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Motley Crew
Steve Rushin
September 06, 1999
The world champion 1974 A's—a rainbow coalition of brawlers, boozers and malcontents—were truly America's team, although most of us were too square to realize it
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September 06, 1999

Motley Crew

The world champion 1974 A's—a rainbow coalition of brawlers, boozers and malcontents—were truly America's team, although most of us were too square to realize it

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And just like that, the boys in the attic come to life.

There was a time when all the world was young and shag-carpeted, kitchen appliances were avocado-colored and neckties resembled kites. "There was a time," says Sal Bando, third baseman and captain of the A's dynasty, "when men carried little purses. Reggie carried one. It was fashionable. I'll never forget, Mike Epstein got on the bus one day wearing saddlebags. It was hilarious."

There was a time, 25 years ago, when women were women and men were...well, they were women too, sometimes. The A's wore so many different uniforms, in such sundry color combinations, that confused players often had to change two or three times before taking the field. "Our favorites," says Hunter, grinning sardonically, "were what we called the wedding-gown whites."

Perhaps to compensate for all this femininity, most of the A's grew big porn-star mustaches, for which Finley paid them $300 each. "We broke the mold in baseball," says Bando. "The mold was short hair and black shoes and no mustaches. We brought color to the game and loosened people up. People thought we were radicals from Berkeley. In fact, most of us were politically conservative, but we enjoyed ourselves."

They enjoyed themselves and, on rare occasions, one another. "We were like a family of four boys," says reliever John (Blue Moon) Odom, who gave fellow Oakland pitcher Rollie Fingers five stitches in the Dodger Stadium visitors' clubhouse before Game 1 of the 1974 World Series. The A's fought with each other but wouldn't countenance assaults from the outside. "Try that," says Moon, "and you were messing with the family." Try that, he says, "and we'd rock your clocks."

After one long day of clock-rocking, in which Reggie Jackson drove in seven runs against the Texas Rangers, he swaggered through the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport carrying, on a string, a helium-filled balloon in the shape of a hot dog.

The Gothic, Hester Prynne A on their chests stood for Arrogance. Says Bando, "We were arrogant enough to always think we were the better team." That certainty came from years united in indentured servitude. Bando and Jackson had been teammates at Arizona State and—like most of the A's lineup—played in Finley's farm system. The players' confidence had to come from within: In 1974 the A's drew fewer than 850,000 fans to the Oakland Mausoleum. "Is that right?" says the manager, Alvin Dark, now 77 and enjoying his grandchildren in Easley, S.C. "Man, that's amazing."

America, too, paid scant attention. The Cincinnati Reds, with their sensible black shoes and strict no-facial-hair policy, were far more popular than the A's. So were the Dodgers, squarer than Steve Garvey's jaw. "To this day, everyone talks about Cincinnati's dynasty," says Bando, "and we beat them [in the 1972 World Series] without Reggie and [ace reliever] Darold Knowles! I don't think we've ever gotten the credit we deserve."

"We were just a matter-of-fact great team," Jackson says. "Seventy-four was the last year in which, if we had a two-game lead in the division, it was pretty much over."

Jackson was 28 years old in 1974, living rent-free in a penthouse apartment paid for by the team, with a painting of Jonathan Livingston Seagull over the bed, before he decided midseason to splurge on an $85,000 condo in the Oakland Hills. And why not? Salary arbitration was instituted in the winter of 1973-74, following the A's second straight World Series victory. For the first time the players knew what everyone else in baseball was making. Until then the champs didn't know how underpaid they were. An arbitrator ordered Finley to give Jackson, the '73 American League MVP, a raise from $75,000 to $135,000. "He was a lousy MVP," Finley protested to reporters. "They had to give it to someone."

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