Oakland Athletics’ 1974 Championship: “Once More In ’74”

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The I-5 Series – The First All-California World Series

The 1974 Oakland Athletics (90-72) won their third-straight American League Pennant with new manager Alvin Dark—who was only hired the week before the season’s start. They beat the powerful Orioles in only four games, including the clincher in Baltimore, a 2-1 affair where they only had one hit – a Reggie Jackson RBI double. The scene was set for (the first) all-California World Series – coined the I-5 Series – versus the Los Angeles Dodgers (102-60).

For the A’s, this series was again not without controversy, including a locker room fight, a player-owner dispute, and Dodger press comments that made the A’s come to life. The Mustache Gang only needed five games to dominate the Dodgers to win their third World Series Championship in as many years, and become one of baseball’s premier dynasties of the era.

Lesser teams could have been distracted by off-field incidents that led up to Game 1 of the Series. In a three-day span, former second basemen Mike Andrews of the ’73 team announced he was filing a $2.5 million libel-and-slander suit against owner Charlie Finley for his dismissal from the team after costly errors in Game 2 of the 1973 Series. The next day Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter, who went on to win that season’s Cy Young Award, accused Finley of breach of contract from an owed annuity and was threatening to file for free agency in 1975 if Finley didn’t pay him. The night before the game, Rollie Fingers and John ‘Blue Moon’ Odom traded blows in the locker room. Fingers was left with stitches in his head, and Odom sprained his ankle in the brawl.

On the day of Game 1, it was revealed that Dodger players had made comments to the press, declaring that the A’s were “doubtful champions” despite winning the two previous years, and indicating that Joe Rudi was the only A’s player who could make their team. Dodger outfielder Bill Buckner added to the fury with a quote that said the Dodgers would beat the A’s 100 out of 162 games. The comments gave the A’s added incentive.

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In Game 1, Ken Holtzman (19-17) was sent in against Dodgers’ 20-game winner Andy Messersmith. In the second inning, Reggie Jackson showed his Mr. October ways with a second inning home run. Holtzman, who hadn’t batted all year due to the designated hitter, came through in the fifth inning with a double, and later scored on a Bert Campaneris squeeze bunt, making it 2-0. The Dodgers got a run back in the bottom of the inning courtesy of two A’s errors, and Fingers relieved Holtzman. The A’s got their third and final run of the contest with a Dodger error by third baseman Ron Cey on a Sal Bando grounder. After Fingers gave up a Jim Wynn home run in the ninth, Hunter, in another Series’ relief appearance, came in to get the final out – striking out Joe Ferguson.

The Dodgers took Game 2 as Don Sutton shut the A’s out for eight innings, limiting them to just four hits. After the Dodgers scored a single run in the second and two runs in the sixth inning, the A’s mounted a comeback in the ninth when Sal Bando was hit by a pitch and Reggie Jackson followed with a double. Joe Rudi then singled both runners home. With the A’s threatening and only one out, reliever Mike Marshall picked off “designated runner” Herb Washington who represented the tying run when he came in to pinch run for a not-too-happy Rudi. Ray Fosse struck out and the two teams headed north for the next three games.

For Game 3, your author, who was 15 at the time, was taken to the game courtesy of a 14-year-old girl he had met that summer. (The two would go on to be married in 1981 and remain married to this day). Catfish started the game and shut the Dodgers out through seven innings on only four hits. The A’s scored twice in the third inning when Bill North scored on an error by catcher Joe Ferguson and then Sal Bando scored on a Joe Rudi single. The A’s followed up the next inning with an additional run from a Campaneris single to score Dick Green. In the eighth, Hunter gave up a solo home run to Buckner and Rollie Fingers in relief in the ninth gave up a solo Wille Crawford home run before closing the Dodgers out for a 3-2 win and a 2-1 game series lead.

Ken Holtzman was back on the mound again for Game 4 and in the third inning contributed to his cause with the last home run in series history by an AL pitcher. The Dodgers came back for two of their own the following inning, until the sixth when the A’s rallied for more. Bill North led off with a walk, went to second on an errant pickoff throw, and then scored on a Sal Bando single to tie it up. Reggie Jackson and Claudell Washington walked, and with the bases loaded, pinch hitter Jim Hold singled in Bando and Jackson. Dick Green hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring Washington for a 5-2 A’s lead and an eventual Rollie Fingers four-out save in relief of Holtzman.

The A’s started Vida Blue against the Dodgers’ Don Sutton for Game 5 and took a first inning lead on a Sal Bando sac fly to score Joe Rudi. In the second inning, Ray Fosse hit a home run – posting the A’s to a 2-0 lead. The Dodgers tied it in the sixth but the A’s pulled ahead in the seventh when Joe Rudi homered to left field off of reliever Mike Marshall. In the Dodgers’ eighth, Bill Buckner attempted to stretch a leadoff base hit when the ball got past center fielder Bill North, and would have easily ended up on second base with no outs. However, Buckner – in a World Series faux paux (he’d be known for a more famous one 12 years later) – attempted to go to third base. But a perfect relay from Jackson to Green to Bando beat him for the tag-out, as he broke baseball’s unwritten rule of never making the first out at third base. Fingers again went on for the save, and the A’s were World Champs again when pinch hitter Von Joshua hit an easy comebacker to Fingers for the last out.

Rollie was named Series MVP, but many thought Dick Green could have gotten the award – except he was hitless in his 13 plate appearances. Green, who retired after the series, made so many dazzling defensive plays, including turning six doubl eplays, that he was voted World Series MVP by the BBWAA’s NY Chapter and thus received the prestigious Babe Ruth Award.

The years that followed would be increasingly difficult for the A’s. They won the AL West again in 1975 but were swept by the Red Sox in the ALCS. After a second place finish in 1976, they collapsed after the departure of their great core of veterans who could not wait to get away from Finley. It would be another 14 years before they would reemerge in the World Series with another terrific team led by a new generation of players.

Personal Note: In Game 1 of the 73 Series and Game 3 of the 1974 Series, I was able to get both dugout-posted lineup cards from the team batboys at the end of the games. In 1999, I contacted the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, who expressed interest in having these items as part of their collection since they were the only known ones from those years. I subsequently donated them to the Hall of Fame and they are occasionally on display in the museum.

Next: Should Jesse Hahn's Injury Be Cause For Concern in 2016?

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