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Elephant Rumblings: Gene Tenace recounts ‘fun, weird’ 1972 World Series

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Oakland Athletics v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Happy Friday, Athletics Nation!

I think it’s fair to say that the recently departed Ray Fosse is nearest and dearest to our hearts among ex-A’s catchers, thanks to the 35 years he spent in the A’s broadcast booth. But Gene Tenace was the A’s starting catcher in the 1972 World Series, when the team won the first of three consecutive championships. On top of that, he was the series MVP with four homers and a 1.313 OPS.

Daniel Brown at The Athletic wrote a fascinating tribute to Tenace ahead of Saturday’s 50 year anniversary reunion of the championship squad. Other expected attendees include Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi, Dick Green, Campy Campaneris, and Reggie Jackson (though Jackson did not play in the ‘72 Series due to injury).

Regardless of where you come down on going to A’s games in the midst of a rebuild and all the stadium and potential relocation drama, Saturday seems like a pretty fine occasion to hit the Coliseum and revel in the glory days of the dynastic, mustachioed, Swingin’ A’s of yore.

Brown points out that Tenace was money before Moneyball was a thing. He was under-appreciated in his time as a patient hitter who drew a lot of walks, leading the league in the category twice and exceeding 100 free passes in six seasons. Modern analytics shine a much kinder light on Tenace’s career: he ranks 14th among catchers in all-time bWAR and had a career OPS+ of 136 in a career spanning 15 years and over 5,000 plate appearances.

Brown interviewed Tenace on the phone during the spring, and the former A’s star recounted his experience in vivid detail. He became the first player to hit a home run in his first two World Series at-bats, knocking in all three A’s runs en route to a 3-2 victory in the opener of a very competitive series. Brown also spoke with longtime equipment manager Steve Vucinich, who was on hand to witness Tenace’s shining moments from the dugout.

The “weird” part of Tenace’s recollection involves an alleged death threat from an armed, whiskey-toting Reds fan. Details on how the threat emerged are hazy, but the fan was arrested and Tenace was escorted by an FBI detail throughout the series.

This must-read account of a high point in A’s franchise history is the kind of story that makes The Athletic so well worth the price of admission. Check it out!

I hope the A’s can beat the Red Sox tomorrow in honor of the ‘72 champs.

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Yesterday was MLB’s second annual Lou Gehrig Day, commemorating the legendary slugger and raising awareness of the disease that took him at far too young an age. I have a very close friend who lost his mother to this terrible illness—please consider supporting research efforts to find a cure for ALS.