SI Vault
William Leggett
October 30, 1972
Down to the wire, that is, as the hirsute A's beat Cincinnati's Reds in the tightest World Series in history
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October 30, 1972

Mustaches All The Way

Down to the wire, that is, as the hirsute A's beat Cincinnati's Reds in the tightest World Series in history

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In just a moment the 1972 World Series would surely end. All the Oakland A's had to do last Sunday afternoon at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati was get the 186th out, and then they could wrap their trembling fingers around those bottles of Paul Masson California brut they had been toting for three days and 2,500 miles. Rollie Fingers, Oakland's top relief pitcher and, on the whole, most elegant mustache, looked in at pinch hitter Darrel Chaney, who stood at the plate with a count of 0 and 1 and a World Series batting average of .000-0 for 7. So Fingers hit Chaney on the left shinbone to put the tying run at first base in a 3-2 game. Inexplicably, the A's were allowing the Series to start up again after they seemed to have it finally stopped.

The largest crowd ever to attend a baseball game in Cincinnati, 56,040 souls, got up roaring to beg for a unique gift—i.e., for the Reds to become the first team ever to win a World Series after losing the first two games at home. As Fingers hit Chaney, Dick Williams was on his feet, too, and the manager of the A's hurried to the mound for the 55th time since the whole thing began eight days before. When Williams reached Fingers he found Catcher Dave Duncan standing alongside. It is not the world's best-kept secret that Duncan has spent more time in the doghouse this year than Ch. Chino's Adamant James, or that he was catching because Gene Tenace—that gorgeously improbable Ohioan who was a cinch to be the Series' most valuable player unless the A's now fainted dead away—had encountered horrendous difficulties when he tried to throw out Cincinnati's base stealers. The next hitter somebody or other had to pitch to, like it or not, was Pete Rose, and Williams' intention when he walked to the mound was to pull Fingers and bring on Vida Blue from the bullpen.

"But he's throwing good," Duncan said. "He's throwing the ball real good and I've got all the confidence in the world in him." Williams junked his own thinking—and Rose hit a long drive to left center. At first it looked like it might fall in, tie the game and extend the baseball season until half-past Halloween. But Joe Rudi chased the ball down to make the A's—decided underdogs at the start of the Series—the first team on either side of the immortal 1969 Oakland Oaks to claim a professional sports championship for the Bay Area.

Never has a Series winner had to fight as hard as the A's. Maybe never has anyone had to. Six of the seven games played were decided by one run, and records show that the closest thing to that happened in 1924 when the Washington Senators won their only title while playing four "one-runners" against the New York Giants. The A's won without their best player, Reggie Jackson. They won with only eight pitchers, and none of those pitched a complete game. They won because for most of the way their pitching muffled Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Bobby Tolan—the first three hitters in the Cincinnati batting order—and because the A's decided that if anyone was going to beat them it was definitely not going to be Johnny Bench. During the regular season Rose, Morgan and Tolan got on base 43% of the time. In the Series that shrunk to 29% and Bench produced only one RBI.

Ah, well, anytime the Reds get into a Series National League rooters know enough to hand their betting money to their wives. Two years ago Cincinnati kept getting ahead of Baltimore only to end up getting behind. Eleven years ago the Yankees brushed the Reds aside four games to one, and in 1939 Cincinnati could not beat the Yanks even once. In fact the last Series the Reds won was in 1919, and taking into account that Black Sox thing and all it has been hinted that Cincinnati cannot win a Series without the help of Arnold Rothstein.

This year Cincinnati's losses in the first two games were by a total of two runs, but they were frustrating defeats for a heavily favored team to endure. However, the Reds had breezed to their division title by compiling the best road record in the majors (53-25); for them to lose at home (where they were 42-34) was certainly no oddity. So as they flew into Charles O. Finley land for Game Three early last week they were not quite as spiritless as a 2-0 deficit would indicate. During the flight Bench stood in the aisle and led the players, their wives and Cincinnati officials in a song dedicated to the club: "The whole town's batty/About Cincinnati/What a team/ What a team/What a team!"

Oakland welcomed its own team home in a fashion the players were totally unaccustomed to. Instead of just the baggage truck awaiting them at the airport, there were 10,000 fans, all gussied up in gold and green. "This is marvelous," said Captain Sal Bando. "I can't believe we're in Oakland." People criticize the city because the A's have drawn fewer than a million spectators in each of their five seasons there, but Finley maintains he made $1.3 million in 1971 and will do much better when the receipts are counted for this year.

The 1972 Series was scheduled so that the three games in the American League city would begin at twilight, the rationale being that more people could see the midweek games on television. That concept, of course, was first advanced by Finley. Baseball adopted it so it could fire a few rounds in the Nielsen rating wars. But as any fan knows, baseball is played most artistically in daylight; nobody except television executives truly believed that interest in a World Series would fall off badly if it did not serve up Bench and Tenace and all the rest in "prime time."

As any fan also knows, baseball is at its worst when played in twilight. Hitters have difficulty picking up the flight of the ball as it comes off the mound. A low, fading sun and intermittent islands of light and shadow in the background bewilder a batter. "The pitcher is in the light and the batter in the dark," as Cincinnati's Joe Morgan said. Five years ago the All-Star Game was begun in Anaheim, Calif. at twilight. It lasted 15 innings and produced 30 strikeouts.

Just before the scheduled start of Tuesday's third game, a huge cloud floated in above Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and dumped enough hail and rain to force a postponement. On Wednesday the weather turned fine, but the grounds remained soggy. The starting pitchers were John (Blue Moon) Odom and Jack Billingham. Odom, 27, is a handsome man who has problems sleeping before a start, while Billingham, 29, is capable of sleeping in a scalding shower. "I think," says Odom, "that I pitch better without sleep. My wife Perrie stays up and talks with me some nights before I pitch. One night when I was thinking about throwing a fastball I pushed her out of bed."

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