People say it all the time: celebrity deaths come in threes. It appears to be the same for Oakland A’s baseball recently.
Last week we mourned the passing of A’s 2006 pitcher Brad Halsey. Yesterday it was for A’s first baseman Kelvin Moore who played during the Billy Ball Era. This morning, we’ve learned that former Oakland A’s Manager Alvin Dark who guided the 1974 A’s to the World Championship and two division titles in 1974 and 1975, passed away early this morning at his home in Easley, South Carolina at the age of 92.
Dark actually managed both Bay Area teams to the World Series leading the cross-bay Giants in 1962 to their first World Series in San Francisco, a seven-game loss to the Yankees.
As a player, Dark was a shortstop for 14 MLB seasons, hitting above .400 in two Giants World Series in 1951 and 1954 and, as the team’s captain, helped set up Bobby Thomson’s 1951 Shot Heard ‘Round the World, opening the ninth inning with a single off Don Newcombe. Three batters later, Thompson hit his pennant-clinching homer off Ralph Branca.
Dark was named as A’s manager for the 1974 season after Dick Williams announced after the 1973 World Series he was leaving the A’s, frustrated with owner Charlie Finley and the final straw with the Mike Andrews incident during Game 2.
In February of 1974 Finley presented Dark who had managed the KC Athletics in 1966 and 1967, as his new manager. According to Sports Illustrated at the time Finley said, “Yes, he was hired by me in 1966; yes, he was fired in 1967; yes, I hired him again. Yes, he expects to be fired again someday.”
A local sportscaster at the time claimed fame by stating “The only thing worse than being hired by Charlie Finley is being hired by him a second time.”
Dark, whose previous managerial experience also included the Cleveland Indians, didn’t drink or smoke, frequently quoted from the Bible, had strong religious and moral beliefs that didn’t quite mesh when he arrived in 1974 with the then two-time World Champions and their often dysfunctional style at the time which included brawling with other teams as well as clubhouse fights, parties, and free-living.
Five weeks into the 1974 season, team captain Sal Bando had been quoted that Dark “couldn’t manage a meat market,” Vida Blue had tossed the ball over Dark’s head when the manager came to the mound to make a pitching change early in the season.
Eventually, though, Dark earned the respect of Bando, Blue, AL MVP Reggie Jackson, Jim Catfish Hunter, and the rest of the A’s taking the division with a 90-win season, winning three in four games over the Orioles in the ALCS before clinching the World Series in only five games when the previous years’ took the full seven. In 1975 he managed a 98-win season again getting to the ALCS only to lose to the Red Sox.
Dark was later fired by Finley after the 1975 season when he called Finley “a sinner” and stated Finley “was going to hell unless he mended his ways” at a gathering at a Pentecostal church in Hayward.
This season marked the 40th anniversary of the 1974 championship that capped the Oakland A’s three-peat dynasty with a player reunion that I noticed was unfortunately absent of Alvin Dark.
An argument can be made that his 1974 team was the best of the bunch of all the Oakland A’s team.
Another sad day for the A’s and their fans.