Today’s Postseason Series From The Baseball Project That May Or May Not Amount To Anything is the 1972 American League Championship Series. The 1972 season was marred in the beginning of the season by the first players’ strike in MLB history, knocking six or seven games off of the schedule, something that would come into play late in the year.
The Athletics were irrelevant for about 40 years. After winning three straight pennants from 1929 through 1931 and winning 313 games in the process, the A’s would build up a run of losing that eventually led to them leaving Philadelphia. From 1933 through their final season in Philly in 1954 they racked up a .408 winning percentage (a 63-91 record over 154 games). They moved to Kansas City for the start of the 1955 season and actually performed worse. For the next 13 seasons they had a .404 winning percentage (65-97 over 162 games). But later on during their time in KC they A’s started bringing up some actual baseball talent. It started with shortstop Bert Campaneris, then Rick Monday. Then Reggie Jackson, but then they were moving to Oakland. In 1968 they had their first winning season in nearly 20 years. By 1971 they were a powerhouse in the AL, adding the likes of Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Rollie Fingers, and Catfish Hunter. After getting swept by the Orioles in the 1971 ALCS, the Athletics took over first on May 27 and outside of a five day lapse they remained in first for the rest of the season. Besides being really good at baseball, the Athletics were a wild and colorful bunch. The A’s of the 1970’s were known for funny mustaches, fights in the clubhouse, colorful uniforms, and wild hair. The team owner – the quite possibly insane Charlie Finley – actually encouraged it. The cast of characters took the AL West by 5 ½ games over the White Sox.
The Detroit Tigers were just four years removed from a World Series championship. An aging team managed by the incomparable Billy Martin (not sure if that’s a compliment or not), the Tigers benefited from the schedule cuts at the beginning of the year. Going into the last weekend of the year the Red Sox held a half game lead on Detroit with a three game series at Tiger Stadium to decide it. It was a half game lead because Boston had played one fewer game than Detroit, and when the Tigers took the first two games they had clinched, a game and a half lead with one game left. They finished 86-70 to the Red Sox’s 85-70.
When I say aging, just look at the roster. Here are all the hitters with an OPS+ over 100:
Player Age OPS+
Bill Freehan 30 122
Norm Cash 37 129
Dick McAuliffe 32 104
Al Kaline 37 149
Jim Northrup 32 102
Tony Taylor 36 120
Duke Sims 31 168
Ike Brown 30 117
Frank Howard 35 102
Otherwise, there starting lineup featured Ed Brinkman (58 OPS+) at short, Aurelio Rodriguez at third (probably the worst hitting third baseman of all time with a 76 OPS+; somehow he got over 7,000 plate appearances), a down year for Willie Horton (99 OPS+, suffered from foot and shoulder problems to go along with showing up to spring training overweight), and Mickey Stanley (97 OPS+, which was one of his better years).
This team was clearly carried by the starting rotation. Former World Series hero Mickey Lolich posted a 2.50 ERA in 327.1 innings, and Joe Coleman added a 2.80 ERA in 280 innings. But really, Billy Martin managed this team like he managed every team. He had 12 different pitchers start a game for him. He used two guys as closers (Chuck Seelbach and Fred Scherman saved 14 and 12 games each and both started three games). Perhaps the best example of Martin’s willingness to do anything for a win, on August 13 the Tigers had a double header against the Indians in Detroit. They were in a slump, losing 10 of their last 13 games, and Martin was so desperate that he decided to pull names out of a hat in order to make his lineup. Now, the Indians starter for that first game was Gaylord Perry – who would go on to win the Cy Young Award that year – and here was his lineup:
Norm Cash, 1B
Jim Northrup, RF
Willie Horton, LF
Ed Brinkman, SS
Tony Taylor, 2B
Duke Sims, C
Mickey Stanley, CF
Aurelio Rodriguez, 3B
Woodie Fryman, P
For Norm Cash this was the second time in his career he hit leadoff. For Ed Brinkman and his .300 lifetime slugging percentage, it was perfect. In the bottom of the sixth, trailing 2-1, Ed Brinkman had an RBI double to tie the game and then scored the winning run on Taylor’s single. The forgotten part about the story is that they lost the second game 9-2 and then lost two out of three to Minnesota, but what’s the fun in that?
Game 1 was in Oakland with the teams’ aces taking the hill. Detroit got on the board early when Norm Cash led off the second with a homerun off of Catfhish Hunter. The lead didn’t last too long. In the bottom of the third Campaneris drew a one out walk and Matty Alou singled. Then Joe Rudi hit a sac fly to center and the game was tied. It would remain 1-1 without much fanfare until the ninth. In the top half Duke Sims led off with a double. This prompted Dick Williams to pull Hunter in favor of Vida Blue. Norm Cash went to lay down a bunt, but Ted Kubiak couldn’t handle Sal Bando’s throw, and men were on the corners with nobody out. Williams brought in Rollie Fingers to replace Blue and he got a foul popup from pinch hitter Gates Brown and then got a double play grounder from Northrup to escape without any damage. Mickey Lolich retired the side in order in the ninth and both he and Fingers duplicated the performance in the tenth. Then in the 11th with one out Al Kaline took Fingers out of the park in left, giving the Tigers the lead. Fingers worked around a one out triple to avoid further damage and kept it a one run game going into the bottom half of the inning.
Lolich came out for his 11th inning of work and was immediately met with a leadoff single from Sal Bando, who was replaced on the bases by Blue Moon Odom. Mike Epstein followed with a single and ended Lolich’s day. In came Chuck Seelbach and Mike Hegan came in to run for Epstein. Seelbach was given a gift when Gene Tenace attempted a bunt. Aurelio Rodriguez picked it up and whipped it to third to get the lead runner. Ed Brinkman then whipped the ball across the diamond to first, but his throw pulled Norm Cash off the base and Hall of Fame umpire Nestor Chylak ruled that Tenace had beaten Cash to the bag. That brought Gonzalo Marquez up, pinch hitting for Dal Maxville*. Marquez then singled to right field, scoring Hegan without a throw home. Kaline, however, decided to try and get Tenace as he was trying for third. Rodriguez couldn’t handle the throw, though, and it went into the dugout, scoring Tenace and winning the game, 3-2.
*-And I still remember people complaining about Casey Blake playing third for the 2007 Indians. Doesn’t seem nearly as bad now.
The A’s got the scoring going early in Game 2 all on the legs of Bert Campaneris. He led off the bottom of the first with a single, the stole second and third before Matty Alou flew out. Joe Rudi singled and the score was 1-0. It remained that way until the bottom of the fifth when George Hendrick led off with a single and moved to second on an Odom bunt (30 points). Campaneris then singled to move Hendrick to third. Alou followed with another single to chase starter Woody Fryman. Chris Zachary didn’t fare any better, throwing two wild pitches to score a run and bring Alou to third before walking Rudi. Fred Scherman became the third pitcher and promptly gave up an opposite field double to Reggie, who advanced to third when Dick McAuliffe threw wildly to third, making the score 5-0.
Things got interesting in the bottom of the seventh, when Lerrin LaGrow threw a fastball up and in on Campaneris and hit him in the shoulder. Because this was the 1970’s and back then men were men and didn’t get upset about stuff like that, Campaneris took his bat and launched it at LaGrow. Campaneris was tossed from the game and would be suspended for the rest of the series. The game finished without any other incidents and Oakland had a 2-0 series lead after their 5-0 victory.
Game 3 shifted the series to Motown, with Ken Holtzman and Joe Coleman starting the game. It was scoreless for the first three frames then in the bottom of the fourth Kaline drew a one out walk and Bill Freehan doubled down the third base line. Willie Horton walked to load the bases, but Mickey Stanley flied out to shallow center. Ike Brown then hit a single up the middle to make the score 2-0. That was all Coleman would need as he controlled the Tigers, going the distance and striking out 14. Freehan added a solo homer in the eighth and the final score was 3-0.
The Tigers got the early lead in Game 4 when McAuliffe hit a homerun off of the upper deck facing in right center for a 1-0 lead after three. The game remained that way until the seventh when Mike Epstein homered off of Mickey Lolich to right to tie the game. In the bottom of the eighth McAuliffe led off with a walk, the Kaline bunted him over (12 points, but really? Kaline bunting?), and a single got him to third. Then on a squeeze attempt, Freehan missed the bunt (I think everyone will get the idea that I despise innings like this) and McAuliffe was caught in a rundown. After an uneventful ninth the game went into extra innings. With one out Marquez singled to right then Matty Alou doubled off the wall in left-center. Marquez came all the way around and scored when Freehan couldn’t hang onto the ball, allowing Alou to reach third. Ted Kubiak then singled to score Alou to make it a 3-1 game. In the bottom half of the inning McAuliffe singled to right and Kaline singled to left to lead off the inning. A wild pitch moved the runners up and then pinch hitter Gates Brown walked to load the bases. Freehan then hit a grounder to third, but Gene Tenace couldn’t handle Bando’s throw and everyone was safe. Then Norm Cash walked to score the tying run. Northrup then hit a ball of the right field fence for the winning run and the series was tied at two apiece.
The Tigers again took the early lead in Game 5. In the bottom of the first McAuliffe led off with a single and with one out Sims walked. When Odom’s pitch got past Tenace both runners moved up. Freehan grounded out to short, but McAuliffe scored to give Detroit an early 1-0 lead. That didn’t last long.
Reggie led off the second with a walk, then stole second and moved to third on a fly out. Then after Epstein was hit by a pitch the A’s tried a double steal. Freehan threw to second but Tony Taylor stepped in front of the bag and threw it straight back home. On a play that would be illegal now (and was illegal then, though never called) Freehan successfully blocked the plate but didn’t’ get the tag down in time and when Reggie slid in he injured his knee and would be pulled from the game, but he scored the tying run.
It remained tied until the fourth when George Hendrick grounded to short, but McAuliffe’s throw pulled Norm Cash off of first. He moved to second on a bunt (35 points) and would score when Tenace singled and Freehan couldn’t handle Duke Sims’ throw. Vida Blue came on in relief of Odom in the sixth and faced no trouble as no runner got past first base. They Athletics took the game 2-1 to win their first pennant since their time in Philadelphia.
Reggie Jackson’s injury kept him out of the World Series, but the A’s won in seven games over the Cincinnati Reds, the first of three straight world championships. From 1971 through 1975 the A’s won five straight division titles, but were rapidly dismantled by Finley and free agency. After the 1975 season the A’s would have a quick resurgence – ironically under Billy Martin – in 1981 but would fall off before building strong teams in the late 1980’s.
The Tigers would drop rapidly, slipping to third, then dead last within two seasons. Billy Martin didn’t make it through the 1973 season (which was typical of him – he only once managed the same team for three consecutive full seasons) and by 1975 the Tigers were a 100-loss team. It would be until 1984 that the Tigers would be back in the post season.