Results tagged ‘ 1970’s oakland a’s ’

An old friend has returned.

1976 Topps

Reading is one of the few things that calms my mind for any given length of time as concentrating on any one thing for long moments poses some serious problems. Losing yourself in a book is a fantastic escape from the everyday, and I also find myself being lost in the wordplay and turn of phrase by any writer with significant skills.  I was recently going through some boxes when I found a dusty copy of Slaughterhouse Five with a baseball card tucked inside and I had to take pause.

I’ve dragged this “bookmark” around from mezcal soaked Tijuana watering holes where the prostitutes would whisper “primo” at me in an attempt to extract a few American dollars for an escort, extravagant Palm Springs hotels where I once kissed a model with a zit on her chin, and a hash-smoke laden Barcelona beach where a Muslim kid tried to steal my passport while I was sleeping. It has ceased to be a simple piece of cardboard to be merely used, thrown away or disregarded; now it is a dear friend full of memories with hilarious anecdotes to share.

I know very little about the player on the card and have certainly never seen him play. Tommy Harper was born in Oak Grove, Louisiana, was a central figure in the troubled racial history of the Red Sox, and had a long but rather unremarkable career with 8 teams. (although he did hit 31 home runs for Milwaukee in 1970, making his only All Star game.)

40 years ago this month…Reggie gets his ass kicked.

reggie north swap blowsReggie Jackson had always gotten along with Bill North, and publicly praised the young center fielder several times for his fielding prowess. Sometime in mid-April, however, Bill failed to run hard to first on a routine ground-out. When he returned to the bench, Reggie harshly berated him in front of his teammates for not hustling. The seeds of The Fight were sown. 

“He had crossed me, in some way, a couple of times,” Bill recalls without going into detail. “I tried to set him up for a month.” He gave Reggie the silent treatment despite Jackson’s torrid start, and refused to talk to him on or off the field. He would not congratulate Reggie after home runs. During this period, North lifted his average above .200, swiped seventeen bases in the month of May alone, and played exceptional defense. By the day of The Fight, he was batting .228 and leading the league in stolen bases. Jackson remained hot, batting .390 with a league-leading 15 home runs, and the A’s were first in the A.L. West.

Finally, prior to a night game on June 5, in the locker room at Tiger Stadium, Bill made a remark that infuriated Reggie and ignited the brawl. The superstar, who was not yet dressed for the game, charged North and the two wrestled on the floor, in full view of teammates and sportswriters. Catcher Ray Fosse, pitcher Vida Blue and others were able to separate the two, only to have the combatants tangle again a few minutes later. “It wasn’t a regular clubhouse fight,” said an A’s teammate anonymously. “There was no backing off. They went at it hot and heavy — twice.” When the dust settled, the consensus was that North had won the fight. Jackson ended up with a bruised shoulder and battered ego. Fosse suffered a separated cervical disk in the melee and was out of action until late in the season. Both North and Jackson played against the Tigers that night. Bill went 2 for 3 with a double, run scored and RBI while Reggie went 0 for 4. For the rest of June, the powerful right fielder batted .197 with just three doubles, no home runs and four RBI.

Bill looks back upon the incident with much more humility than braggadocio. “I had extracted my ounce of retribution,” Bill admits, but believes the path chosen to settle their score was from youthful ignorance. The Fight and its aftermath enabled Bill and Reggie to move forward as teammates with renewed respect for each other. Today, North says, they maintain a genuine friendship. Reggie Jackson wrote this about Bill in his autobiography: “North was a feisty little guy with a hair-trigger temper, and one of the reasons he was such a winner on the field was because he had a lot of piss and vinegar in him.”

originally written by Tim Herlich.

The origins of the “Mustache Gang.”

mustache gang

Rollie Fingers has the most famous mustache in baseball history…although he wasn’t the trend setter.

The following is an excerpt from Bruce Markusen’s amazing and vital book, “A baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s. 

Reggie Jackson reported to spring training in 1972 replete with a fully grown mustache, the origins of which had begun to sprout during the 1971 American League Championship Series. To the surprise of his teammates, Jackson had used part of his off-season to allow the mustache reach a fuller bloom. In addition, Jackson bragged to teammates that he would not only wear the mustache, possibly a full beard, come Opening Day.

wally schang

Wally Schang in 1914

Such pronouncements would have hardly created a ripple in later years, when players would freely make bold fashion statements with mustaches and goatees, and routinely wear previously disdained accessories like earrings. But this was 1972, still a conservative time within the sport, in stark contrast to the rebellious attitudes of younger generations throughout the country.  Given that no major league player had been documented wearing a mustache in the regular season since Wally Schang of the Philadelphia A’s in 1914, Jackson’s pronouncements made major news in 1972.

In the post Schang era, several players had donned mustaches during spring training, yet, in each case the player had shaved off the mustache by Opening Day, either by his own volition or because of a mandate from the team. After all, there existed an unwritten rule within the conservative sport, one that strongly frowned upon facial hair. In addition, several teams had more recently instituted their own formal policies (most notably the Cincinnati Reds in the 1960’s), policies that forbade their players from sporting facial hair.

Baseball’s conservative grooming standards , which had been in place for over 50 years, were now being threatened by one of the game’s most visible players. Not surprisingly, Jackson’s mustachioed look quickly garnered the attention of owner Charlie O. Finley and manager Dick Williams. “The story as I remember it,” says outfielder Mike Hegan, “was that Reggie came into spring training…with a mustache, and Charlie didn’t like it. So he told Dick to tell Reggie to shave it off. And Dick told Reggie to shave it off, and Reggie told Dick what to do. This got to be a real sticking point, and so I guess Charlie and Dick had a meeting and they said ‘well, Reggie’s an individual so maybe we can try some reverse psychology here.’ Charlie told a few other guys to start growing a mustache. Then (Finley figured that if) a couple of other guys did it, Reggie would shave his off, and you know, everything would be OK.

reggie_charlie_0_as

Reggie and Charlie O.

According to Sal Bando, Finley wanted to avoid having a direct confrontation with Jackson over the mustache. For one of the few times in his tenure as the A’s owner, Finley showed a preference for a subtle, more indirect approach. “Finley, to my knowledge,”says Bando, “did not want to go tell Reggie to shave it. So he thought it would be better to have us all grow mustaches. That way Reggie wouldn’t be an ‘individual’ anymore.”

Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Darold Knowles and Bob Locker followed Reggie’s lead, each sprouting their own mustache. Instead of making Jackson feel less individualistic, thus prompting him to adopt his previously clean-shaven look, the strategy had a reverse and unexpected affect on Charles Finley.

“Well, as it turned out, guys started growin’ ’em, and Charlie began to like it,” says Mike Hegan in recalling the origins of baseball’s “Mustache Gang.” Finley offered a cash incentive to any player who had successfully grown a mustache by Father’s Day. “So then we all had to grow mustaches,” says Hegan, “and that’s how all that started.” By the time we got to the (regular) season, almost everybody had mustaches.” Even the manager, Dick Williams, known for his military brush-cut and clan shaven look during his days in Boston, would join the facial brigade by growing a patchy, scraggly mustache of his own. Baseball’s long standing hairless trend had officially come to an end.

 

Interview with Bob Lacey

bob

1978 Topps

1) 1979 was obviously a horrible year for you and the Athletics as you had bursitis in the heel and the A’s lost 108 games. How did you deal with the difficulties?
I fractured my left thumb on my pitching hand early in the 1979 Spring training in Palm Springs, CA. I know I did because I received in the mail a copy of the bill from the insurance company the diagnosis from the doctor which state I had a probable fracture of the left phalanx. Needless to say I altered my pitching motion which brought on the bursitis in both Achilles tendons especially the right heel. It was a miserable year after having two good prior years.
2) You were once involved in a brawl with Darryl Porter who later called you a “crazy, immature punk.” Can you talk a little more about the situation and how it came to be?
Our team was on a ten or twelve game losing streak, I told my team mates that I was going to start a fight. Darryl Porter hit a grounder to Dave Revering which he took it unassisted. When I saw that Rev was stepping on first I did a George Atkinson on Porter while he was running down the first base line. I did the act in a very discreet manner which didn’t draw any attention to myself. Porter became enraged an attacked me which allowed the whole Royal team to jump on top of me. Needless to say Porter got thrown out, Tony Armas hit a three run homer, and I got out team back on a winning streak.
3) You struck out Reggie Jackson twice in your 4th M.L. appearance. Is it true that he was enraged at the situation, and what was your approach?
​I was a punk, Reggie was classier, after striking him out I yelled a colorful expletive at him which went like this. “Take that MF.” The next day my pal Michael Norris acted as a liaison between me and Reggie.
4) Did you have friction with manager Billy Martin? Why did he refuse to use you in spring training, and is it true that he barred anyone from playing catch with you?
The articles were correct concerning my interactions with Billy Martin. Darryl Porter was correct I was an immature punk and I didn’t handle my interactions with Billy very well. After saying that I will say that Billy was one of the best managers that I ever played for.
5) You are an educator in Arizona today…what do your students think about your playing career past?
They like it, having the opportunity to tell them stories gets their attention. I don’t teach my students’ I promote benefits on being a learner. Once a person realizes that they can do it on their own then I look for more benefits to promote.

Brian Kingman interview…part 2

kingman062111

Part 2 of this amazing interview…just some nuances that are the ambrosia of baseball.

2) What was the day like when you took the photo for the Sports Illustrated cover, and how did that come about?

I am going to answer this two part question in reverse order: How it came about…

SI decided to put us on the cover for two reasons. First was our performance during the 1980 season. We went from 54-108 in 1979to 83-79 in 1980. That’s a remarkable 29 game turnaround. We racked up 94 complete games, which I believe is the modern day record. I don’t know though, does 1980 qualify as modern day or does it seem rather ancient to the readers of your blog? It was the most complete games since 1946, and
if you look below at the innings pitched per start, it was quite an aberration from the norm!

The second reason was that we started off the 1981 season 11-0 which was an MLB record at the time.

Only 20 teams in modern history (since 1901) have produced a season in which five players logged at least 200 innings. All but three of those seasons occurred before 1930.
The exceptions:

1. 1980 Oakland Athletics (Matt Keough, Brian Kingman, Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris)
Record: 83-79
Finish: 2nd in AL West
Runs scored: 686
Runs allowed: 642

2. 1977 Los Angeles Dodgers (Burt Hooton, Tommy John, Doug Rau, Rick Rhoden, Don Sutton)
Record: 98-64
Finish: Lost World Series (4-2) to Yankees
Runs scored: 769
Runs allowed: 582

3. 1957 Detroit Tigers (Jim Bunning, Paul Foytack, Billy Hoeft, Frank Lary, Duke Maas)
Record: 78-76
Finish: 4th in American League
Runs scored: 614
Runs allowed: 614

So, how do the 1980 A’s fair when compared to the teams from long ago? Well, incredibly, Oakland’s 1,261.1 innings logged by their starters stills tops the field. Ye, gods.

That isn’t really fair because the season is longer now. Besides, I already noted IP/GS is a better way than raw IP. When you look at innings per start, a handful of teams do nose out Martin’s bunch, as the chart below reveals:
Year Team IP/GS
1923 NYY 8.03
1922 NYY 7.99
1920 CWS 7.96
1920 BRVS 7.90
1920 PIT 7.81
1932 NYY 7.81
1920 CIN 7.81
1920 BRK 7.81
1980 OAK 7.78
Notice something there? They are almost entirely made up of teams from the early 1920s. That’s interesting. There have been three periods in baseball history when workloads for starting pitchers declined noticeably: 1) In the 1890s when the pitchers were pushed back to 60 feet, 6 inches; 2) In the early 1920s when the lively ball came out; and 3) In the 1990s when pitch counts became all the rage. In each instance, the game changed in a few years, causing managers to adapt to how they used pitchers.

So how did Martin run the 1980 A’s? Like someone who hadn’t fully realized the Dead Ball era had ended.

 Part 2>  What was the day like when you took the photo for the Sports Illustrated cover?
It is probably more interesting the effect the SI cover had on me for years after the day it was taken……………
 
The photo was taken in the visitors locker room at Anaheim Stadium. All of us were proud to be on the cover. Perhaps I was a little less proud than the others.
They were all winners, and I was a 20 game loser. 1980 was a nightmare year for me. In fact that was the hardest part of my 20 loss season was that I was losing
while everyone else was winning. Virtually every 20 game loser pitches for a bad team where losing becomes expected . Typically these are 90-100+ loss teams.
In 1980 we were a  winning team (83-79). The last time a pitcher lost 20 game was in 1922 when Dolf Luque was 13-23 for the Cincinnati Reds. dolf
  Misery Loves Company
The last pitcher before me to lose 20 games for a winning team  might have had some good advice for me. Trouble is he died in 1957.
 
They say misery loves company, but I had to suffer in solitude. While the other guys enjoyed the thrill of victory I had to endure the agony of defeat. Sports Illustrated
gave each of us a framed blow up of the cover but, I couldn’t look at it for at least ten years. Not only did it remind me of the 1980 season, but when my career was
over looking at the cover made me dwell on how different things may have turned out if I had won 14-15 games instead of losing 20.
Just as dramatic as the 1979 A’s turnaround from last place in 1979 to second place in 1980, was my turnaround from 8-7 In 1979 to 8-20 in 1980:

Who was the last rookie starting pitcher with a minimum of 15 decisions to have a winning record on a team with at least 100 losses?

Answer: Brian Kingman, 1979
Brian Kingman was 8-7 for the 1979 Oakland A’s who were 54-108. Before that Tom Seaver was 16-13 for the 1967 NY Mets who were 61-101. Kingman ironically went on to become a 20 game LOSER the very next season going 8-20 for the A’s. Not only did he remain the last 20 game loser for 23 years until Mike Maroth lost 21 for the Tigers in 2003 he did it for a winning team, the A’s were 83-79. The last time that happened was in 1922 when Dolf Luque lost 20 for the Cincinnati Reds.

Does it disturb anyone that The Los Angeles Angels translates to The The Angels Angels?

“Of course it’s possible to love a human being if you don’t know them too well.”  ― Charles Bukowski

by Mitch Ferrer

“Billy Ball”

It was the spring of 1980 and my beloved A’s had brought in Billy Martin to manage this hapless team.  Why he took the job I don’t really know, I guess he just had nothing better to do.  A dearth of other offers was probably a big factor.  I guess Billy lived to manage.  But honestly, to go from the New York Yankees with Willie Randolph, Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, et al to a team with guys with the names… Klutts, Gross, and Cox, well lets just say; Could there be a farther fall from grace?  But hey, Martin was a hometown boy, having graduated from Berkeley High, so I guess he figured we had to love him.  And we did.

It was that spring that a reporter asked Martin if he thought the A’s could win the division.  I don’t remember who that reporter was, but he must have been one sarcastic smart-ass.  To Billy’s credit, he replied “I don’t know if we can win the division, but I know we will finish above the Angels.”  Now, for those of you who don’t remember, this was the “Gene Autry, I wanna win a championship before I die and you can’t take with you, Angels”.  Free Agency jumped off in a big way in 1976 and Autry took full advantage, signing Joe Rudy, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor (1979 MVP) that year. This team had won the Western Division the previous year, 34 games ahead of the last place A’s.

Well, it was April 20th 1980, and my childhood buddy, Jim and I took a trip to the Coliseum to check out what this “Billy Ball” thing was all about.  And what a day of Baseball we had in store… a twi-night double-header against the Angels!  Up to this point, Billy had been good on his word.  The A’s were 7 – 3 while the Angles were 4 – 5.  But come on?  Its April!  Ya had to figure this was like Jim Bouton’s line about how good he did playing against other kids until the big kids got out of school.  Yep, the big kids had come to the Coliseum, and all we could do was hope for the best.  But it was all good, Jim and I were going to see a real good team, the reigning American League West Division Champion, the California Angels.

And then it happened…Game one has Matt Keough v. Chris Knapp.  Other than a lead off walk by Al Cowens, the Angles go down quietly in the first.  Then the A’s come up.  Rickey Hendrson grounds out to lead off (yea, we were disappointed) but Dwayne Murphy then hits a Double to right field past Dan Ford followed by another double to right by Dave Revering.  Then Wayne Gross come up.  Now, at this point, Dan Ford is having a bad day.  As if the two doubles hit his way are not bad enough, he dropped an easy pop up in foul territory.  Jim and I were right there behind the first base dugout and either one of us could have made that play.  It wasn’t like he had to dive or anything.  He just settled under it and it popped out of his glove.  We in the stands could not let that go… the common refrain was “YOU SUCK”, clever, I know.  Well, so Gross hits a pop up to Dan Ford… he just settled under it and the ball popped out of his glove and fell to the turf.  Revering scores from second, Gross ends up at second.  This was the last we would see of Dan Ford for the day.  I guess Jim Fregosi got pissed off because he yanked Ford off the field.  Well, by the third inning the A’s have scored 6 runs.  Knapp lasts 2 2/3 innings and Keough pitches a complete game.

Now comes game two… Steve McCatty v. the Frank Tanana.  Sure, Tanana had an off-year in 1979, but from 1975 to 1978 he averaged 17 wins, had struck out 872 batters and had an ERA of 2.78.  Yea, we were looking at a split here.  But low and behold, Tanana doesn’t make it out of the third inning.  The A’s start beating Tanana like a red-headed step child.  The third goes… error, bunt single, triple (Henderson!), single, double, double… and that’s when it dawns on us.  The A’s had made the Angels look like shit.  And the whole crowd, in a moment of group consciousness, expresses this realization by chanting…ANGELS SUCK…ANGELS SUCK… ANGELS SUCK…

The A’s didn’t win the division that year, that would come the next year, but Billy Martin was good to his word and the A’s finished above the Angels. Billy Ball electrified the Coliseum.  The A’s were the A’s again with their brash aggressive style of play.  It was fun while it lasted, but alas, it all crashed in 1982 and Billy was outta Oakland.  But it seemed Billy Martin was a tortured soul who crashed and burned on a regular basis.  Billy Martin drank regularly, and regularly drank to excess.  He was a fighter, with players, umpires, management and bar patrons.  He was a liar; he said he didn’t hit the marshmallow salesman, then said he did, said he did not call Steinbrenner a liar, then later admitted he did.  Billy Martin was a cheater; he had his pitchers throw a spitter, he cheated on his wife.   What I do know is that he was responsible for the most memorable moment I ever experienced at the ballpark and I’ll always love him for it.