But with an owner like Charles O. Finley, who regards a day in which one of his players has not been traded as time misspent, and with a manager like Dick Williams, who makes more substitutions than the Democratic Party, Tenace may have lulled himself into a feeling of false security.
Not that he is unfamiliar with insecurity. For much of his career he has been a player without a position, a rootless condition that would challenge the inner calm of a Buddhist monk. He was a shortstop at Valley Local High School in Lucasville and an outfielder in his first professional season, with Shelby of the Western Carolina League. As a minor-leaguer, in fact, he played all nine positions. He was not wholly converted to catching until his third season, in 1967, a decision, he argues, that "turned my life around."
Tenace was, and still is, extraordinarily conscientious about learning the catching business, but his bat has always been his primary asset in the eyes of the A's hierarchy. After hitting .319 for Birmingham of the Southern League in 1969, he was promoted to the big team. For the next three seasons he and Dave Duncan were forced to compete for the starting catcher's job, a situation that left both of them haggard with worry and frustration. Duncan, who rightfully regards himself as one of the game's finest defensive catchers, considered the annual challenge demeaning and was not in the least reluctant to express his discontent by holding out and requesting to be traded.
Tenace, who is aggressive and talkative on the field, is much less volatile, much less verbal off it. He preferred to suffer in relative silence. Last spring, though, he was convinced he had finally won the battle.
"I knew I deserved the job. I was told to work hard on my defensive ability, and I did. I also hit .300 in spring training. Maybe the strike hurt me. Maybe they forgot, because Dune was picked to catch Ken Holtzman in the opener. They told me the only reason was that he had caught him more in spring training. Then some writers looked it up and it turns out I had caught Holtzman more than he had. But Dune got hot, hit a lot of home runs early. I was out of it. I was really down in the dumps. My roomie, Sal Bando, kept talking to me, though. He kept telling me that I'd get my chance, that I had to be ready when the time came. So I kept my mouth shut. I've always done that."
The big chance could not have come at a worse time. When Duncan failed to extricate himself from a midseason slump, Williams turned to Tenace. "Can you catch?" he asked the bench-warmer. "Yes," said Tenace, who at the time had a temperature of 104 and had lost 10 pounds from his normal playing weight of 190. But Williams, ever the tinkerer, put him at first base that day. He hit a triple, despite his illness, and was made the catcher the next day.
Tenace remained behind the plate until the seventh game of the World Series, when Williams moved him to first again, a move made necessary not so much by Tenace's inability to throw out Cincinnati base runners as by the inability of Mike Epstein, then the first baseman, to hit Reds' pitching.
Tenace had two hits in that final Series game. Still, he was removed by Williams for pinch runner Allan Lewis—the so-called "Panamanian Express"—after he doubled in the sixth inning. For Tenace, who considers himself at least the fifth fastest man on the team, it was a stunning blow. He was now deprived of a last chance at Ruth's record and he would not be in at the finish.
This sense of loss was assuaged, however, by the A's ultimate victory and by the subsequent honors heaped upon him. Then in December he was told by Williams that Epstein had been traded to the Texas Rangers and that he was now the A's first baseman.
Tenace prefers to catch. "I worked so hard to become a catcher and I have never had the chance to prove myself there." But to be given the chance to play regularly anywhere was more than adequate compensation for the position switch. "Besides," he says, "I consider myself an offensive player."