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Motley Crew The world champion 1974 A's--a rainbow coalition of brawlers, boozers and malcontents--were truly America's team, although most of us were too square to realize it

Sept. 06, 1999
Sept. 06, 1999

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Sept. 6, 1999

Motley Crew The world champion 1974 A's--a rainbow coalition of brawlers, boozers and malcontents--were truly America's team, although most of us were too square to realize it

He stands unsteadily at the foot of a beautiful staircase. Its
pine handrails are supported by 78 posts, each post a Louisville
Slugger, each Slugger game-used by a Hall of Famer. The
staircase ascends to a small attic that is floor to shoulder
with baseball memorabilia, but from where he stands, gazing up,
it really resembles a stairway to heaven.

This is an article from the Sept. 6, 1999 issue Original Layout

"I go up there every once in a while and look at old pictures,"
says Jim (Catfish) Hunter, who now lacks the energy to climb
these stairs off the living room of his small brick home in
Hertford, N.C., unassisted. "The ballplayers, some of 'em, I
don't even know who they are anymore. But I'll look and look and
say to myself, Oh, yeah, that's so-and-so...." And the boys in
his attic begin to stir.

Twenty years ago to the day, Hunter's friend and batterymate
with the New York Yankees, Thurman Munson, was killed in a plane
crash. "It's today?" Hunter says, coldcocked by the anniversary.
"God." The air goes out of him, and he falls silent. Then a
smile fissures out from beneath his white mustache. "I got the
last picture of Thurman in uniform," he says. "It was the day
before he got killed. He fouled a ball off his foot. I was
jumpin' up and down in the dugout, screamin' like a dawg,
imitatin' him, and a photographer took a picture: It's Thurman
lookin' at me like, You stupid son of a bitch."

Catfish Hunter, who was once thrown into a bar in Chicago (the
police wanted him off the street) and then thrown out of the bar
he'd been thrown into--"Damn, we couldn't go anywhere," he says
of himself and his Oakland A's teammates--thinks today's
ballplayers are just slightly duller than tournament SCRABBLE.
"We went out and raised hell," he says. "Five or six of us
always went out together: Me, Lindblad, Sal, Gene, Dave
Hamilton, Glenn Abbott. Geno always ordered the same thing Sal
did, and Sal would always say it was because Geno couldn't read
the menu."

Munson is gone. Paul Lindblad, 58, Hunter's roommate for 10
years in Kansas City and Oakland, moved to the Peach Tree Place
nursing home in Weatherford, Texas, two years ago, his memories
taken by Alzheimer's disease. Hunter himself can't raise his
hands, much less hell: He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis--Lou
Gehrig's disease--diagnosed only 10 months ago but swiftly
rendering his muscles useless. Hunter, a Hall of Famer, says he
receives less mail today than he did before the diagnosis became
public last November, "'cause people know that I can't sign
anymore."

His arms hang like empty coat sleeves, both palms splayed
backward, as if he has concealed a coin in one of them and is
asking you to guess which hand it's in. "My arms and legs don't
work like I want them to," he had said hours ago, after
descending his concrete front stoop to greet me in the driveway,
where I extended a hand he couldn't shake.

Six days from now Hunter will fall from that front stoop while
saying goodbye to a visitor, hit the back of his head on the
concrete and be rushed to intensive care; he remains
hospitalized but is in fair condition and undergoing rehab.

But on this 100[degree] day he repairs safely to a wooden swing
beneath a large shade tree on the property he purchased in 1969
with a $150,000 loan from A's owner Charlie O. Finley. The
Finley A's, who won three consecutive world championships from
1972 to '74, remain the last baseball team to three-peat and the
only club other than the New York Yankees to do so. "The '74
team was our best," says Hunter, who won 25 games and the
American League Cy Young award that season, after which he
became baseball's first de facto free agent and its first
instant millionaire.

He's wearing shorts, and a spider is slowly scaling his right
leg. "Would you get him for me?" Hunter asks. I carefully flick
the spider off his thigh and apologize, disingenuously, for
putting him through this, for imposing, for strip-mining him of
his memories. But Hunter won't hear of it. "I don't get tired of
this," he says in a thick east Carolina drawl that turns tired
into tarred. "'Cause it brings back good memories, all the good
times we had together, my teammates and me."

So where was he? Oh, yes. "The '74 Oakland A's," he says, "was
one of the better teams that ever played baseball...."

And just like that, the boys in the attic come to life.

There was a time when all the world was young and shag-carpeted,
kitchen appliances were avocado-colored and neckties resembled
kites. "There was a time," says Sal Bando, third baseman and
captain of the A's dynasty, "when men carried little purses.
Reggie carried one. It was fashionable. I'll never forget, Mike
Epstein got on the bus one day wearing saddlebags. It was
hilarious."

There was a time, 25 years ago, when women were women and men
were...well, they were women too, sometimes. The A's wore so
many different uniforms, in such sundry color combinations, that
confused players often had to change two or three times before
taking the field. "Our favorites," says Hunter, grinning
sardonically, "were what we called the wedding-gown whites."

Perhaps to compensate for all this femininity, most of the A's
grew big porn-star mustaches, for which Finley paid them $300
each. "We broke the mold in baseball," says Bando. "The mold was
short hair and black shoes and no mustaches. We brought color to
the game and loosened people up. People thought we were radicals
from Berkeley. In fact, most of us were politically conservative,
but we enjoyed ourselves."

They enjoyed themselves and, on rare occasions, one another. "We
were like a family of four boys," says reliever John (Blue Moon)
Odom, who gave fellow Oakland pitcher Rollie Fingers five
stitches in the Dodger Stadium visitors' clubhouse before Game 1
of the 1974 World Series. The A's fought with each other but
wouldn't countenance assaults from the outside. "Try that," says
Moon, "and you were messing with the family." Try that, he says,
"and we'd rock your clocks."

After one long day of clock-rocking, in which Reggie Jackson
drove in seven runs against the Texas Rangers, he swaggered
through the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport carrying, on a string, a
helium-filled balloon in the shape of a hot dog.

The Gothic, Hester Prynne A on their chests stood for Arrogance.
Says Bando, "We were arrogant enough to always think we were the
better team." That certainty came from years united in
indentured servitude. Bando and Jackson had been teammates at
Arizona State and--like most of the A's lineup--played in
Finley's farm system. The players' confidence had to come from
within: In 1974 the A's drew fewer than 850,000 fans to the
Oakland Mausoleum. "Is that right?" says the manager, Alvin
Dark, now 77 and enjoying his grandchildren in Easley, S.C.
"Man, that's amazing."

America, too, paid scant attention. The Cincinnati Reds, with
their sensible black shoes and strict no-facial-hair policy,
were far more popular than the A's. So were the Dodgers, squarer
than Steve Garvey's jaw. "To this day, everyone talks about
Cincinnati's dynasty," says Bando, "and we beat them [in the
1972 World Series] without Reggie and [ace reliever] Darold
Knowles! I don't think we've ever gotten the credit we deserve."

"We were just a matter-of-fact great team," Jackson says.
"Seventy-four was the last year in which, if we had a two-game
lead in the division, it was pretty much over."

Jackson was 28 years old in 1974, living rent-free in a
penthouse apartment paid for by the team, with a painting of
Jonathan Livingston Seagull over the bed, before he decided
midseason to splurge on an $85,000 condo in the Oakland Hills.
And why not? Salary arbitration was instituted in the winter of
1973-74, following the A's second straight World Series victory.
For the first time the players knew what everyone else in
baseball was making. Until then the champs didn't know how
underpaid they were. An arbitrator ordered Finley to give
Jackson, the '73 American League MVP, a raise from $75,000 to
$135,000. "He was a lousy MVP," Finley protested to reporters.
"They had to give it to someone."

Finley threw around compliments as if they were manhole covers.
With money, he could sometimes be generous--lending Hunter the
six figures for his farm, paying Odom a $75,000 signing bonus at
age 19, investing second baseman Dick Green's money in the stock
market to great profit. More often, though, he was tighter than
the A's double knits. When Reggie hustled through DFW with that
hot dog on a string, it was to catch a commercial flight, where
he, world champion and MVP, sat in 4B, in front of some salesman
from Topeka. Finley was too cheap to charter regularly, even
though some teams had begun to do so. That season, Finley also
cut off the players' franking privilege: The club would no
longer pay the postage on their responses to fan mail.

In spring training for the '74 season, the '73 World Series
rings were presented to the players--not in an elaborate ring
ceremony, but by traveling secretary Jim Bank on a practice
field in Mesa, Ariz. Fingers said the rings looked "like
something out of a Cracker Jack box." Ron Bergman of the Oakland
Tribune, the only beat writer to travel with the A's, speculated
in print that the green glass in the ring's centerpiece was cut
from 7-Up bottles. Hunter, who to this day thinks Finley didn't
spend even the small subsidy the league office pays any World
Series champion toward its ring costs, told reporters that his
owner was "a cheap son of a bitch."

When Finley read that quote, he called Hunter from his insurance
office at 310 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, where he worked
during most of the baseball season. "Tell me you didn't say
that," said Finley, who had suffered two heart attacks in the
past two years. "Tell me you didn't call me a cheap son of a
bitch."

"Mr. Finley," replied Hunter, "you are a cheap son of a bitch."
Hunter heard what sounded like a telephone falling to a desk and
then Finley calling for his secretary: "Roberta! Bring me my
pill! I think I'm having the big one!"

"Cat could get away with that," says Bando. "Cat had a special
relationship with Finley going back to the day he signed."

On the day in 1964 that the 18-year-old Jim Hunter became a
Kansas City Athletic, Finley asked him if he had a nickname.
Hunter told him that he did not. "Well, you've got to have one,"
said Finley. "What do you like to do?"

"I hunt and fish," replied Hunter.

"Mr. Finley kind of hesitated on the phone," recalls Hunter.
"Then he said, 'You were six years old when you ran away from
home. You went fishing. Your mom and dad looked for you all day.
About three o'clock your mom and dad found you. You had caught
two catfish and were bringing in a third, and from that day on
you were Catfish. Now repeat the story to me.'" When Hunter did,
Finley said, "Anybody ever asks you anything, that's how you
tell it."

When Finley died in 1996, Hunter and Jackson were the only
players at his funeral. Then-acting commissioner Bud Selig came,
but no other team owners came. "That surprised me," says Hunter.
"I know Mr. Finley was different, but he was still the owner. He
had his own ways, but everybody's taken up his ways now. He was
the one that brought night baseball to the World Series, the
buyin' and sellin' of ballplayers, the different-colored
uniforms that all the teams wear today, different-colored shoes,
different-colored bats, everything. Only thing is, he never got
his different-colored ball."

Catfish shakes his head at the terrible injustice of it all:
"Never got that."

Heaven knows Finley tried. He even had his team play some spring
training exhibition games with the orange balls. "The pitchers
couldn't grip the orange ball," Dark remembers. "If Finley could
have found a hide that wasn't so slippery--or if another owner
had thought of it first--the orange ball would be in today, I
guarantee it. You could definitely see it a lot better. It
really stuck out. But the other owners just didn't like Finley."

The other owners could ignore Finley, but Dark had to listen to
him. A week before spring training for the '74 season began,
Finley hired Dark to replace Dick Williams, who'd had enough of
Charlie O.'s meddling. So Dark suddenly found himself in Mesa,
managing the world champions. "The owner makes the rules," says
Dark. "He's got the money." One of Finley's epiphanies that
spring was to sign former Michigan State sprinter Herb
Washington as a designated runner.

Dark says he was never ordered to play Washington or anybody
else. "Charlie would try to influence you," he says. "If you
were strong in your opinion, he'd say go ahead and do it your
way. If you weren't strong, you did it his way. He didn't
demand. He was just very...vocal." Washington would appear in 92
games in 1974, steal 29 bases in 45 attempts and never once
appear at the plate. In Game 2 of the World Series, he would
pinch-run for Joe Rudi and, before a single pitch was thrown,
get picked off first base. No matter. It's remarkable enough
that he appeared in a World Series, one more Finley first.

Finley's Cracker Jack rings lit a fire under the A's even before
they left Arizona. "I predict a third world championship,"
Jackson said after receiving his 7-Up souvenir. "We got the
turmoil going already."

Turmoil was their oxygen, and most of the A's produced it like
trees. "There were a lot of guys on our team who talked a lot of
smack," says Billy North, the Oakland centerfielder. "And
sometimes somebody would talk it at what somebody else
considered the wrong time, and there would be a flare-up or two.
There's always somebody in a locker room who has the gift of
gab. Sometimes I didn't know whether it was a gift or not."

Hunter had the gift. He could talk smack like Mozart could play
piano. Still can. Hunter remembers a game in which Bando walked
to the pitcher's mound bearing a ball he'd just fielded that had
three broken stitches. Bando handed the ball to Fingers, called
his attention to the damage and said, "You can throw at least
two good sinkers with this before the ump checks the ball."

"So Rollie takes the ball," says Hunter, laughing preemptively,
"looks in for the sign and then straightens up and says, 'Oh!
Time out, Mr. Ump! There's somethin' wrong with this ball!' Man,
he was the dumbest damn pitcher I ever seen in my life."

"Those guys had some truly vicious tongues," says North, a quiet,
studious player who's now a financial planner in Kirkland, Wash.
"When they'd start talking about each other, it was something to
behold."

"Dick Williams always let us get on each other," says Hunter.
"He called it corrective criticism. Bando and I'd get on 'em on
the bus rides, and we'd get on 'em good. Every once in a while
it would almost come to a fight. Sal and I would always get on
each other just to get things goin'. Campaneris"--Bert, the A's
great bantamweight shortstop--"would go to the front of the bus
and tell Williams, 'You better get back there--Sal and Catfish
are gonna fight!' And Williams would always tell Campy, 'Aw, let
'em fight.'"

North wasn't speaking to Jackson for most of the '74 season, not
since early May, when Reggie had chewed him out in front of the
team for not running out a ground ball hard enough. On June 5
the two fought in the visitors' clubhouse at Tiger Stadium in
Detroit, and catcher Ray Fosse ruptured a cervical disk
attempting to break it up. Fosse spent 12 weeks on the disabled
list, while Jackson and North played on. By then the A's were
notorious for their bare-knuckle brawling. It was expected of
them. "Maybe we were playing to the crowd," says North.

In May, Dark fined pitcher Vida Blue $250 for contemptuously
flipping the ball to him while being removed from a game. (Blue
would pay the fine with a shower of small coins dumped on Dark's
desk.) In another game Dark ordered Fingers to pitch to Munson,
with a man on second and first base open. Fingers, who walked
only 29 men all season, walked the Yankees catcher on four
pitches and said afterward, "I lost my control momentarily."

In August, Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency, and some A's
sensed that their own profane regime was in its final days.
Hunter, for the only time in his career, asked each of his
teammates for an autographed photo. Those teammates, many of
whom he had played with as Kansas City Athletics, had become
stars--a June SI cover billing coined a new noun for Jackson:
SUPERDUPERSTAR--but oftentimes they themselves were scarcely
aware of the fact because Finley frequently treated them like
children. "We sometimes played Saturday-afternoon games when we
were in Chicago," says Bando, "so the whole team would have to
go out to Finley's farm in LaPorte, Indiana, on Saturday night
for a picnic with all his friends and neighbors. God, the guys
hated that."

On the field the A's seemed to toy with opponents. "What a great
bunch of talented ballplayers," says Dark, reverently reciting
the A's lineup: catcher Fosse, first baseman Gene Tenace, second
baseman Green, whom teammates called Bass Jaws for his odd but
infectious laugh. Campaneris was the leadoff hitter and
shortstop. "Campy was very underrated," says Bando. "He was our
offensive igniter. He could hit home runs and steal bases, and
played excellent defense."

You want underrated? The Oakland leftfielder, Joe Rudi, was "the
most overrated underrated player in baseball," according to
Jackson. "I'm getting more ink about not getting ink than most
people do who always get ink," Rudi said in 1974, when he was en
route to hitting .293 and driving in 99 runs for the season.
"Rudi was outstanding," says Dark. "He wasn't the fastest, but
he always got a great break on the ball." Indeed, the A's were
remarkably disciplined on the field. "We played the game
generally without making mistakes," says North.

"We never had a real good bench," says Dark. "Had a great
bullpen--Lindblad and a few other guys would get us to Fingers."
The four-man starting rotation was the best in baseball, and
balanced like a bookkeeper's ledger: righthanders Hunter and
Abbott, lefthanders Blue and Ken Holtzman.

The nougat holding all these nuts together was Bando. "Everybody
respected him as a leader," says Dark. "Just a class fella."

Far from subverting American ideals, as so many squares (and
Dodgers fans) thought at the time, the A's exemplified E
pluribus unum. They were 25 men of wildly divergent
backgrounds--Jackson is a black Latin Methodist raised in a
Jewish neighborhood--who stopped swinging their handbags at each
other long enough to play a complicated game brilliantly. Out of
many, one. "We had a 25-man team, and everybody had a job," says
North, "right down to the designated runner."

The Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers were Oakland's
closest pursuers in the American League West, but the A's never
acknowledged them. Before the first game of their last series of
the season, with the A's leading the West by five games, Jackson
shouted at Royals outfielder Amos Otis during batting practice,
"Otis, got that new TV yet?!" Otis, who wasn't in the market for
a new television and couldn't fathom what Jackson was talking
about, replied against his better judgment: "What TV?"

"The new TV!" said Jackson. "You're gonna wanna watch the Fall
Classic!"

The A's won the division by five games over Texas.

As the Baltimore Orioles arrived in Oakland for Game 1 of the
playoffs, Hunter was meeting with Finley and baseball officials.
Hunter claimed, through his attorney, that Finley had paid him
only half of his $100,000 salary in 1974, and that his contract,
therefore, was voided. In the meeting the owner grandly produced
a check and said, "Jim, here's your money."

"No," replied Hunter. "You pay it like the contract is
written--not to me, to the insurance annuity."

"See, Mr. Commissioner, Mr. League President," said Finley, who
addressed everyone as Mister. "I tried to pay him and he won't
take it." Finley dismissed the commissioner and the other suits
and then told Hunter, "Go beat Baltimore. We got to get in the
World Series."

"And that was it," recalls Hunter. "He never said another word
about my contract. Ain't never said a word. To this day, I wish
I had asked him if he meant for me to be the first free agent. I
believe he did. He always wanted to be the first in everything."

Almost bored, the A's steamrollered the Orioles in the playoffs.
"Mike Cuellar and Ross Grimsley pitched a one-hitter in the final
game," says Jackson, "and we beat 'em 2-1. We won the American
League pennant, and we didn't even celebrate. We just went to
L.A. to beat the Dodgers."

They literally couldn't wait to rock some clocks: Fingers and
Odom attacked each other in the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger
Stadium before the team's workout the day before Game 1. "That
fight was my fault," says Hunter. "In Baltimore during the
playoffs, Rollie got a phone call that his wife was in Oakland,
and her boyfriend and her was packin' up all the furniture and
movin' outta the house. Her boyfriend was drivin' Rollie's car.
And so Rollie flew home, we beat Baltimore, went to L.A. and
there's Rollie and his wife, arm-in-arm. And I told the guys,
'S---, Rollie and his wife was stayin' in the room next to me
and they fought all night long, throwin' s--- at each other,
bouncin' off the walls. I can't believe this s---. Only thing
she's here for is the damn World Series money.' Blue Moon heard
all this. And then Rollie comes walkin' into the clubhouse."

"I can barely remember what happened," demurs Blue Moon.
Hunter can. He remembers Odom greeting Fingers thusly: "Who's
leavin' tickets for your wife's boyfriend tonight? You?"

"The clubhouse attendant at Dodger Stadium had been telling me
how nervous he was," recalls Bando. "He had heard so much about
this team fighting, and I told him, 'Believe me, it's completely
blown out of proportion.' At that second, Blue Moon and Rollie go
after each other."

"Oh, s---!" says Hunter, seeing it all vividly a quarter-century
later. "There they go! Rollie falls down and hits the corner of
a locker and splits his head wide open."

"Fingers shoved a shopping cart," says Odom, his recollection
refreshed, "and it hit my ankle and turned it."

"I was in the training room," says Dark. "Fosse, who had been
injured breaking up that fight in June, came running in and
said, 'Skip! Fingers and Odom are fighting, and I'm not getting
involved!'"

"I played bridge through the fight," recalls Green. "It didn't
matter one single bit."

This was the A's in all their splendor. Finley's seatmate for
Game 1 of the World Series was the incumbent Miss California,
Lucianne Buchanan. He had asked Richard Nixon, nine weeks
removed from office, to throw out the first pitch for Game 4 in
Oakland, but the disgraced President "regretfully declined
because of health reasons." Hunter's lawyer, Jerry Kapstein, was
on the field during batting practice the day before the opener,
declaring his client a free agent because Finley had not made
those payments to Hunter's insurance annuity--he was free to
pitch for the Dodgers in this Series, if he chose to do so.
Jackson led off the second inning with a home run, Fingers
pitched 4 1/3 innings in relief and laughed off the five
stitches in his head. "The team record is 15," he told
reporters, "held by many."

With the A's leading by a run with two out in the ninth, Dark
called on a surprised Hunter--in his first relief appearance
that season--to pitch to Dodgers catcher Joe Ferguson. "This man
can't hit a curveball with a paddle," Dark said when Hunter
reached the mound from the bullpen. "What are you gonna throw
him?"

"Fastball," replied Hunter.

Splat! Dark spat on the mound and said, "This man can't hit a
curveball with a paddle! What you gonna throw him?"

"Fastball," said Hunter.

Splat! The pair repeated the exchange one more time, then Dark,
exasperated, finally said, "Why are you gonna throw him a
fastball?"

"'Cause I ain't got a curveball today," said Hunter, who struck
out Ferguson on five straight heaters. The A's won 3-2 and
destroyed the Dodgers in the Series, four games to one. By the
fifth game, in Oakland, the A's had finally won a hometown
following: Dodgers' leftfielder Bill Buckner, who had dissed the
A's to reporters after Game 3, was pelted with Frisbees, garbage
and whiskey bottles. The World Series, as an institution, would
not be kind to this man.

Indeed, Game 5 would provide another indignity for Buckner and a
coda to the A's greatness. Leading off the eighth, he singled to
center and, when the ball got past North, took second base and
headed for third. Jackson, backing up North, fielded the ball
and fired to Green on the edge of the outfield grass. Green
threw a perfect relay to Bando, who applied the tag. Buckner was
out. "The play that epitomized the Oakland A's dynasty," Jackson
calls it today. "We had played so long together as a unit that
we knew where everybody would be without looking.... It was all
instinct with us."

Jackson and Hunter would go on to win two more world
championships--with the Yankees. In December 1974, an arbitrator
ruled that Finley's failure to make payments to Hunter's
insurance annuity in a timely manner voided his contract with
the A's, and Hunter was free to sign with any team. He chose the
Yankees, on New Year's Eve, for $3 million over five years. Thus
ensued one of the longest and most diabolical wars in baseball
history.

In the winter following the 1974 season, Bando purchased a new
overstuffed leather chair to put in front of his locker. The
first time the Yankees played in Oakland in '75, Hunter slipped
into the A's clubhouse very early one afternoon and cut the
chair to tatters.

Bando said nothing for two years, during which time he signed as
a free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers after the 1976 season.
Hunter pitched in Milwaukee one afternoon in 1977 and then
retreated to the visitors' clubhouse. "I took a shower and put
my pants on, and they felt kinda loose," Catfish says. "I go get
my wallet out of the valuables locker, try to put it in my back
pocket and it falls out on the floor. I walk to the mirror, take
a look: I don't have the ass-end of my pants! I start yellin'
for the clubhouse guy: Big Jim! Has Sal been in here? Big Jim
says, 'Mmm-hmm. Sal has been in here.' So I have to wear my
jacket around my ass to get to the bus. When I get there, Sal
and his wife are waitin' in their car. He says, 'I've been
waitin' two years, Cat.'"

Bando used to wear a beautiful white fedora. Once, when the
Brewers were playing in New York, he returned to his locker
after a game to find the crown autographed, in bold black Magic
Marker: JIM "CATFISH" HUNTER.

"His personality has not changed one bit since 1965," says
Bando. "From the time Cat signed his first contract through
stardom in New York, he has remained the same, down-to-earth,
good person. If you didn't know who he was, you would never
guess he was a famous athlete."

Hunter lives in a small ranch-style house in Hertford, two miles
from the house he grew up in. His wife of 33 years, Helen, is
his former high school sweetheart. When Hunter's illness became
public last November, Bando telephoned immediately. "Most of the
guys didn't know if it was O.K. to call," says Hunter, "but then
word got out"--he was the same old Catfish--"and a lot of people
started callin'."

"It kind of brought guys together," says Bando.

People send him quack medications in the mail--"hoaxes," Hunter
calls them--followed, two weeks later, by a bill. But he has
also received cards and letters that have touched him beyond
measure: Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax and Harmon Killebrew are
among those who have written. He received a donation for ALS
research from the final batter of the perfect game he pitched in
May 1968. Former Minnesota Twin Rich Reese wrote on the memo
line of his check, "The Last Out."

There are two 1,000-yen notes on Hunter's kitchen table. They're
not charitable donations. A Japanese man sent him baseballs to
sign, and Hunter mailed them back unsigned. "Cost me $22 in
postage," he mock-complains. "He sent me back Japan money."

Though flying is difficult for ALS sufferers, Hunter flew to
Oakland in June for Catfish Hunter Day. Many of his '74
teammates were there. A current A, a young reliever named T.J.
Matthews, introduced himself before the game, but his name meant
nothing to Hunter. "My father," said T.J., "is Nelson Matthews."

"Nelly Matthews," replied Hunter. "Centerfielder. Did he ever
tell you about the time in Cleveland?"

"I thought he made that up," said T.J.

"Oh, no," said Hunter, who then told a story. On an idle
afternoon in Cleveland, Cat and Nelly decided to kill a few
hours at the train station. The pair had their portraits taken
from the front and side in one of those four-a-sheet photo
booths. Then Hunter, wearing a trench coat and flashing a
plastic badge, asked an old lady if she had seen this man in the
photo, this unspeakable monster, this Nelson Matthews. She
shrieked and pointed to the felon, standing nearby, and Hunter
began chasing Matthews around the depot. "God, we were
laughing," says Hunter, laughing all over again at the
recollection. "Just runnin' around that train station while the
lady screamed...."

If there's one photograph of Hunter and his A's to keep forever
in your attic, to conjure to life at your leisure, it's this
image: Catfish, running through a train station in a trench
coat, flashing a plastic badge, chasing a teammate, and laughing
like a little boy.

For more photos and Ron Fimrite's tribute to the A's, go to
cnnsi.com/swinginas

B/W PHOTO: AP Oakland's '74 cast included Alvin Dark, Charlie O. and Miss California. Motley Crew The brawling, booozing world champion 1974 A's were truly America's team, though most of us were too square to realize it [T of C]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NEIL LEIFER The O in the middle Finley--framed by (clockwise from upper left) Fingers, Rudi, Blue, Tenace, Campaneris, Hunter, Bando and Jackson--built a brash team that in 1974 would become the only baseball club besides the Yankees to three-peat.COLOR PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER A's plus Oakland--stocked with talented players such as (from left) Hunter, Jackson, Green and Rudi--was one of the best and most colorful teams in the history of baseball. COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: FRED KAPLAN/BLACK STAR [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS, JR. [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: SHEEDY & LONG Stretching the limits The griping of Blue (above) and Finley's signing of Washington tested Dark's authority.COLOR PHOTO: FRED KAPLAN/BLACK STAR [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: HERB SCHARFMAN Odd couple Finley celebrated Oakland's march through the playoffs with Rock Hudson (white shirt) and Anita Bryant (right).COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS, JR. Bando on the run Despite getting nailed at home in the Series opener, Bando (and the rest of the A's) thumped L.A. in five games.COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Sal-utations Bando, here piling onto teammates after Oakland won the Series, was the leader who held the team together.COLOR PHOTO: FRED KAPLAN/BLACK STAR Split Fingers Series MVP Fingers, with wife Jill, played with five stitches after a fight with Odom, who'd mocked his marital problems.
The A on their chests stood for Arrogance. "We always thought we
were the better team," says Bando.
Turmoil was their oxygen, and the A's produced it like trees.
"We talked a lot of smack," says North.
Hunter was once thrown into a bar by cops who wanted him off the
street, then thrown out of that bar.
They were 25 men of wildly divergent backgrounds who stopped
swinging at each other long enough to play a complicated game
brilliantly.
"We broke the mold," says Bando. "We brought color to the game
and loosened people up."