No complete game pitched by either side. More men left on base than ever before in a World Series. Hitters striking out in staggering numbers. Men tracking batted balls with all the dexterity of soldiers crawling through a minefield. The winning manager quitting a world championship team before the first sip of champagne. The best player in the tournament having to defend himself against an overexuberant fan with two out in the final inning.
It was that kind of crazy Series. Last Sunday afternoon the Oakland A's, a mutinous baseball team, mercifully ended it by giving a 5-2 beating to the New York Mets, the club that had limped in with a record just shading the high side of .500. But while hardly an artistic triumph, it was indubitably the A's second consecutive championship and the fourth in six years for the much maligned American League, and that should lower the altitude of the National League's high horse.
For the third October in a row the Series had gone to a seventh game, and for the third October in a row it confounded lovers of the predictable. If New York's pitching was admirable, as expected, the Mets fielded so poorly at times that one wondered if a spell had been cast on their famous gloves. On the other hand, the Mets were not supposed to outhit the A's—but they did, .253 to .207. Even so, they had a line of frustrating innings almost beyond belief; over one stretch New York left runners on base in 30 of 34 innings. Oakland, which during the past two seasons had hit more home runs than any other American League team, sent 218 men to the plate before finally getting a ball out of the park in the deciding game.
Poorly played though it was overall, the 70th Series produced some dramatic defensive plays in addition to its comic highlights. Oakland's excellent leftfielder, Joe Rudi, made a month's worth of startling catches in a week and New York Shortstop Bud Harrelson played his position as well as it can be played.
But not until the fifth game did the Series get out from under its zany peripheral activities and permit a viewer to concentrate on the Rudis and the Harrelsons—in short, on baseball. The A's resembled a soap-opera troupe, and Charles O. Finley, the jolly green gewgaw who owns them, exhibited all his familiar charm and grace. At one stage an Oakland player was asked if he had talked to Finiey recently. "No, not at all," he said. "Every time I call him he's out walking his pet rat."
Last week's events occurred in settings as different from one another as, well, night from day. First came the three-game Shea Stadium, or chilblain, phase in New York. Unlike many National League ball parks built in the 1960s and '70s, Shea has developed a special character—and a highly controversial one at that. Critics say the seats are too far from the field, the spectators raucous and their actions contrived. Others find it a lively place with a certain bubble-gum charm that appeals to the young. It has been rudely neglected by its landlord, the City of New York. "The infield is in terrible shape," says Met Third Baseman Wayne Garrett. "The ground crew works as hard as it can, but no money is put into it. The infield is sinking. Everybody knows that the grass part of an infield is supposed to be higher than the dirt part. Here it's the other way around. Unless you get a ball on a long hop you're in trouble. I've found myself actually shaking out there."
In late September sharp winds whip in off nearby Flushing Bay and then Shea is a Candlestick Park East. Balls get caught in the swirling breezes and become extremely difficult to track. The cold, particularly in the upper seats, makes spectating an uncomfortable chore. That's in September. October is worse. Games Three, Four and Five of the Series began at Shea at 8:30 p.m. on October 16, 17 and 18 because Commissioner Bowie Kuhn did exactly what the National Broadcasting Company told him to do—start them late to get a high television rating. That decision was made long ago, seemingly without research into weather conditions or concern for the paying fans. Late-evening temperatures at Shea for these dates figure to be in the frosty 50s, as indeed they were last week. Average temperatures in other National League cities where the Series might have been played have also been woefully low. Even in southerly St. Louis a fan going to a mid-October night game would have to dress for fiftyish weather.
But come frost or high infields the Mets get a lift from their adoring fans. "I'll be sitting in the dugout," says Pitcher Jerry Koosman, "and the crowds will get going and I'll feel a chill up and down my spine."
The Mets have shivered spines for extended periods only three times in their existence. Each time they used Shea almost to perfection. In 1969 they won 100 games and their first pennant. That season they won 29 of their final 34 games at Shea. A year ago they looked like the best team in the National League during April and May before being struck by a series of injuries. Again this year the Mets took advantage of their native heath by winning 17 of their last 23 home games, rising from last place on Aug. 30 to the top of the disheveled East in the race that ended Oct. 1.
The Mets and A's came into Shea tied 1-1 after a game in which Oakland's Mike Andrews had made two conspicuous errors. Before the A's left Oakland, Finley browbeat Andrews into signing a medical report that Finley hoped would put him on the disabled list and allow Manny Trillo, ineligible because he was not a member of the team on Sept. 1, to be activated.