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Historical Hot Stove
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

A List And An Anniversary - 11/1/2002

History’s Top Ten: Major League Baseball’s recent announcement of its top 10 moments in history has stirred anger in some quarters, disappointment in others, and even some mild agreement from a few voices in the minority. Here is a personal selection of the 10 most memorable moments (from least to most) in baseball history, based on their ability to manufacture suspense and drama, and in some cases, their success in creating a cultural impact on American society:

10) Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run to win Game One of the 1988 World Series: Like something out of an overly dramatic Hollywood script, Gibson not only overcame the obstacle of a badly injured leg, but also clubbed the dramatic blast against the era’s most dominant reliever, Dennis Eckersley.

9) Cal Ripken breaks Lou Gehrig’s iron man streak: If Ripken’s record-breaking game had just come and gone without additional incident, I’d be inclined to drop it from the list. Yet, the fact that he homered that same night, along with the emotional pull created by his Camden Yards “victory lap,” make it worthy of inclusion.

8) Don Larsen pitches a perfect game in the 1956 World Series: Herb Pennock came close with eight innings of perfection in Game Three of the 1927 Series, but Larsen became the first to complete the ultimate postseason pitching performance: 27 batters faced, 27 batters retired. Larsen’s masterpiece, which culminated in his strikeout of pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell, came against a Dodger lineup laden with 1950s greats and also gave the Yankees a three-games-to-two lead in a Series they would eventually win in seven.

7) Willie Mays robs Vic Wertz in Game One of the 1954 World Series: It may not have been Mays’ greatest catch—as he continues to claim—but it still ranks as the finest catch in Series history and also set the tone for a New York Giants’ four-game upset of the Cleveland Indians.

6) Bill Mazeroski’s Series-ending home run in Game Seven of the 1960 Fall Classic: Coming from an unlikely power source, Mazeroski capped off one of the largest upsets in World Series history with his ninth-inning blast against Ralph Terry. If only Mazeroski’s home run had only been a two-run shot to overcome a ninth-inning deficit, it might have crept up even higher on the list.

5) Carlton Fisk’s home run to end Game Six of the 1975 World Series: Skeptics might argue that this event loses luster because of the Red Sox’ failure to follow up with a win in Game Seven, but such a narrow view loses sight of the impact of Fisk’s home run. At a time when baseball was lagging in popularity, Game Six—and Fisk’s caketopping blast—gave the National Pastime a necessary infusion of spirit and energy.

4) Hank Aaron’s breaking of Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record: Aaron not only surpassed a mark once considered unbreakable, but did so under a harsh veil of hatred and racism. As if the point needed any proving, Aaron showed racists nationwide that a black man could achieve the same milestones as his white predecessors.

3) Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech at Yankee Stadium: Of all the moments included, this one did not include the act of playing in a game. Yet, Gehrig’s words remain as powerful and inspirational as any on-field performance, displaying the rarest kind of dignity and heroism in the face of tragic illness.

2) Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘The World” to win the 1951 National League pennant: Thomson’s home run, coming with his team trailing in the bottom of the ninth and the league title on the line, epitomized baseball drama at its heightened finest. Without the fruits of such an unexpected comeback, the Giants would have received nothing as consolation—no division title, no pennant, no trophy of any kind. Thanks to Thomson’s blast, the Giants earned the right to be called the National League’s best team—and gained a distinct and recallable niche in baseball history.

1) Jackie Robinson’s debut on April 15, 1947: Although underpublicized at the time, Robinson’s first major league game shattered baseball’s 20th-century color barrier, forever changing the composition and landscape of America’s most important sport, Acting as a springboard to societal change, Robinson’s courage under fire also played a part in paving the way for civil rights activity in the 1950s…

Thirty Years Later, Where Are They Now?: The accomplishments of a championship team 30 years ago don’t come close to making the top ten list, but deserve recognition nonetheless. In 1972, this team revolutionized baseball with newly sprouted facial hair and colorfully gaudy green and gold uniforms. Employing 47 players over the course of the season (a record at the time for a first-place team), the Oakland A’s of Charlie Finley overcame an avalanche of injuries and internal strife to win the American League’s Western Division on the way to claiming the first World Championship in the history of the Bay Area. Here’s a look at where some of the players—and the team’s fiery, militaristic manager—are today:

Dave Duncan (Catcher): After emerging as a near All-Star in 1972, a contract dispute with Charlie Finley in the spring of 1973 led to Duncan’s sudden departure from the organization. Traded to the Cleveland Indians for catcher Ray Fosse and utility infielder Jack Heidemann, Duncan spent time with the Tribe and the Baltimore Orioles before retiring in 1977. One of the most successful of the 1972 A’s in his post-playing days, Duncan has become a highly respected pitching coach with the Chicago White Sox, the A’s, and his current team—the St. Louis Cardinals.

Gene Tenace (Catcher-First Baseman): An underappreciated player during his career, the power-hitting, walk-drawing Tenace left the A’s as a free agent after the 1976 season, signing on with the San Diego Padres. He also played for the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates before retiring and eventually becoming a coach with the Houston Astros. Tenace later worked a stint as a coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. In 1999, Tenace joined the Boston Red Sox’ organization as a minor league hitting coach. Two years later, he served as the hitting coach for the Trenton Thunder, the Red Sox’ Double-A affiliate. In 2002, Tenace joined the Cardinals’ organization as a roving minor league hitting instructor. During the offseason, he resides in Redmond, Oregon.

Mike Epstein (First Baseman:Like many of the 1972 A’s, Epstein did not return to the ballclub in 1973. Shortly after the World Series, the A’s traded the controversial slugger, who had feuded with manager Dick Williams, to the Texas Rangers for relief pitcher Horacio Pina. Epstein spent little time in Texas before being traded to the California Angels, who released him during the 1974 season. The A’s contemplated re-signing Epstein, but never did, and the career of the power-hitting first baseman came to an end. A resident of Poway, California, Epstein now works as a private hitting consultant for selected clients.

Tim Cullen (Second Baseman: This journeyman’s major league career came to an end after the 1972 season, which he split between Triple-A Iowa (the A’s’ top minor league affiliate) and Oakland. Currently a resident of Fresno, Nevada, Cullen serves as the vice president of special projects for the minor league Fresno Grizzlies.

Dick Green (Second Baseman: After battling injuries throughout much of the 1972 season, Green returned to play two more seasons in Oakland as a good-field, little-hit second baseman. Although he made an annual ritual of announcing his retirement only to change his mind, he decided to call it quits for good after earning his third World Series ring in 1974. In his post-playing days, Green operated a moving company in Rapid City, South Dakota, which he eventually sold to his partner. Green is now retired, but continues to live in Rapid City.

Bert Campaneris (Shortstop: The popular speedster left the A’s after the 1976 season to sign a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers. He later spent time with the California Angels, and after a one-year stint in the Mexican League, played his final major league season with the New York Yankees in 1983. He retired with a total of 649 stolen bases and nearly 1,200 runs scored. A native of Cuba, the well-conditioned Campaneris now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and often participates in Old-Timers’ games around the country. Campaneris also conducts baseball camps and is an active participant in the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, often playing in charity golf tournaments.

Sal Bando (Third Baseman: In 1977, the A’s’ captain and third baseman signed a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, his last major league team. He retired in 1982, having hit 242 home runs during a 16-year career. One of the most successful of the A’s in his post-playing days, Bando served as the Brewers’ general manager until he was fired in 1999. He is now out of organized baseball, but remains active in business, serving on the boards of two companies in Milwaukee. Bando splits his time between Wisconsin and Scottsdale, Arizona.

Mike Hegan (First Baseman): The slick-fielding first baseman remained with the team until the middle of the 1973 season, when a lack of playing time prompted thoughts of retirement. The A’s accommodated Hegan by trading him to the New York Yankees, where he played more regularly during the balance of the season. In mid-1974, the Yankees traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he played through the 1977 season before calling it quits for good. After his playing days, Hegan became an accomplished broadcaster, a position he continues to hold with the Cleveland Indians. During the offseason, Hegan lives in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Don Mincher (First Baseman: Like several members of the “Mustache Gang,” Mincher decided to retire after the 1972 season. One of the most successful of the A’s during his post-playing career, Mincher eventually became the owner and general manager of his hometown team, the Huntsville Stars. He is now the president of the Class-AA Southern League, which features Huntsville as one of its franchises.

Ted Kubiak (Utility infielder): After earning two more World Series rings as Oakland’s chief utilityman, Kubiak left the A’s in a 1975 trade with the San Diego Padres that brought pitcher Sonny Siebert to Oakland. He wrapped up a 10-year career by playing 96 games for the Padres in 1976. In an interesting twist, Kubiak married the daughter of Irv Noren, one of the A’s’ coaches in 1974. The likable Kubiak later became a manager for the New York-Penn League team in Mahoning Valley, a Class-A minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. In 2002, Kubiak left the Indians’ farm system to become a minor league manager in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization. Kubiak resides in Kinston, North Carolina, during the offseason.

Dal Maxvill (utility infielder: This slick-fielding, clear-thinking middle infielder played off and on with the A’s until 1975, when they released him, ending his major league career. “Maxie” turned to coaching, first with the St. Louis Cardinals, then the Atlanta Braves, and then back to St. Louis. Like Sal Bando, Maxwell eventually moved to the front office. When the Cardinals named Maxvill their general manager in 1985, he became the only third base coach in major league history to graduate directly to the top job in the front office. Maxvill’s tenure as GM lasted until 1994, when he was released by St. Louis’ new management team. Still a resident of St. Louis, Maxvill later worked as a scout for the New York Yankees before becoming a travel agent.

Joe Rudi (Left Fielder: Like many of the A’s’ best players, Rudi left the Bay Area as a free agent after the 1976 season. He signed a contract with the California Angels, and after a stint with the Boston Red Sox, finished out his career in Oakland in 1982. By the estimates of some scouts, he was the finest defensive left fielder of his era. After his playing days, Rudi coached briefly with the A’s, but has generally kept a low baseball profile while living in the Northwest. Rudi recently sold his working ranch to former Oakland player and teammate Carney Lansford. Rudi and his wife, Sharon, now live in Baker, Oregon, on a fulltime basis and work as real estate agents. “Gentleman Joe” also does some coaching at the amateur level. <

Reggie Jackson (Center Fielder-Right Fielder): After the 1972 season, Jackson played four more seasons in Oakland—highlighted by his 1973 American League MVP Award—before the realities of baseball’s new economic system dictated his departure. Convinced that he could not prevent Jackson from taking advantage of newfound free agency, Charlie Finley traded the All-Star outfielder and pitcher Ken Holtzman to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor and pitchers Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell. After the 1976 season, Jackson signed a free agent deal with the Yankees, helping the team to consecutive world championships. In 1982, “Mr. October” signed another free agent deal with the Angels. As did Joe Rudi, Jackson returned to the Bay Area to finish out his career, hitting 15 home runs for the A’s in 1987. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993, Jackson worked as a consultant and front office executive for the Yankees until resigning in 1998. He has since returned to the Yankees as a community representative. A resident of Carmel, California, Jackson owns and operates a company that features clients in the fields of electronics and also heads up a foundation that helps youngsters learn how to use computers.

Matty Alou (Right Fielder):Although Alou played well for the A’s during the stretch run in September of ’72, Charlie Finley deemed his $100,000 contract prohibitive and traded him to the New York Yankees for third baseman Rich McKinney. Alou split the 1973 season between the Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals, before joining the San Diego Padres the following year. The Padres released Alou in the middle of 1974, bringing his long career to an end. Alou currently lives in his native Dominican Republic, where he serves the San Francisco Giants’ organization as a special assignment scout.

Angel Mangual (Center Fielder): Once dubbed the “Little Roberto Clemente” because of his physical resemblance to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ superstar, Mangual never matched the promise of his rookie season in 1971. Still, the native Puerto Rican remained with the A’s as a part-time player until 1976, when the team released him to make room for the late Cesar Tovar. In 1997, Mangual’s post-baseball fortunes turned sour when he was arrested on charges of drug trafficking.

Jim “Catfish” Hunter (Starting Pitcher): The Oakland ace became baseball’s first true free agent in 1974, when arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that Charlie Finley’s failure to make an insurance payment made Hunter’s contract null and void. “The Cat” signed a lucrative five-year deal with the Yankees, his last major league club. With the Yankees, he participated in two more world championships, giving him five for his career. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1987… Unfortunately, Hunter’s post-playing days met with misfortune. He was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that also afflicted former Chicago Cubs star Ron Santo. Then in 1998, Hunter learned that he was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a fatal illness that affects the nervous system. The likable Hunter died on September 9, 1999, less than a year after learning of the diagnosis. In response to the Hunter’s plight, several of his friends banded together to form the Jim “Catfish” Hunter ALS Foundation, hoping to raise money in the continuing effort to find a cure. For more information on the foundation, call 1-877-HELP-ALS.

Ken Holtzman (Starting Pitcher): This stylishly underrated left-hander left the Bay Area in his rear view mirror as part of the Reggie Jackson blockbuster with the Orioles. After tenures with the O’s, Yankees and Chicago Cubs—and with 174 career wins and four World Series rings under his belt—he left the game in 1979. Currently a resident of Chesterfield, Missouri, Holtzman went to work as an insurance salesman before becoming an investment banker. He also does work for a local Jewish community center.

John “Blue Moon” Odom (Starting Pitcher): This talented but inconsistent right-hander, who had enjoyed his finest season in 1972, soon fell on hard times. He won only six of 17 decisions over the next two seasons. Bothered by arm troubles and lack of use at the start of the 1975 season, Odom left the A’s in a mid-season trade that sent him to the Cleveland Indians for pitchers Dick Bosman and Jim Perry. Blue Moon pitched only three games for the Tribe before being dispatched to the Atlanta Braves. He finished his career with the Chicago White Sox the following summer. After his retirement, Odom struggled to overcome a series of struggles, including financial debt and severe depression. Odom worked for awhile as a boat cleaner and custodian in California before retiring, but remains an active member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, often participating in the organization’s fund-raising golf tournaments. He resides in Fountain Valley, California.

Vida Blue (Starting Pitcher): Charlie Finley tried to sell Blue to the Yankees during the 1976 season, only to have the controversial transaction negated by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. One year later, Finley successfully dealt Blue to the rival San Francisco Giants for seven players. Blue later pitched for the Kansas City Royals before returning to San Francisco. After an aborted spring training comeback with Oakland in 1987, Blue retired from pitching with a career record of 209-161. He currently works for the Giants as a community representative while living in Sonora, California.

Dave Hamilton (Relief Pitcher-Starting Pitcher): This young left-hander never fulfilled the promise he showed during the first half of the 1972 season. He departed Oakland in the middle of the 1975 season, traded to the Chicago White Sox as part of the Chet Lemon-for-Stan Bahnsen deal. Hamilton pitched mostly in long relief for the White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Pittsburgh Pirates before returning to the A’s in 1979. After he struggled in 1980, the A’s sent Hamilton to the minor leagues, where he finished his career. Hamilton lives in San Ramon, California, splitting his time between coaching high school baseball and working as a project manager for a roofing contractor.

Darold Knowles (Relief Pitcher): An effective set-up and middle-inning reliever, Knowles left the A’s after the 1974 season, when they sent him to the Chicago Cubs as part of the trade that brought Hall of Famer Billy Williams to the Bay Area. This well-traveled left-hander later spent time with the Texas Rangers, Montreal Expos and St. Louis Cardinals. After his retirement, Knowles worked for the Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies as a major league coach. He later served as pitching coach for the Clearwater Phillies, one of Philadelphia’s Class-A minor league affiliates, before joining the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization as a pitching coach for their Triple-A team in Nashville. Knowles continues to live in Clearwater during the offseason. Joel Horlen (Relief Pitcher): The veteran right-hander retired as a player after the 1972 season and later became a minor league pitching coach. Once again retired, Horlen lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Bob Locker (Relief Pitcher): Locker’s shaky performance in the 1972 post-season convinced the A’s to trade him to the Chicago Cubs for young outfielder Billy North. Locker spent one year in the Windy City before heading back to Oakland in exchange for fellow reliever Horacio Pina, but back problems soon ended the side-arming right-hander’s career. A resident of Lafayette, Locker works in real estate and construction.

Rollie Fingers (Relief Pitcher): After participating in two more Bay Area World Championships, Oakland’s relief ace opted for free agency in 1976. He signed a multi-year contract with the San Diego Padres, thereby maintaining his connection to batterymate Gene Tenace. Fingers later joined the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade, helping the team to its only World Series appearance in 1982. Fingers ended his career in 1985, foregoing an offer from the Cincinnati Reds because of their policy that barred players from growing mustaches or beards. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992, Fingers’ trademark handlebar mustache makes him perhaps the most recognizable of all the 1974 A’s. A fulltime resident of Las Vegas, Fingers continues to make national appearances at card shows and other public functions.

Dick Williams (Manager): Williams led the A’s to another World Championship in 1973, but retired after that fall’s World Series because of the continuing meddling of owner Charlie Finley. Williams later managed the California Angels without success, but returned to the World Series in 1984 as the skipper of the San Diego Padres. He served his last managerial stint with the Seattle Mariners before working as a scout and consultant with the New York Yankees. A resident of Henderson, Nevada, Williams is now retired, but continues to participate in charity golf tournaments.

Bruce Markusen is the author of A BASEBALL DYNASTY: CHARLIE FINLEY’S SWINGIN’ A’s, a new release this fall from St. Johann Press. This newly revised edition contains added interviews with former A’s stars Mudcat Grant, Blue Moon Odom, Joe Rudi, and Gene Tenace; new statistical summaries for the 1971-75 seasons; newsmaking headlines from the turbulent 1970s; and additional text on the A’s’ 1972 World Championship. For more information on the book, send an e-mail to bmark@telenet.net.


by Bruce Markusen

 

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