The National Pastime has come a long way from its insular beginnings. It was not so very long ago, in fact, that in baseball geography St. Louis represented the Far West and Chicago was considered the last bastion of big-league civilization.
So now this game, long criticized as a slave to tradition, gives us its first all-California World Series, thus becoming the first major professional sport to have two teams from the Golden State competing for its highest prize. Tradition will hardly suffer from the encounter between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A's, for Northern and Southern California have a long and honorable history of mutual animosity. And the game's prestige can only be enhanced since these are the best and most interesting teams in their leagues.
The events immediately preceding the first game clearly presaged an A's victory. This is a team nourished by adversity, and there was a feast of it on the board on World Series eve.
First, there was Mike Andrews' attempted revenge—a $2.5 million damage suit filed against A's Owner Charles O. Finley and the team doctor who concurred with Finley's diagnosis that Andrews was physically unfit to play baseball after making two errors in last year's Series. The episode, the suit charges, caused Andrews "severe mental anguish and emotional distress"—the lot of all Finley employees, some would say.
Then there was Jim (Catfish) Hunter, the 25-game-winning pitcher. Mental anguish is not Hunter's hangup with Finley; money is. Through his lawyer, Hunter declared last week that Finley has paid him only half of his $100,000 salary for 1974, and therefore he is technically a free agent. It is the Catfish's opinion that because Finley failed to meet his contractual obligations, he, Hunter, could just as well be pitching for the Dodgers in the Series. Only his fidelity to his teammates has prevented him from seeking employment elsewhere, he averred.
This is a commendable sentiment, but one wonders why the pitcher should feel so attached to players whose affection for one another is so often alienated. There have been more fistfights in the A's clubhouse this year than in Madison Square Garden, the latest, between Pitchers Rollie Fingers and John (Blue Moon) Odom, occurring the day before the Series opened. Odom, it is reported, taunted his mound colleague over some recent domestic difficulties Fingers has been experiencing. Fingers' response was to pounce upon his tormentor in the way of all A's. Odom fought back vigorously, and after a brief struggle Fingers emerged with a scalp wound that required five stitches and Odom hobbled off with a twisted ankle.
Manager Alvin Dark, a religious man, saw no evil in the altercation. It was, he suggested, merely a "friendly scuffle" resulting not so much from bad blood as from an overfamiliarity that occasionally breeds contempt. "These players have been together so long—many of them all the way through the minors—that they just may know each other too well. There is more needling among players on this team than on any I know of. Sometimes the needling can get too serious."
Not that needling, lawsuits, threatened desertions, fistfights or what have you can appreciably damage what passes for morale on this bizarre baseball team. In the opening game of the 1974 Series, the A's formed a united front against the foe. Playing before a record Dodger Stadium crowd of 55,974 and opposed by the best Dodger pitcher, Andy Messersmith, the A's made the most of six hits and won 3-2. And who should the pitching hero be but the fighting-mad reliever, Fingers.
The scoring was typically A'sian, reflecting the team's Renaissance versatility. Leading off the second inning, Reggie Jackson, suffering still from one of his innumerable hamstring muscle pulls, stroked an outside fastball over the left-field fence for a 1-0 lead. Then in the fifth, Ken Holtzman, the first A's pitcher to come to bat all year, doubled crisply to left, striking a blow of sorts against the American League's designated hitters. Holtzman moved to third base on a Messersmith wild pitch, and scored as Bert Campaneris dropped a picture-perfect suicide squeeze bunt back to the mound. The count at the time was two balls, two strikes, and only a bunter of Campaneris' consummate skill would have dared make the play.
The A's final—and deciding—run came in the eighth, which Campaneris led off with a single. He was sacrificed to second by Bill North and he ran all the way home when Dodger Third Baseman Ron Cey threw wildly to first base after fielding Sal Bando's high bouncer.
A home run, a squeeze play, an opponent's error: three runs. As usual, the A's hit not often but well, leaving only six runners on base, half as many as the Dodgers, who were able to score only when the A's erred.
With one out in the fifth inning, speedy Dave Lopes reached first when Campaneris bobbled his ground ball. Bill Buckner then bounced a single over First Baseman Gene Tenace's head into right field, and when Jackson, attempting to field the ball barehanded, fumbled it, Lopes scurried home.
"When I missed the ball Lopes was rounding second," Jackson recalled. "The next thing I knew he was crossing home plate. He must have a jet on him somewhere."
The Dodgers scored for the last time in the ninth when Jim Wynn hit a home run that might not have cleared the fence had not Leftfielder Joe Rudi and Centerfielder North collided in pursuit of it. The ball actually ticked off North's outstretched glove.
"If we hadn't run into each other," said North, "either of us could have had it."
When Steve Garvey followed Wynn's homer with a single to right field, Dark replaced Fingers—who had replaced Holtzman in the fifth inning—with the potential defector, Hunter. Catfish promptly ended the game by striking out the powerful Joe Ferguson.
"It was the perfect time to bring the Catfish in," said Dark in self-congratulation. "He isn't scheduled to pitch until Tuesday. We wouldn't have brought him in earlier, but with only one out to go, we figured he was our man."
The first game had gone pretty much as many knowledgeable baseball people had expected. The Dodgers did most of the hitting but not most of the scoring. The A's played with their usual economy of effort, doing just enough to win. On the field the Dodgers are the more spectacular team—both good spectacular and bad spectacular. If Cey's error cost them the game, a phenomenal throw immediately afterward by Rightfielder Ferguson kept them in it for the moment. Bando reached third on the Cey error, and after Jackson lofted a fly ball to right center he tagged up with every expectation of scoring. Centerfielder Wynn had called for the ball, but he has had arm problems all year that have sorely restricted his throwing. So Ferguson stepped in front of him to make the catch, reasoning that his was the more reliable throwing arm. As Bando raced for the plate, Ferguson uncorked a 300-foot strike to Catcher Steve Yeager. The ball reached the plate on the fly well ahead of the base runner. Bando tried to bowl Yeager over, but the catcher held fast. Bando was an easy out.
"That," said Wynn in wonder, "was the best throw I've ever seen."
Ferguson was a hero on offense the very next day, his two-run homer in the sixth inning enabling the Dodgers to reverse the 3-2 score in their favor. It was a prototypical Southern California day—warm and windless with only a suggestion of smaze in the air. Dodger Stadium, encircled by tall palms, its pastel shades glistening in the sun, seemed more like a beach resort than a ball park. The place has an ambience peculiarly its own and baseball is not always a part of it. Frisbee throwing may, in fact, be the stadium's No. 1 sport. Perhaps half a dozen of the discs were sailed onto the field in this game alone.
A nonparticipant who contributed to the unathletic atmosphere was this year's Miss California, Lucianne Buchanan, who is the tall, tanned blonde goddess everyone expects Miss Californias to be. Miss Buchanan is scarcely an impartial observer since she has been Finley's guest at all the A's playoff and Series games.
Lucianne had little to cheer about on Sunday as first Don Sutton and then, inevitably, Mike Marshall, throttled the A's in a game flavored with some astonishing defensive plays. The Dodgers scored a run in the second off A's starter Vida Blue on a walk to Cey, a bloop single to right by Bill Russell and a more legitimate hit by Yeager that sent Cey home. Then in the sixth Garvey beat out a hit up the middle that Campaneris nearly took away from him with a brilliant backhand stop. Ferguson followed with the game-winning homer, a line drive that easily cleared the center-field fence 395 feet away. When he returned to his position after the inning, the Frisbee throwers in the right-field pavilion rose to salute him.
Three runs seemed quite sufficient, for Sutton was having little difficulty with the futile A's. Up to the eighth inning he had held them to two hits, a third-inning double by Campaneris and a seventh-inning single by Jackson, and he had struck out eight. But with one out in the eighth, A's pinch hitters Jim Holt and Claudell Washington hit back-to-back singles and Campaneris reached first when Russell misplayed his routine ground ball. Three runs did not seem sufficient with one out, the bases loaded, the swift North at bat and an infield that had been anything but reliable.
North hit a sharp bouncer near second base that Russell fielded cleanly enough. He stepped on second for one out and threw to first, hoping for the double play. But the ball bounced in the dirt several feet in front of Garvey. At 5'10" Garvey is short for a first baseman and his infielders, most of whom are not celebrated for their accuracy, have fallen into the habit of throwing low to him, often too low. "I've probably had 30 to 35 pickups this year," he said. And this was another one. With a sweeping gesture he took two runs away from the A's, retired the side and saved his shortstop untold embarrassment.
"It was the key play of the game," Bando said afterward. "If he doesn't catch that ball, we have two runs and a man on second."
Bando himself was hit by the first pitch of the ninth inning. He went to third when Jackson, checking his swing, grounded a double to the left-field corner. Sutton, shutout or no, was taken out by Manager Walter Alston and replaced by Marshall, the professorial reliever from Michigan State.
Marshall's grand moment would not come immediately. Rudi, the first batter he faced, lined a single to center field that scored both Bando and Jackson. Then, after Gene Tenace struck out, Dark sent pinch-running specialist Herb Washington in to run for Rudi. Washington's arrival in a game is not always applauded by those he replaces. During the playoffs, Tenace expressed his resentment at being removed in favor of the sprinter by bouncing his batting helmet off the dugout floor and onto the field. But Rudi is a gentler sort.
"I had just said to [First Base Coach Jerry] Adair, 'Why don't they run Herb for me,' " Rudi said after the game. "And then when he came out, I said to Garvey, 'I guess this is mental telepathy.' "
Actually, it was closer to madness. Washington is not known to many ballplayers. Track, after all, is his sport. But when he stepped on first in Rudi's stead, he found himself in familiar company. Garvey, the man standing next to him on the base, was a senior at Michigan State when Washington was a freshman and the two had taken at least one class together. Not far away, staring at him dispassionately, was Marshall, who once taught Washington in a course in Child Growth and Development.
"We had a good trio of Michigan State guys on the field," said Garvey, who retains the clean-cut looks of his undergraduate days.
The reunion, however, was short-lived. With Angel Mangual, another A's pinch hitter, at bat, Marshall first faked a throw to first base, then, when Washington was least expecting it, he fired low and hard to the bag. Garvey made another sweep and tagged Washington for the second out of the inning. Mangual quickly became the third by striking out. The pickoff, like the Garvey pickup an inning earlier, snipped off a rally; they saved the day for the Dodgers.
"It was a perfect setup," said Garvey, sounding a little like Redford or Newman. "Marshall stepped off the rubber three times and we froze Herb. The throw was on the money. He has world-class speed, but it's a different thing running the bases. This is Herb's first year and he's improved, but it's still tough."
Tough, too, on Finley, who first thought up the idea of a pinch-running specialist. When Washington returned to the dugout in humiliation, the crowd near Finley on the first-base side of the field rose, seemingly en masse, to give him a giant raspberry.
The man had had a bad week. But there was another yet to come.