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Campy: More than Just a Bat Slinger

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So I was watching MLB Network the other night, and they were highlighting unforgettable moments in playoff history.  To my pleasant surprise the segment began with the 1972 ALCS.  To my dismay, it neglected to mention that the five-game thriller between the A's and Tigers put the playoffs on the map, following three seasons in which not one of the six championship series' went the distance. In fact five of them ended in sweeps.  Score one for the purists who felt there was absolutely nothing wrong with the previous format that sent the top team from each league directly to the World Series.

That all changed in 1972.  Three games in the Oakland-Detroit series were decided by one run, and two went to extra innings.  The other two games were sparkling shutouts by John "Blue" Odom of the A's, and Joe Coleman of the Tigers.

But you wouldn't know that had you tuned in Tuesday night (and for the record, the hour was pretty much dedicated to playoff "wars", but it still would have been nice to give this series the credit it deserves).

Instead the familiar voice of Bob Costas took us to the seventh inning of Game 2.  At the plate was Dagoberto Campaneris, who to that point was 3-for-3 in the game, with two stolen bases and two runs scored.  There was already bad blood brewing between the two teams; they had brawled back in August.  A pitch by reliever Lerrin LaGrow struck Campaneris in the ankle, and the Cuban shortstop rose to his feet...and fired his bat at LaGrow, who managed to duck out of the way.

Campy slinging

(Photo courtesy of Charlie O. & the Angry A's)

The Detroit bench emptied, led by manager Billy Martin (naturally).  Stunned, the A's stood at the dugout steps, refusing to accept Martin's challenge to fight.  From Ron Bergman's Mustache Gang:

"What good what it do for me to break my knuckles on Martin's nose?" said (first baseman Mike) Epstein.  Of course Martin was throwing at Campy.  He's done it too many times.  And coming out to fight; that's Martin's way of firing up his club.  A lot of guys on his club have confided in me that they're tired of coming out on the field."

Billy's tactics, however ridiculous, worked, as the Tigers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth and deciding game (won by Oakland).  As for Campy Campaneris, he was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs, and the first seven games of the 1973 season (he was allowed to participate in the World Series), and no matter what he did before or after, the bat-flinging incident will forever follow him.

And that's a shame, because I find his .314 on-base percentage with the A's, which ranks him 66th in franchise history right between Terrence Long and Eric McNair, more offensive than his attempt to behead Lerrin LaGrow.  He never batted .300 (lifetime he hit .259), not once did he score 100 runs in a single season.  His career-high walk total was 63.  Three times he led the league in caught stealing (though he did make good on 62 of 70 attempts in 1969).  He had one Brady Anderson-type season when he hit 22 homeruns in 1970; his second best season in that department was 8.  Hmm.

Campy batting

(Photo courtesy of Steve's Baseball Photography)

So why should history be kind towards Campy Campaneris, even though a classmate once chided me for dressing up as the speedster for Halloween when I was in the 2nd grade?  (Friend: "What happened to going as Reggie?"  Me: "I couldn't get the ‘fro to go.")

More to the point, why should AN care about the man known to A's fans in the 70's as the "Roadrunner"?  Well, for all of his deficiencies, Campy was the catalyst on those championship clubs; as he went, so went the A's.  Someone thought highly of him; he appeared in five All-Star games, twice courtesy of fan voting.  Strange to think that the last two men to start at shortstop for three straight World Series-winning teams are Derek Jeter and Campaneris.

Campy in white

(Photo courtesy of Steve's Baseball Photography)

Bert Campaneris burst onto the baseball scene on July 23 1964 when he hit the first pitch he ever saw in the bigs for a homerun.  He went deep again later that day, becoming the second of three players in the history of the game to homer twice in his major-league debut.

On September 8, 1965 he played all nine positions in one game; no one before him had ever done that; only three players since have joined him.  In fact when Campy was on the mound he pitched ambidextrously!  In one inning of work he allowed one hit, one run, walked two, struck out one, and "retired" with a 9.00 ERA.

Campy pitching

(Photo courtesy of SI Vault)

Campaneris was a masterful bunter, and led the league three times in sacrifice hits, twice after leaving Oakland following the 1976 season.  But he did his best work on the basepaths, as he led the American League in stolen bases in his first four full seasons, and twice more in his career, all with the Athletics.

Campy card

Perhaps shaken by the playoff suspension, Campy struggled in the 1972 World Series, but he more than made up for it in the following post-season.  He batted .333 in the ALCS, leading off Game 2 with a homerun, and ending Game 3 with a long ball in the 11th inning.  Only Campaneris and Mark McGwire have hit walk-off homeruns in Oakland post-season history.  In the World Series, won by the A's in seven games, he had 9 hits in 31 at-bats (.290).  His base hit in the 11th inning of a pivotal Game 3 drove in the winning run, and in the title-clinching victory, Campy went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI's, and his fourth-inning homerun put the A's ahead to stay.  For his performance he earned the Babe Ruth award.

Campy bunting

Campy's perfect squeeze bunt scored Ken Holtzman in Game 1 of the 1974 World Series.

(Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated, 1974)

Still not convinced?

No player has appeared in more games wearing an A's uniform than Campy Campaneris.  Not Rickey, not Foxx, not Reggie, no one.  He is also first in at-bats and hits, third in runs scored, and second in stolen bases.

I hear he could throw a pretty mean bat, too.

By the way, Campy concluded his career with the New York Yankees.  The manager?  Billy Martin. 

Campy sliding

As the name on the back of his uniform might suggest, Campy didn't mind being Campy.

Photo courtesy of A's program & scorecard, 1971