In our quest for Yesterday’s Hitter, we look back to 1972. A classic 7 Game World Series between two magnificent ball clubs.
Each team stocked with Hall of Fame players and Skippered by Hall of Fame Managers.
Game 1 of this series was played 37 years from yesterday… October 14, 1972… and it is here that we find our YH.
Recall that the path to the World Series was much shorter in these days. A team won their Division during the regular season and then had a 5 game Championship Series to determine who would represent their League in the World Series.
The Athletics won the AL West by 5 ½ games over the Chicago White Sox, then defeated the Detroit Tigers 3 games to 2 in the ALCs.
The Cincinnati Reds rolled over the NL West by 10 ½ games trouncing both the Dodgers and the Astros, then defeated the Pirates 3 games to 2 in the NLCS.
Unfortunately for the A’s, they lost their star player and future Mr. October, Reggie Jackson in the last game against Detroit. Reggie pulled a hamstring stealing home in that final game.
The Stars for the Oakland A’s in ’72 were fellas like Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, Mike Epstein and Catfish Hunter. The “Swingin’ A’s” featured day-glo uniforms, white shoes, lots of facial hair, colorful nicknames and explosive personalities. The Skipper for the squad was Dick Williams.
The Reds, on the other hand, were healthy as a horse. “The Big Red Machine” had a more traditional look and an everyday lineup packed with future Hall of Famers. Their stars: Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Ken Griffey and Dave Concepcion.
The pilot for the Big Red Machine was none other than Sparky Anderson.
The Series was dubbed “The Hairs vs. the Squares”.
Game one was a day game played at Riverfront Stadium in front of 52,918 baseball fans.
Gene Tenace was penciled into the 7th spot in the batting order as the battery mate of Ken Holtzman. Matty Alou (yes, that Alou) replaced Reggie Jackson in Right Field.
Scrappy SS Bert “Campy” Campaneris singled to start the game but was stranded. The Reds went meekly in the first with three straight ground outs against Holtzman.
The 2nd inning started out harmlessly with Epstein flying out, followed by the same from Sal Bando. Then with two outs, George Hendrick drew a walk which brought Gene Tenace to the plate. Gene had a total of 5 Home Runs all season. The adrenaline of the spotlight, and his family in the crowd, charged the catcher’s bat. Gene slammed a two run HR to get the A’s on the board 2-0.
In the Reds half of the 2nd it looked as though the Big Red Machine was about to crank up. Johnny Bench singled. Tony Perez singled, followed by a walk from 3B Denis Menke. The bases were loaded with nobody out! The A’s pitching staff in ’72 had backbone. Holtzman got Geronimo to pop out and gave up a run on a ground out to Concepcion, before he retired the side on a strikeout of opposing pitcher Gary Nolan. It remained A’s 2 and Reds 1 until the Reds batted in the 4th when the Machine got moving once again.
Johnny Bench walked to lead off and was moved up to 3rd on a Tony Perez single.
In the A’s 5th George Hendrick flied out. Here came our guy Gene Tenace, with nobody on and one out. Miraculously Tenace belted another Home Run!
Gene became the first player ever to homer in his first two World Series plate appearances (a feat later matched by Andruw Jones of the Braves in 1996).
The A’s recaptured the lead 3-2.
The Reds would post a couple of mild threats from there on in, but they simply could not solve the masterful pitching possessed by the Athletics. Holtzman lasted 5 innings and was replaced by Rollie Fingers. Fingers handed it over to Vida Blue with 2 out in the 7th and Vida went the rest of the way for the save.
Gene Tenace belted 4 HR’s in the Series, tying a mark set by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig! He also drove in 9 RBIs while no other Oakland player tallied more than one!
Interesting side note here is that the “Closers” were NOT one inning wonders. They routinely pitched for 2 or more innings to save a game. Managerial decisions have certainly changed over the years.
One more tidbit here: In Game 7, Gene Tenace was inserted at 1st Base to replace Mike Epstein. Dave Duncan took over the catching duties.
Gene had himself another awesome day going 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs while batting from the Cleanup spot!
Mike Epstein (the self professed disciple of Ted Williams) was miffed at Manager Dick Williams. However, in defense of Dick – Epstein had gone a combined 0 for 16 in the previous six games! To this day, Epstein will not speak with Dick Williams for pulling him from the Game 7 lineup.
What’s a HOF Manager to do?
Fiore Gino Tennaci (Gene Tenace) was awarded the World Series MVP of 1972!
Congratulations Gene Tenace – You are Yesterday’s Hitter.
Watch the Highlights here! (3 mins.)