Beyond Golf — 27 April 2013 by Jim Street
A’s of 1973 honored in Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. – Monte Moore, the Athletics’ play-by-play announcer during the team’s run of three consecutive World Series championships — 1972-73-74 – marveled at the fact that seven of the nine players on the field for the start of Game 7 of the ’73 Fall Classic were together again, 40 years later on the same field.

…Batting leadoff and playing shortstop, number 19, Campy Campaneris…batting second and playing left field, number 26, Joe Rudi. . .batting third and playing third base, number 6, Sal Bando. . .batting fourth and playing center field, number 9 Reggie Jackson. . .

And so it went on Saturday when arguably the best “team” during the three-year dynasty was re-introduced to a “sold-out” crowd at what was known back then as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. A full-house these days is in the mid- 30,000 range as the entire upper (third) deck is covered with a green tarp. In ’73, nearly 50,000 (49,333) fans packed the place for Game 7 between the A’s and NL Champion New York Mets.

The only Oakland starters from that game missing from the 40-year reunion were first baseman Deron Johnson, who died of lung cancer in 1992 at age 53, and right fielder Jesus Alou, currently the director of Dominican operations for the Red Sox.

'73 stars Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando

Also missing from what will become a three-year celebration was manager Dick Williams, who passed away almost two years ago, and Catfish Hunter, who spent the bulk of his Hall of Fame career with the A’s. He succumbed to ALCS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1999 at age 53.

Two of Williams’ coaches, Irv Noren (third base) and Wes Stock (pitching), attended the 40-year reunion.

“I wasn’t able to make it last year, so it really is a thrill,” Bando told MLB.com reporter Jane Lee during a press session on Friday. “I haven’t seen a lot of these guys in a whole lot of years. I’m always curious to see how everyone looks and feels. Instead of talking baseball, we talk medication now.”

…Batting fifth and catching, number 18, Gene Tenace…batting eighth and playing second base, number 1, Dick Green. . .batting ninth and pitching, number 30, Ken Holtzman.

The Athletics won Game 7 by a 5-2 score, beating the Mets’ ace left-hander Jon Matlack — one day after they defeated the Mets’ ace right-hander Tom Seaver, a difficult task under any circumstances.

Campy Campaneris, circa 2013

Campaneris and Jackson hit home runs during a four-run third inning, Holtzman pitched 5 1/3 innings, Fingers, a future Hall of Fame closer, tossed 3 1/3 innings of relief and left-hander Darold Knowles recorded the final out.

As most of the original “Mustache Gang” on hand for the reunion, the hair above Knowles’ upper lip is now gone.

But something about the lefty remains: That one-third inning of work (one pitch) in Game 7 put his name in the World Series record book. And it will be there forever — he is the first and only pitcher to pitch in all seven games of a Fall Classic.

From a baseball writer’s perspective, those were the best of times, as chronicled in “Life From The Press Box….Recollections of a sportswriter” (available at Amazon.com).

Two years removed from sloshing through rice paddies in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta as a 9th Infantry Division “Old Reliable” correspondent, my first major assignment at the San Jose Mercury News was taking over the Athletics beat midway through the 1971 season.

Owner Charlie Finley, a cantakerous old codger with an eye for talent, assembled a team of champions after moving the franchise from Kansas City prior to the 1968 season. When Williams became the manager, textbook baseball took over and the team flourished, winning six consecutive AL West championships from 1971 through ’75.

Darold Knowles pitched in all seven games

Hard-swinging Reggie began his Hall of Fame career here. He was primary power source in the lineup and never met a writer he didn’t like — or at least talk to whenever approached for a question about just about anything.

Bando, who remarkably hasn’t changed a bit in appearance since I last saw him 30-some years ago, was the calming force of that team, on the field and inside the clubhouse. He was “Captain Sal”.

He also spoke his mind to reporters. A year later, in ’74, he would say of manager Alvin Dark, “He couldn’t manage a meat market.”

On one of those occassions, Dark happened to be standing right behind Captain Sal in the clubhouse.

“He was never in the clubhouse,” Sal laughed. “It was written about and a few days later I got a call from the ‘Meat Packers Association’ informing me as to just how difficult it really is to manage a meat market.”

The middle-age Athletics managed to have a terrific time reminiscing at the reunion.

Bando recalled the times when he went to the mound to give some words of encouragement, or advice, to Rollie Fingers. “Rollie would say, ‘get back to third base, fat-boy! The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.'”

Catcher Ray Fosse, acquired from the Indians prior to the ’73 season, has been with the organization ever since. He’s now the analyst on the TV broadcast.

“The money is so much better now than when we played,” he said, “but I wouldn’t give back the days we played together.”

Vida Blue was a 20-game winner in '73

Several nearby heads shook in unison, including the bald noggin’ belonging to Vida Blue, the AL Cy Young Award winner in 1971 . . . the world’s most famous holdout in ’72 and a six-time All-Star in a 17-year MLB career, including the ’73 season, when he returned to form and won 20 games.

Although he now more involved with the cross-bay rival Giants as an analyst for Comast Net during Giant’s televised games, Vida remains close to the team he cut his teeth with back in the late 1960s. He made his MLB debut with the Athletics on July 20, 1969.

In one of Finley’s ill-advised brainstorms, he tried (and thankfully failed) to persuade Vida to change his first name to “True”.

Nicknames amused Charlie. He’s the one who first called James Augustus Hunter “Catfish”.

But any name, the 1973 Athletics were a treat to know, to watch and to become good friends when the gap between players and media was not nearly as wide as it is now.

Jackson, the AL’s MVP in the ’73 season and also the World Series (although some thought Campy was more deserving) attended his first reunion. Others from that team were outfielders Billy North and Billy Conigliaro; infielders Pat Bourque and Ted Kubiak; and pitcher John “Blue Moom” Odom.

Left-handed reliever Paul Lindblad, who contributed one win and two saves in his 38 appearances in ’73, passed away on New Year’s Day, 2006, and Ron Bergman, the “printed voice of the franchise” who covered the team for the Oakland Tribune, was unable to attend due to health reasons.

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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