The Forgotten 1974 World Series
Lost in the Headlines
The Oakland A’s were a dynasty in the early 1970s. They won three World Series in a row, five American League West Division titles and did it with two different managers. Their first two Series in 1972 and 1973 were bitterly contested seven game affairs against the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets. But the last one in ’74 against the Los Angeles Dodgers has been seemingly forgotten. In montages of past Series, it’s hardly ever seen. Despite having ten future Hall of Famers that included six players, one manager, two broadcasters and an umpire, many of the games’ spectacular moments and bloopers have disappeared from fans’ consciousness.
Reasons vary. The Series only went to five games, mostly low scoring ones. It was also the first time that two California teams were in the World Series; maybe the national audience was not as invested. President Nixon’s resignation had occurred the previous August, so the nation may have wanted to move on as quickly as possible. Another explanation might be the historic event that happened earlier that season. On April 8, Hank Aaron hit his long-awaited 715th home run that broke Babe Ruth’s record. Major League Baseball was glad to have that milestone behind them. Ugly racial threats and controversies simmered for almost two years, putting a terrible strain on Aaron and the game in general.
What happened a year later could be the biggest reason. The 1975 World Series between Boston and Cincinnati is considered one of the greatest of all time with an endless number of books and player biographies coming out in its aftermath. A new standard for World Series emerged. Memories of the prior year quickly faded. 1974 was the year that baseball forgot, at least after April.
Green, Gold, and Brash
Led by the effusive Reggie Jackson, the quiet confidence of Jim “Catfish” Hunter and the unique style of closer Rollie Fingers, the A’s were truly a cast of characters. Even some of their names were straight out of central casting: Vida Blue, John “Blue Moon” Odom and Sal Bando.
Their owner, Charlie Finley, was equally colorful. Finley, who made his fortune in the insurance business, was an Indiana native with a penchant for over the top promotions. Purchasing the A’s while they were still in Kansas City, he moved them to Oakland in 1968. He was the driving force behind referring to the team as the “A’s instead of the Athletics. To add even more flavor to his organization, he changed the uniforms. The colors became green and gold while adding white cleats as a finishing touch. Once in Oakland, the team expanded their fashion horizons by adding several combinations of uniforms. Regardless of the on-field product, the team’s unique style became synonymous with the 1970s.
In many ways, he was the first modern owner, whose personal life also became the story. Finley was not above sending line up proposals to his managers prior to a game. On top of all that, rumors swirled everywhere that the team was moving to Seattle within a couple of years. He also pushed for rules changes like the Designated Hitter (DH). In the coming years, his battles with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn would become legendary. One gets the sense that there was relief in the Commissioner’s office once the A’s run was over. Like a revolution that was put down, the men who ran the game wanted to get back to tradition.
The A’s won 93 games in 1972 and 94 games in 1973. During the 1974 season, they only won 90 games and most felt they were lucky to get that many. In fact, they ended the season with the fourth-lowest winning percentage of any World Series winner. Their lineup was inconsistent all year; on July 19, they suffered a no-hitter at the hands of Cleveland Indians' Dick Bosman. Dysfunction had become the norm. Tempers flared and the strong personalities, which had aided their success for several years, began to wear everyone down.
The dysfunction had been a leading factor in the decision by manager Dick Williams to quit after the 1973 season. He was not fond of Finley and went on to further success with several other teams. His replacement was 52 year old Alvin Dark, who had spent the prime years of his career as both player and a manager with the New York/San Francisco Giants. Dark had managed the Giants for four seasons in the early 1960s and led them to the 1962 World Series. In contrast to the merry band of sinners that he skippered, Dark was an evangelical Christian and was fond of quoting the Bible. He never missed a chance to talk about his faith.
Fights and recriminations went on right up to the start of the Series. In June, Reggie Jackson and centerfielder Billy North were involved an altercation. Explanations for the scuffle were hard to come by, as neither player would admit to anything. Catcher Ray Fosse was injured trying to break it up and ended up missing two months of the season. It made headlines nationally.
The day the A’s first arrived at Dodger Stadium, Fingers and Odom got into another scrum, which left Fingers with five stitches in his head. Odom apparently got snarky about what one AP reporter described as Fingers’ “domestic situation.” Rumors were constantly floating around about their personal lives. Third Baseman Sal Bando referred to the team as a “traveling encounter group.” Winning had not bred contentment.
The A’s 1974 season was a study in contrasting styles within a locker room ready to explode at any moment. The team from blue-collar Oakland was more Hollywood than the team from Los Angeles.
Blue is Back
The Dodgers of the early 70s were a team coming out of rebuilding mode. Each year they began to get closer. They won 85 games in 1972, 95 in 1973 and 102 in 1974. This would be the Series debut of their now famous infield of Steve Garvey at first base, Davey Lopes at second, Bill Russell at short and Ron Cey at third base. The four would be together for eight seasons. Garvey was also the National League MVP in ’74.
Their outfield had Bill Buckner in left, Jimmy Wynn in Center and converted catcher Joe Ferguson in Right Field, who platooned with Jimmie Crawford when a lefty was starting. Behind the plate was tough guy Steve Yeager. The pitching staff was led by future Hall of Famer Don Sutton and veteran Andy Messersmith, who had won 19 and 20 games respectively. The team had not been immune to injuries. Starter Tommy John had been sidelined for a few weeks with a sore elbow along with reliever Jim Brewer. John's injury turned out to be much more severe and he would go on to have his now famous surgery after the season.
Their closer was fiery Mike Marshall, who led the league with 106 appearances, 21 saves and won the Cy Young Award. A right-handed screwballer, he had also led the league in 1973 with the Expos but wore out his welcome among the Habitants. Marshall was a guy who always thought he was the smartest one in the room; and he may have been right. He was a Michigan State alum who held three degrees, including a PhD in exercise science. Because of that he swore to everyone who would listen that his pitching techniques could prevent injury. Pitching coaches were of no use to Dr. Marshall.
Manager Walter Alston led the team. He was in his 20th year as skipper, having moved with them from Brooklyn. The easy going Ohioan was truly a calming presence in the locker room. The O’Malley family, the team's owners, loved him. For Alston, the Series was a reunion of sorts. He knew Alvin Dark very well through Dark’s previous stint with the Giants, going back to Dark’s playing days with the New York club in the 1950s.
The Dodgers beat the Pirates in the National League Championship Series and had home field for the series. They were also the favored team. The Dodgers’ machine-like resolve and Oakland’s seemingly chaotic environment had many pundits picking L.A.
Saturday, October 12, 1974 was another beautiful fall day in southern California with temperatures in the 70s and bright sunshine. A low haze hung over Chavez Ravine, the site of Dodger Stadium. It was a sellout of over 55, 000. In contrast to the regular season, most of the fans arrived on time, as the traffic was slightly lessened on a weekend. Dodger great Roy Campanella threw out the ceremonial first pitch and Wayne Newton sang the National Anthem.
Game 1 was a nail biter; a one-run game that set the stage for the entire series. Reggie Jackson hit the first home run of the series off Andy Messersmith, giving the A’s the lead. A’s pitcher Ken Holtzman, in his second at bat, hit a double off Messersmith in the 5th inning and later scored on a suicide squeeze after reaching third on a wild pitch. In the bottom of the fifth, the Dodgers clawed back as Davey Lopes reached second on an error and Bill Buckner drove him home with a single.
The A’s continued playing small ball and managed to get their third run on another wild pitch in the 8th inning. Later that inning, came the play of the game.
Having reached third base on the error, Sal Bando attempted to score on a sacrifice fly to right centerfield by Reggie Jackson. But right fielder Joe Ferguson stepped in front of Jimmy Wynn, made the catch and fired a missile to Steve Yeager, who was already blocking the plate. Bando did not have a chance.
In the bottom of the ninth, Wynn hit a solo homer, cutting the score to 3-2. Rollie Fingers had relieved Holzman in the fifth inning, so his arm was tired. Having your closer come in during the 5th inning and pitch more than two innings is shocking by today’s standards. Fingers was relieved by their ace starter, Catfish Hunter, who retired the last batter.
Play at the Plate (MLB.com)
Under sunny skies once more, Don Sutton would rule the day against A’s starter Vida Blue. He pitched a flawless 7 innings. Then in the 8th, the A’s rallied loading the bases with one out. But a double play squelched their chances.
The Dodgers managed six hits with Joe Ferguson hitting a two-run homer in the sixth inning. In the ninth, the A’s threatened once more and finally got two runs home on a Joe Rudi single. Sutton was relieved by Marshall and he promptly struck out catcher Gene Tenace.
Dark then decided to use Herb Washington as a pinch runner for Rudi. Washington was famous because he was the first (and only) designated runner in MLB history. That was his entire job: pinch run late in games. With one out and one on, up stepped Angel Mangual. Marshall, who had one of the best pick off moves in the game, kept a close eye on Washington. Sure enough, a third attempt caught Washington. Two out. Marshall then got Managual for the third out.
The Dodgers left very confident that they could carry the momentum north to Oakland. The A’s were happy with a split, for the most part. The game had been within reach, but Washington getting picked off left a bitter taste, especially among some of his teammates who did not think of him as a real baseball player.
Marshall picks off Washington (MLB.com)
As the teams traveled north for Game 3, the nation continued coming to grips with change. The Massachusetts National Guard was called out to deal with the Boston Schools desegregation order. Ugly scenes would be splashed across newspapers and shown on the nightly news as poor whites battled poor blacks.
It was somewhat ironic that the top three artists on Billboard’s Top 40 countdown were African Americans: Billy Preston, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder. By the first week of November, Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” would be number one. The song, which was released two days before Nixon’s resignation on August 8, castigated the President for his failures.
President Ford continued trying to get his Presidency on firm footing as he dealt with post-Vietnam America. Time Magazine featured him on their cover of October 14, 1974 with the title, “Trying to Fight Back.” A struggling economy and a Middle East oil crisis burdened his early days along with attempts to keep South Vietnamese forces supplied with arms.
President Nixon remained in the news, hospitalized with phlebitis. Daily updates were provided every night on the network newscasts.
Despite heading north, the weather remained beautiful in the East Bay for Game 3, still near 80 degrees at game time.
It was a role reversal as Catfish Hunter now proved his worth by shutting down the Dodgers for seven innings. It was also the game where Joe Ferguson went from hero to goat with two errors, this time as the catcher.
The A’s remained consistent in eking out runs. Two singles and an error put Oakland up 2-0 by the third inning. Oakland manufactured another run in the fourth with a walk, sacrifice and a single, extending the lead to 3-0. The Dodgers continued leaving men on base until the eighth when Bill Buckner hit a solo homer. Willie Crawford, who started in right field, added another solo homer in the top of the ninth. But that would be it. Fingers closed them out and the Dodgers were now down two games to one.
Starter Al Downing received the loss for the Dodgers; it would be his last in a World Series. His career World Series record was 0-3 with an ERA over 6.00, having appeared for the Yankees in ’63 and ’64. Earlier in the season, he became nationally known for giving up Aaron’s 715th home run.
On top of his errors, Ferguson struck out twice, and when Jackson attempted to steal in the fifth, he dropped the pitch. During the broadcast, Tony Kubek raised an important point about position switches. Joe started the first two games in right field, and then was asked to move behind the plate. Adding to the difficulty, he had to catch relief pitcher Charlie Hough's knuckleball. Would the outcome have been different if Yeager had been catching?
In quintessential Charlie Finely style, the owner called President Ford to invite him to Game 4 during the game. He did it from his seat behind the A's dugout. Unfortunately, the President was busy.
Game 4 turned out to be the highest scoring affair of the Series. The A’s got on the board first with a rare occurrence: a home run by starting pitcher Ken Holtzman. The Dodgers struck right back in the top of the 4th with two runs on a triple by Bill Russell. That turned out to be their only runs. Holtzman shut them down till the eighth, when he was relieved by Fingers.
The A’s scored again in the sixth with four runs in their typical fashion: a walk, error, single, walk, sacrifice bunt, single and an RBI groundout (force play). Small ball was getting it done again. Oakland won 5-2.
With the Dodgers down 3-1, they were feeling the pressure. After the game, their feelings had come out during reporters’ questioning. Garvey said they were not being aggressive enough. There was a lot of dejection. Ferguson was philosophical. Now they were in a must win situation.
Game 5 would be another close game, but one whose end would be marred by fan misbehavior, more controversy and a bad career omen for Bill Buckner.
It had been another warm day in the Bay Area on October 17, 1974. A marine layer moved in late in the afternoon creating a cool and somewhat damp evening. It made the cavernous Coliseum seem even more foreboding.
Vida Blue started again for the A’s, facing off against Don Sutton. As usual, the A’s got on the board first with two runs that included a homer by the indomitable Ray Fosse. The Dodgers managed to tie it in the sixth, 2-2.
Outcomes of Series games always seem to hinge on an odd decision. This time would be no different.
Sutton was taken out after the sixth and Alston brought in Mike Marshall to start the seventh. It was his fifth appearance in the Series. On what turned out to be the coolest night of the Series, Marshall decided to forego warm up pitches. He told everyone he was ready to go after a long session in the bullpen. The broadcast team was puzzled to say the least. Fans did not know what to make it of it. His fellow Dodgers just shrugged.
There would be a further delay due to unruly fans in left field who showered Buckner and Jimmy Wynn with food and soda bottles. The drunk fans in the bleachers were enacting revenge on Buckner for his earlier comments on the A’s. He told a reporter that only three players on their squad could even make the Dodgers. That pent up anger came out in the bottom of the seventh. Walter Alston ran out to left field to talk to the umpire. Announcements were made by the PA man threatening the fans with expulsion. Apple cores then landed near Buckner as he took his position. Undaunted, the umps said play on. Marshall just stood there the entire time, hands on hips.
Joe Rudi stepped in the box. He already had two hits against Marshall earlier in the Series. Then on the first pitch, he took him deep to left field. The A’s were now up 3-2.
A Strange Ending (John Mongani)
The Dodgers needed a man in scoring position desperately. Bucker led off and slammed one into the gap in right center. It seemed like an easy double, but Buckner decided to stretch it into a triple. What happened next encapsulates two very different postseason careers in one play. The ball rolled past CF Bill North. But Reggie Jackson, who had a reputation as being a little weak defensively, backed him up. He snared it before reaching the wall and shot it back to cut off man Dick Green, who relayed it to Bando at third. A shocked Buckner felt the tag slam down on his back and could only trot back to an equally stunned dugout. He broke one of baseball’s cardinal rules: when you’re down one run late in the game, pull up at second.
Hope faded in the LA dugout. The next two Dodgers went down as well.
In the ninth, Rollie Fingers came in for the save. Another 3-2 victory. Oakland had their third championship in a row. They were now a dynasty. Rollie Fingers was named MVP.
The Series ratings were down compared to the previous year, posting an average rating of 25.6 with a 46 share. Just less than 50% of all households watched the series. For the 1970s, it was still a strong number. By today’s standards, it’s phenomenal. During the ’73 series, NBC got an average rating of 30.7 and a 57 share. But that included the New York market as the A's beat the Mets in a wild seven-game series. Plus, Willie Mays played his last game.
The choice of ceremonial first pitch proved to highlight the differences in the two organizations. The Dodgers, a very traditional, family run organization, had former greats like Roy Campanella in Game 1. For Game 2, they had stars from two different eras; Pee Wee Reese and Maury Wills. Peter O’Malley, son of the Dodger owner, Walter O’Malley, had become President of the club in 1970. He was seeking to connect with the Dodgers’ past by bringing back the old players from the Brooklyn days. His efforts bore fruit in the early 70s as most of the Brooklyn roster from the 50s came back for Old Timers Days.
The A’s on the other hand went with celebrities for two of the three games. Karl Malden, who was in the midst of his run on the Streets of San Francisco, threw out the ball for Game 3. In Game 4, there was finally a nod to the club’s history as Connie Mack Jr., son of the legendary manager of the Philadelphia A’s, was selected. For Game 5, it was back to celebrities with Rock Hudson, who was still starring in Macmillan and Wife, which aired on NBC.
The Dodger infield of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey went on to play in three more World Series. They lost back to back to the Yankees in ’77 and ’78 but finally broke through in the strike-shortened 1981 season, beating the Yankees 4-2. Garvey helped lead the Padres to the World Series in 1984 before retiring.
Walter Alston – Alston retired after the 1976 season and had his number retired by the team soon after. He won over 2,000 games with the club over his 22 years as manager. During that span, the Dodgers won four World Series, appearing in seven. Nine Hall of Famers played for him and there probably should be a few more. During the last seven years as skipper, he never won less than 85 games. He went out on top.
Sadly, after being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983, he suffered a heart attack which prevented him from attending the ceremony. He never fully recovered and passed away in 1984 at the age of 72.
Third Base coach Tommy Lasorda took over the team in 1977, and managed them for 20 seasons, winning the 1981 and 1988 World Series. In 1988, the Dodgers got their revenge on the A’s by beating them four games to one. He is still employed by the team as a special advisor.
Alvin Dark - Dark was fired the following season and managed one more season in MLB with the San Diego Padres. He won over 900 games as a manager, but also lost over 900. He appeared in two Series as a player (’51 and ’54) and two as a manager, earning two rings. Alvin retired to South Carolina where he passed away in 2014 at the age of 92.
Rollie Fingers – As with everything in the A’s organization, Fingers' time with the club came to an end in controversial fashion. After Major League Baseball’s reserve clause ended, which had given complete power to the owners regarding players’ futures, Finley knew he could not keep his team together. So he attempted to sell players, and one of them was Fingers. The deals were nullified by the Commissioner. Fingers eventually left after the 1976 season, signing with the Padres. He had three great seasons with them, then became a Milwaukee Brewer and helped them get to their first World Series in 1982 (along with Don Sutton and former teammate Sal Bando). Unfortunately, he missed the entire series due to injury. It was a close seven game series and Fingers might have made the difference. Today, he remains active at card shows and reunions. He is still known as much for his mustache as his pitching.
Mike Marshall - Marshall had an amazing season in 1974, setting a record for appearances with 106 and winning the Cy Young Award. He lasted two more seasons with Los Angeles. After that he bounced around but managed to be the saves leader again in 1979 with the Minnesota Twins. He retired in 1981. Today, he teaches Kinesiology and runs a coaching service for pitchers. In an interview with Sport Illustrated in 2001, he finally admitted to his petulance, "I was totally uncoachable."
Bill Buckner - Played in 145 games 1974 and hit .314 with 30 doubles. He also had a .975 fielding percentage in the outfield. As the Dodgers acquired Reggie Smith and Dusty Baker he became the odd man out. He was eventually traded to the Cubs in 1977 where he continued to hit well, winning the batting title in 1980. But he will always be known for his Game 6 error in the 1986 World Series against the Mets. Suffering from numerous ankle issues all year, Red Sox manager John McNamara usually took him out late in games because he had become a defensive liability. Inexplicably, McNamara left him in there. The result was infamy.
Reggie Jackson - Reggie left the A's after 1975 and would go on to cement his legacy as "Mr. October." After a season with the Orioles, he signed with the Yankees for five tumultuous seasons. By the end of the decade, he had been on five World Series Championship teams and eight Division winners. He played in his last World Series in 1981, as the Yankees lost to the Dodgers. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993 as a Yankee.
Charlie Finley – Finley’s fortunes changed quickly by the late 70s. Free agency, debt and a divorce all teamed up to diminish his fortune. After Bowie Kuhn halted his sale of players, he tried to sell the franchise. But that led to more legal wrangling. He had divided the ownership of the club between his wife and children. When the divorce proceedings began, they refused to give their stakes back. So it took years to sell the team. Despite this, he and his management team aggressively looked for ways to rebuild their sagging franchise through scouting. By the early 80s, it paid off when guys like Ricky Henderson and Tony Armas along with new manager (and Berkeley native) Billy Martin led the team to the playoffs. A sale was finally approved in 1981. After moving back to rural Indiana, he remained a local celebrity. He passed away in 1996.
Jim "Catfish" Hunter (1946-1999) - He went on to even greater fame with the New York Yankess, helping them win two more World Series in '77 and '78. In the late 90s, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gehrig's Disease") and it eventually took his life.
Willie Crawford (1946-2004) - The outfielder played in 14 major league seasons, 11 for the Dodgers. He settled back into his native Los Angeles after baseball but began having issues with his kidneys, which lead to his death.
Charlie Finley, beneath all the showmanship, had a heart. In 1965, he brought Satchel Paige out of retirement so he could qualify for a bigger pension. It was a spectacle, replete with rocking chair, and a "nurse." Paige had pitched for the old Kansas City Monarch of the Negro Leagues and was still beloved in the City. However, it also reminded everyone of the injustices heaped upon so many of these guys.
Paige was nearly 60 years old. But he hadn't made to the Major Leagues until 1948, when he was 42. His career was short but memorable, finishing up with the St. Louis Browns in 1953. MLB pension rules being what they were prior to the union, by pitching in another decade, he was able to get an increase in his monthly stipend.
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Koppett, Leonard. “Shift A’s to Seattle Next Season Rumored.” New York Times, October 13, 1974. P.25. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Times (via King County Library System).
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Marquez, Daniel. "A's Flashback: 1974." Athleticsnation.com, September 17, 2009.
Oates, Bob. “If the Courts had not changed the rules of baseball on Finley in the Middle 1970s, His A’s Might Still Be on Top of the World.” Los Angeles Times, 7 July 1987. Latimes.com
Talley, Rick. “Alston Mulls Using Marshall as a Starter.” Chicago Tribune, October 16, 1974: Section 3, P. 3.
Talley, Rick. “Dodgers will win; A’s Can’t Score.” Chicago Tribune, October 15, 1974. Section 4, Pg. 3.
Tuit, James. “Blame It on O’Malley.” New York Times, October 13, 1974. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Times (via King County Library System).
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