1972 World Series
Oakland Athletics (93-62, AL) over Cincinnati Reds (95-59, NL)
The 1972 World Series was one of the most exciting ever, going the full seven games, with six of the games being decided by a single run and the Oakland Athletics coming out on top. It matched two teams who had not won a World Series in a number of decades: the Oakland Athletics' last championship had taken place in 1930, when the team was still the Philadelphia Athletics; the franchise had moved its premises twice, first to Kansas City, MO and in 1968 to Oakland, CA, since that last triumph. The Cincinnati Reds last championship came in 1940.
For all their lack of success, the two teams would monopolize the World Championship over the next five years, and had in place the core of the dynasties that would make that possible, even though many of these players were still relative unknowns when the Series began. Both teams had had a difficult time winning their respective League Championship Series, with the Reds only overcoming the Pittsburgh Pirates thanks to a ninth-inning rally in Game 5 started by a game-tying home run by Johnny Bench and capped by a Bob Moose wild pitch in the NLCS. The Oakland Athletics had only squeaked through by the margin of a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the ALCS over the resilient Detroit Tigers.
By the time the World Series began, both teams were over their post-season jitters, thanks to the hard-fought Championship Series and to previous recent unsuccessful post-season appearances: the Reds had lost the 1970 World Series to the Baltimore Orioles in five games, while the Athletics had been swept in three games by the Orioles in the following year's ALCS. The two rival managers both had World Series experience: Sparky Anderson with the Reds in 1970, and the A's Dick Williams with the Impossible Dream Boston Red Sox, who had lost the 1967 World Series in seven games. Both were at the start of long and highly successful managerial careers.
The stage was set for a classic confrontation.
The Oakland Athletics
Clash of the Titans and the Fury of Gene Tenace
Reggie Jackson led off with a walk, stole second base and went to third on Sal Bando’s long fly ball. Mike Epstein was hit on the hand by a pitch, putting runners on first and third with one out.
Then, backup catcher Gene Tenace struck out for the second out of the inning.
In the Oakland Athletics' dugout, manager Dick Williams said, "What the hell," and called for a delayed double steal.
This was Game 5 of the American League Championship Series and the Detroit Tigers already had a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Williams decided this was no time to be faint-hearted.
Epstein broke for second. Catcher Bill Freehan fired down to second and Jackson broke for home.
Said Williams in his autobiography, No More Mister Nice Guy: "He arrived just before the return throw from second, sliding so hard that something popped. It wasn't the ball into Freehan's glove, it was Reggie's hamstring. He was safe. Tie game.
"By the way he staggered back to the dugout, I knew he was going to be out."
Out as in out for the season...
In the fourth inning, Jackson's replacement, George Hendrick, stood on second when Tenace again came to the plate. Tenace was 0-for-16 in the ALCS but lined a huge single to left. Again the play was close at the plate but Hendrick was called safe even before he jarred the ball loose from Freehan's glove.
The Athletics led 2-1 and the game stayed that way because Vida Blue, banished to the bullpen for the playoffs, came on to pitch four scoreless innings in relief.
On October 12, 1972, at Detroit's Tiger Stadium, the Oakland Athletics celebrated the franchise's first American League pennant in 41 years and their first ever under owner Charlie Finley, the colorful, verbose and mercurial Chicago insurance tycoon who had bought the Kansas City Athletics in 1960 for $4 million.
Baseball wasn't quite sure what would happen when Finley took over the Athletics but before it was all through, the game's patriachical, tradition-bound leaders wished they had never heard of him. He had an innovation at every turn, badgering for change in a sport that looked at any change as a direct affront to tradition. Certainly any owner who suggested that orange baseballs be used was surely nuts.
Kansas City, MO municipal officials certainly thought so as they spent seven years wrangling with Finley, who wanted a new ballpark to replace Municipal Stadium. At one point Finley even threatened to play at the Fair Grounds in Louisville rather than stay in Kansas City. Finally, after seven years of wrangling with city leaders, Finley moved the team to Oakland in 1968. Litigation was threatened, but avoided, when Kansas City was promised an expansion team by 1969. Missouri Senator Stuart Symington took the floor of the Senate and called Oakland, "the luckiest city since Hiroshima."
Finley didn't care. By the time the Athletics showed up in Oakland, Finley had begun the process of building one of the greatest teams in baseball history. He went through manager after manager getting there but by 1972, the Athletics were loaded with talent.
They were built around terrific pitching that includedg Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Vida Blue, John "Blue Moon" Odom and Rollie Fingers, all home-grown talent. Then, before the 1972 season, the Athletics traded center fielder Rick Monday to the Chicago Cubs for Ken Holtzman.
The lineup was also built around players from their own farm system, including outfielders Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi, infielders Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris and Dick Green, and catcher Dave Duncan.
They sported long hair and mustaches, wore colorful green and gold uniforms and fought each other constantly in the clubhouse, and with their owner off the field. Manager Dick Williams kept players on edge with his sarcastic tongue and brilliant baseball mind. This was a franchise getting ready to blossom with a superb core of players.
Finley was certainly eccentric but he also proved to be a shrewd baseball man, forever making deals that would supplement the core talent. The Athletics won their first division title in 1971, lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS and then took it one step further by holding off the Detroit Tigers in 1972.
Charlie Finley was on his way to the World Series and they were going to face another franchise that was headed for glory.
The Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds, under general manager Bob Howsam and manager George "Sparky" Anderson were also building a powerhouse. But while the Athletics were built around pitching, the Reds strength was an offense that included Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Tony Perez.
They had made their presence felt in 1970 when they won 102 games and their offense was immortally dubbed the Big Red Machine. They lost to the Orioles in the World Series and fell back to fourth place in 1971.
But that winter Howsam swung an eight-player trade with the Houston Astros that brought in second baseman Joe Morgan. A good player with Houston, Morgan turned into a superstar in Cincinnati and embodied the qualities that made the Reds so great. He was their best all-around player, a second baseman who could not only hit but hit with power, run and play Gold Glove defense.
The Reds would only get better as the decade progressed but in the strike-shortened season of 1972, they went 95-59, won their division by 10 1/2 games and then knocked off the defending world champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS.
Their starting pitching wasn't as good as Oakland's, but they had a strong bullpen and were still favored to win the World Series. The Athletics were already without key reliever Darold Knowles, who had a broken thumb, and they were about to get more bad news.
After the ALCS, the Athletics had flown from Detroit to Cincinnati and Jackson immediately went to the hospital. Williams was right. The doctors told Jackson he wasn't going to play in the Series.
In his autobiography, Reggie, Jackson wrote, "If somebody had told me that night in the hospital in Cincinnati, that I'd be known as Mr. October some day, that I'd set all sorts of World Series records and have the greatest night the Series had ever seen, I wouldn't have known whether to laugh or cry. I was hurt and miserable and I felt cheated."
During the workouts the day before Game 1, Johnny Bench sought out Jackson and told him, "If we are going to win this thing, we want to beat you guys at your best and you guys won't be at your best with you on the sidelines." But with Jackson out, the Reds were even more confident.
"I’m not saying Oakland can't beat us," Cincinnati manager Sparky Anderson said on the eve of the Series. "But I'm saying you can't compare our league to theirs. Our league is tougher from top to bottom. We beat what I consider the top team in baseball when we beat the Pirates."
In his book Mustache Gang, Oakland Tribune reporter Ron Bergman recorded Dick Williams' reaction: "Oh I don't know. I've seen some pretty bad National League teams on television. If we get 27 outs we may have them. Which team is best remains to be seen."
The Athletics would get 27 outs. As Anderson later said, Oakland was better than he realized and the Series was much better than people expected.
"Everybody says the Cincinnati-Boston World Series in 1975 was the best in history," Anderson said in his autobiography Sparky. "I don't. I'll always maintain that the best Series I was ever involved in was the 1972 World Series against Oakland. That's because those were the two of the finest ballclubs to go against each other you'll ever see in I don't know how long.
"Oakland was a much better ballclub than the 1970 Baltimore team that beat us. In fact, Oakland was the best team I ever managed against."
Nobody realized how good the Oakland Athletics would become. But nobody also realized that in the 1972 World Series, the Athletics would get one of the most incredible performances ever by the unlikliest of heroes.
Their backup catcher was about ready to steal the show from the Big Red Machine.
- Chris Pelekoudas (NL), Jim Honochick (AL), Mel Steiner (NL), Frank Umont (AL), Bob Engel (NL), Bill Haller (AL)
Game 1 - October 14
Fury Is Thy Name
|October 14, 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, OH (Attendance: 52,918)||Boxscore|
The day before the World Series, according to Bergman, A’s second baseman Dick Green went to lunch with pitchers Darold Knowles and Dave Hamilton.
The Athletics had taken to pinch-hitting for their second basemen regularly late in the season and somebody asked Green in jest if he would get enough at-bats during the Series to win the automobile that goes with being named the World Series MVP.
"I think someone like George Hendrick will win it," Green said.
"It might be Hendrick," Knowles said. "But I'll tell you who I think will win it. Gene Tenace."
It was pointed out that Tenace was 1-for-17 in the ALCS.
"Yeah," Knowles said. "But I like the way he was swinging the bat in the last couple of games."
The son of Fiore Gino Tenacci, Fury Gene Tenace had grown up a New York Yankees fan. But that changed when a Yankee scout filed a report on him that summed it up this way:
The Athletics signed him out of Lucasville, OH for $10,000 and he had done little to this point to impress anybody other than to show he could play multiple positions. As the Athletics' backup catcher in 1972 behind Dave Duncan, he hit just .225 with 5 home runs and 32 RBI. But when Duncan had slumped in the second half of the season, Tenace had been given more playing time and would be behind the plate for the World Series.
"I had gone with Dave Duncan during the season because he was the better defensive catcher and had responded with 19 home runs," Williams said. "But on a club where four other guys hit double figures homers, that number isn't so important in the post-season.
"And so during the playoffs I went to backup Gene Tenace because he had hit a tad more consistently than Duncan (.225 to .218) and hadn't struck out so much. Tenace had responded with just one hit in 17 playoff at-bats, but that hit had come in the final game and had given us the win.....Hmmm, I wondered. Judging by his momentum and my heart, I went with Tenace."
Williams also went with Ken Holtzman (19-11, 2.51) as his starting pitcher against righthander Gary Nolan (15-5, 1.99) in Game 1 before 52,918 fans at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.
In the second inning, Nolan walked Hendrick with two outs and then threw a fastball that Tenace crushed over the left field fence for a two-run home run.
In the fifth, with the score 2-2, Nolan threw a breaking ball that he said "hung like a feather" and Tenace hit that one too over the left field fence for a home run. He was the first player ever to hit two home runs in his first two World Series at-bats.
That was all Oakland scored but all they needed. The Big Red Machine had seven hits and drew five walks but were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position against Holtzman, Fingers and Blue.
The Athletics held on to a 3-2 victory and the Reds weren't happy.
"If there was going to be a catcher hitting two home runs today, I was kind of hoping it would be me," said Bench, who had led all of baseball with 40 home runs and 125 RBI that season. "We weren't expecting Tenace to hit two home runs. He's not known as a power-hitter."
Pete Rose was even more disdainful, according to Bergman in the Mustache Gang.
"I'm not impressed with the A's," he snapped. "Outside of Gene Tenace, they didn't do much. They got only four hits, so I can't be impressed with their offense. They had a couple of shots at double plays and they didn't make them, so I'm not impressed with their defense.
"And Johnny Bench threw out the only two guys trying to steal so I'm not impressed with their baserunning. And Holtzman didn't throw as hard as he did with the Cubs."
Game 2 - October 15
|October 15, 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, OH (Attendance: 53,224)||Boxscore|
But the Reds had yet to face the Athletics' best pitcher.
James Augustus Hunter was born on April 8, 1946 in Hertford, NC. Located in Perquimans County in the eastern part of the state of North Carolina, soybean and peanut country, Hertford was as country as it gets and so was Jim Hunter.
He was the son of a tenant farmer who loved to hunt and fish, he had 30 pellets in his foot from a shotgun accident that had cost him a toe, but he could also pitch as well. He was the star of the local high school and American Legion teams and was spotted by Athletics scout Clyde Kluttz. Kluttz informed the home office and Charlie Finley came out to see him pitch. He liked what he saw and offered Hunter a $75,000 signing bonus. Hunter and his father said yes, and also accepted a nickname as well.
Said Finley years later, "After we signed the contract, I told him we had to have a good nickname for him. Looking around this country setting, I came upon Catfish. I told him that we would tell the press he had been missing one night and that his folks found him down by the stream with one catfish lying beside him and another on his pole.
"He looked at me and smiled and said in that drawl of his, "Whatever you say Mr. Finley, it's OK with me."
An arm injury kept him from ever pitching in the minors but he was an All-Star by 1967, giving up a game-winning home run to Tony Perez in the 15th inning. In 1968, he pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.
He won 21 games in 1971, the first of five straight 20-win seasons. He was overshadowed by Vida Blue that year but followed it up by going 21-7 with a 2.04 ERA in 1972 as the Athletics' best pitcher.
"You try to judge Hunter on his fastball and you’re missing the point," Oakland pitching coach Wes Stock once said. "The man is an artist. He's always ahead of the hitter because he's always got his control. Usually he doesn't show the fastball until he's got the hitter off balance. Then he pops one and it's strike three."
Hunter would ultimately become famous as baseball's first free agent when Finley, after the 1974 season, was ruled to have reneged on his contract. Hunter then stunned the world when, after an unprecedented bidding war, he signed a $3.75 million contract with the New York Yankees.
But he was more than just a pitcher with pellets in his foot, a colorful nickname and a big contract. During his time with the Athletics and the Yankees, Hunter would earn a reputation for being a big-game pitcher in post-season. That legacy really began on October 15, 1972 before another big crowd at Riverfront Stadium.
Hunter was opposed by lefthander Ross Grimsley of the Reds. In the second inning, Sal Bando led off with a single and was forced at second by Hendrick's grounder. Tenace flied to left but Dick Green kept the rally going with a single and up came Hunter.
Hunter could hit a little bit too – he had been given $5,000 as a bonus for his hitting by Finley - and he singled to left, scoring Hendricks. Bert Campaneris also singled to left but Green was thrown out trying to score by Pete Rose.
The Athletics still led and Joe Rudi made it 2-0 with a home run in the top of the third. It would be the only home run hit by the Athletics in the Series by somebody other than Gene Tenace.
But the Athletics weren't the only team having trouble scoring runs. The Reds still couldn't buy a clutch hit and Hunter held them scoreless through eight innings, protecting his 2-0 lead with a four-hitter.
By the time the ninth rolled around, the Big Red Machine was 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position. The Reds tried to come to life in the ninth, but would be left frustrated by the two best defensive plays of the Series.
Tony Perez led off the inning with a single to right and then Denis Menke, the Reds' 32-year-old third baseman, hit a long fly to left.
Said Williams in No More Mister Nice Guy, We jumped to our feet and, amid shouts of "No! No!" we twisted and contorted our bodies in hopes of somehow willing the ball back to our side of the fence. Then, while in a crouched position, I saw it.
"Joe Rudi's body, his glove, his arm, an arm that seemed at least eight feet long, springing above his body like a burst of water from a fountain as he leaped against the green left field fence, the ball falling out of nowhere into the glove at the height of the jump, the white part shining against the brown leather, a catch, an out, a 350-foot unbelievable out."
Rudi's catch is still considered one of the greatest in World Series history, although Williams wasn't happy that he took too long showing the ball to umpires and missed a chance to double off Perez at first.
"It happened so fast that I didn't even know what happened." Rudi told Bergman. "It was just one of those lucky plays. But I figure that any ball I can reach and get my glove on, I can catch."
Williams may have wanted the double play but no doubt took satisfaction that one of his earlier moves was about to pay off. In the sixth inning, he had replaced first baseman Mike Epstein with Mike Hegan.
Hegan was considered a superior defensive player although Epstein didn't see it that way. He would later complain to Williams about being replaced defensively. Williams didn't care. The A's were always fighting about something.
There was no arguing about what happened next. Cesar Geronimo hit a low line drive down the first base line that looked like a double. But Hegan made a diving stop to his left, knocked the ball down and crawled to first base for the out.
"For my money, a more impressive play than the Rudi play, only you don't still see that play on highlight films," Williams said. "While Rudi will remain a part of World Series lore forever."
Perez went to second on the play and pinch-hitter Hal McRae drove him in with a single to left, the Reds' first hit with runners in scoring position. But Williams made another move, replacing Hunter with Rollie Fingers and Julian Javier fouled out to end the game.
The Athletics were up 2-0 in the Series and the Reds weren't happy about it. Again Rose was most vocal.
"Hunter's not a super pitcher," Rose said. "If they don't get those plays in the ninth, he's just a super loser. Anyone, even a sportswriter, could be a super pitcher against us the way we're swinging the bats."
Vida Blue gave them something more to fume about, joking, "We're handling Cincinnati easier than we did the Texas Rangers."
The World Series was going back to Oakland and the Reds would remember what Blue said.
Game 3 - October 18
Twilight on the West Coast
|October 18, 1972 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA (Attendance: 49,410)||Boxscore|
Game 3 was rained out at what was then known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, giving the two teams an extra day to prepare for something that would eventually become common: the World Series was going to be played at night. Like the designated hitter, it was an idea that originated with Finley.
The Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates had played the first World Series night game in 1971. But that game was played in Pittsburgh. Game 3 of the 1972 World Series was played in Oakland and started in the evening twilight so that it could be broadcast back East in prime time. The result was one run, seven hits and 21 strikeouts between the two teams.
Jack Billingham pitched against Blue Moon Odom for the Athletics and the game was scoreless through five. In the sixth, the Athletics loaded the bases with one out but Sal Bando hit into a double play.
Finally, in the seventh, Tony Perez singled and was bunted to second by Menke. Cesar Geronimo followed with a single to center and Perez headed for home. He slipped around third base and fell on the wet grass but the Athletics noticed too late. Perez picked himself up and scored to give the Reds a 1-0 lead.
"I was going crazy," Perez said. "I thought I'd never get there."
It was still 1-0 in the eighth when Joe Morgan drew a one-out walk off Fingers and went to third on Bobby Tolan's single. That brought up Bench, who was still looking for his first RBI of the Series.
On a 2-1 pitch, Tolan stole second as Bench took ball three. On the bench, Dick Williams was thinking.
"Suddenly I remembered something that Billy Southworth had done when he was managing," Williams said. "I turned to my pitching coach Bill Posedel and told him, "If this next pitch is a strike, I'm going to go out there to the mound and act like I'm giving Fingers hell because he shouldn't be giving Bench anything to hit with first base open.
"I'm going to wave my arms and act like I'm calling for an intentional ball four. But instead I'm going to tell them to throw the damn ball right down the middle of the plate for strike three. Bench will never know what hit him."
The pitch was a strike and Williams went to the mound to explain his plan. He then told Fingers, "Be sure you throw a breaking ball, because if it's a fastball and somebody figures out what we're doing, Bench can hit the shit out of it."
He also warned Tenace not to jump back behind the plate too quick. Morgan, standing at third base, warned Bench to be ready but it was too late. Fingers threw a slider on the outside corner and Bench took it for strike three.
Fingers called it the best slider he had ever thrown.
"Joe Morgan yelled at me from third base to be alive," Bench said. "But I'd never seen that play before. Fingers called it his best slider, did he ? Great. But why does he have to do it to me. There's sixty million people out there watching."
The still-famous play ultimately didn't matter. Billingham and reliever Clay Carroll combined on a three-hitter and the Reds won, 1-0.
"We are going to take it to them now," said Anderson. "We know that after the first two games Vida Blue said beating us seemed as easy as beating the Texas Rangers. We're going to run on them every chance we get. And we're going to get our chances."
Game 4 - October 19
|October 19, 1972 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA (Attendance: 49,410)||Boxscore|
Ken Holtzman started Game 4 against Don Gullett, a 21-year-old lefthander who Anderson believed was destined for greatness. He was pretty good on the night of October 19, but in the fifth inning, Gene Tenace snapped an 0-for-8 skid with his third home run of the Series.
"By the scouting reports he surprised us," Anderson said. "We knew he was a high-ball hitter. We made a mistake and got the ball up. But he did surprise us that he attacked us the way we did. As the Series went on we got so much respect for him, because we knew if we made mistakes with him, he could really hurt you."
Holtzman was pitching well, taking a 1-0 lead into the eighth. But Tenace told Williams that Holtzman was losing his stuff. So Vida Blue came in with two out in the eighth, only to give up a two-run double to Bobby Tolan.
The Reds led 2-1 but Tenace and the Athletics weren't done. Something happened in the ninth inning that Sparky Anderson would never forget.
Years later he would state that he cost his team the 1972 World Series.
Righthander Pedro Borbon was on the mound trying to protect a one-run lead when Williams sent up Gonzalo Marquez to pinch-hit for George Hendrick.
Marquez was a 26-year-old lefthanded hitter from Venezuela who had been called up in September and gone 8-for-21 as a pinch-hitter. He had also delivered an 11th-inning, game-winning single in Game 1 of the ALCS.
This was his first big league experience but Reds advance scout Ray Shore told Anderson how to defense him. Shore told Anderson that Marquez had a tendency to hit fly balls to left field but his ground balls went up the middle. Shortstop Dave Concepcion should play accordingly. But Concepcion, also from Venezuela, told Anderson that Marquez hit everything toward the left-side hole and insisted on playing him that way.
Anderson agreed, only to watch Marquez hit a grounder up the middle that went for a hit. Anderson would quickly regret siding with Concepcion over his advance scout.
Marquez was replaced by pinch-running specialist Allan "The Panamanian Express" Lewis, a career .209 hitter who had just 29 at-bats in 156 career games and was used almost exclusively as a pinch-runner. Two years later he would be replaced by Olympic sprinter Herb Washington.
Borbon fell behind 2-1 to Tenace and Anderson brought in Clay Carroll to finish the at-bat. Carroll's first pitch just missed, much to the Reds' dismay, and then Tenace singled to left, moving Lewis to second.
Don Mincher, pinch-hitting for Green, then singled to right-center, scoring Lewis and moving Tenace to third.
"A bum high fastball with nothing on it," Anderson said later.
With the score 2-2, the Reds brought the infield in but Angel Mangual bounced a grounder just beyond Morgan's reach and Tenace came home with the winning run that gave the Athletics a 3-2 victory.
"We had it won," Rose said. "It was ours and it got away. Our backs have been to the wall so much my shoulders hurt. We are in real tough territory now."
Anderson wrote in his autobiography:, "After the game Shore came into my office visibly upset. He picked up the little red scouting book from my desk. He started to thumb through the pages. I knew what he was looking for. He slammed the book down and walked out of the room."
The Athletics were one game away from a World Series title. But the Reds weren't done yet.
Game 5 - October 20
The Machine Gets Turned on
|October 20, 1972 at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, CA (Attendance: 49,410)||Boxscore|
Friday, October 20, was supposed to be a travel day. The Game 3 rainout changed that and Game 5 was played on a Friday afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum.
Instead of twilight, there was only sunshine and the Reds had no trouble seeing the ball. Pete Rose hit Catfish Hunter's first pitch over the right-center field fence for a home run, Cincinnati's first of the Series after 127 at-bats.
Gene Tenace responded by hitting a three-run home run in the bottom of the second inning, giving the Athletics a 3-1 lead. It was his fourth home run of the Series, placing him in exclusive company with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Duke Snider and Hank Bauer.
Denis Menke homered for the Reds to make it 3-2 in the fourth and the Athletics threatened in the bottom of the inning against Jim McGlothlin, the fifth starter used by the Reds in five games.
Sal Bando walked and when McGlothlin went to 2-0 on George Hendrick, Anderson went to his bullpen and Pedro Borbon. Hendrick sacrificed Bando to second and Tenace was walked intentionally.
Williams responded by using Gonzalo Marquez to pinch-hit for Dick Green and the A's pinch-hitting specialist again came up with a big hit, a single to center that scored Hendrick and moved Tenace to third. Allan Lewis pinch-ran for Marquez but the rally died when Hunter missed on a suicide squeeze. Tenace was caught off third base and the A's were left with a 4-2 lead.
On the mound, Hunter was struggling. In the fifth he walked Joe Morgan, who, running on the pitch, then scored all the way from first base on a single by Bobby Tolan. That was it for Hunter as Williams brought in Rollie Fingers. Tolan stole second and went to third on a wild pitch but Fingers struck out Johnny Bench to end the threat. Bench was still without an RBI for the series.
Williams was hoping that Fingers, in his fifth straight Series appearance, could close it out. But Fingers was tired and the Reds tied it up in the eighth when Morgan led off with a walk, stole second and scored on Tolan's single.
During the regular season, Bobby Tolan had hit .283 with 88 runs scored and 42 stolen bases as the Reds center fielder. Two years earlier he had hit .316 with 57 stolen bases and 112 runs scored as an integral part of the Big Red Machine when the Reds won the pennant. In 1973, he would hit just .208 and be dealt to the San Diego Padres as the Reds prepared to make room for Ken Griffey. But in the 1972 World Series, Tolan would drive in six runs for the Reds, two more than three future Hall of Famers combined: Bench, Morgan and Perez.
That said, eventually it would be a defensive play that Tolan would be remembered for in the 1972 World Series and not his offense.
Because of Tolan, the Reds were still alive though and Rose put them ahead in the ninth with a run-scoring single.
The Reds still had to get past Tenace and reliever Ross Grimsley walked him to start the bottom of the ninth. Blue Moon Odom went in to pinch-run for him and Ted Kubiak popped out trying to sacrifice. Jack Billingham replaced Grimsley on the mound, but Dave Duncan, sent up as a pinch-hitter, singled to left and Odom raced to third, giving the Athletics runners at the corners with one out.
"It was the previous night all over again," Williams said. "My charmed lineup card was working again. We were going to win the title without needing to return to Cincinnati."
Then Bert Campaneris followed with a high pop up into the deep Coliseum foul territory behind first base and down the right field line. Morgan went over to make the catch and Odom broke for home.
Wrote Bergman, "Odom daringly took off for the plate on the assumption that the second baseman might slip on the field which the tarp hadn't covered. Morgan's right foot did skid and his throw didn't have much on it. But Bench made a great play, swiping at the ball with his mitt hand and swinging it into Odom while blocking the plate at the same time."
Odom was out, an excellent defensive play to end another great game in a classic World Series.
As Anderson said, "There were more good plays in that Series than you'll ever see in a whole season."
The Reds had hung on to win another great game and the Series was on its way back to Cincinnati.
Game 6 - October 21
|October 21, 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, OH (Attendance: 52,737)||Boxscore|
Meanwhile Dick Williams was left to ponder his worn-out pitching staff.
He knew he had to save four of his five best pitchers for Game 7. Hunter, Holtzman, Odom and the overworked Fingers would be unavailable for Game 6.
All Williams could hope for was a terrific performance from his Game 6 starting pitcher. One year earlier, that would have been almost a given.
Vida Rochelle Blue Jr. was the best pitcher in baseball in 1971. In fact, he was the story of baseball that year, a national phenomenon who appeared on the cover of Time magazine, was a guest on the Dick Cavett Show and traded soul handshakes with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. Every media outlet was doing Vida Blue.
He had thrown a no-hitter in 1970 but that was just one of ten starts Blue made in the major leagues in 1969-1970. Then Williams took over as manager, put Blue in the rotation and watched the 21-year-old from Louisiana take off. He lost his first starton opening day but then won ten in a row, five of them by shutouts. He was a 17-game winner by the time he started the All-Star Game for the American League and a 20-game winner by August 7.
Finley rewarded him for his sensational season by giving him a Cadillac and Blue finished 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts, bursting into one of baseball's biggest attractions as the Athletics streaked to a division title.
"It's easy man," Blue said. "I just take the ball and throw. Hard! It's a God-given talent. No one can teach it to you. They either hit it or they don't. They haven't been hitting it, that's all. No sweat."
Everybody was talking about the A's great pitcher but the pressure and intense national spotight was also getting to him.
"It's a weird scene," Blue said. "You win a few ballgames and all of a sudden you're surrounded by reporters and TV men with cameras asking you about Vietnam and race relations."
After it was over, Blue wanted a raise. A big one and he hired agent Bob Gerst to get it.
Finley offered $45,000. Gerst demanded $115,000. Blue, who had made $14,750 in 1971, wanted $75,000 and was a holdout all the way through spring training. At one point he announced he was retiring from baseball to become a vice-president for a company that made toilets.
The season started without him. The Athletics acquired former 30-game winner Denny McLain in the hopes of filling that spot but he proved to be a gigantic flop.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, already reeling from the first ever players' strike and disturbed by the absence of baseball's biggest drawing card, interjected himself in the negotiations and, eight games into the season, an agreement was reached at $63,000.
Kuhn himself announced the settlement on May 2. Neither Blue nor Finley were particularly happy with the terms. Blue was given three weeks to get ready but was not the same pitcher he had been in 1971.
"Charlie Finley has soured my stomach for baseball," Blue said.
While Holtzman, Hunter and Odom, a 15-game winner, carried the rotation, Blue went 6-10 with a 2.80 ERA and was not in the rotation of the ALCS or the start of the World Series.
Blue would still go on and have a long and productive career. He would enjoy two more 20-win seasons, be named to five more All-Star teams and still win 209 games in his career. But he would never be the same national phenomenon that he was in 1971 and teammates would long remember that the contract dispute with Finley took away much of Blue's joy for the game.
Williams finally called on him for Game 6 but Blue couldn't deliver the big performance that the Athletics needed. On this day, the Reds offense finally flexed its muscles.
The Reds had ten hits, including a home run by Bench, his only RBI of the Series. Blue was gone in the sixth and in the seventh, the Reds scored five runs, the biggest outburst by any team in the Series. For the Reds, started Don Gullett was removed with two outs in the fifth after the A's had tied the score at one. Ross Grimsley came on in relief and earned his second consecutive win with one socreless inning of work, while fellow relievers Pedro Borbon and Tom Hall held Oakland scoreless the rest of the way.
The final score was 8-1, the Series was going to Game 7 and the Reds, with 18 hits, three home runs and six stolen bases in two straight victories, were suddenly confident again.
"When our guys start hitting, they keep hitting for a couple of days," Rose said, defiant to the end. "And we're having such an easy time stealing bases that our manager wants everybody to try it. I wouldn't be surprised if we actually steal the final game from Oakland. We've stolen everything else."
Game 7 - October 22
A Man Called Tenace
|October 22, 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, OH (Attendance: 56,040)||Boxscore|
Dick Williams made a couple of decisions in Game 7. Gene Tenace, playing despite a death threat that led to the arrest of a man carrying a gun, was still in the lineup but would be moved up to the cleanup spot. He would also play first base. Dave Duncan started at catcher to slow down the Reds and regular first baseman Mike Epstein, 0-for-16, was benched.
Blue Moon Odom started for the Athletics against Jack Billingham for the Reds, a rematch of Game 3 starters with 56,040 at Riverfront Stadium on a Sunday afternoon, the largest crowd to ever watch a game in Cincinnati.
Angel Mangual, who had replaced George Hendrick in the Athletics' line-up for Game 6, came to bat against Billingham with one out in the top of the first.
He hit a long fly to center and Bobby Tolan dropped it for a three-base error. Billingham got Joe Rudi on a short fly to left but Tenace followed with a grounder that hit a seam in the Riverfront artificial turf and bounced over third baseman Denis Menke's head for a single.
The Athletics led 1-0 and Odom started the day off well.
The righthander from Georgia, after a leadoff single to Pete Rose in the first, had retired nine straight hitters when Joe Morgan walked with one out in the fourth. Odom then proceeded to throw seven straight times over to first base. When Odom finally threw a pitch, Morgan broke for second and was thrown out by Duncan, a crucial moment of the game.
The Reds still trailed 1-0 when Tony Perez led off the fifth with a double. Menke struck out but Cesar Geronimo walked. When Odom went to 2-1 on Dave Concepcion, Williams brought in Catfish Hunter.
Hunter finished the walk, loading the bases. At that point, Sparky Anderson sent up Hal McRae to pinch-hit for Billingham, who had pitched brilliantly again despite the unearned run in the first.
In his autobiography, My Life in Baseball, Hunter wrote, "I knew McRae well, he hit a lot like Rudi, sprayed it around. He liked to go the opposite way. I had to keep the ball inside, tight, he wouldn't be able to take me deep.
"So much for theory. McRae belted my first pitch 400 feet to deepest center field. All I could think of was, "Not now, not a grand slam in the World Series."
Anderson was thinking the same thing. But Mangual, not the most reliable outfielder, backed up to the wall and caught it as Williams held his breath, a sacrifice fly that tied the game. Rose also hit a fly ball to deep right-center, but Mangual caught that one as well and the Reds' threat was over. The Athletics were ready to make their charge.
Pedro Borbon, who like Fingers pitched in six of seven games, took over for the Reds and Bert Campaneris led off the sixth with a single. Mangual bunted him over and Rudi's grounder moved him to third. The Reds then made the mistake of pitching to Tenace and he doubled into the left-field corner to put the Athletics ahead. Allen Lewis then pinch-ran for Tenace because Williams wanted Mike Hegan to play first base.
Tenace was furious, saying later, "I couldn't believe I was coming out."
But the Athletics went ahead 3-1 when Sal Bando hit a long fly to center. Tolan chased after it but his left leg buckled and he went tumbling to the turf. The ball fell for a double and Lewis scored on the only RBI Bando would deliver during the Series. George Foster replaced Tolan, who had to come out of the game at a crucial moment.
Johnny Bench reached on Campaneris' error with two out in the bottom of the sixth and Perez walked, but Hunter got Menke on a fly to right to end the threat.
Hunter set the Reds down in order in the seventh but Rose led off the eighth with a single to center and Williams brought in Ken Holtzman to replace Hunter.
Said Hunter, "I finished the sixth and seventh innings but Williams had seen enough. Every ball the Reds hit looked like it had been launched by NASA."
Williams took the ball from Hunter and said, "I know you're getting guys out Cat. But you're damn near scaring me to death. I gotta make a change."
Morgan doubled to right, moving Rose to third, and Rollie Fingers replaced Holtzman. Foster was up and five years later he would hit 52 home runs. But he was still a little-known reserve in 1972 who had hit just .200 that year and Anderson pinch-hit Joe Hague. Fingers struck him out.
That brought up Bench and Williams intentionally walked him.
"You could almost hear the groan from the Oakland fans behind our dugout combined with the cheers of the Reds fans," Williams said. "I had just put the go-ahead run on base, breaking all unwritten Series rules. But nobody understood. We had decided before the Series that no matter what happened, the future Hall of Famer Bench wasn't going to beat us. I couldn't live with myself if he did."
Perez was also a future Hall of Famer, who would be a World Series hero three years later at the height of the Big Red Machine. But at this point the best he could do was a sacrifice fly that also moved Morgan to third. Bench then stole second but Fingers struck out Menke to end the inning. The Athletics had one more inning to go and had the right man on the mound.
Rollie Fingers had signed with the Oakland Athletics in 1964 for $20,000. The Los Angeles Dodgers had offered more but Fingers did not want to get lost in their deeply-talented farm system.
When he finally arrived in the majors for good in 1969, he was bounced between the rotation and the bullpen without really impressing in either role. When he continued to falter as a starter early in 1971, Fingers was sent to the bullpen for good.
"I figured I wasn't doing the job as a starter so I might as well try to do the job in the bullpen," Fingers said.
By June he was moved into the role of closer and responded with a streak of 29 2/3 scoreless innings. His future was as clear as the handlebar mustache that would become his trademark.
"We think he's more relaxed when he's in the bullpen," Williams said. "Now he doesn't know when he's going to pitch. He'd start to get tense three days before his turn to start. He's a cool man now. He used to be just the opposite."
He pitched in 68 games during the regular season in 1972, all in relief. He had saved 21, plus Game 2 of the World Series.
Now, in Game 7, he had three more outs to get. Cesar Geronimo popped to short. Concepcion grounded to second. That left weak-hitting infielder Darrel Chaney, pinch-hitting for the pitcher. Fingers hit him in the foot. The top of the order was coming up and Williams popped out of the dugout.
Before the World Series, both teams had agreed to suspend the rule that forced a manager to change pitchers upon his second trip to the mound.
Williams had abused that agreement throughout the Series and in Game 7, he made no less than 16 trips to the mound. This time he was ready to bring in Vida Blue to face Rose. According to Bergman, Duncan intercepted him at the mound and talked him out of it.
"I know what you're going to do," Duncan said. "Don't do it. Rollie is throwing as good as I've ever seen. He can get Rose."
After his playing days were over, Duncan went on to become one of the best pitching coaches in the game under Tony LaRussa. On this afternoon, Williams took his advice.
Rose, who would finish with a disappointing .214 average for the Series, hit a fly ball to left that Rudi caught easily and the Big Red Machine was dead.
In a World Series that saw six one-run games, the Athletics, without Reggie Jackson, had triumphed in Game 7 with a 3-2 victory.
"The Oakland A's were a far better team than I had given them credit for," Anderson said. "They proved it when it counted, on the field. They whipped us, fair and square."
There is no doubt that the Athletics could have used Jackson, who would later be named the Most Valuable Player in two different World Series.
But there's also no doubt Tenace made up for his loss. What he did in the 1972 World Series was remarkable.
- He was 8-for-23 with four home runs and nine RBI. The Athletics scored 16 runs and he drove in nine of them. No other player had more than one RBI.
- He had two home runs and three RBI in a 3-2 victory in Game 1.
- He had a home run in Game 4 and a crucial single in the two-run ninth inning rally.
- He drove home two runs and his pinch-runner scored the third run in Game 7.
There was no doubt who was the Most Valuable Player of the Series.
Said Hunter, "What a Series. Seven games. Six decided by one run. No complete games on either side. In so many ways, it belonged to Gene Tenace."
In a 2001 interview with Roger Kuznia of the Sporting News, Tenace looked back on his remarkable performance.
"It's hard to explain how those things happen," Tenace said. "I was in kind of a zone mentally, and every pitch I saw from the Cincinnati pitching staff looked down the middle to me.
"I assume there were mistakes by their staff, but I was hitting balls that were on the corner, that were in on me, that were up down, in and up.
"The pitching was there, the defense was there and then all of a sudden I come out of nowhere to supply some offense. In all honesty, it was a team effort because if one of those areas breaks down, we get steamrolled by Cincinnati and probably don't last seven games."
The Athletics weren't done. Neither were the Reds. Between the two teams, they would play in each of the next four World Series. Curiously, they wouldn't play each other again.
This was the one World Series meeting between two teams that dominated the 1970s and the Athletics had emerged on top because of a backup catcher.
The Athletics won the Series despite not turning any double plays in the field. Only the New York Mets in 1969 had done this previously, and no team has done it since.
- Ed Gruver: Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8032-8558-3
- Maxwell Kates: "'The Bikers Against The Boy Scouts' The 1972 World Series and the Emergence of Facial Hair in Baseball", in Chip Greene, ed.: Mustaches and Mayhem, Charlie O's Three-Time Champions: The Oakland Athletics 1972-74, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 348-354. ISBN 978-1-943816-07-1
- John G. Robertson and Carl T. Madden: The Mustache Gang Battles the Big Red Machine: The 1972 World Series, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2022. ISBN 978-1-4766-8860-2
- Curt Smith: "1972 A’s: A World Champion Worth The Wait", in Chip Greene, ed.: Mustaches and Mayhem, Charlie O's Three-Time Champions: The Oakland Athletics 1972-74, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 336-339. ISBN 978-1-943816-07-1
|Modern Major League Baseball World Series
Pre-1903 Postseason Series
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