December 20, 2014

October ’72

June 22, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine and the World Series that climaxed one of baseball’s most memorable seasons

(Following is an excerpt of Ed Gruver’s latest book, October ’72.)

Reggie Jackson loved to hit a baseball. In the spring of 1972, the star right fielder for the reigning American League Western Division champion Oakland Athletics lived to hit. He was 25 years old, stood six feet tall and weighed 204 pounds. Heavily-muscled – he had been a running back at Arizona State – he boasted 17-inch biceps and 27-inch thighs.

reggie-jacksonThere was no one in baseball, Jackson believed, who could do as many things as well as he could. He had only a fair batting average, but he hit with great power and ran with surprising speed on the bases and in the field. I can do it all, Reggie thought. I create excitement in the ballpark just by walking on the field. Baseball Digest magazine would feature Jackson on the cover of its June issue, along with Pete Rose and Willie Mays, and declare the ’72 season to be the official start of baseball’s Jacksonian Era. “This Will Be His Year!” the magazine proclaimed.

God, how Reggie loved to hit the ball – “that little white sum-bitch,” he called it — out of the park and make the crowds sit up and say “Wow!” The previous July, Jackson had smashed one of the longest home runs anyone had ever seen when he connected with a pitch thrown by Pittsburgh’s Dock Ellis in the All-Star Game. The ball was still rising when it struck one of the light standards on the roof of Tiger Stadium, a startling 520 feet from home plate.

NBC Radio color analyst Sandy Koufax was stunned by what he had witnessed.

“It looked like Dock got the breaking ball up just a little bit to Reggie Jackson and, I mean, he hit it hard,” Koufax told his listening audience. “I don’t know when I’ve seen a ball hit as hard as that one. That would have gone out at the airport.”

In 1969, his second full year in the majors, Jackson hammered 47 homers. Several drives went 500 feet or more. At the time, the great Ted Williams called Reggie the “most natural hitter I’ve ever seen.” By the spring of ’72, Jackson stood with Mays, Henry Aaron and Johnny Bench as the game’s most feared sluggers. Reggie exuded power, charisma and confidence, but he was also a complicated man: Intelligent, sensitive and given to fair amounts of introspection. He was dogged by mood swings and depression, and began seeing a psychiatrist to deal with the demands of stardom and with the dissolving of a four-year marriage that had fallen apart in 1970 and caused him and his wife Jenni to separate.

When the A’s 1971 season ended abruptly with a three-game sweep by defending World Series champion Baltimore in the American League Championship Series, NBC cameras caught Jackson sitting slumped on the dugout steps, his head cradled in his arms. He had hit two home runs off Orioles ace Jim Palmer in Game 3 and batted .333 in the ALCS, but Reggie was inconsolable in defeat. After six long months, Oakland’s season was suddenly over. The A’s star slugger couldn’t believe it.  It took half an hour for a tearful Jackson to finally make his way to the somber locker room. When he arrived, A’s beat writer Ron Bergman noted that Reggie’s eyes were red and swollen.

In time, Jackson was able to put the playoff loss in perspective. Oakland’s division title in 1971 was its first; the A’s weren’t prepared to go any further, he reasoned. Just winning the division had been enough for them that year. Jackson thought they had acted afraid of Baltimore, a veteran squad of established stars – Palmer, Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar. The Orioles were a group of established stars whose experience in October baseball extended back to their stunning  1966 World Series sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Six months later, as Jackson stepped into the batter’s box beneath a bright Arizona sun at the A’s spring training headquarters, he considered himself a hard man playing a hard game. He prided himself on having a working man’s hands and body; he beamed with pride when one of the younger A’s referred to Reggie as “one big callus.”

At the plate, Jackson presented a frightening picture to pitchers. With his feet spread wide as he settled into his stance, with his green and gold batting helmet pulled low on his forehead, he glared out at the pitcher. He wore a bright gold pullover jersey with green piping on the sleeves, a large green A’s on the left breast and a number 9 on the back.

Straddling home plate from the left side, Jackson’s right hand, covered by a white batting glove, gripped his 36-ounce bat near its handle. His left hand, which served as his top hand, was bare, and onlookers who formed a semicircle behind the wire fencing of the batting cage could see the slugger’s dark skin turn white at the knuckles as he tightened his grip and awaited each pitch.

Whipping his bat through the strike zone, the man known to his teammates as “Buck” blasted balls to the outer reaches of the sun-drenched diamond. He knew his main asset as a hitter was his strength, so he concentrated on putting every ounce of himself into each swing. Strong as he was, he could have used a heavier bat; Babe Ruth had toted a 54-ounce tree trunk. Jackson, however, preferred a lighter stick, one he could swing with speed.

Putting on a hitting clinic, Reggie scraped the bright blue sky with prodigious drives and lashed liners that crashed into outfield fences with frightening force. Onlookers were impressed; Jackson, however, was not. Some hitters could catch hold of a pitch, hit it out and feel satisfied. Jackson was never satisfied with a great hit. It only served to make him want another.

He had grown a mustache during the offseason. It was something he wanted to wear; he thought it helped him look mean. In time, 18 of his teammates and even his manager, Dick Williams, followed his lead, growing long hair, mustaches and beards that made them look like turn-of-the-century tintypes. A’s owner Charles O. Finley grew to like his team’s unshorn appearance and offered each man $300 cash to grow a mustache for a Father’s Day promotion. Relief specialist Rollie Fingers sported a waxed, Salvador Dali-style mustache; ace Jim “Catfish” Hunter combined a bristling mustache with long flowing hair; first baseman Mike Epstein favored a Franz Josef look.

Charie Finley and his "Mustache Gang" circa 1974

Charie Finley and his “Mustache Gang” circa 1974

Finley’s promotional ideas flowed throughout the organization and the sport. He gave his players colorful nicknames – “Catfish” Hunter, “Blue Moon” Odom – and tried to convince southpaw ace Vida Blue to legally change his first name to “True.” Blue angrily declined. Finley built a team of character and characters: Dagoberto “Campy” Campaneris; Fiore Gino Tennaci, aka Gene Tenace; Salvatore “Sal” Bando; Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom and Dick Green; Reggie, Rollie and Joe Rudi; Catfish, Kenny Holtzman and Mateo “Matty” Alou.

Charlie O. livened up game days at the Oakland Coliseum by using a yellow cab to drive pitchers in from the bullpen, installing a mechanical rabbit that popped up behind home plate with new baseballs for the umpire and hiring Miss U.S.A. as a bat girl. Bored with baseball’s conventional ways, he dressed the A’s in bright, colorful uniforms at a time when every other team wore home whites and road grays. He pushed for the adoption of a permanent pinch-hitter for pitchers. Charlie O. and his Mustache Gang proved to be trendsetters. The designated hitter rule would be adopted by the American League in 1973. By the mid-point of the decade, big league players were expressing their individuality through flamboyant coiffures, mustaches and beards.

Emboldened by their maverick owner, the Mustache Gang would look the way they wanted to look and act the way they wanted. Outfitted in outlandish uniforms that Finley characterized as wedding gown white, California gold and kelly green, and wearing beards, mustaches and hair that hung in clumps from their baseball caps, they would shoot from the lip, speak their minds and punch each other out when tempers flared. And, they got away with all of it. No longer were the A’s the team that in Jackson’s estimation had acted afraid of the Orioles the previous October. They had matured, had been toughened by tough times. We’re a team of mean men, Jackson thought. Third baseman and team captain Sal Bando believed the organization had developed a nucleus of players who loved a challenge.

In time, the A’s would develop into a fearsome squad that didn’t know how to lose. Like the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals’ “Gashouse Gang” and the ’93 Philadelphia Phillies’ “Macho Row,” the Swingin’ A’s of the Seventies swaggered through life and took their fun where they could get it. They were rebels, but with a cause. We want to win, Jackson thought. We want to make our mark.

The Big Red Machine

At the same time that Reggie and the shaggy young A’s reveled in their renegade ways, Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds arrived at their spring camp as clean-cut and close-shaven as Kiwanians. Unlike Finley, Reds general manager Bob Howsam strictly enforced the three S’s among his players – clean shaves, high socks and solid black cleats. Howsam even trimmed the mustache from the Reds’ traditional team logo. For decades, the franchise logo honored baseball’s first professional team – the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. It featured an old-time player sporting a black handlebar mustache. Howsam, however, felt that image, no matter how time-honored, was no longer representative of his Reds. In 1968, the player in the Reds’ logo was shorn and a clean-shaven image was presented to the public.

pete rose 300If the A’s green-and-gold uniforms and white shoes struck some as garish – “Wednesday Night Bowling Club uniforms,” according to Sports Illustrated – Cincinnati’s white-and-red accoutrements were so conventional they might have been worn by 1930s Reds’ southpaw Johnny Vander Meer. Reds’ hierarchy insisted upon the concept of “team” regarding the appearance and conduct of every one of their players. When Howsam’s lieutenant, Dick Wagner, noticed during a televised game in Atlanta that Rose had scrawled his uniform number 14 on the back of his helmet in black ink to distinguish it from others in the Reds’ helmet rack, he dialed long-distance to Atlanta and got word to Rose to remove the numerals so his helmet conformed to those worn by his teammates.

Cincinnati skipper George “Sparky” Anderson was smart enough to know that hair length didn’t make a man play better or worse. But he did believe that when men operated as a team there had to be behavior guidelines. Anderson felt that if the Reds’ organization didn’t have discipline on dress and manners and cleanliness, they didn’t have anything.

Still, it wasn’t their All-America boy appearance that made the Reds contenders in the National League. It was a ferocious offense fronted by Hall of Fame caliber stars in Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. Together, they formed the heart and soul of the Big Red Machine, a moniker that was said to be the creation of one of three people – Rose, Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter Bob Hertzel, or Los Angeles Herald-Examiner baseball writer Bob Hunter.

Team historians John Erardi and Greg Rhodes trace the nickname to a July 4, 1969 article written by Hertzel. Hunter says he gave the Reds the name after hearing that Cincinnati had outslugged Philadelphia, 19-17. Hunter thought of the Reds’ uniform colors, and in previewing a series with the Dodgers, made mention of the invasion of the “Big Red Machine.” Rose claims he hung the tag on the Reds when the team was still playing in Crosley Field. At the time, he was driving a red 1934 Ford. That car was his little red machine, Rose said, and the team he played on was the Big Red Machine.

Regardless of its origin, the nickname became immensely popular and the organization trademarked it. In 1970, the Big Red Machine’s wrecking ball attack wreaked havoc on the National League. Cincinnati stormed to 102 victories, a franchise record at the time. The Reds spread-eagled the field, winning the Western Division by 14½ games over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers and then swept the Pirates in the NLCS. Like the A’s in 1971, however, the Reds were beaten by Baltimore in the postseason, losing the World Series in five games.

The wheels came off the Big Red Machine in ’71. Injuries to the pitching staff and to speedy center fielder Bobby Tolan dropped Cincinnati to a fourth-place finish. The Big Red Machine was in serious need of recharging and Howsam responded. He had a history of building championship ballclubs, having arrived in St. Louis in August 1964 with the Cardinals nine games back in the pennant race and putting together deals that eventually delivered a World Series title. Howsam continued to wheel and deal and the Cardinals continued to win, claiming another Series title in 1967 and repeating as National League champions in 1968.

By 1970, Howsam had rebuilt the Reds, and one year later he pulled off one of the most celebrated trades in baseball history. On November 29, 1971, Howsam acquired second baseman Joe Morgan, outfielders Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister, pitcher Jack Billingham and infielder Dennis Menke for first baseman Lee May, second baseman Tommy Helms and backup Jimmy Stewart.

Reds fans decried the deal initially. May had been the star of the ’71 offense with 39 home runs and 98 RBIs. Helms was a Gold Glove winner who was viewed by Cincinnati fans as Morgan’s equal at second base. Stewart was the team’s super sub, and along with May and Helms, a favorite among fans and teammates.

Howsam, however, knew that May could be replaced at first by the younger Perez, who had been playing third. Tolan’s torn Achilles tendon in 1971 had sidelined him for the season and taken away much of Cincinnati’s speed at the top of the lineup. The addition of the Mercury-quick Morgan, who excelled at scoring runs in bunches, and the teaming of him with Rose and Tolan at the top of the order would restore the lightning to Cincinnati’s attack and complement the thunder from the booming bats of Bench and Perez.

The ignition switch in the Big Red Machine was Rose, alias “Charlie Hustle,” a nickname that had been derisively applied by Yankees veteran Whitey Ford during a spring training game in the early 1960s when young Pete sprinted to first base following a walk. Ford’s teammate, Mickey Mantle, later claimed that Rose gained the nickname after Ford watched him trying to climb a fence in spring training to catch a Mantle homer that was clearly going to sail far beyond the outfield wall. No matter. Rose took the intended insult and turned it into a badge of honor. He knew he didn’t have the natural skills of contemporaries like Bobby Bonds or Cesar Cedeno, so he compensated by playing the way he did – hard and fast all the time.

Some fans and opposing players saw Rose as a hot dog, baseball’s vernacular for showoff. His mannerisms made him the player opponents loved to hate. Assuming his exaggerated batting crouch – “an unorthodox stance that makes him look as if he is squatting to milk a cow,” Dayton Daily News sportswriter Hal McCoy said – Rose followed each pitch into the catcher’s glove and then turned and glared into the umpire’s face for the call. He sprinted to first base following a walk, executed headfirst, belly-flopping dives on the base paths, and caught routine fly balls in left field with a snapping, downward slice of his glove. When he returned balls to the infield, he appeared to be trying to deck opposing players with his searing, line drive deliveries. He had run over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star Game for the National League, separating the Cleveland catcher’s shoulder in a jarring collision at home plate.

Anderson defended his star. Rose had to play that way for two reasons, the skipper said. One, Pete Rose loves baseball and there was nothing else he would rather have done so he showed it by putting all his energy into it. Two, Rose was not a natural baseball player. He did it with hard work and hustle. Baseball, Anderson said, was Pete’s job, his hobby. It was everything to him. Nothing else in the world mattered.

Though they played in different leagues and thus rarely saw one another perform except on television, Jackson admired Rose because Pete hustled all the time. To the A’s slugger, the Reds’ star was like a Mantle, Mays, Aaron or Frank Robinson in that each was a living definition of the word “determination.” They could go to a movie and stand out with the lights out, Jackson said. They walk by a bench and other players notice them.

Solidly built at 5-11 and 200 pounds, Rose was the game’s premier switch-hitter and leadoff man. Owning sturdy forearms, he could muscle up on the ball and hit a home run when needed. Mostly, he preferred to line the ball with authority to all areas of the field. Teammate Andy Kosco, a veteran of 17 stops along the minor and major league trail, would stand by the batting cage and watch Rose hit. Most guys, Kosco said, used batting practice to see how far they could drive the ball or how many homers they could hit. Not Pete. He sprayed the ball around the field, went with the pitch. “Just like in a game,” Kosco said.

joe morganRose not only served as the role model for Reds’ baseball on the field, but in the clubhouse as well. This was particularly true in the case of his newest teammate in 1972, Joe Morgan. For the seven seasons they were teammates in Cincinnati, Rose and Morgan were the sparkplugs that would set the Big Red Machine into motion. Pete called the pair “salt and pepper.”

One of the first things Morgan did following the trade was to buy “Big Red Machine” tee shirts to wear under his uniform every day. Wearing the shirts helped make him feel like he belonged. He was proud to be part of such a powerhouse team, and imagined that it was the same kind of pride once felt by the members of the great Yankee squads of the 1950s and ’60s.  When Morgan arrived in Reds’ camp in the spring of ’72, Anderson went to equipment manager Bernie Stowe and suggested the “Little Man” – Sparky’s nickname for the 5-foot-7 Morgan – be given a locker next to Rose. Morgan had come to the Reds owning a reputation for having been a troublemaker in Houston. He had not gotten along with Astros manager Harry Walker and was said to be a bad influence on teammate Jimmy Wynn. Anderson felt that by making Rose and Morgan locker mates, a little of what made Charlie Hustle tick might rub off on the Little Man. The more Morgan was around Rose, thought Anderson, the more he would learn how important it is to do your best every game, all game.

Morgan got the picture.

“You wanted me to see a guy who knew how to go about his business,” he said to Anderson that first spring.

Sparky grinned. “Little Man,” he said, “we learn all the time.”

The Cincinnati clubhouse was filled with star power and strong personalities, but it was Rose who was the leader of the Big Red Machine, according to former Cincinnati infielder Don Zimmer. There were no mustaches or over-the-ear hairstyles in the Reds’ locker room, Zimmer noted, and Rose was the reason why. What if Rose showed up with a mustache and long hair, Zimmer said. What could Cincinnati management do? If Rose did it, Zimmer opined, the whole team would do it. But, he added, Pete didn’t do it. Whenever the Big Red Machine sputtered, Rose would go to Anderson and suggest a team meeting. Pete also suggested that Sparky chew him out in front of the other players. “If you get on me,” Rose told Anderson, “the others will listen.”

Not long after the Reds gathered at Cincinnati’s spring camp in 1972, they were put through a rigorous regimen. Anderson believed the country club atmosphere of the previous spring contributed to his club’s summer-long slump. “We didn’t do the things a championship team had to do,” he said. Rose joked that the Reds had gone from being the Big Red Machine to the Little Red Wagon. The joking ended, however, as training camp turned into what Reds players described as “Stalag 17.” Anderson banned TVs from the clubhouse, set weight limits for each player, fined each man $50 for every pound they were over, curtailed the postgame food spreads and set an 11 p.m. curfew. The players accepted Anderson’s tough leadership, and with Rose assuming his signature batting crouch, with Morgan pumping his right arm like a rooster wing as he awaited a pitch, with Bench and Perez rocketing drives to the distant reaches of sun-soaked outfields, the new Big Red Machine was soon humming on all cylinders.

Hot time, summer in the city

The year 1972 would be filled with memorable headlines: Nixon and Mao in China, Nixon and Brezhnev in Moscow; Brando as “The Godfather”; Landry’s Cowboys; Shula’s Dolphins; the “Immaculate Reception”; Wilt, West and the Lakers; Watergate; Vietnam; Jane Fonda in Hanoi; Wallace shot down in Maryland; McGovern exalted in Miami; Howard Hughes speaks; Fischer beats Spassky; the Munich Massacre; “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland; Nixon lands back in the White House; Apollo 17 lands on the moon.

In major league baseball, the ’72 season marked an historical intersection between the game’s past and future. It was the end of one era, the beginning of another. Irrevocable alterations were underway. The American League would introduce the designated hitter in 1973 and St; Louis Cardinals’ star Curt Flood had challenged baseball’s reserve clause and helped open the door for free agency. In April, the first players’ strike in major league history wiped out the first 6-8 games of the regular season and set a destructive precedent for further stoppages and lockouts, ultimately culminating in the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series and almost destroyed the sport.

Baseball’s past and future collided in ’72. Old brick ballparks in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had recently been replaced by multi-colored, multi-purpose steel-and-concrete stadiums. The new structures were clean, spacious and utterly devoid of the personality that had been so much a part of their predecessors. The city skylines and unique, sometimes quirky features that marked Crosley Field, Shibe Park and Forbes Field were replaced by superstructures that blighted out their surroundings and made it difficult for visiting teams to recall exactly which city they were in.

On the diamond, the overlapping of eras was exemplified in various forms – Reggie Jackson digging in against Bob Gibson in the ’72 All-Star Game; aging stars Mays, Juan Marichal and Frank Robinson sharing the same fields with young supernovas Willie Stargell, Nolan Ryan and Carlton Fisk; Hank Aaron continuing his relentless pursuit of Babe Ruth’s career home run record.

There would be other vignettes as well that memorable summer:

Roberto Clemente rapped out his last and 3,000th hit on September 30, 1972.

Roberto Clemente rapped out his last and 3,000th hit on September 30, 1972.

Roberto Clemente, swinging as usual off his front foot, stroked a double off Mets’ lefty Jon Matlack for his historic 3,000th career hit. The safety comes in Clemente’s final game prior to his tragic and untimely death on a goodwill mission on New Year’s Eve; Steve Carlton, a jumble of twitches and facial ticks as he stares in for the sign, snapping off his sharp-breaking slider and winning 27 games for a Phillies squad that will win just 59 all season; Sparky Lyle stepping from the pinstriped Datsun as the Yankee Stadium hordes chant “Dee-fense! Dee-fense!” and then, chomping down on a wad of tobacco, retiring enemy hitters with his wicked slider; Mays, gray-faced with age and fatigue and traded by San Francisco back to New York where the Say Hey kid’s career started in 1951, making a triumphant return to Gotham and thrilling a Shea Stadium crowd with a game-winning homer against his former mates; Luis Tiant, the venerable Cuban ace, spinning and whirling on the Fenway mound like a figurine in a Black Forest clock.

The ’72 season was filled with color, and a collection of unique and famous teams added to it. The Swingin’ A’s; the Big Red Machine; the Amazin’ Mets; the Battlin’ Bucs – each offered distinct personalities and various brands of winning baseball.

There were celebrated powers of the past as well, proud champions driven by a sense of the years descending: the Orioles, fronted by the Robinsons – Brooks and Frank – and an elegant pitching corps of Palmer, Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar; the Tigers of Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Mickey Lolich; and the Red Sox of Carl Yazstremski and Rico Petrocelli, all familiar stars of recent Octobers.

The season would prove significant for several reasons, not the least of which was the much-needed attention it brought to former Negro Leaguers. In February, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard would be inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame; in October, Jackie Robinson, who had broken the major league color barrier in 1947, died. Worn down by the strain of being the first black ballplayer in the big leagues and all that it entailed, Robinson was white-haired when he threw out the first ball prior to Game 2 of the World Series. He thanked baseball for the “tremendous opportunity” presented to him 25 years earlier. He was pleased and proud, he told the huge, sun-streaked crowd, and then added, “I’ll be tremendously more pleased and more proud when I look at that third-base coaching line one day and see a black face managing in baseball.” Three weeks later, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson died at the still young age of 53.

The summer-long campaign culminated in a postseason marked by bruising intensity. For the first time, both League Championship Series required the full five games to determine a winner. The heightened drama got the best of at least one participant – Oakland shortstop Dagoberto Campaneris. Campy was one of the few players in major league history to play every position in a single game. But in October 1972 he made headlines for a much different reason – throwing his bat at Detroit pitcher Lerrin LaGrow in Game Two of the ALCS. The fleet-flooted Campaneris had terrorized the Tigers with his dash and daring. He opened Game Two with a single and then stole second and third en route to scoring the game’s first run. He got two more hits and scored another run before facing LaGrow in the seventh inning. LaGrow’s first pitch was a low, inside fastball aimed at Campy’s feet. Campaneris tried to jump out of the way of the pitch but it struck him on the ankle. The shortstop snapped. With his right arm, he flung the bat toward LaGrow, the Louisville Slugger spinning and whirling toward the pitcher like a helicopter blade.

Both benchies emptied, and the Tiger contingent, led by battling manager Billy Martin, rushed towards Campaneris.

“You can bet your ass I was going out there for him,” Martin angrily told the press. “I’m not going to get after him now, but if there’s ever another fight out there, I’m going out there and find him and beat the shit out of him.”

The intense play continued. In Game Five, Jackson broke for home on the back end of a double steal and tore his hamstring sliding in under catcher Bill Freehan’s tag. The run came at a high price. The A’s won Game Five but Jackson was lost for the Fall Classic.

Both league championships went the full five games. The A’s had dethroned the Tiger veterans who had won the 1968 World Series. The Reds had rallied to eliminate the reigning world champion Pirates in the bottom of the ninth.

The combatants gathered in Cincinnati for Game One of the World Series. What followed over the next seven games was a showdown of two of the most vivid and contrasting dynasties in baseball history. It was a collision of cultures that came to symbolize the swingin’ Seventies.

Hairs versus the Squares

No one boasted a better mustache than Rollie Fingers.

No one boasted a better mustache than Rollie Fingers.

In an era where appearance was a political statement, the free-spirited A’s represented the California youth movement; campus protests at UCLA; the counterculture; hippies, yippies and mod clothes. The conservative Reds were defenders of the traditional values of Middle America. They represented the silent, and in some cases, not so silent majority. The outspoken Howsam believed white cleats made players look like clowns, and thought the A’s green-and-gold uniforms resembled those of a “Sunday school softball team.”

The A’s were acrimonious, contentious. Bando likened the team to a floating encounter group. Their emotions, their gripes, their passions were up front. When an A’s player struck out, he would often fling his bat to the ground in disgust or slam his batting helmet on the dugout bench. The Reds, by contrast, had team rules against helmet-tossing. When a player got on base, he did not throw his helmet toward the first-base coach. Instead, he would wait for the coach to come to him and then hand him the helmet.

Typical team flights for the A’s saw players barely settled into their seats before half a dozen portable stereos emitted a loud mix of rock music. Beer was in abundance, as were advances toward stewardesses. On one flight, an inebriated Oakland player threw punches at teammates blocking his path to the bar.

Manager Sparky Anderson and catcher Johnny Bench, the clean cut leaders of the Big Red Machine (c. 1970).

Manager Sparky Anderson and catcher Johnny Bench, the clean cut leaders of the Big Red Machine (c. 1970).

Reds’ road trips saw players wearing ties to restaurants. Dress codes were enforced on plane trips as well, and alcohol was not served. Rose said stewardesses often complimented Reds players for being the nicest group they dealt with.

With the game’s biggest stage serving as backdrop, the matchup of Hairs versus Squares didn’t disappoint. Between them, the gilt-edged Oakland and Cincinnati franchises would qualify for the postseason a combined 10 times from 1970-76. They were the dominant teams of their era, winning five straight World Series from 1972-76. While the Mustache Gang evoked an earlier era with their 1890s appearance and a brand of ball that emphasized pitching and defense, the Big Red Machine revolutionized the game with speed and power. If the upstart A’s were a throwback to turn-of-the-century baseball, the favored Reds were the first truly modern team, a squad built to take advantage of their space age stadium and Astro Turf surroundings.

The Mustache Gang and Big Red Machine were two of baseball’s most colorful and talented teams, and the collision of these great dynasties resulted in one of the most memorable World Series ever. Six of the seven games were decided by a single run – still a Series record – and the Fall Classic, played out before sold-out crowds in Oakland and Cincinnati and to millions more watching on TV and listening on radio, remains one of the most competitive and exciting in history.

Six of the seven games were decided by a single run, and the Series eventually came down to Game Seven in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium, came down to Rose, his team trailing 3-2 but with the tying run on base, striding to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. The season was running out and the baseball had grown grim and dangerous. With the largest crowd in the history of Cincinnati baseball standing and shouting, with players from both dugouts screaming and cursing on every pitch, the Cincinnati captain assumed his crouch and glared out from behind his upraised right shoulder at Oakland relief ace Rollie Fingers.

Jim Simpson made the call on NBC Radio:

“This Series isn’t over yet. Rose steps in. He is 2 for 4 today and has made great contact all four times. The other two were driven deep to the centerfield wall…”

Fingers wound and delivered his first pitch – a chest-high fastball. Uncoiling from his crouch, Rose re-directed it toward left-center field.

The violent, pistol-like sound of bat on ball was heard throughout the throbbing stadium as the ball streaked over the infield. Rose had hit it hard, Bergman thought. And long.

Framed by the leaden sky of late autumn, the white blur flew toward the gap on a quick and deadly line. SI writer William Leggett believed Rose’s liner might fall in, tying the game and thus extending the baseball season until, say, half-past Halloween.

Bergman felt time was freezing into a series of tableaus: Charlie Hustle churning up the first-base line; Darrel Chaney, the Reds’ runner on first who represented the tying run, sprinting around second; A’s left fielder Joe Rudi running – “very carefully,” Bergman thought – on Riverfront’s slick, artificial surface.

Joe Rudi made a fantastic an iconic catch in Game 2 to preserve a win.

Joe Rudi made an iconic catch in Game 2 to preserve a win.

Rudi had saved Catfish Hunter’s Game 2 victory with a dramatic catch against the left field wall in the ninth. “An absolutely fantastic play,” NBC TV play-by-play announcer Curt Gowdy said, “that they’ll be talking about for years to come.”

Now, as he dashed to his left and gave chase to Rose’s deep drive, Rudi, his white shoes flashing over the bright green Astroturf, was running toward the warning track. He was also running out of room.

Simpson: “Fly ball to left field. Rudi goes back… Near the warning track…”

The ball was carrying. And carrying…

Rudi gloved it for the final out of the season. The A’s cavorted in triumph, their dreams of returning to sunny California as world champions realized. In Cincinnati, meanwhile, all the leaves were brown and the sky was gray.

For Charlie Finley’s dashing, green-and-gold October heroes, it was the first of three straight World Series triumphs. Catfish, Campy and Kenny Holtzman, Reggie, Rollie and Rudi, Sal, Vida, Blue Moon and the rest of the Mustache Gang went on to become one of the game’s great dynasties before being broken up by free agency and trades.

The Big Red Machine would have to wait until 1975 to become baseball’s dominant team. Like Oakland, their time atop the baseball world was shortened by free agency and ill-advised deals.

October ’72 was the lone World Series meeting of the Seventies’ two greatest franchises. It was memorable. Magical, even.

Ed Gruver is an award-winning sportswriter and author who has covered major league baseball for the past decade. October ’72 is his sixth book.

Comments

One Response to “October ’72”
  1. Cliff Blau says:

    Here are the deals Bob Howsam made after taking over as GM of the 1964 Cardinals until the end of the season:
    September 10: signed Mike Torrez as amateur free agent. Torrez did not play with the Cardinals that year. (http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/STL/1964-transactions.shtml)

    Yep, his brilliant trading really helped that team.

    Nicely written article, otherwise.

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