It was another big-money year for baseball. Attendance climbed to a record 40-million-plus, and by attracting 3,347,845, the Dodgers became the first team to draw three million at home. In the bidding wars, 14 free agents signed multiyear contracts of $500,000 or more, topped by the $3.1 million the Milwaukee Brewers spent on Outfielder Larry Hisle. Free agents again figured prominently in pennant races, most notably Hisle and Pitchers Mike Torrez of the Red Sox, Rich Gossage of the Yankees and Terry Forster of the Dodgers. However, in the American League West, Texas and California spent heavily on free agents but lost out in the division race to Kansas City, which stood pat. Pete Rose, who will be the most sought-after 1978 free agent if he decides not to sign again with Cincinnati, tied a National League record by hitting in 44 straight games and joined the 3,000-hit club. He finished the season eighth on the alltime list with 3,164 hits. Overall, though, batting averages dropped from .264 in 1977 to .257 in '78.
The two-team race in the East was mainly the result of the heroics of two men: New York Pitcher Ron Guidry and Boston Outfielder-Designated Hitter Jim Rice. Guidry led the majors in wins, ERA and shutouts. His nine shutouts were the most in the league since 1916, when Babe Ruth also had that many. Guidry's winning percentage of .893 was the highest ever by a 20-game winner and his 18-strikeout performance on June 17 nearly set an AL record. Rice led the majors in homers, RBIs, hits, triples (15) and slugging percentage (.600); he also became the first American Leaguer since Joe DiMaggio in 1937 to total 400 bases. Thirty of Rice's homers tied games or gave the Red Sox a lead.
Under its new manager, George Bamberger, Milwaukee had its best season (93-69). Hisle (.286, 34 homers, 116 RBIs) and Pitcher Mike Caldwell (22-9, 2.37) kept the Brewers in contention. Baltimore's Jim Palmer won 20 games for the eighth time, and Rich Dauer of the Orioles set league records for a second baseman by going 87 games and handling 425 chances without committing an error. Ron LeFlore's running, Rusty Staub's hitting (121 RBIs) and Jack Billingham's (15-8) and Jim Slaton's (17-11) pitching gave Detroit the best fifth-place record (86-75) in baseball history. Cleveland's Andre Thornton finished among the league's top four in homers, RBIs, runs and walks, and Gary Alexander led the world in striking out (166). Toronto again finished with more than 100 losses.
Kansas City's pitching was responsible for the Royals' winning their third straight division title. Dennis Leonard won 21, Paul Splittorff 19, Larry Gura 16 (including the pennant-clincher last week) and Rich Gale 14, while Al Hrabosky had 20 saves. California relied on Frank Tanana (18-12) and a surprisingly powerful attack led by Don Baylor's 34 homers and 99 RBIs to keep the race close until last week. Texas had Jim Sundberg's 22-game hitting streak, Al Oliver's punch (.324, 14 homers, 89 RBIs and 35 doubles) and too much squabbling. Minnesota's Rod Carew took his seventh league batting title; only Ty Cobb (12) and Honus Wagner (8) have more. Oakland made more news off the field than on: a move to Denver that fizzled, several games broadcast on a 10-watt college radio station, a deal that sent Vida Blue to the Giants for seven players. Chicago fired Bob Lemon in midseason and hired Larry Doby as baseball's second black manager. Seattle, with baseball's worst record (56-104), settled for the first pick in the 1979 free-agent draft.
The Dodgers were no longer the Happiness Boys, but they repeated as Western Division champions, anyway. In fact, a clubhouse brawl between Pitcher Don Sutton and First Baseman Steve Garvey on Aug. 19 seemed to inspire them; they won 22 of their last 37 games. An unexpected hero was rookie Pitcher Bob Welch, who joined the club on June 20 when it was 5½ games out. Welch went 7-4 and clinched the division title last week with a 4-0 victory over San Diego. Burt Hooton (19-10, 2.71) was the mainstay of the staff, Forster (22 saves) was the top reliever, and Garvey (.316 with 21 homers and 113 RBIs) and Reggie Smith (.295, 29, 93) were the biggest hitters. George Foster repeated as league home-run and RBI champion, but having traded or lost some of their best pitchers to free agency, the Reds needed 25 wins from Tom Seaver. He threw his first career no-hitter and struck out 200 men for the 10th time in 11 seasons, but his record (16-14) wasn't terrific. Led by the pitching of Vida Blue (18-10) and Bob Knepper (17-11) and young Jack Clark's hitting (.306, 25, 98), the Giants were surprising contenders and won a record 42 one-run games. Along with its first winning season (84-79), San Diego had a Fireman of the Year (Rollie Fingers) and candidates for the Cy Young Award (Gaylord Perry) and Rookie of the Year (Shortstop Ozzie Smith). Houston's J. R. Richard became the first National League righthander in this century to strike out 300 batters. Atlanta brought up Jim Bouton, who had not pitched in the majors since 1971. He had a 1-3 record—and only two bad innings.
To win their third straight division title, the Phillies relied on Shortstop Larry Bowa, who hit .294 and committed only 10 errors, and Pitcher Dick Ruthven, who was 13-5 after being reacquired from the Braves on June 15. Pittsburgh won 24 straight at home as Dave Parker, who repeated as batting champ with a .419 average in September, contended for the Most Valuable Player award and Don Robinson (14-6) for Rookie of the Year honors. Bill Buckner (.323), Dave Kingman (28 HRs), Mike Krukow (9-3) and Bruce Sutter (27 saves) helped make the Chicago season a success. Ross Grimsley (20-11) used several thousand changeups to become Montreal's winningest pitcher ever. St. Louis had no .300 hitters or 15-game winners but did get 39 errors from Shortstop Garry Templeton. New York also had no .300 hitters, and its chances of having a big winner on its staff were ruined when Pat Zachry, who had been 10-3 at the All-Star break, got angry, kicked a dugout step and missed two months because of a broken foot.