No complete game pitched by either side. More men left on base than ever before in a World Series. Hitters striking out in staggering numbers. Men tracking batted balls with all the dexterity of soldiers crawling through a minefield. The winning manager quitting a world championship team before the first sip of champagne. The best player in the tournament having to defend himself against an overexuberant fan with two out in the final inning.
It was that kind of crazy Series. Last Sunday afternoon the Oakland A's, a mutinous baseball team, mercifully ended it by giving a 5-2 beating to the New York Mets, the club that had limped in with a record just shading the high side of .500. But while hardly an artistic triumph, it was indubitably the A's second consecutive championship and the fourth in six years for the much maligned American League, and that should lower the altitude of the National League's high horse.
For the third October in a row the Series had gone to a seventh game, and for the third October in a row it confounded lovers of the predictable. If New York's pitching was admirable, as expected, the Mets fielded so poorly at times that one wondered if a spell had been cast on their famous gloves. On the other hand, the Mets were not supposed to outhit the A's—but they did, .253 to .207. Even so, they had a line of frustrating innings almost beyond belief; over one stretch New York left runners on base in 30 of 34 innings. Oakland, which during the past two seasons had hit more home runs than any other American League team, sent 218 men to the plate before finally getting a ball out of the park in the deciding game.
Poorly played though it was overall, the 70th Series produced some dramatic defensive plays in addition to its comic highlights. Oakland's excellent leftfielder, Joe Rudi, made a month's worth of startling catches in a week and New York Shortstop Bud Harrelson played his position as well as it can be played.
October 29, 1973
But not until the fifth game did the Series get out from under its zany peripheral activities and permit a viewer to concentrate on the Rudis and the Harrelsons—in short, on baseball. The A's resembled a soap-opera troupe, and Charles O. Finley, the jolly green gewgaw who owns them, exhibited all his familiar charm and grace. At one stage an Oakland player was asked if he had talked to Finiey recently. "No, not at all," he said. "Every time I call him he's out walking his pet rat."
Last week's events occurred in settings as different from one another as, well, night from day. First came the three-game Shea Stadium, or chilblain, phase in New York. Unlike many National League ball parks built in the 1960s and '70s, Shea has developed a special character—and a highly controversial one at that. Critics say the seats are too far from the field, the spectators raucous and their actions contrived. Others find it a lively place with a certain bubble-gum charm that appeals to the young. It has been rudely neglected by its landlord, the City of New York. "The infield is in terrible shape," says Met Third Baseman Wayne Garrett. "The ground crew works as hard as it can, but no money is put into it. The infield is sinking. Everybody knows that the grass part of an infield is supposed to be higher than the dirt part. Here it's the other way around. Unless you get a ball on a long hop you're in trouble. I've found myself actually shaking out there."
In late September sharp winds whip in off nearby Flushing Bay and then Shea is a Candlestick Park East. Balls get caught in the swirling breezes and become extremely difficult to track. The cold, particularly in the upper seats, makes spectating an uncomfortable chore. That's in September. October is worse. Games Three, Four and Five of the Series began at Shea at 8:30 p.m. on October 16, 17 and 18 because Commissioner Bowie Kuhn did exactly what the National Broadcasting Company told him to do—start them late to get a high television rating. That decision was made long ago, seemingly without research into weather conditions or concern for the paying fans. Late-evening temperatures at Shea for these dates figure to be in the frosty 50s, as indeed they were last week. Average temperatures in other National League cities where the Series might have been played have also been woefully low. Even in southerly St. Louis a fan going to a mid-October night game would have to dress for fiftyish weather.
But come frost or high infields the Mets get a lift from their adoring fans. "I'll be sitting in the dugout," says Pitcher Jerry Koosman, "and the crowds will get going and I'll feel a chill up and down my spine."
The Mets have shivered spines for extended periods only three times in their existence. Each time they used Shea almost to perfection. In 1969 they won 100 games and their first pennant. That season they won 29 of their final 34 games at Shea. A year ago they looked like the best team in the National League during April and May before being struck by a series of injuries. Again this year the Mets took advantage of their native heath by winning 17 of their last 23 home games, rising from last place on Aug. 30 to the top of the disheveled East in the race that ended Oct. 1.
The Mets and A's came into Shea tied 1-1 after a game in which Oakland's Mike Andrews had made two conspicuous errors. Before the A's left Oakland, Finley browbeat Andrews into signing a medical report that Finley hoped would put him on the disabled list and allow Manny Trillo, ineligible because he was not a member of the team on Sept. 1, to be activated.
Andrews has a faulty glove, very limited range and a throwing arm that has been sore for several seasons. Mike Andrews making an error is not a novelty. The fact that Manager Dick Williams had him in the game at second base from the ninth inning through the 12th was the basic mistake. Andrews took the criticism for his misplays, but his manager was more than partly guilty, because of his own blunder. By tinkering with his second basemen—a well-documented Williams obsession—he ended up with the wrong man in the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.
By demeaning Mike Andrews, Finley brought on open rebellion, the logical progression for a team that has never deluded itself about being a happy ship. "Black or white doesn't make a bit of difference to Charlie Finley," said Reggie Jackson. "All people are the same color to him. Green."
The A's worked out at Shea with Andrews' No. 17 taped to their uniforms as a sign of sympathy with him. By then he was back home in Peabody, Mass. Although Kuhn refused to let Finley "disable" Andrews, the affair was getting bigger than the playing of the games. "For the sake of baseball," said Joe Rudi, "I would like to see the tension put back in the World Series, where it belongs."
There was tension aplenty in Game Three, which at the outset matched Tom Seaver against Jim (Catfish) Hunter, ace vs. ace. New York scored two runs in the first inning on a long, high home run by Garrett to right field and a wild pitch by the Catfish. Then the Mets started leaving runners on the bases in large and ultimately costly clumps. In 10 of the 11 innings at least one man was stranded. Meanwhile Seaver struck out nine Oakland batters in the first five innings, getting everyone except Rudi at least once and Jackson twice.
At the start of the sixth Seaver got a very difficult out when Rudi drove a pitch to right center. Don Hahn chased the ball to the wall, leaped and pulled it back into the ball park. Sal Bando, the next hitter, pounded a Seaver pitch over Hahn's head in straightaway center field. Hahn seemed bewildered. Hahn was bewildered. He admitted later that he was confused by the outfield, which had new dimensions because of damage to the turf by vandalistic Met fans following victory over Cincinnati in the National League playoffs. More than 1,000 square feet of turf had been moved from the outfield to the infield to cover bare spots. The warning track in the outfield was thus made two feet wider than it had been, and, as Hahn chased Bando's drive, that change affected his stride and judgment. Hahn reached the warning track and then pulled up when he got to where it normally would have come to the fence.
"I was playing deep, but not deep enough," Hahn said. "I played the warning track. What should have been, wasn't. The ball dropped for a double. After the game Seaver told me he knew about the field being changed, but forgot to tell me about it."
Vic Davalillo singled Bando home to narrow the Mets' lead to 2-1 and in the eighth inning Bert Campaneris singled, stole second and scored on a single by Rudi that Met First Baseman John Milner played so poorly he was unable to block the ball to keep it in the infield. The A's won 3-2 in the 11th when Ted Kubiak walked, got to second base on a passed ball by Catcher Jerry Grote and scored on a single by Campaneris. When New York threatened in its part of the 11th, Williams brought Reliever Rollie Fingers into the game. As he got the side out he was also adding to a remarkable statistic: the A's had been in 10 World Series games in two years and now Fingers had appeared in nine of them. Indeed, by coming on in the final three games Fingers tied a Series record for appearances by a reliever.
The best-pitched game of the Series came next as Jon Matlack held the A's to three hits over eight innings and beat them 6-1, despite the closer-in support of the A's wives. Relegated to faraway seats in terrible Shea for their safety the previous night, they had demanded, and won, field boxes.
When the Mets traded Nolan Ryan to California, it was Matlack who replaced him as a Met starter. Rookie of the Year in 1972, Matlack won 14 games this season. For the past month and a half he had been the Mets' finest starting pitcher, at 23 a man of poise and purpose. "People write that I am the best pitcher in baseball," says Seaver, "and I'm flattered, but it won't be too long before they will be saying that about Jon Matlack. He is getting faster all the time."
No stranger to adversity, Matlack dropped out of college in order to help support the family when his father was ill. This season he was struck on the head by a line drive. The ball had been hit so hard that it wound up in the Met dugout. And though Matlack was destined to be pounded in Game Seven, oh how he shone at home.
Matlack had pitched well in the opening Series game only to lose 2-1, on two unearned runs. His performance in Game Four was even better, running his recent record to one earned run allowed in 40 innings. And this time the Mets got him some runs for a pleasant change. Three came in the first inning when sore-shouldered Rusty Staub followed singles by Garrett and Felix Millan with a home run hit on a lofty parabola over the boards in left-center field. Staub drove in two more runs with a fourth-inning single, but his throwing arm was a constant source of worry, still so wobbly from a crash into the wall in the playoffs that he could only throw underhanded.
One of the zaniest scenes in Series history occurred in the eighth inning when Andrews, fresh in from Peabody, was sent up to pinch-hit. As he walked to the on-deck circle the crowd of 54,817 spotted his No. 17 and commenced cheering. When Andrews went to the plate the crowd rose. The man was hitting .000 at the time and fielding exactly the same. After Andrews bounced out, the crowd rose again, and nobody seemed to be applauding him more fiercely than two men standing in the executive box-seat section to the left of the Met dugout. One was Warren Giles, president emeritus of the National League. The other was Charles Feeney, the league's current president.
"The ovations made me feel good," said Andrews afterward. "I don't think I ever had one before in my life. It gave me chills. I didn't think of anything, it just made me happy. Maybe the public was supporting my position. Maybe it's the little guy rebelling against the boss."
By the time the fifth game started another problem faced Charles O. Finley. His manager apparently was going to quit on him despite a contract extending through the 1975 season. Rumors circulated that Williams would become the next manager of the New York Yankees. The abrupt exit is not unknown in Oakland. This year three ticket managers quit and the entire switchboard staff at the Oakland Coliseum walked out. When Williams appeared on the field in the third inning of Game Five, an up-to-the-minute Met placard-waver lifted a new one high into the October night. YANKEE GO HOME, it said.
All the A's were eager to go home after what happened to them in the game. They came very close to being stopped without a hit and the three they did manage to get were suspect. Campaneris blooped a single to short center in the third inning and in the fourth Bando got a hit when his bouncer jumped up over Garrett's head at third and off his glove; Harrelson came sweeping over from shortstop and caught the ball in the air to prevent Bando from advancing into scoring position. The next man was Jackson, who was to be held to one hit in 12 Shea at-bats. He lashed the ball hard—into a double play. Oakland's third hit came in the seventh inning when Ray Fosse doubled past Garrett, who made a futile swipe at the ball, a gesture known to Chicago fans in years past as "the Zeke Bonura salute."
New York got only two runs off starter Vida Blue, who braved the cold in a short-sleeved shirt, but these were sufficient as Jerry Koosman and then Tug McGraw gave the A's short shrift.
McGraw, New York's animated bullpen specialist, had a terrible time during the early months of the season but then came on in spectacular fashion. In 17 appearances he had picked up four wins and 12 saves. "Tug McGraw," said Jackson after the game. "The man's a star. He gets extra energy from somewhere."
When the Series returned to Oakland for the concluding games the frenetic atmosphere dissipated. No one was happier than Jackson, the vaunted slugger whose bat had fallen strangely ill. "I missed the Series last year because of an injury," recalled Jackson, "and there were nights when I cried because I couldn't play. This time there has been such an undercurrent of animosity and turmoil that the Series has been tarnished. I wanted to slide and run and hit and get dirty, but the little boy in me was taken out by all the nonsense in New York. Nobody seemed to care anything about the players, just all that other stuff."
Well, sir, the little boy in Jackson had himself a time in Game Six. A double in the first to score Joe Rudi. A double in the third to score Sal Bando. A single in the eighth, which he stretched to a three-bagger when the Mets' Hahn lost the ball in center field. And after that he scored a run himself on a fly by Jesus Alou. A's 3, Mets 1.
Hunter again had faced off against Seaver, and after Catfish had extricated himself from a two-on, one-out situation in the first inning, he was just splendid. As for Staub, the hitting hero of Game Four, it was his turn to know the agonies of frustration. Fielding Jackson's hit in the third, he had to flip an underhand relay to Millan. What should have been a close play, possibly an out, was an easy Oakland run.
It was Staub at the plate in the eighth with runners on first and third and the A's leading by only 2-1—and the red-haired one went down on three swinging strikes at pitches thrown by the ubiquitous Darold Knowles, who was making his sixth relief appearance in six games. Fingers then came on again and got the final outs.
Seaver was removed for a pinch hitter in the eighth. "This was not Tom Seaver on ability, but Tom Seaver on heart," said Jackson. "He wasn't as fast as he had been in New York."
Thus the Series was sent to its final game on Sunday, when Oakland at last rediscovered the home run. Campaneris came to bat with a man on in the bottom of the third inning and lofted a Matlack pitch over the right-field fence. The man on? Pitcher Ken Holtzman, naturally. He had doubled and scored in Game One and now he did it again. Not to be upstaged, Jackson launched the longest hit of the Series, a 400-footer into the bleachers that was worth two more runs—and the Most Valuable Player award.
"When the ball left my hand," said Matlack later, "I knew it was going out of the park. It was a good, old-fashioned hanging curveball, eye-high."
And that was that; two runs scored later by the Mets and one by the A's were ultimately meaningless. Those industrious relievers, Fingers and Knowles, finished things up for Holtzman, Knowles coming in solely for the final out.
Moments later Williams announced that he was resigning to seek employment somewhere closer to his home in Riviera Beach, Fla.
When asked how far Riviera Beach was from Fort Lauderdale, the spring training home of the Yankees, Williams grinned. "Thirty minutes," he said, "and 22 seconds."