The National Pastime has come a long way from its insular beginnings. It was not so very long ago, in fact, that in baseball geography St. Louis represented the Far West and Chicago was considered the last bastion of big-league civilization.
So now this game, long criticized as a slave to tradition, gives us its first all-California World Series, thus becoming the first major professional sport to have two teams from the Golden State competing for its highest prize. Tradition will hardly suffer from the encounter between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A's, for Northern and Southern California have a long and honorable history of mutual animosity. And the game's prestige can only be enhanced since these are the best and most interesting teams in their leagues.
The events immediately preceding the first game clearly presaged an A's victory. This is a team nourished by adversity, and there was a feast of it on the board on World Series eve.
First, there was Mike Andrews' attempted revenge—a $2.5 million damage suit filed against A's Owner Charles O. Finley and the team doctor who concurred with Finley's diagnosis that Andrews was physically unfit to play baseball after making two errors in last year's Series. The episode, the suit charges, caused Andrews "severe mental anguish and emotional distress"—the lot of all Finley employees, some would say.
Then there was Jim (Catfish) Hunter, the 25-game-winning pitcher. Mental anguish is not Hunter's hangup with Finley; money is. Through his lawyer, Hunter declared last week that Finley has paid him only half of his $100,000 salary for 1974, and therefore he is technically a free agent. It is the Catfish's opinion that because Finley failed to meet his contractual obligations, he, Hunter, could just as well be pitching for the Dodgers in the Series. Only his fidelity to his teammates has prevented him from seeking employment elsewhere, he averred.
This is a commendable sentiment, but one wonders why the pitcher should feel so attached to players whose affection for one another is so often alienated. There have been more fistfights in the A's clubhouse this year than in Madison Square Garden, the latest, between Pitchers Rollie Fingers and John (Blue Moon) Odom, occurring the day before the Series opened. Odom, it is reported, taunted his mound colleague over some recent domestic difficulties Fingers has been experiencing. Fingers' response was to pounce upon his tormentor in the way of all A's. Odom fought back vigorously, and after a brief struggle Fingers emerged with a scalp wound that required five stitches and Odom hobbled off with a twisted ankle.
Manager Alvin Dark, a religious man, saw no evil in the altercation. It was, he suggested, merely a "friendly scuffle" resulting not so much from bad blood as from an overfamiliarity that occasionally breeds contempt. "These players have been together so long—many of them all the way through the minors—that they just may know each other too well. There is more needling among players on this team than on any I know of. Sometimes the needling can get too serious."
Not that needling, lawsuits, threatened desertions, fistfights or what have you can appreciably damage what passes for morale on this bizarre baseball team. In the opening game of the 1974 Series, the A's formed a united front against the foe. Playing before a record Dodger Stadium crowd of 55,974 and opposed by the best Dodger pitcher, Andy Messersmith, the A's made the most of six hits and won 3-2. And who should the pitching hero be but the fighting-mad reliever, Fingers.
The scoring was typically A'sian, reflecting the team's Renaissance versatility. Leading off the second inning, Reggie Jackson, suffering still from one of his innumerable hamstring muscle pulls, stroked an outside fastball over the left-field fence for a 1-0 lead. Then in the fifth, Ken Holtzman, the first A's pitcher to come to bat all year, doubled crisply to left, striking a blow of sorts against the American League's designated hitters. Holtzman moved to third base on a Messersmith wild pitch, and scored as Bert Campaneris dropped a picture-perfect suicide squeeze bunt back to the mound. The count at the time was two balls, two strikes, and only a bunter of Campaneris' consummate skill would have dared make the play.