With Game One of the 2011 World Series just a few hours away, I present to you the A's fourteen appearances in the Fall Classic, including the Philadelphia years. Instead of chronological order, we’ll get the five losses out of the way first, then wrap it up on a warm and gooey note.
Because I’m all about happy endings.
World Series tickets stubs from the 70's and 80's.
Talk about history. It was 106 years ago that the A’s first etched their name into World Series lore. This was the second October meeting between the two leagues (the first coming two years prior), and it pitted the A’s against the Giants. New York won 105 games that season, one less than the year before when manager John McGraw declared his team World Champions even though the Giants refused to participate in the 1904 Series against Boston (stating that the rules for a championship series were unclear). McGraw also famously referred to the A’s as "white elephants", and Connie Mack presented his managerial counterpart with a stuffed toy pachyderm prior to the Series. Thus, a mascot was born.
McGraw got the last laugh as his Giants stood tall against Philadelphia, perhaps validating the claim he made the previous season that his club was superior, since they had captured the "only real major league". All five games ended in a shutout, but unfortunately for the A’s, they were only on the winning side of Game 2. It was in this Series that New York’s Christy Mathewson fired twenty-seven straight zeroes at the American League champions, recording complete-game shutouts in the opener, the third contest, and the finale, while posting more strikeouts (18) than hits and walks allowed (14).
The A’s had won the 1910, ’11, and 1913 World Series and were favored to capture a fourth title in five seasons against the Boston Braves. The Miracle Braves had gone 34-8 down the stretch to win the NL pennant by ten games over the Giants, and topped it off by allowing just six runs in a stunning sweep that is eerily similar to one that would take place some 76 years later. Two unsettling aftershocks emerged from this Series: it has been said that some of the A’s players did not put their best foot forward to show resentment towards miserly owner Connie Mack, and- even worse- that their effort or lack thereof, was part of a fix (which was never proven). Nevertheless, Mack dismantled the American League’s first dynasty, and two years later the A’s posted a .235 winning percentage. No team has ever done it worse.
One of the greatest teams ever assembled fell just one game short of three consecutive titles, bowing out in seven to the St. Louis Cardinals. No slouch was St. Louis; this was the Cards’ fourth trip to the Fall Classic in six seasons, including a six-game defeat to Philadelphia the year before. Despite this- and their 101 wins in 1931- there seemed to be no stopping the A’s date with history. Having triumphed in the previous two World Series’, Connie Mack’s club reeled off 107 victories, leaving the Yankees 13.5 games off the pace, and bringing their three-year win total to 313.
But after taking the Series opener, the A’s played catch-up the rest of the way, losing Games 2 and 3, and the pivotal Game 5, before squaring the series twice in the fourth and sixth contests. Philadelphia had netted six runs in their Game 1 victory, but only six A’s crossed the plate in the next four games combined, three of them losses. One defeat from seeing their season come to an end, the champs scored an 8-1 victory to force Game 7.
In the finale, St. Louis struck early and enough to take a 4-0 lead after three innings. They scored a pair in the first, with their two runs scoring on a wild pitch and an error following a strikeout. In the third, Andy High led off with a single, and George Watkins homered. High and Watkins were a two-man wrecking crew; they combined for the Cardinals’ four runs and five hits on the day.
Came the ninth and it was still 4-0. The A's would not go down without a fight, as they loaded the bases with two outs. Pinch-hitter Doc Cramer’s single cut the lead in half, but Max Bishop flied out to center, thus ending Philadelphia’s two-year reign as World Champions.
And you thought it would be another 20 years before you had to read about this Series. Sorry.
The Oakland A’s were going to the World Series for the first time in fourteen years, or since I was a second grader at Woodrow Wilson Elementary. In another words, this would be a World Series that I could experience for myself, rather than depend on my older siblings for their tales of the "good old days". No, this World Series would be all mine to savor. And what was not to savor? The A’s were clicking on all cylinders after sweeping the Red Sox, and their stars- Dave Stewart, Jose Canseco, and Dennis Eckersley- were shining bright. That their Series opponent, the Los Angeles Dodgers, appeared to have destiny on their side mattered little to me. The A’s went into Game 1 fresh from a week-long layoff; the Dodgers were coming off an emotional seven-game NLCS win over the New York Mets. There was concern that Oakland would be a little rusty and the "experts" appeared to be right when the Dodgers jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Stew. Dad then went for one of his walks to Cherry Grove Park, which was to the right as you left our house. Dad always went to the right…
In the second inning, the A’s loaded the bases for Canseco who picked a very good time for his first career grand slam, leaving a dent in the centerfield camera in the process. I rushed out to the front yard and screamed towards my Dad at the park: "Grand Slam, Jose! 4-2, A’s!" (I always pictured him getting so excited that he swallowed his cigarette). The Dodgers squeaked out a run in the sixth, while the A’s kept wasting scoring chances (they left ten men on base). I wasn’t worried; after all, it was almost Eck Time. Stew’s night was done after eight solid innings and in came Eckersley to nail the coffin shut. In typical fashion, the closer quickly got two outs. Dad walked out again, this time going down the street to the left…
Everything else is a blur. Ex-A Mike Davis, signed by the Dodgers as a free agent exactly ten months before, inexplicably worked Eckersely for a walk. Suddenly a hobbling Kirk Gibson appeared from the dugout. My thought equaled the thoughts of every other being on this planet: no way does Gibson do anything but strike out. I remember Eck getting ahead in the count, I remember thinking how overmatched Gibson looked. Sometime during the at-bat Mike Davis stole second base. That made me a little nervous; now a cheap hit ties it up. I know the count went full, and I can remember hearing the roar of the crowd, a sound that reached epic levels when Gibson reached out and hit the most impossible homerun in my lifetime. The most sickening homerun in my lifetime. I don’t remember who was around me (maybe my sister Tricia?) but someone screamed; an awful, painful scream. The rest of the world was probably thinking "Holy Cow, did that really happen?" and calling their friends, excitedly. But not A’s fans. A’s fans were left all alone, we wanted to be alone, like Eck walking in a daze off that mound, lost, no one to cheer him up.
I walked out of the house and walked a straight line over to Dad’s truck and buried my face in my hands, not knowing whether I was going to cry or throw up. But then Dad interrupted me, his voice coming from the left. The fricking left! "Home run, huh?" I nodded meekly. "Shit." I then went into my room and fell asleep fully clothed, shoes and all. And when I woke up the next morning, I was convinced that the whole thing was a bad dream. That is, until I saw the sports page. Most A’s fans will tell you they can’t watch the highlight of the homerun, even now, two decades later. But for some reason I can’t help not to watch, as if somehow the ball will fall short of the warning track and Eck will walk off the mound pumping his fist.
In Game 2, Orel Hershiser shut down the A’s, 6-0. He added three hits for good measure. And the teams headed up the coast, with the Dodgers knocking loudly on Destiny’s Door. On the eve of my first World Series game in person, my stomach did somersaults. I woke up that morning still feeling nauseous but I was determined to make it to work. I didn’t even last an hour. I spent most of the day, back home, throwing up. Why was this happening? Finally, I gave up the fight, and gave my ticket to Ernie. Nothing that happened to me all day made me sicker than having to relinquish my World Series seat. The game itself turned out to be a pitcher’s duel that ended on McGwire’s homerun in the bottom of the ninth. I think I cheered and cried at the same time.
The next night I was back at the Coliseum for Game 4 but the Dodgers regained control of the Series with a 4-3 victory. In a way, this was more painful than the opener. Whereas Gibson got us with a swift kick to the groin, this contest was like three hours in the dentist chair. The Dodgers struck for two runs out of the gate, the first scoring on a passed ball by Stew, the second unearned, courtesy of an error by Hubbard. The A’s got one back in their half of the first but LA went up 3-1 in the third with another unearned run, this time on a miscue by Weiss. Meanwhile, the shortstop’s fellow Rookies of the Year continued to struggle at the plate (Jose and McGwire were a collective 0-for-6). The A’s plated a run in the sixth to make it 3-2, but the Dodgers came right back with one in the seventh. It was that kind of night. The Home Nine rallied once more in their bottom half, with Dave Henderson scoring Weiss from first on a two-out double. One hit away from a tie game. Canseco walked and Parker reached on an error and suddenly last night’s hero was up with the bags juiced. But Big Mac popped out weakly to first, killing Oakland’s last real threat of the night. Damn ball took forever to come down, I think to torture us. And just for kicks, Jay Howell recorded the save.
The Dodgers’ stunning upset was made complete the next night, a 5-2 win by Hershiser. As he did in Game 1, Mickey Hatcher hit a two-run homer in the first to get LA going. Hatcher had one (one!) round-tripper during the regular season before morphing into Gene Tenace in this Series. I hate Mickey Hatcher. But not as much as I despise Mike Davis, the former "A" who turned on a 3-0 offering from Storm Davis for a two-run shot in the fourth. I can still see it going. Come to think of it, it might still be going. That made it 4-1, and with Orel on the hill, the rest of the night was spent wondering what went wrong. Sometimes I still wonder.
And for the second time in three years, the unthinkable happened. It couldn’t, could it? It didn’t even take a miracle this time; this time the A’s got beat. What was this, Revenge of the Seventies? First the Dodgers, now the Reds. Dave Stewart started Game 1 against Jose Rijo. Riding a six-game post-season winning streak, Stew lasted four innings. Reds 7, A’s 0. The next night, things start making sense again. (We watched this one at John’s). Jose hit a rocket to right and the good guys jumped out to a 4-2 lead after three. Welch, Oakland’s Cy Young award winner, was dealing. But the Reds, they chipped away at it. They got one in the fourth and another in the eighth to tie it. Remember Mickey Hatcher from the ’88 Dodgers? Well, the Reds had a Hatcher, too. Billy Hatcher. All he did was get seven hits in seven at-bats in Cincinnati. The game went into extras, and Eck came on in the bottom of the tenth. After getting the first out, gave up three straight singles. Ballgame.
The Series moved to Oakland on Friday night and I got there late, just as Harold Baines’ homerun reached the right-field seats. But Cincinnati scored seven third-inning runs off Mike Moore, who left to a scattering of boos. Chris Sabo hit homeruns in the second and third innings, and the Reds led 8-3. That’s how it stayed as the A’s were helpless- and hitless- against Cincinnati’s vaunted bullpen. "The Nasty Boys" Norm Charlton, Randy Myers, and Rob Dibble kept the Bashers in check during nine innings of work in the Series. Game 4 pitted Stewart against Rijo again. For the third straight game, the A’s took an early lead. Stew was great. But in the eighth, they got to him. They didn’t even hit the ball hard. But they got him for two runs. And that was that. Rijo gave up two hits. Two. Oakland went 1-2-3 in the ninth. Carney popped up to first to end it. Losing to the Dodgers was almost acceptable because it was their first time. The A’s learned from that and you’d swear as long as they were healthy, 1988 would never happen again. But it did.
While the A’s looked ahead to its second Series appearance (and first in five years), the Chicago Cubs entered the Fall Classic as baseball royalty. In six seasons from 1905-1910, the Cubs won 622 regular season games, four National League pennants, and two world titles.
Connie Mack used just two pitchers the entire Series, but what a lethal pair he had! Chief Bender (23-5, 1.58 ERA) and Jack Coombs (31-9, 1.30, 13 shutouts) had dominated American League hitters for most of the 1910 season. Now they would set out to topple the Major League’s first dynasty. Bender got the call in the opener, and was filthy: one unearned run, three hits, and two walks allowed, while striking out eight. The A’s won 4-1, thanks in part to John Baker, who doubled twice and drove in two runs. Coombs was wildly effective in Game 2, giving up eight hits and walking nine, but somehow only three Cubs crossed home plate. Meanwhile, all nine A’s batters collected at least one hit- no team had done that before in the World Series- and Philadelphia rolled, 9-3.
The Series shifted to Chicago for Game 3, and the Cubs kept up with the AL Champs for the first two innings. The A’s scored one in the first; Chicago scored one in the first. Mack’s men struck for a pair in the second, the Cubs followed suit. But the relentless A’s put up five more runs in the third, and the rout was on. Danny Murphy hit the Series’ only home run, a three-run shot that made the score 7-3. Murphy was one of three Philadelphia hitters to drive in three runs, including pitcher Jack Coombs, who also spun his second consecutive complete-game victory. After collecting 14 hits in Game 2, the A’s got 16 more in the 12-5 romp, and took a 3-0 Series lead.
Facing elimination and down 3-2 entering the last of the ninth, Chicago scored one to tie, and another in the tenth to win Game 4. That only served to prolong the inevitable as the A’s claimed baseball’s biggest prize for the very first time with a 7-2 victory.
The A’s followed their championship season with 101 victories in 1911, and a second straight pennant. Waiting for them in the World Series were the New York Giants, in a rematch of the ’05 Classic. And it sure felt like déjà vu all over again when Christy Mathewson (9 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 5 K’s) bested Chief Bender (8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 11 K’s), by a 2-1 score. Having watched the future Hall-of-Fame pitchers at their finest in the opener, another hurler bound for Cooperstown took to the mound in Game 2, and delivered a gem of his own. Eddie Plank drew the A’s even with a complete-game five hitter, in which he struck out eight, and walked none. In yet another battle of Hall-of-Famers, John Baker broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run homer in the sixth off Rube Marquard, and Philadelphia won, 3-1.
Game 3 was as good as baseball gets with Mathewson taking a 1-0 lead into the ninth. But Baker forever earned his nickname (simply, "Home Run" Baker) with a one-out shot to tie the game. The A’s scored two unearned runs off a suddenly snake-bitten Mathewson in the eleventh, only to see the Giants score one in the bottom half. But Beals Becker was caught trying to steal second base to end the 3-2 thriller.
Then the rains came. Six days passed and still no baseball. It was, until the 1989 Series, the longest interruption between Classic contests. Finally they played Game 4, and the aura of Mathewson was no longer. Philadelphia jumped on Big Six for four runs on ten hits in a 4-2 win that pushed New York to the brink. The Giants responded with a 4-3, ten-inning triumph, but after five closely contested games, it was time for a laugher. Chief Bender bent but didn’t break: in going the distance in Game 6 he allowed just two runs (neither of them earned) on four hits and the A’s enjoyed an easy one at last with a 13-2 thrashing that earned them their second consecutive World Series title.
After a one-year aberration, the elephants were back in the Series, and once again their opponents were the Giants from New York. Determined to take back what was rightfully theirs, the A’s made quick work of John McGraw’s men in 1913. Home Run Baker was at it again with a two-run shot in the fifth. Baker and fellow Cooperstown mate Eddie Collins were too much for New York to handle. Both had three hits apiece in the 6-4 victory.
Christy Mathewson’s last World Series win was a memorable one, and squared things up at a game each. Matty pitched a ten-inning shutout, and even drove in the game’s first run, as New York triumphed 3-0. But the Baker and Collins Show reappeared in Game 3 (5-for-9, three runs scored, five RBI’s) and the A’s romped, 8-2. Neither player got a hit in Game 4, but Philadelphia still managed to jump out to a 6-0 lead before holding on for a 6-5 win. Holding on was all the Giants had left, and they sent Mathewson to the mound to keep them alive in Game 5. It wasn’t enough. Eddie Plank (9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1K) was simply dominant, and the A’s celebrated a return to the top of the baseball world with a 3-1 win.
In winning his third World Series in four seasons, Connie Mack leaned heavily on his four Hall-of-Famers (Baker, Bender, Collins, and Plank), but it would be sixteen years before the next coronation took place.
A new quartet of stars led Mack to the World Series in 1929: Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, and Jimmie Foxx. But it was surprise starter Howard Ehmke who earned top billing in Game 1 against Chicago. The right-hander spun a complete game eight-hitter at the Cubs, and struck out 13. Foxx homered in the seventh to give the A’s a 1-0 lead, and Philadelphia tacked on two more in the ninth for a 3-1 win. Foxx got things going again in Game 2 with a three-run blast in the third, and the A’s left Chicago with a 9-3 victory and a 2-0 Series lead.
The Cubs won Game 3, 3-1, and took an 8-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh, nine outs from a squared Series. But as we learned from this year’s ALCS, nothing is for certain, and Chicago only got one of those nine outs before giving up the lead. Al Simmons led off the inning with a homerun. Four consecutive singles plated two more A’s before George Burns popped up to short for the first out. Another single scored a fourth run and brought up Mule Haas with two men on. His fly ball to Hack Wilson was misplayed into an inside-the-park three-run homer, and suddenly it was 8-7. Cochrane walked, Simmons singled, and Foxx singled to tie it (must have been nice to have three Hall-of-Fame hitters in the lineup). Jimmy Dykes doubled home Simmons and Foxx, and the A’s led 10-8. It remains the greatest comeback in post-season history. Ten runs wrapped around one single out (the last two outs came after the fact).
As if that wasn’t enough torture for Chicago to endure, the Cubs- their championship hopes fading- took a 2-0 lead into the last of the ninth of Game 5. One out in and the game was tied, courtesy of Haas’ two-run homer (this one actually cleared the fences). Smelling their first World Series triumph since 1913, the A’s put two men on for Bing Miller who doubled home Cochrane with the Classic-clinching walk-off.
The A’s were back for more the following season, and Lefty Grover led the way. Relegated to bullpen duty in the previous Series, Grove pitched a complete-game victory, as Philadelphia topped St. Louis in the opener, 5-2. Mickey Cochrane homered for the second straight contest and George Earnshaw matched Grove’s distance-going effort in Game 2, a 6-1 A’s win.
Any ideas of a quick disposal of the Cardinals were quickly tucked away as St. Louis stormed back to tie the Series at home with 5-0 and 3-1 triumphs. Momentum swung back in favor of the A’s in Game 5, thanks to Earnshaw and Grove, who combined to shut out the Cards on three hits. Still, the game had no score heading into the top of the ninth, when Jimmie Foxx changed that with one mighty swing- a two-run shot that lifted the A’s to just one win from a second straight title.
Back home, the champions put the finishing touches on a 102-win season, with a 7-1 victory. No one knew it at the time but it would be a long time before the A’s would be crowned champions again (nearly as long as this post).
It may be hard to believe but the A’s were once the league’s Chicago Cubs. Of the seventeen Major League teams in 1972 (I excluded the seven expansion clubs), no team had gone longer without a World Series appearance than the Athletics, who had spent the previous forty seasons wandering in baseball’s desert.
Game 1 was played in Cincinnati, where the Reds, losers of the 1970 World Series, were the overwhelming favorites to beat the Reggie-less A’s. The Classic was dubbed "The Hairs versus The Squares", the A’s with their overflowing locks against the Reds and their clean-shaven look. The Hairs, behind an unlikely source, drew first blood in the Series with a 3-2 victory. Gene Tenace, he of the five homeruns during the regular season, became the first player ever to hit two long balls in his first two Series at-bats. Game 2 brought two new stars, this time Catfish Hunter, who worked eight stellar innings and also drove in a run and Joe Rudi, who homered to give Oakland a 1-0 lead and whose spectacular catch in the ninth inning preserved the 2-1 victory. The A’s, with their superstar on crutches, were heading home up two games to none.
The Big Red Machine, whose lineup boasted of four future Hall-of-Famers- Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez- suddenly forgot how to hit. (Just like I forgot that Rose isn’t really in the Hall). Three runs in two games were not exactly the stuff of legends. And they hardly broke out against Odom in Game 3, scoring one lousy run, but it was enough as the A’s bats took the night off. Cincinnati took a 2-1 lead going into the last half of the ninth of Game 4, three outs from a tied series. But The Mustache Gang, led by That Man Tenace, rallied back. "Uncle Gonzalo" hit a one-out single in the ninth and Tenace followed with a base hit of his own. Don Mincher, the second pinch-hitter of the inning, drove home pinch-runner Alan Lewis with another single. On the very next pitch, Angel Manguel (Dick Williams’ record third pinch-hitter in the ninth), dribbled a ball past Morgan, and Tenace, arms raised in triumph, jumped on home plate with the winning run. Manguel was mobbed by his mates, fireworks filled the sky, and the A’s were one game away from a World Series title.
Pete Rose made sure that the celebration waited at least another day, connecting for a homerun on Game 5’s first pitch and driving in the lead run in the ninth. Even Tenace, who hit a record-tying fourth homerun of the series (a three-run job that had given the A’s a 3-1 lead) wasn’t enough to win it for the home folks; Dad, my brother John, and my sister Tonianne among them.
"I remember going back to school the day after that game. I had with me an ‘excuse’ for missing school. No one really fell for it though. When Mr. Butler was taking roll call in P.E. and I said ‘here’, he looked at me and asked, ‘How was the game’?"
"When we missed school for day games, we had to show our tickets in the office before we were able to leave. The first year they didn't record tickets so some people were able to leave by showing the same tickets as their friends (or brothers in some cases). They caught on by the second Series. The secretary would record and compare tickets to the ones already listed just to make sure that students without actual game tickets weren’t just using them so they could go home and watch it on TV. As if anyone would do such a thing (hehe). Anyway, Dad took me to game five of our first Series; we sat in section 112 behind the Reds dugout. Pete Rose's (first) wife had a Big Red Machine t-shirt under her sweater and she kept turning around and lifting her sweater to show everyone. I remember that Dad booed her the loudest but I think I was able to keep him from throwing something at her!"
A betting man would surely have wagered on Cincinnati heading into Game 7, as the Squares squared the series at three games apiece with an 8-1 romp over Vida Blue and company. This was the only contest that was not decided by one run and clearly put the momentum on the Reds’ side. But the A’s had Gene Tenace on their side, and in the final game he delivered an RBI single in the first and drove in another run with a two-bagger in the sixth. Sal Bando’s double drove in pinch-runner Alan Lewis, giving Oakland a 3-1 lead they would never relinquish. The Reds tacked on a run in their half of the eighth to draw within 3-2 but Rollie Fingers, making his sixth appearance of the Series, closed it out in the ninth, with Pete Rose’s fly ball landing safely into Joe Rudi’s glove for the final out. For the first time since 1931, the A’s were World Champs!
A little bit of everything was in store for the World Series, something you came to expect from a team owned by Charles Oscar Finley. Oakland faced the New York Mets, who were looking for an encore to their 1969 Miracle season. Yogi Berra’s bunch strolled in with 82 wins to their name plus three more against the favored Reds in the NLCS. The A’s, favorites themselves, did enough of the little things to record a 2-1 victory in Game 1. But if we knew anything about our boys, it was their uncanny knack of doing things the hard way. Game 2 served up an extra dose of audacity (on the part of the aforementioned owner) and ugliness (on the part of almost everyone in uniform that day). An unforgiving sun turned anyone with a mitt- including the aging Willie Mays- clueless. The Mets finally won the four-hour contest in 12 innings, 12-7, thanks to second baseman Mike Andrews’ two costly errors in the deciding frame. Afterwards, Finley convinced Andrews to admit that he was ill and could no longer participate in the World Series, which infuriated the A’s, particularly Dick Williams, who told his team that he was quitting after the Classic came to its conclusion. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a long time nemesis of Finley, vetoed Andrews’ "resignation".
The Series switched to the Big Apple for Game 3 and the champs racked up another must-win, a 3-2 eleven-inning thriller. Mike Andrews drew most of the attention and was given a standing ovation when he came to bat. His ground-out to short was his last at-bat in the majors, perhaps the most famous of Finley’s casualties. Meanwhile, Campaneris’ single in the 11th drove in Ted Kubiak with the game-winner. Undeterred, the hosts beat the champs with some fine pitching; Jon Matlack and Jerry Koosman held the A’s to a single run in Games 4 and 5 combined. The mustachioed ones returned home down three games to two and having to face Tom Seaver in the mother of must wins. Reggie Jackson, the league’s Most Valuable Player lit Seaver up for two run-scoring doubles that lifted the A’s into a series tie. Turned out Seaver was done in by two Hall-of-Famers-to-be that afternoon, as Big Game Catfish Hunter was again at his high-stakes best in the 3-1 victory. One more for all the marbles, and the poor Mets didn’t have a chance. Campy and Reggie connected for two-run homers in a four-run fourth, and the A’s went on to a 5-2 triumph. Watching his teammates on crutches just twelve months prior, a vindicated Jackson took MVP honors in the Series and staked his claim as the best in baseball. A claim that the Swingin’ A’s could make for a second straight season. How about Once More in ’74?
The A’s were, yawn, off to, ho-hum, another World Series, this time against the upstart Los Angeles Dodgers. How to get up for the young and cocky Dodgers? Cue the Rocky music and call in Michael Buffer. Or maybe we should bring in Rod Serling instead. In a three-day span that was whacko even by A’s standards, former second basemen Mike Andrews sued Finley for 2.5 million (for the ’73 Series mess), Catfish charged the owner with a breach of contract, and, oh by the way, Rollie Fingers and Odom brawled on the eve of Game 1 of the 1974 Series. Which, naturally, was won by the A’s, who by now treated any sort of adversity with a simple shrug of the shoulders. Reggie homered in that first game (normal stuff) and Hunter relieved Fingers (not so much) to save the win. The Dodgers won Game 2 by the Game 1 score of 3-2, and the two teams headed north for the next three contests. Another 3-2 win (pitched by Cy, I mean, Catfish) was followed by a 5-2 affair won by Holtzman, who also homered in the game (so much for the DH, huh?). Dick Green, who was an absolute magician throughout the Series at second base, ended the game on his belly as he flipped the ball to Campaneris, triggering a mind-blowing double play and setting off Finley’s fireworks at the same time. That put Blue on the mound against the Dodger Blue for the finale but it was Blue Moon who got the victory in relief; a role reversal from the last game of the 1972 playoffs, only this time no post-game fisticuffs ensued. With the score tied at two in the seventh inning, the game was halted as fans littered the field with debris. Their target? Young Bill Buckner. Yes, that Bill Buckner. Billy had won the ire of the A’s and their fans by suggesting that only two Oakland players were fit to play on the Dodgers: Reggie and Campy. Billy forgot about pitching. And, um, defense. (But we already know that story, don’t we?) So while the umps cleaned up the mess on the field, ultra arrogant reliever Mike Marshall opted not to warm up. When play resumed, batter Joe Rudi figured the heater was coming, and as champions do, he not only guessed right, he deposited Marshall’s offering somewhere in Fruitvale.
"It was loud as the umps cleared the field and it just kept getting louder as Rudi stepped up to the plate and then BOOM! Game, set, match. Loudest sound I’ve ever heard."
A’s fans proceeded to spend the next two innings or so celebrating the inevitable. And Bill Buckner added to the festivities as he led off the eighth. His single got past North in centerfield, so Billy Buck headed for second with an unhesitating eye on third. But there was Reggie backing up his brother and Reggie rifled a bullet to Green who wheeled and threw to Bando, who applied a hard tag on poor Buckner. Like I said Billy; defense.
The play epitomized the dynasty that was the 70’s A’s. Picking a teammate up. Positioning. Not thinking, just doing. Trusting. And ultimately unnoticed amid Finley’s Freak Show. The Series ended with Rollie on the mound, as he was in ’72. Von Joshua grounded meekly to Fingers who jumped and ran towards first before throwing the ball to Tenace at first. The three-peat was complete. And I watched the fireworks from Cherry Grove Park around the corner from my house. Some family members had a much better view of the Mustache Gang’s final World Series:
"I just remember sitting in the dugout after we won. For someone accustomed to the bleachers just being in the first deck felt different. But to be on the field, it was a larger than life experience. It was like, too much for me to handle."
The only problem that I had with playing the Giants in the World Series was knowing that we’d have to share the spotlight with them. I sure in the heck wasn’t worried about losing to them. Any other year, I might have been nervous. But not this year. Had I known it was to be our last one, I would have reveled in it even more. Then again, nature kind of changed our perspective on things. The Bay Area media, meanwhile, was in its glory, and their only concern was what to dub this thing. The "BART Series" and "Bay Bridge Series" were the most popular, it seemed. At least, before the games got underway. We’d have other ways to name her afterwards.
The Series started on a Saturday night, with me and Rose stationed in 127, Tricia (as she was all season) in 126, Row 1 (behind the A’s bullpen), and Abel was there directly above us in 227. As the starting lineups were announced, I couldn’t help notice that things were somewhat backwards. First off, it was cold and gray, what you might expect if the game was at Candlestick. Secondly, the opposing team was the Giants, but surely as the Bashers were introduced, you had to kind of laugh at that. The Giants this night weren’t giant at all. And it wasn’t just the size of Oakland’s players; it was their persona, too. Part swagger, part business-like approach, like "Hey, we’re just here to pick up what we left behind last year and while we’re doing it, we’re going to bash and strut, and basically make life miserable for you." If SF had the Giants, Oakland had the Gigantics. Dave Stewart was on the mound, and he was terrific. Just mowing them down like a teenager does to a lawn on a Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile it didn’t take long for me to tap into my inner-hatred for the team across the Bay.
My sister Rose tells it:
"As I recall, there was a family of Giants’ fans behind us, a young couple and their two kids. Well, when Carney Lansford came up in the first inning, the little girl, who was maybe seven or eight, started singing, ‘Carney, Warney. Carney, Warney.’ You can see Don getting annoyed. I was too, but I wasn’t going to say anything to the kid. Just then Carney got a hit, and Don turned to her and yelled, ‘Yeah! Carney Warney!’ He was always embarrassing me. I think the family left after that. Would you want to sit near this maniac?"
Rose exaggerates but I guess I can relate because Tonianne would do the same thing to me. So we’ll blame her. And Dad. The Giants were blaming Tony Phillips for their 1-0 deficit after his single brought home Hendu in the second. With Steinbach on third, Weiss hit a chopper towards first and Will Clark threw home. Steiny slid through the tag, jarring the ball loose and Oakland had a 2-0 lead. Don’t blink because now it’s 3-0 as Rickey’s single plates Phillips. I love beating the Giants. Leading off the bottom of the third, Scott Garrelts tried to sneak a low pitch by low-ball hitting Parker who deposited the offering into the right-field seats before taking his wag-and-trot around the bases. Which gave the fans plenty of time to be bashful, including my brother Abel:
"I'll never forget being at Game One. I was in the second deck and Don was in the first deck. Parker led off the 3rd inning with a homer, and me and Don did the best long distance bash ever."
In the fourth, Weiss followed Parker’s lead with a lead-off homerun of his own to make it 5-0. Or four more than what Dave Stewart needed this October evening. In the ninth, the first two batters singled and moved to second and third on a pass ball (as Matt Williams struck out). Stew got the next guy on strikes, too, and induced a ground ball to third from Candy Maldonado to secure the shutout.
And something that my brother Abel may or may not remember: walking out of the stadium, he was holding about twelve empty beer cups and screaming into the ear of some poor SF sap that we were going to sweep. Just a beautiful moment. The guy was actually shrinking by the minute. The Giants must have felt smaller after Stew’s masterpiece, and facing 19-game winner Mike Moore wasn’t going to do much for them in that regard. Rickey (surprise!) led off the game with a walk, (gasp!) stole second, and (shocker!) scored on a double by Mr. Reliable, or if you prefer, Carney Warney. The Giants had the gall to tie the game in the third, which only served to anger the Elephants. In the fourth against Rick Reuschel, Jose walked, Parker doubled him home (missing a homer by that much), Hendu walked, Mac struck out, and Steinbach came up. The Giants tried that low-ball sneaky thing again and Steiny crushed it. The place went berserk and I ran up and down the aisle bashing every fan in sight. It was only the fourth inning, but this baby was over. The final, 5-1, and Moore was just as solid as Stew.
On Tuesday October 17, at 5:04 pm, just as ABC was beginning its pre-game show for Game 3, the earth shook. Mother Nature, who moments before was at her sexiest, may have taken exception to her omission from the VIP list when her invitation arrived for the Bay Area Ball. This was her RSVP: a 7.1 quake that rocked this region and postponed the Series for ten days. Inside Candlestick Park, the fans cheered, not yet knowing the severity of the situation, but knowing that they were a part of history of a different breed.
Baseball took a backseat to something greater, as a whole new perspective was placed on the game. Even the faces of our heroes had changed. So baseball waited. Waited as the Bay Area attempted to pull itself together. And when we needed her, baseball was there. There to put some normalcy back into our lives. There to give hope and diversion. Commissioner Vincent gave the go-ahead for the Series to resume on October 27. As I recall it, when we left work at the same time as we did ten days before, there was a general uneasiness going home. Like, can it really happen again?
Inside Candlestick Park, there was a festive mood, like "We made it." In a weird way, it brought this region, hardly antagonistic to begin with, even closer. Tony La Russa, for his part, had taken his team to Arizona, to stay sharp and focused. He found it impossible- and inappropriate- to focus on the task at hand in an area where the search for bodies continued. But now that baseball was again thrust to the forefront, La Russa had done what he thought was necessary to keep that edge. Stay the course. Eyes on the prize. If my own competitive fire had been reduced to a flicker during the layoff, it took just three batters for it to light up again. Scott Garrelts twice threw high-and-tight to Canseco, who was upset enough about being mired in an 0-for-23 Series skid. And so the Giant woke up the giant; the slumbering, slumping giant in the A’s uniform, who promptly singled past the shortstop. Then it was Dave Henderson’s turn, who hit what we all thought was a homerun (including Hendu, who did that little homerun hop) but instead it hit off the top of the fence for a two-run double (Carney had singled ahead of Canseco). Just like that, the A’s were on top. In the top of the fourth, Hendu led off with a shot that did clear the fence and two batters later, Phillips joined the bashers with a blast of his own. Exit Garrelts. The Giants came back with two runs in the bottom half to close within 4-3, but the A’s put it away with four in the fifth, the first three coming when Jose took Kelly Downs downtown and the last one coming on Hendu’s second homerun of the night. Meanwhile, Stew was his usual stellar self. Already idolized within the community for his efforts on the field, the St. Elizabeth High grad had turned in his A’s cap for a hard hat during the layoff, pitching in wherever he might be needed. When La Russa looked to him in Game 3, Stew simply pitched: seven innings, five hits, eight strikeouts. Before all was said and done, he would earn himself the Series MVP. The A’s, as a unit, earned straight A’s this evening, tacking on four more runs in the eighth and steamrolling to a 13-7 win.
The next night, Game 2 star Mike Moore pitched opposite Don Robinson. Rickey got things started with a homerun to lead off the game. Relentless, dude. With two men on and two outs in the second, Moore came to bat, with one career plate appearance to his name. So of course Moore doubled over the head of centerfielder Brett Butler to drive in both runners. While contemplating the American League’s first hit by a pitcher in seventy Series at-bats, Moore again found himself in a unfamiliar role- base runner- as Rickey lined a single. Moore slid home safely to make it 4-0, as a shell-shocked Robinson headed for the showers. The A’s doubled their advantage before the Giants rallied. With Eck on in the ninth to protect a 9-6 lead, Phillips put on one last defensive display. Interestingly enough, the versatile utility man had a hand in the last out of every game of the Series- at three different positions. Phillips fielded a bunt for the first out, and with two outs hustled to throw out Butler to end it. Eck, the face of despair just one season before, gloved the throw and pumped his fist at first base. World Champs again!