Take Your Base

One of my favorite baseball moments occurred on October 18, 1972. The Oakland A’s, who had not yet attained the status and respectability that was surely coming and would cause them to begin again to refer to themselves as the “Athletics”, were up two games to none on Cincinnati in the World Series. It’s hard for many folks to imagine now, I am sure, but long before today’s ubiquitous tattoos and body piercings, the Oaklanders were considered eccentric and somewhat rebellious just because they allowed, even encouraged, facial hair. Consequently, to aspiring hippies such as myself, they were the favorite compared to Cincinnati, the clean shaven middle American organization that had not yet become the Big Red Machine but were very good. The Reds were not really representative of the Spiro Agnew element in America, at least not the players, but we used to be really polarized around certain things like the war in Southeast Asia, racism, and women’s rights back in those days. Not like today. So the whole thing became an us versus them thing in my mind, at least, and I was a big A’s fan.

As for the players, it made for a great match. It helped me root against the Reds that they had the loathsome Pete Rose, who was playing the outfield at age 31, hitting lots of doubles, getting lots of walks, stealing the occasional base and otherwise being his usual pain in the ass self. They also had the outstanding second baseman of all time, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion at short, and strong power hitting Tony Perez at first base. The big deal that year, though, was 24 year old Johnny Bench who was merely the best catcher in baseball and hit 40 home runs and drove in 125 to boot. The pitching staff was strong that year with another 24 year old, Gary Nolan, posting a 15-5 won lost record with an earned run average of 1.99 and Jack Billingham and Ross Grimsley doing well enough for a short series, especially with Clay Carroll, Tom Hall, and Pedro Borbon in the bullpen.

Oakland’s pitching staff was even better than that once Vida Blue ended his holdout and joined Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman, and Blue Moon Odom in the rotation with the very deadly Rollie Fingers and Darold Knowles in the pen. Lots of people played second base for the A’s and none of them came close to being Joe Morgan, but otherwise they were solid on defense with Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson (yes,him), Sal Bando, and Dave Duncan. Mike Epstein played well at first base and led the team with 26 home runs. The other thing that made me an A’s rooter was that they had knocked off Billy Martin‘s Detroit Tigers in the playoff. That Tigers team was very interesting, but what bothered me was that, after the season lost a week or so to a labor dispute, the Tigers finished 86-70 to the Boston Red Sox’ 85-70, and they were given the Easter Division title without any kind of playoff. That irked my fair minded young soul.

So back to October 18. The third game of the ’72 series was being played in Oakland (in daylight, by the way) and A’s fans were excited because their team had already won the first two games back in Ohio. The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning and were threatening for more in the eighth. Rollie Fingers was pitching to Johnny Bench and the count was three and two. Manager Dick Williams of Oakland, sporting a moustache, visited the mound and emphatically pointed toward first base, leading most people concerned to believe that ball four was to be pitched. Catcher Gene Tenace signals for the intentional walk and it made sense, since there were runners at second and third base and the big slugger at bat. Instead, Fingers fired a strike and Bench was out looking. The Reds won the game after all, but it was still a great moment.

So, the powers that be can save a total of 6.4 minutes per season by enforcing a new rule that intentional walks skip the throwing of the four wide ones if they like. It won’t make the game more fun, especially if there has to be replay to see whether or not the manager actually held up four fingers. Plus, what about wild pitches or passed balls? Back to the drawing board, folks. Try cutting the commercial breaks. Whoops, I blasphemed.

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