North wasn't speaking to Jackson for most of the '74 season, not since early May, when Reggie had chewed him out in front of the team for not running out a ground ball hard enough. On June 5 the two fought in the visitors' clubhouse at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and catcher Ray Fosse ruptured a cervical disk attempting to break it up. Fosse spent 12 weeks on the disabled list, while Jackson and North played on. By then the A's were notorious for their bare-knuckle brawling. It was expected of them. "Maybe we were playing to the crowd," says North.
In May, Dark fined pitcher Vida Blue $250 for contemptuously flipping the ball to him while being removed from a game. (Blue would pay the fine with a shower of small coins dumped on Dark's desk.) In another game Dark ordered Fingers to pitch to Munson, with a man on second and first base open. Fingers, who walked only 29 men all season, walked the Yankees catcher on four pitches and said afterward, "I lost my control momentarily."
In August, Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency, and some A's sensed that their own profane regime was in its final days. Hunter, for the only time in his career, asked each of his teammates for an autographed photo. Those teammates, many of whom he had played with as Kansas City Athletics, had become stars—a June SI cover billing coined a new noun for Jackson: SUPERDUPERSTAR—but oftentimes they themselves were scarcely aware of the fact because Finley frequently treated them like children. "We sometimes played Saturday-afternoon games when we were in Chicago," says Bando, "so the whole team would have to go out to Finley's farm in LaPorte, Indiana, on Saturday night for a picnic with all his friends and neighbors. God, the guys hated that."
On the field the A's seemed to toy with opponents. "What a great bunch of talented ballplayers," says Dark, reverently reciting the A's lineup: catcher Fosse, first baseman Gene Tenace, second baseman Green, whom teammates called Bass Jaws for his odd but infectious laugh. Campaneris was the leadoff hitter and shortstop. "Campy was very underrated," says Bando. "He was our offensive igniter. He could hit home runs and steal bases, and played excellent defense."
You want underrated? The Oakland leftfielder, Joe Rudi, was "the most overrated underrated player in baseball," according to Jackson. "I'm getting more ink about not getting ink than most people do who always get ink," Rudi said in 1974, when he was en route to hitting .293 and driving in 99 runs for the season. "Rudi was outstanding," says Dark. "He wasn't the fastest, but he always got a great break on the ball." Indeed, the A's were remarkably disciplined on the field. "We played the game generally without making mistakes," says North.
"We never had a real good bench," says Dark. "Had a great bullpen—Lindblad and a few other guys would get us to Fingers." The four-man starting rotation was the best in baseball, and balanced like a bookkeeper's ledger: righthanders Hunter and Abbott, lefthanders Blue and Ken Holtzman.
The nougat holding all these nuts together was Bando. "Everybody respected him as a leader," says Dark. "Just a class fella."
Far from subverting American ideals, as so many squares (and Dodgers fans) thought at the time, the A's exemplified E pluribus unum. They were 25 men of wildly divergent backgrounds-Jackson is a black Latin Methodist raised in a Jewish neighborhood—who stopped swinging their handbags at each other long enough to play a complicated game brilliantly. Out of many, one. "We had a 25-man team, and everybody had a job," says North, "right down to the designated runner."
The Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers were Oakland's closest pursuers in the American League West, but the A's never acknowledged them. Before the first game of their last series of the season, with the A's leading the West by five games, Jackson shouted at Royals outfielder Amos Otis during batting practice, "Otis, got that new TV yet?!" Otis, who wasn't in the market for a new television and couldn't fathom what Jackson was talking about, replied against his better judgment: "What TV?"
"The new TV!" said Jackson. "You're gonna wanna watch the Fall Classic!"