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May 3,2000

1972 A’s Revisited

The A’s memorable 1972 World Series triumph over the Cincinnati Reds will be prominently featured in a book we’re currently writing: Fall Classics-The Greatest World Series of the 20th Century. The book will profile the ’72 Series, along with nine other great World Series... The ’72 Series set a record of sorts in that six of the seven games were decided by a single run, including the climactic seventh game... Gene Tenace, the MVP of the Series, became a national sports celebrity overnight by hitting four home runs, including two in his first two Series at-bats. (During the regular season, Tenace hit only four home runs while splitting time with Dave Duncan behind the plate.) Tenace drove in nine of Oakland’s 16 runs, as the A’s outlasted the Reds in a Series dominated by pitching... The late Jim "Catfish" Hunter won two games in the Series, with his seventh-game victory coming in relief of John "Blue Moon" Odom. Earlier in the Series, Pete Rose had belittled Hunter by saying that he didn’t regard him as a "super pitcher," despite the fact that Catfish had just beaten the Reds, 2-1, in Game Two… Other memorable moments in the Series included the eighth inning of Game Three, when the A’s faked an intentional walk to Johnny Bench. With the count three-and-two on Bench, Gene Tenace stood up behind the plate and signaled for an intentional ball four. At the command of a devious Dick Williams, Rollie Fingers instead threw Bench a fastball over the outside corner for strike three. At first confused and then embarrassed, Bench walked back to the dugout, a victim of Williams’ chicanery... Although we’re still in negotiations with publishers, we’re hoping to have the World Series book released in October, or in time for the Christmas holidays.

A Weekend With Seymour At last weekend’s Seymour Medal Conference in Cleveland, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) sponsored a four-man panel that discussed and analyzed the best baseball books of the century. The categories of books included anthology, biography, fiction, history, humor, pictorial, and statistics. Although the panelists didn’t agree on a single book as the best of the century, a number of titles did merit consideration. Some of them included Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer; Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof; Five Seasons, by Roger Angell; Macmillan’s original edition of The Baseball Encyclopedia, published in 1969; Total Baseball, edited by John Thorn and Pete Palmer; and Veeck as in Wreck, by Ed Linn (who passed away earlier this year)... Another book that received mention from the panel was The Glory of Their Times, by Lawrence Ritter. Serving on the panel himself (along with fellow authors Paul Adomites, Paul Bauer, and Greg Rhodes), Ritter decided to omit his own book, which was nonetheless championed strongly by the other panelists. Ritter, however, did make one of the strongest comments of the session. Although Ritter praised Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract as one of the best books of baseball history, he took James to task for listing the "ugliest player" of each decade, calling it cruel, especially in reference to players who are still living. He also criticized James for listing the biggest drunk of each decade, saying that alcoholism was not a subject that should be treated amusingly. In fairness to James, the Historical Abstract doesn’t list players as "Biggest Drunks," but rather categorizes them as "Drinking Men." Still, we understand Ritter’s point here... Curiously, Roger Kahn’s Boys of Summer received very little mention during the SABR session and was not discussed at all until one of the audience members asked about it... As for our own favorite books, we’d vote for Jim Bouton’s classic, Ball Four (which was prominently mentioned at the conference); The Curse of Rocky Colavito, by the underrated Terry Pluto; and David Neft and Richard Cohen’s Sports Encyclopedia: Baseball. __ Another one of the highlights of the Seymour Medal Conference was the keynote speech by ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, who discussed his own career in baseball and answered questions ranging from the issue of franchise reduction (which we support) to the every-present Pete Rose debate. For what it’s worth, we regard Kurkjian as the best analyst on "Baseball Tonight." He not only presents insights into the current game, but shows respect for the game’s past by placing contemporary achievements in proper historical perspective... SABR also announced important news regarding its collection of research materials, which will now be housed at the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) in Cleveland. WRHS will act as a repository for SABR’s current and future research materials, providing library-quality organization and maintenance for all books, papers, articles, and photographs in the collection. SABR members will only need to show their ID card at WRHS to gain access to the research materials__ According to a source, SABR has narrowed its search for a new executive director to about a half-dozen candidates. The very capable Morris Eckhouse had served as director for the past 10 years before announcing his resignation earlier this year. In a nice touch, Eckhouse attended the Seymour Conference and smoothly moderated a panel of guests who discussed some of the best libraries and collections that are available for baseball research... Many thanks to John Zajc of SABR for an entertaining and well-organized weekend of talks and presentations, and to Peggy Beck for putting together the Friday afternoon book signing in Cleveland Heights. The game needs more people like Beck and Zajc in its efforts to preserve history and promote research...

Splitting The Hands Though he’s injured now, Luis Castillo of the Marlins has quietly become one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, combining an ability to hit for average and draw walks with splendid base-stealing speed. Castillo’s skills as a hitter appear to have improved as a result of his decision to use a split-handed grip on the bat, similar to the style used by Ty Cobb and scores of other hitters in the early 20th century. For a player like Castillo, who has almost no home run power, the Cobb approach makes sense. Although the separated grip looks uncomfortable to most of us who have become accustomed to holding our hands side-by-side, it actually allows hitters more bat control while improving their ability to stroke the ball to the opposite field. We can’t remember any other players who have used the split-hand grip since Matty Alou, who retired in 1974 with a lifetime .307 batting average... Unlike Castillo, Alou didn’t draw many walks, but he did succeed as a high-average hitter by employing several other unorthodox tendencies. Although only 5’9" and 160 pounds, Matty used an unusually heavy bat and often hit off his front foot, pinging the ball to the opposite field… Perhaps Rey Ordonez should adopt the split-grip favored by Alou. It might lessen his tendency to hit fly balls short of the warning track...

Jose Can See Kevin Elster notwithstanding, has there been a more unlikely comeback story than the one involving Felix Jose? Although Jose had not played in the major leagues since a nine-game stint with the Royals in 1995__and had actually spent all of last year in the highly disregarded Korean League...he accepted a spring training invitation from the world champion Yankees. Given the depth in the Yankees’ outfield, their interest in the 34-year-old Jose was limited, but manager Joe Torre remembered him from his days in St. Louis and expressed no objection to giving him a chance to show opposing scouts that he could still play. After a slow start in spring training, Jose impressed Torre by hitting two home runs in the final week of exhibition games. The Yankees decided to change course and offered Jose a contract with their top minor league affiliate at Columbus. When Roberto Kelly went on the disabled list last weekend, the Yankees recalled Jose (who was hitting around .400 at Columbus), placed him on their 25-man roster, and started him at DH against David Wells. Jose responded to the promotion by swatting two hits in his first two at-bats__ Unfortunately, Jose’s fairytale re-birth from obscurity didn’t end on an upbeat note. As he ran the bases in his Yankee debut, Jose suffered a pulled groin muscle, which forced him to be placed on the disabled list. On the bright side, Jose will continue to collect a major league salary while on the DL and might still figure in the Yankee plans given their slim pickings at DH and on the bench. Jose is a switch-hitter with power and can still run, which might help him challenge someone like Lance Johnson for a roster spot...

The Judge Gets His Day in Court Frank Robinson made news last week when he handed down a record number of suspensions to the Tigers and White Sox for their involvement in a nasty series of on-field brawls. Unfortunately, Robinson should have received additional recognition in April for something he did 25 years ago. On April 8, 1975, Robinson became the first African-American manager in the history of the major leagues. He also homered in his managerial debut, helping the Indians to a 5-3 Opening Day win over the Yankees. We’re not saying that Frank Robinson should have received as much attention as Jackie Robinson did in 1997 (the 50th anniversary of his breaking of baseball’s color barrier), but some kind of on-field tribute by the Indians or one of F. Robby’s former teams would have been nice. One would think that the 25th anniversary of such an historic event would have merited some attention, but baseball and the national media virtually ignored the milestone... It’s appropriate that F. Robby is now in charge of disciplining managers, coaches, and players for violent and unsportsmanlike on-field behavior. During his playing days, Robinson was known as "The Judge" for his role as the head of the Orioles’ "Kangaroo Court." That "court" handed out small fines for boneheaded plays and other embarrassing mistakes made by Oriole players and proved useful in keeping the clubhouse mood light and airy...

Reliving 1975 Since the year 2000 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest World Series ever played, we thought it might be fun to periodically track the fortunes of the Red Sox and Reds during that memorable 1975 season. In our first segment, we’ll recap the happenings of April for both of the eventual World Series combatants... On the eve of the new season, Carl Yastrzemski ripped into his Red Sox’ teammates for having the "worst attitude coming out of spring training of any team I’ve ever been on." The cause of Yaz’ anger? The Sox had lost 20 of 31 spring training games... By May 1, rookie center fielder Fred Lynn had provided a small hint of what he would accomplish in his breakthrough season. His .333 average and 13 RBIs led the team, helping him put a stranglehold on the Sox’ center field job... Fellow rookie Jim Rice matched Lynn with three home runs, while playing mostly as the DH... The Red Sox played the first month of the season without Carlton Fisk, who had suffered a broken arm in spring training... Tony Conigliaro, after a three-and-a-half-year absence from the game, struggled in the early phase of his unlikely comeback. After picking up a hit in the first at-bat of a triumphant Opening Day return as the Sox’ cleanup hitter and DH, "Tony C" collected only two more hits in his next 24 at-bats and also suffered a pulled groin muscle. Conigliaro had retired in the middle of the 1971 season due to deteriorating vision in his left eye, the remnant of a 1967 beaning by the Angels’ Jack Hamilton... After losing an excruciating decision in extra innings on April 26, Bill Lee decided to completely shred his uniform... On the morning of May 5, the Red Sox’ record stood at 9-9, three games behind the surprising Brewers in the American League East... For the Reds, Joe Morgan carried the offense in the early going, batting .405 with 15 stolen bases by May 1. Conversely, both Johnny Bench and Tony Perez struggled at the plate, explaining why the Reds had a mediocre record of 14-12 and were two games out of first place on May 5... On April 15, the Reds traded hard-throwing left-hander Tom "The Blade" Hall, at one time a promising pitcher, to the Mets for southpaw Mac Scarce... Living up to his nickname of "Captain Hook," Sparky Anderson turned to his bullpen early and often. Veterans Pedro Borbon and Clay Carroll each made 10 appearances in the Reds’ first 16 games of the season... Still experimenting with his lineup and position players, Sparky played youthful outfielder George Foster at first base on April 24. Anderson would find a more permanent home for the powerful Foster later in the season...

Hunter’s Foundation Presses On One of baseball’s most worthwhile charities came about last year as the direct result of personal tragedy. As a Hall of Famer battled Lou Gehrig’s Disease throughout much of 1999, he and his friends formed the Jim "Catfish" Hunter ALS Foundation. Although Hunter passed away last September, the foundation’s efforts have not ceased; if anything, they’ve garnered even more momentum in raising funds for research toward a cure. The foundation’s website is now up and running at HYPERLINK . For more information on the foundation and its fight against ALS, call 1-877-HELP-ALS, or write to "Catfish Hunter Foundation, PO Box 47, Hertford, NC, 27944"...

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