The Oakland A’s combined 19 mustaches, 1 mule, 1 overpowering owner, and green and gold uniforms that would have done justice to a softball team to produce a victory in the 1972 World Series. They defeated the favored Cincinnati Reds in a tense seven-game series. The Reds beat the 1971 world champion Pittsburgh Pirates in five games in the National League play-offs, scoring the winning run in the decisive game on a wild pitch.
The A’s defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games to win the American League pennant. The A’s won the first two games of the World Series, lost the third, and won the fourth. Then the Reds won the fifth and sixth games.
In the decisive seventh game, played October 22 in Cincinnati, the A’s won 3-2. Then A’s owner Charles O. Finley and manager Dick Williams stood on the dugout roof kissing their wives.
The World Series was unusual in many ways. Six of the seven games were decided by one run, a record. The combined batting performances (.207 for Oakland, .208 for Cincinnati) were the poorest ever.
Some blamed the starting times of the first night games in World Series history. Those two games began at 5:15 P.M., Pacific time, so that they might be televised in prime time in the East, and the batters had difficulty seeing the ball in the twilight.
The A’s hero was Gene Tenace, a second string catcher most of the season, who became a starter in the stretch drive. He hit only five home runs during the regular season. In the series, he hit four, equaling a record shared by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, among others.
He became the first player to hit home runs the first two times he went to bat, and those homers won the first game, 3-2. Tenace knocked in 9 of the A’s 16 runs and his .913 slugging average set a World Series record.
Among his rewards as the series’ outstanding player was a new car. He welcomed it, saying, “The one I have isn’t even paid for yet.” Tenace’s season salary was $18.000, low by baseball standards. Finley gave $5,000 raises during the series to Tenace, Joe Rudi, and Mike Hegan, but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled they were really
bonuses and therefore illegal.
Finley, a self-made insurance millionaire from Chicago, was too flamboyant for many other club owners. In preparation for a Mustache Night promotion, he offered $300 to any player who grew a mustache (19 of the 25 did). He gave the team a mule as a mascot and named it Charlie O. after himself.
He became his own general manager and called Dick Williams, his 10th manager in 12 years, “the first manager I’ve had.” He raised Williams’ salary three times during the year to $80,000.
Finley got nowhere with one player, Vida Blue. In 1971, his first full season, the left-hander won 24 games and lost 8 and was voted the AL MVP. His salary was $14,500.
For 1972, he asked for $115,000. Finley offered $50,000. Blue came down. Finley stood pat. In April, wearing an open-necked sports shirt, blue slacks, and blue sneakers, the 22-year-old Blue announced his retirement from baseball to become vice-president of a company
that manufactured bathroom fixtures. His salary as vice-president was $50,000 a year. On May 2, he left the company and signed with the A’s for $50,000 plus $13,000 in assorted bonuses.
On May 28, he made his first start. On June 18, he gained his first victory, making his won-lost record 1-3 (on that date in 1971, it was 14-2). He finished the year at 6-10, angry at Finley and the world.
“Everybody wanted a piece of the cake last year,” said Blue, “but this year there’s no cake.”
Three of the four division races were boring. The A’s won the AL West by 5 1/2 games; the Reds, managed by Sparky Anderson, won the National League West by 10 1/2; and the Pirates took the National League East by 11.
But in the fourth race — the AL East — only a half-game separated the Tigers, Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees on Labor Day. With only five days to go, the Orioles were eliminated, the victims of weak hitting and a lack of leadership.
With four days to go, the Yankees were eliminated. With three days to go, the Red Sox
led the Tigers by a half-game and went to Detroit to play the Tigers in the last three games. The Tigers won the first two and ended up taking the title by a half-game.
In normal years, half-games could not settle pennant races. But in 1972, things were hardly normal. Major league players, seeking improved pension and medical benefits, went on strike during spring training.
By the time the strike was settled, on April 13, 86 total regular-season games had been missed. They were not made up, so different teams played a different number of games. As it turned out, the Tigers played (and won) one more game than did the Red Sox. That’s a heartbreaker.
Baseball had mixed success in another off-the-field battle. The Supreme Court of the United States, ruling on Curt Flood’s suit that challenged the reserve system, upheld baseball’s exemption from antitrust laws and thus declared the reserve clause legal. The clause ties a player to one club indefinitely.
The AP All-Star team consisted of pitchers Steve Carlton of Philadelphia and Gaylord Perry of Cleveland, Cincinnati catcher Johnny Bench, first baseman Dick Allen of the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati second baseman Joe Morgan, shortstop Don Kessinger of the Chicago Cubs, third baseman Ron Santo of the Cubs, and outfielders Billy Williams of the Cubs, Roberto Clemente of Pittsburgh, and Cesar Cedeno of Houston.
All were National Leaguers except Perry and Allen, who were traded from the National League to the American before the season began.
Bench led the major leagues in home runs (40) and runs batted in ( 125). Allen, playing for his fourth team in four years, led the American League in HR (37) and RBI (113), and was third in batting (.308).
In the National League, Billy Williams was first in batting (.333), second in runs batted in (122), and third in home runs (37) and hits (191).
Carlton, pitching for a last-place club, posted a 27-10 record. The 6-foot 5-inch left-hander led the major leagues in complete games (30) and the National League in starts (41), innings pitched (346), strikeouts (310), and earned-run average (1.98). That’s an epic season!
Wilbur Wood of the White Sox and Perry led the American League with 24 victories each. Milt Pappas and Burt Hooton of the Cubs and Bill Stoneman of Montreal pitched no-hit, no-run games. In Pappas’ performance, against San Diego, he was one strike away from a perfect game when he walked a batter on a 3-2 pitch. Absolutely terrible.
Clemente became the 11th player in history and the third active player to reach 3,000 career hits. Hank Aaron of Atlanta and Willie Mays of the New York Mets are the others.
The 38-year-old Aaron hit 34 home runs and ended the year with a career total of 673 — 41 short of Babe Ruth’s hallowed record of 714.
San Francisco traded 41-year-old Willie Mays to the Mets, and Mays said it was “like coming back to paradise.” He had been with the Giants in New York before they moved to San Francisco.
1972 MLB Standings
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|San Francisco Giants|
|San Diego Padres|
|New York Mets|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|Chicago White Sox|
|Kansas City Royals|
|Boston Red Sox|
|New York Yankees|