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A's-Tigers 1972 ALCS contentious

A's-Tigers 1972 ALCS contentious

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This American League Championship Series is déjà vu all over again.

When the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers last played for the AL pennant, there was a Republican in the White House and a war was being fought halfway around the world -- Vietnam.

The AL West champion Athletics compiled the best record in the league that season, going 93-62, while the Tigers captured the AL East title with an 86-70 record.

The year was 1972, when men and women wore their hair long, and the Athletics wore mustaches, an idea born out of a regular-season promotion at the Oakland Coliseum.

Owner Charlie Finley offered $500 -- or a new suit -- to any player who grew a moustache by Father's Day, at a time when every other team forbade facial hair. When Father's Day arrived, every member of the team, including manager Dick Williams and his coaching staff, took the bonus instead of the suit.

Oakland featured a starting rotation of Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Vida Blue, Ken Holtzman and John "Blue Moon" Odom, and the bullpen was anchored by closer Rollie Fingers.

The A's tossed 23 shutouts during the season, but none of them against the Tigers, managed by Billy Martin and led by right fielder Al Kaline.

The best-of-five series went the distance and by the time it ended, a bat thrown in anger cost Oakland its starting shortstop and leadoff hitter Bert "Campy" Campaneris, deprived AL president Joe Cronin of some sleep and, in the final game of the hotly contested series, Reggie Jackson was injured while stealing home and scoring the first run in the A's 2-1 victory.

During the postgame celebration, there was a clubhouse fight between Blue and Odom.

"It was a comedy of errors, pretty much from start to finish," A's manager Dick Williams said from his home in Henderson, Nev., where he lives with his wife, Norma. "We can laugh about it now, but it wasn't very funny back then."

The A's captured their second consecutive division title and were favored to reach the World Series. Most of the players had been on the 1971 team that won 101 games but were swept by the Baltimore Orioles.

"Everyone was so tight last year, we couldn't do anything right," said Hunter on the eve of the '72 ALCS opener. "But this year, we are more confident and relaxed. I know it's going to be tough, but this time we have the advantage."

The Athletics scored two runs in the 11th inning to win the opener, 3-2, before a less-than-capacity crowd of 29,536. Kaline, who hit a home run in the top of the 11th, uncorked a wild throw in the bottom of the inning, allowing Gene Tenace to score the winning run.

Oakland also won Game 2, riding the stout pitching of Odom for a 5-0 victory. But the hot-button topic after the game was about a bat-throwing incident in the seventh inning involving Campaneris and Tigers reliever Lerrin LaGrow.

Campy, who had singled his three previous times, stole two bases and scored two runs, tried to jump out of the way of a low-and-inside fastball from LaGrow, but the ball struck the batter's left ankle.

Campaneris hesitated for just a second, and threw his bat at LaGrow, who ducked out of the way.

"Martin had his pitcher throw at Campy's legs," Williams recalled. "I guess that was the only way they could get him out."

Order was restored quickly, before any punches were thrown, and both combatants were ejected from the game by plate umpire Nestor Chylak, "so there wouldn't be any further mayhem, riot or whatnot," he said after the game.

Cronin, who watched the incident from a box seat behind the A's third-base dugout, said he would make a decision the following day -- an off-day for travel. "I'll have to sleep on it for a while," he said.

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Early the next day, Cronin fined Campaneris $500 and suspended him for the remainder of the series.

That infuriated Finley and he decided to do something about it.

"He called a meeting in my hotel suite and said we were going to go over to Cronin's hotel room and argue against the suspension," Williams recalled. "My wife already was in her nightgown, short with tiger stripes, and Charlie didn't like that at all.

"Anyway, it was about midnight and Charlie told Tom Corwin, our traveling secretary, to 'go get the writers.' "

Corwin knew exactly where to go -- Lindell AC, a popular sports bar located near Tiger Stadium.

Corwin rounded up five of the Bay Area writers covering the Series and accompanied them to the hotel where Cronin was staying. It was almost 1 a.m. by now when the group -- five scribes, Finley, his two sons, Williams, Corwin and Campaneris -- took an elevator to the floor on which Cronin's room was located.

Finley knocked on the door until it was answered. On the other side of the door was an elderly gentleman, dressed in a red and white nightgown with matching red and white night cap.

"He looked like one of those guys holding a candle," Williams recalled.

Finley asked permission for Campaneris to sit on the bench for the remainder of the Series, but Cronin refused the request. Campy was out of the series, period.


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Actually, the shortstop's ankle was so swollen that he wouldn't have been able to play for several days, anyway.

The series resumed the following day and journeyman right-hander Joe Coleman blanked the Athletics, 3-0, before a less-than-capacity crowd of 41,156 at Tiger Stadium.

"Now, we'll win it," Martin said after the game.

The Athletics scored twice in the top of the 10th inning to grab a 3-1 lead in Game 4, only to have the Tigers rally for three runs in the bottom of the 10th for a stunning victory.

"It's the worst loss of my life," Jackson said. "I couldn't believe it."

That set up a winner-take-all Game 5 at Tiger Stadium. Williams started Odom instead of Blue in the finale and the right-hander held the Tigers to one run through five innings.

"Odom complained of feeling nauseous so we took him out of the game," Williams said.

Blue held the Tigers to three hits and no runs over the final four innings, protecting the 2-1 lead Odom had given the bullpen when he departed.

Tenace had one hit in the series, a run-scoring single in the fourth inning off Woodie Fryman that snapped a 1-1 deadlock.

As the Athletics headed to the visiting clubhouse after the game, Odom was sitting on an ice cream cooler.

"He said, 'Nice goin' gang, we're going to the World Series!' " Williams recalled. "Vida grabbed his [own] throat and gave one of those 'choke' signs."

Blue was quoted as saying, "Hey man, why the heck didn't you go nine innings?"

Odom said, "I was gagging. The tension got to me and I was ready to [vomit]."

The two had to be separated by teammates and later apologized to each other.

Jackson, meanwhile, limped around the clubhouse with a torn left hamstring, an injury that would keep him out of the World Series.

But Campaneris played.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled that Campy could return to action in the Fall Classic against the Cincinnati Reds, who the A's defeated in seven games -- six decided by one run.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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