape suanas, cheap halloween ape masks, more plot holes than a Three’s company episode.

    Here’s a major plot hole: if the Mutants have the ability of thought control, why didn’t they force the apes to shot one another instead of letting themselves get killed?

  4. When most people think about Boog Powell, they think about his funny name or the MVP Award or how goofy he looked when he was on the Indians when they wore those red uniforms. But for me, the first thing that pops into my head is that he was the last card I needed to fill my 1971 set. He was card #700 and it showed him from just below the waist up, looking ready to crush a ball.

    Also, I really liked the MVP cards in the 1975 set. Because of those, I have an easier time remembering the MVPs from 1951-1974 than any of the ones from the last 10 years.

  5. Beneath the Planet of the Apes has perhaps the greatest one-line synopsis of any film ever when it appears in the New York Times television listings. It reads “‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’ (1970) And how.”

  6. Josh, you paint a picture of being on the edge of despair and a nervous wreck. You need to go back to smoking.

    Piehead, for those who might not know what you mean, I believe you are referring to the time on “Cheers” when Sam is recounting facing Boog Powell to Diane and she later says, “Now what about this Booger person?” Am I correct? I hope so, I liked that scene.

    I loved the Orioles vs. Reds World Series matchup from 1970. Bench and Perez had great years and the Orioles were one of the best teams ever as the Reds were in the process of becoming another of the best teams ever. (I still like the Weaver O’s over the ’75 Reds because of the starters.)

  7. “Josh, you paint a picture of being on the edge of despair and a nervous wreck.”

    In truth, my mood is really no worse than the usual “partly cloudy.” But you certainly aren’t the first to respond to some writing of mine with a surpising (to me) concern for my well-being.

  8. Josh,

    If it’s any solace your articles at “Carboard Gods” are excellent/honest and mean a lot to many people who read this blog. I wish I could write as honestly as you do.

    I think part of the problem is we are bombarded by advertisements and t.v. shows that present a fantasy world that doesn’t exist yet we are supposed to believe it’s real life. The houses are always beautiful the people barely work the kids are all “A” students, they all drive around in new cars, difficult problems are sovled with little cliches in 1/2 hour.

    The women on “Sex and the City” barely work yet live in Manhattan and live lifestyles that would cost $150,000 a year. The people on “Friends” live in a NY populated by middle American white people and live in $4000 dollar a month apartments on cook and coffee waitress salaries. The people on Seinfield barely work and live in beautiful NY apartments without any of the daily stress of living in Manhattan. Seinfeld’s version of Manhattan is about as crowded as Providence Rhode Island. The King of Queens guy lives in a neighborhood he could never afford on a UPS driver’s salary and is married to a “hot” wife even though he’s a morbidly obese man. Jim Belushi is an overweight balding 55 year old man with a beautiful 37 year old wife.

  9. “Seinfeld’s version of Manhattan is about as crowded as Providence Rhode Island.”

    As a one-time Manhattanite, huge Seinfeld fan, and new resident of Providence, Rhode Island, I have to say….Ouch!

    And right on cue, the Woodstock movie is on VH1 Classic.

  10. Powell seemed like one of the most onamatopoeic names. You write the name “Boog Powell” on a scorecard, you put “1b” next to it without thinking. No way a centerfielder is named Boog Powell. You can see him, even if you never saw him. Big guy, with a gut. Long, looping swing. Pull hitter. Slow on the bases. Sneaks cigarettes between innings. Gets into epic slumps, where he’ll bat .150 for 3 weeks, and then hits .440 for a month to balance it out. Strikes out too much, but hits towering, mammoth home run shots to balance it out. Boog Powell.

  11. Love the blog! I began reading with the hope of a great blog on baseball, but have found much more. Thanks. As a boy, my dad took me to an Angels – Oriole game. I was a huge Brooks Robinson fan and he hit a homerun in the game. What I remember best was Boog Powell before the game. Not in batting practice, but simply tossing a ball in the air and hitting it into the bullpen. Once was cool, but he did it 20 times in row!

  12. I think Bench’s numbers are more impressive than Perez’s due to the whole c/1b issue. As good as Perez was, McCovey probably had the best season by a first baseman in the NL (or anywhere) in 1970. Anytime you find a catcher who leads the league in HR (and RBI) while fielding like Bench on a team that wins? It’s not going to be close, and it wasn’t. I have no real beef with Bench’s MVP. Looking at his numbers more closely, one sees that Bench started two games in *centerfield* in 1970! Giving him a few days off from the squat at 1B or RF or LF, sure, I think we all understand that one. But CF? Now that is creative managing.

  13. blankemon,

    Bench played 2 games in center in 1970, Wow! I would have never guessed that. I recently saw a game from the ’70 series on the MLB network and it was in Black and White. It was weird because it looked like I was watching something from 1958 but they were playing on artificial turff.

    Catchers once won a lot of MVP awards, probably more than they deserved but I don’t have a problem with Bench winning. Joe Mauer is probably the only catcher who should have won MVP awards; 06 & 08, that didn’t. The only other catcher I can think that got totally robbed in MVP voting was Piazza in 1997.

    Here’s the top N.L. WAR numbers for 1970:


  14. sb1902- That’s the scene I was thinking of too. I remember it as Sam telling his Boog story to Fred Dryer’s reporter character, but his story gets interrupted when Dryer finds out about a bigger story and leaves. Then later Diane asked him to finish his story about “this Boog fellow.” I haven’t seen that one in a while.

  15. Sports Illustrated mentioned the legendary Boog Powell–Sam Mayday Malone confrontation in its 1993 retrospective of the latter player’s career:

    In September of that first season, the Red Sox were five games out with 10 to play when rookie Malone saved both ends of a doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles. He threw only seven pitches. It was the undisputed heavyweight highlight of his career. Malone entered the first game with two out in the bottom of the ninth, runners at second and third, and the Brobdingnagian Boog Powell stepping into the box.

    “I could feel the wind from his warmup swings,” Malone once told ex-Sox teammate Dave Richards, a sportscaster on Channel 13 in Boston. “I mean, the guy had the heaviest bat in the league. Papers were full of him. I figure the only way I’m gonna get this guy, as good as he’s going, is if I challenge him on the first pitch. If I try to get cute, he’s gonna kill me.” Boog grounded to third to end the first game, and Malone struck him out to end the second game—while Don Buford, the potential tying run, danced off first base. Forever after, no matter how unwarranted, Sam Malone would be Mayday.

  16. Pie, you’re right, that’s how the scene went. I forgot how the first part went.

    It was great how S.I. did the Sam Malone article. I remember they had a fictional SI cover with Sam Malone on it, half turned around to watch a home run he’d just given up. I seem to recall they put Ted Danson’s head on Luis Tiant’s body, oddly enough.

    The first game I ever went to was in 1976 when the Red Sox played the Indians at Fenway. I remember Boog Powell (wrapping things up with the Indians at that point) being pointed out as a player of distinction. It was my first memory of differentiating baseball players. I’ll always remember Booger for that.

  17. The final scenes of all those Ape movies are exceptionally harrowing…
    The first one, of course, is legendary, and how about ‘Conquest?’
    with Caesar’s speech inciting the forthcoming era of “mob rule” against a backdrop of armed, violent gorillas…Things only calmed down by the end, when the producers had evidently run dry of ideas and the whole thing was reduced (at least in my memories) to a bunch of unconnected stock footage of humans and apes killing each other.

    Thoughts from a seventeenth-story balcony…

  18. A few thoughts on the key themes of this post: Baseball players and teams seemed much more important in 1970 than now. Most people’s knowledge of Woodstock is what they know from this movie. Peter Boyle, the star of “Joe”, was one of John Lennon’s closest friends. If that doesn’t make you cool, I don’t know what does.

  19. And on MLB Network as I type this is Game 1 of the 1970 World Series. A strange juxtaposition of a black-and-white broadcast of a game played on AstroTurf.

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