Must the Oakland A's forever endure the melancholy fate of the clown who longs to be taken seriously? Or is it time now to look beyond the harlequin pose and see the A's for what they have become—one of the finest baseball teams of the past half century?
By demolishing the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games, the A's last week become only the third team in history and the first not wearing New York Yankee uniforms to win as many as three consecutive World Series. The Yankees won five straight from 1949 to 1953 and four straight from 1936 to 1939, but if the A's can avoid tearing themselves asunder in civil warfare, even these extraordinary achievements are within reach.
And yet, for reasons not entirely of their own device, the A's are seen by many fans as career funnymen who, in the manner of The Three Stooges, are mainly intent upon rapping pates. The A's do have truculent moments. This past season they led the major leagues in clubhouse punchups and they seem constantly to be wrangling either among themselves or with their Owner, the megalomaniacal Charles O. Finley, whose toy the team is. The A's also wear funny clothes and they play in a city about which a former resident, Gertrude Stein, once said, "There is no there there."
There was a there there last week, though, and the A's were responsible for filling the void. Pouncing on every Dodger mistake, they won all three games in the Oakland Coliseum and saved themselves the inconvenience of traveling south for the weekend. The Dodgers, who hit .272 during the season, hit .228 against the A's superior pitching and only once scored more than twice—in their sole victory, the Series' second game. The loser in each of the games scored only two runs, and four of the five scores were 3-2, which is a measure of the sort of pitching that characterized this World Series.
The teams were closely matched, save for the A's almost uncanny ability to convert an opponent's slightest error, mental or physical, to their advantage. This, ultimately, separates champions from almost-champions.
Dodger Manager Walter Alston had said before the Series began that if his fine young team had one flaw it was defense. The Dodgers were capable of making the difficult plays, but they were also capable of botching the easy ones. A team with the A's instinct for the jugular could ask for no more. Indeed, in each of the climactic games in the East Bay, a Dodger botch, though seemingly trivial at the time, led to disaster. The A's, meanwhile, were converting base hits into double plays, which is their style.
The final three games of the California Series were played in some sort of weather inversion. October, with rare exception, is a balmy, clear-skied month in the San Francisco Bay area. Last week was not balmy, it was hot—in the 90s in some communities. It was not clear, it was smoggy. This was August in Los Angeles, not October in Oakland. The brownish air, the windless skies, the stifling heat should have made the Dodgers feel right at home, whereas the A's should have choked on the strange vapors.
"I wish the damn Dodgers would leave," a San Franciscan muttered one day over his beer in the Templebar, "so we can get our weather back."
But not even Mother Nature can repress the A's. They played in these conditions as skillfully as if their natural habitat had been Chavez Ravine, not the flatlands alongside the Nimitz Freeway.
With game-time temperatures in the 80s—game time being 5:30 p.m. as a convenience for Eastern television audiences—the A's quickly applied the heat to their Southern neighbors. What finally brought the Dodgers down, though, was the heat they inadvertently applied to themselves through errors.