A Pair of Recent Books

March 14, 2020

 

 

 

 

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s by Jason Turbow, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $26.00

And  

They Said It Couldn’t be Done: the ’69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History by Wayne Coffey, Crown Archetype, 2019. $28.00

 

 

 

 

Let’s start off with a quiz on the early 1970s Oakland A’s, the subject of Turbow’s excellent book, all answered in the book’s first 150 pages:

 

1)      Which game other than baseball did Holtzman, Green, Knowles, and Fingers play on a daily basis during the 1972 season?

 

2)      Whose middle names were "Rochelle Meshach Abednego"?

 

3)      Which of the mustachioed A’s eventually found himself on the 1985 Reds, but chose to retire when Marge Schott insisted he shave off his mustache, claiming "She had more facial hair than I had"?

 

4)      Whose father had roomed in the low minors  (Class D, Williamson Colts) with a 17-year-old Stan Musial?  

 

5)      Who was the A’s team physician who shared a name (but not an M.D. degree) with a former batting champion turned 1960s and 1970s MLB manager?

 

6)      Which Detroit Tiger got trapped at the bottom of a pileup during an A’s-Tigers brawl, and got his ribs cracked by a kick from Blue Moon Odom? ("He was never right again," claimed Willie Horton.)

 

7)      With whom did Vida Blue room in Oakland in his rookie season?

 

8)      Which Oakland ballgirl later earned a fortune selling her cookies?

 

9)      Who served as batboy on Oakland coach Irv Noren’s Hollywood Stars team in the PCL in 1949?

 

10)   Who was "probably the last [active] major leaguer" to speak to Jackie Robinson?

 

11)   Who coined the phrase "Oakland Mausoleum"?

 

12)   Which National League player was acquired by the A’s in 1972 who gave Oakland the majority of the Jewish players in MLB at the time?  

 

The answers to this quiz are the sort of granular details that can be picked up in Jason Turbow’s thoroughly researched book, but all the details add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Going in, I thought I knew this team pretty well—they got a lot of ink at the time (one player got a lot of ink for not getting any ink—bonus quiz question. Answers at the end of the article), and I was a pretty fanatical follower of baseball during their dynasty, which coincided with my college years, a peak time for me to goof off while I was supposed to be studying serious books.  I’d heard all of the anecdotes about the fightin’ A’s, who had supposedly slugged whom, and why, but this book allowed me to understand how all of these personalities clashed, where the key conflicts were rooted, which ones were based on flareups and personality quirks and jealousies and which ones derived from serious underlying issues on the A’s. I got to understand which manager the A’s really respected, despite all the internal strife (Dick Williams), and which one they considered an incompetent flunky and clown (Alvin Dark).  Blue Moon Odom, for example, loved to needle his teammates, often on subjects they were understandably sensitive on (such as Rollie Fingers’ impending divorce) but had a hair-trigger temper when teased himself, which led directly to several physical confrontations in the locker room—in any one incident, you might wonder who was right (more precisely, who was less wrong) in instigating a brawl, but reading about Odom’s constant involvement in fight after fight leads directly to the conclusion that the A’s might not have quite such a belligerent reputation if Odom had gotten a little therapy in his younger years.

 

Of all the possible causes of the A’s dysfunctionality, however, one central figure sticks out. As many egomaniacal, self-centered, arrogant, easily triggered prima donnas as there were on the Oakland A’s (or on any ballclub, really—arrogance being an identifying characteristic of athletic excellence) only one emerges in Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic as sociopathic: the man at the top.  The Oakland A’s of the 1960s and 1970s were a bus to the loony bin that was driven by Charles O. Finley, a self-made asshole who needed to fire and humiliate people like the rest of us need air to breathe. Finley’s world was populated exclusively by people he perceived as adversaries, allowing him to relish their humiliation: he fired players, managers, coaches, broadcasters, and scouts, with such frequency and such glee that it seemed that firing was his primary occupation, with owning a baseball team merely an incidental hobby that gave him ample opportunities to practice his handiwork. The only position he didn’t often fire employees from was General Manager, and that was only because he served as the team’s de facto GM himself much of the time, not entirely competently.

 

The fact that the A’s dominated baseball in the early 1970s despite its boldly incompetent leadership speaks to the factor of luck in running an organization. Even Finley’ ownership itself was a marvel of sheer luck: In the 1950s, a 48-year-old businessman from Chicago put in a successful 3-million dollar bid on a dying A’s franchise, and strangely it wasn’t Charles O. Finley.  Finley, who was only 36 when Connie Mack sold his A’s, did put in a 3-million dollar bid at the time, but got aced out by the slightly older Arnold Johnson, who moved the franchise to Kansas City and then dropped dead in the early spring of 1960, clearing the way for Finley to grab the team. If not for the oddity of Johnson’s sudden and early death, Finley might have never found a franchise for sale in the first place, an outcome the rest of MLB would have devoutly desired.

 

But once he owned the ballclub, Finley used outlandish managerial techniques—mainly a remarkable instability in his personnel, virtually a constantly revolving door of talent—and a consistent policy of underpaying, if not outright cheating, of all his employees that much more typically result in last-place finishes rather than three-peating World’s Championships. Finley managed to turn his ballclub’s unanimous hatred of him personally into a uniting feature—again, a very rare result of antagonistic management techniques. Usually those techniques, of which Finley was a master, result in a dispirited, fragmented, disputatious team, the kind that cries out for radical reorganization from the depths of the second division. In his case, it just cried out for "More Champagne!!"

 

 In an era when contract negotiations were completely one-sided, the last period in which that was the case in MLB, Finley’s approach maximized the ballclub’s upper hand in dealing with its players. When other teams were beginning to grasp the reality that times were changing, that players might deserve to have a say in what their salaries were, that courts might grant the players the right to have agents and arbitration and, ultimately, contracts that partially reflected their true value to the team, Finley was the last owner to insist that complete despotism was essential to ownership, and without it,  ownership was worthless.

 

When Finley came into conflict with those who held power nominally equal to his, such as other owners, or even greater, such as a League President or Commissioner, he would try to assert his authority over them and, when that tactic failed, he would deride them personally, curse them out, or vow his eternal vengeance on them. What he wouldn’t do in such circumstances was to back down, apologize, or try to compromise. It’s fairly amazing that he was able to field a multiple World’s Championship team with so many people he went out of his way to offend, often without a goal in mind, just to express his free-floating hostility.

 

On some occasions, it would have been strategically sound to disguise his anger, but those were often the occasions when he would explode in public to his team’s detriment—he would announce to reporters, for example, his absolute fury at a ballplayer whom he intended to dump immediately, which told other teams that they could acquire that ballplayer for a lower price than he was worth. (Finley would sometimes, as I’ll show below, simply release a star player he was particularly angry at—there is no price cheaper than "free for the taking.")  He was an equal-opportunity antagonist, deriding powerful and powerless, black and white, rich and poor adversaries whenever derision seemed like a good idea to him, which was always, but with a decided racial bias to his attempts at humiliation. He reserved special fervor for harming such African-Americans as Vida Blue, Tommy Davis, and Reggie Jackson, especially when it did Finley no real good and when something positive for Finley might have resulted from treating these men well.

 

Take Tommy Davis, whom he released after the 1971 season when the 32-year-old former All-Star batted .324 for the Oakland A’s in a valuable pinch-hitting and fourth outfielder role.  At the very least, Davis’s value was such that Finley could have gotten some equally valuable player in exchange for him, but he simply cut Davis loose in 1972 Spring Training, on a road trip so that he wouldn’t be allowed to travel with the club to retrieve his belongings. "A club doesn’t release a .324 hitter even if he’s been put in jail for life," Davis complained. "You get him out of the penitentiary." But Finley’s punitive releasing of Davis was not rooted in baseball logic—rather, he was punishing Davis for helping Vida Blue find an agent to negotiate his 1972 contract, following a spectacular rookie season in which Blue won the MVP Award in addition to the Rookie-of-the-Year. (You don’t hear as much about Blue’s 1971 season as you do--as I do, anyway-- about Gooden’s 1985, Guidry’s 1978, or Koufax’s 1963, 1965 and 1966, but it was every bit as impressive, in some ways more so. An instructive article could be made from the parallels between Blue’s 24-win year at age 21 and Gooden’s 24-win year at age 20, and from the later parallels between their entire lives.) Releasing Davis was an act of pure spite, hurting Finley more than Davis in the end: Davis went on to have two more excellent seasons as the Orioles’ DH (once the DH rule came into effect in 1973), tying with Catfish Hunter for 10th place in the 1973 MVP voting, and then tying with Thurman Munson for 26th place on the 1974 ballot. Finley had done this before, releasing a star player because he was angry with him: as far back as 1967, he had released Ken Harrelson in a fit of pique, and Harrelson went on to win the Player-of-the-Year award in 1968 for the Boston Red Sox. And of course, Finley would go on to release, in effect, Catfish Hunter in a quarrel over paying a relatively small sum that contractually he owed to Hunter.  (Turbow’s chapter-long explanation of the entire conflict over Hunter’s 1974 contract is complete and clear and finally not at all complimentary to Finley, who got outsmarted six ways from Sunday.) He simply seemed to enjoy, if that’s the word, lashing out at people who had served him well when they displeased Finley in large ways or, more typically, over petty details.

 

This is the sort of systematic error I’m talking about that would have ruined many other ballclubs and that Finley was extremely lucky to sidestep: at the very beginning of the DH era, he released not only Davis, a great hitter who could no longer play the field, but Orlando Cepeda too, an almost identical batting star without fielding skills who went on (for the Red Sox) to become an early excellent Designated Hitter (tying with Frank Robinson for 15th place in the 1973 MVP voting). Having released both of these MVP candidates, Finley was forced to trade for (or to buy) such inferior DHs as Deron Johnson and Jesus Alou, either of whom he could have easily traded Cepeda or Davis for. This type of unforced error is just one example of Finley’s counterproductive decision-making that, somehow, did not wreck the Oakland A’s chances of succeeding. His mishandling of a major star’s amazing rookie year in 1972 is fully explained here as well.

 

Vida Blue’s contractual issues with Finley are described at length and in fine detail, and it is as fascinating to read about as a bloody nine-car pileup on the highway is fascinating to watch. It’s downright horrible to witness this spectacular young pitching star seeking to be paid adequately for his performance. (Blue was asking for less annual salary than Gerrit Cole gets per inning these days: "Vida himself was hoping for $75,000. Finley, however, didn’t negotiate terms, he dictated them.") The real irritant was Vida Blue’s having an agent at all, which caused contract discussions to shut down, resulting in an extended holdout (ended when Blue capitulated to Finley’s terms) and a 6-10 W-L record in 1972. (That W-L record, btw, seems misleading—he fell from 39 starts in 1971 to 23 starts in 1972, but his peripheral stats seem excellent—he could have easily gone 10-6 or better with slightly better luck. His tough losses in 1972 were as numerous as his easy wins were scarce.) But Blue was his own worst enemy—or at least he assumed that role once he left Finley’s employ. While in it, any employee of Finley’s would always understand who his worst enemy was—Charles O. Finley seemed to live in order to irritate other people, and the people he most enjoyed irritating were those unfortunates who worked for him. Unlike Roger O. Thornhill or David O. Selznick, Charles O. Finley’s middle initial actually stood for something (Oscar) but he stood for nothing. The only principle he followed unfailingly through his career was to frustrate as many other people as he could, despite his failures and his successes, both of which were great.

 

Failure and success seem incidental to Finley’s life. It’s hard to imagine another big-league owner—even Gorgeous George Steinbrenner or Terrible Ted Turner—delighting as Finley did in destroying Vida Blue’s sense of self-esteem, which the very young pitcher had in abundance. Finley’s sense of self-esteem derived from his ability to deny Blue what Blue wanted most: to pitch. Finley appointed himself the barrier to Blue’s career, telling him in effect that he couldn’t pitch without an MLB contract and that he, Charles O. Finley, had total control over the terms of that contract. The money, I believe, was unimportant to Finley—his unique ability to wear down Vida Blue was everything to him. It is sickening to read the fine details of that protracted contract discussion, and what it did to Blue’s sense of who he was.

 

And it wasn’t at all unusual—Finley got into similar conflicts with most of his players, just on a lesser scale as with Vida Blue. Another famous one, the Mike Andrews episode in the 1973 World Series, cost Finley not only the services of a second baseman but more significantly the services of one of the greatest managers of all time, Dick Williams, who quit (in the middle of the Series, though not publicly revealed until just afterwards) as Finley’s manager.  Naturally, Finley responded spitefully to Williams walking away from his lucrative contract, denying him the chance to talk to the Yankees about filling their managerial vacancy and forcing him instead to negotiate with the California Angels, a much weaker ballclub at the time, sheerly for the pleasure of causing Williams pain. One of the largest influences across all of major league baseball in the 1970s was Charles O. Finley’s spite, without which we might have never seen Billy Martin managing the Yankees or Alvin Dark managing the A’s—it’s hard to overstate all the possible ramifications if Charles O. Finley had behaved sometimes like a rational human being. There’s no question but that Finley was incapable of acting rationally, and preferred acting like a buffoon whenever possible.

 

In the course of the Mike Andrews-Dick Williams disaster, Finley managed to humble another man, the A’s team physician, whom he bullied into preparing a false statement describing Andrews’ phony "injuries" that (briefly) allowed Finley to remove Andrews from the active roster. (Andrews had committed a fielding error in the World Series, which offended Finley beyond all recognition.) It’s astonishing, perhaps less so in the atmosphere of the current White House, how easily a medical doctor can be pressured into testifying to a blatantly improper medical opinion, just because a wealthy and powerful man wants him to. I’m ever amazed at the spectacle of a respected, dignified professional man in the middle of a distinguished career caving into such pressure, when the simpler option is available to him of telling the boss, "Nope, won’t sign this absurd nonsense. Find yourself another boy," but this naïve notion got disabused on a regular basis under Finley’s organization. The Oakland A’s under Finley were also a surprisingly small operation—at one point, most of the positions in the business side of the A’s were filled by Finley’s family members, while the rest were filled by abject flunkies, allowing him to make rash decisions with no fear of ever hearing a dissenting point-of-view.

 

This is all conveyed extremely vividly in Turbow’s colorful re-telling of Finley’s A’s—most of the details were familiar to me, but in Turbow’s synoptic version I could see patterns where before I only saw a mass of chaos. One of those patterns was Finley’s sociopathy, which I had viewed previously as mere extreme stinginess and eccentricity. Another was the racism experienced by the A’s players, how it pervaded their lives, most sharply before they became major-leaguers and thus relatively wealthy. When players such as John "Blue Moon" Odom were growing up in segregated communities and then playing in the minor leagues, they endured appalling treatment on a daily basis. This powerful theme of racial inequity in the U.S., especially in the South (where many of the A’s were born, as was Alabama-born Charles O. Finley) before 1960 when these men were boys seeking fields to play on, equipment to play with, and fans to root them on, gushes throughout Turbow’s story like a meandering river, intersecting with the main story pervasively. It is an even more prominent theme in Wayne Coffeey's They Said It Couldn’t be Done: the ’69 Mets, New York City, and the Most Astounding Season in Baseball History.

 

Coffey’s is more of a feel-good story than Turbow’s disturbing tale, but the racial injustices he describes cannot make you feel good, unless you realize how they served to make some of the 1969 Mets resilient to systemic discouragement. Two-thirds of the Mets’ All-Star outfield, Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee, were from the same impoverished Alabama community (and the same one that had produced Willie McCovey and Billy Williams and the Aaron brothers) and their story has been told often before—two lifelong friends, born five days apart, helping each other through their struggles (Agee’s disastrous first year with the Mets, one of the worst seasons any full-time player has endured, and Jones’ run-ins with his managers) and sharing their triumphs.

 

But the roots of their bondedness go back nearly a century before their births: Plateau, Alabama, "more accurately known as Africatown," was settled by the last group of enslaved people to be smuggled into the U.S., in 1860, over fifty years after importing slaves into the U.S. became illegal. After the Civil War, freed from slavery, these Africans all longed to repatriate themselves to their homeland but lacked the means to return to it, so they recreated it in on the banks of the Mobile River. Coffey devotes three pages to telling this story as a way to tell the circumstances of Jones’ and Agee’s community and their upbringing and the indignities they were subjected to routinely on their path to the big leagues. He tells similar stories about Ed Charles (growing up in Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was later murdered) enduring racist taunts playing minor league ball in the 1950s, and of Donn Clendenon’s quitting the Pittsburgh organization in 1959 when he was demoted to a lower classification despite his excellent play because there were, the Pirates felt, too many black players on Clendenon’s team. (He was lured back by Branch Rickey Jr., who offered Clendenon $100 for every point he batted over .300 at the lower classification. Clendenon batted a power-packed .356.) A southerner like Charles and Agee and Jones, Clendenon came from a middle-class home in Atlanta, which only made the segregated, rodent-infested rooms he was forced to rent during his minor-league career more appalling to him. Most appalling, though, was his fight to have the Pittsburgh club postpone opening day in 1968 to honor the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been a personal mentor to Clendenon. After the 1968 season, the Pirates let him go in the expansion draft.

 

Clendenon’s middle-class home had been broken up when his father, a mathematics professor, died of leukemia when Donn was six months old. His mother eventually remarried a man who had starred in Negro League baseball—his stepfather’s ex-teammates Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella and Joe Black would stop by his home periodically. Cleon Jones’ home, in contrast, was broken up far less decorously when his father had to flee Alabama after defending Cleon’s mother for standing in a bus-stop line ahead of a white woman. Tommie Agee’s family was forced to move overnight when a white man threatened them with a loaded shotgun, and as late as 1962, as a Cleveland farmhand, Agee had to stand in silence as a racist fan hurled N-words at him from the grandstand throughout entire games. Unlike Ed Charles, however, Agee spent only a few seasons in the minor leagues enduring racial abuse—Charles toiled in the minor leagues for most of the 1950s (mainly in the south) and put up with it until  1962, his MLB rookie year, when he was 29 years old.

 

Which is not to say that Coffey neglects the larger narrative of the 1969 Mets, which I’ve read (and have written about) literally hundreds of times in the past fifty years, just that he diverts at points to relate details that I have never read before, such as the story of how Mets’ reliever (and later Blue Jays’ team physician) Ron Taylor’s family had emigrated from Wales to Canada when his orphaned future mother missed the boat to Australia, to which country she had intended to emigrate. Coffey’s diversion takes his mother from Montreal to Toronto, where she meets and marries Ron’s dad, and encourages Ron to forego hockey to become a baseball player. (She felt strongly that hockey would lead to injuries for her frail boy.) Ron became a great reader of books (hundreds per year, according to Coffey) and graduated from the University of Toronto with an engineering degree in 1961. (I’m not quite sure how that date matches up with Coffey’s rendering of Taylor’s then taking an engineering job in New York City and "having a nice talk with Ernest Hemingway" one evening in Toots Shor’s restaurant, since Hemingway died in July of 1961 and hadn’t been in New York City, much less Toots Shor’s, since the late 1950s.)  Coffey also gives a fine flavor of the zeitgeist of 1969, with the Vietnam War moratorium coinciding with the third World Series game and the first in Shea Stadium. New York’s liberal Mayor John V. Lindsay, already deeply unpopular for his mishandling of a surprise snowstorm the previous winter, had allowed for flags, including the one that flew at Shea Stadium, to be lowered to half-mast in honor of the service men who’d died in Vietnam, which quadrupled at least his unpopularity with some New Yorkers, including members of the NYPD assigned to duty at Shea that afternoon. It was a time of bitter contention as well as sheer joy, and Coffey captures the full range of emotions wafting through that autumn’s air.

 

I was a hippie kid that season— with hair halfway down my back and my very first beard sporadically underway, I turned sixteen years old the day Jerry Koosman 4-hit the Phils—as well as a stone-cold baseball junkie, and it seemed a natural balance for me to strike. That was also my last happy summer for a while—my parents would die ten months apart that fall and the next one—and I felt vividly alive while it was underway, inspired by those Mets. Mets fans, like Athletics fans, I imagine, had felt downtrodden since as long as anyone could remember—both teams had been doormats for my entire life, and the Mets’ thrilling comeback in 1969 and their dominating play during the playoffs and World Series put the idea into my head that I might be able to shrug off all sorts of discouragements just as they were doing every day, and accomplish things in my own life that I had barely dared to fantasize about doing.

 

That’s certainly the main theme of Coffey’s account: that these players disregarded utterly the low regard the baseball world, and the world itself, held them in. He emphasizes the role played by the scrubs on the Mets’ roster, the Al Weises, the Rod Gaspars, the J.C. Martins, who didn’t necessarily play any better than they’d played throughout their entire undistinguished careers but who, by making crucial plays in crucial spots, accomplished more than some superstars were able to do.

 

Any time a David whips a Goliath, it’s inspiring, of course, but the 1969 Mets felt particularly so, and while (to my surprise) they rejected the tag "miracle" Mets (the players felt it diminished their achievements on the field to be associated with the term "miracle") they were a ragtag bunch of players, led by a few stars, who believed in each other. As the Turbow book is largely an indictment of Charles O. Finley’s leadership, this one is an encomium to that of Gil Hodges.

 

Hodges’ main virtue seems to be his patience. He assigned each player to a specific role, and in Al Weis’s telling, kept each Met in that role even when they weren’t performing up to their potential. "He instilled a world of confidence in me," the .215-hitting Weis said, "by not taking me out at times when a lot of other managers would have." Hodges’ steadiness encouraged his players not to panic, even when panic on a major scale seemed to be the appropriate response (most notably when they fell 9 and ½ games behind the Cubs in mid-August.)  Coffey retells familiar stories about Hodges’ calming leadership but somehow manages to find some detail in each incident that makes it new to me: the famous story about pulling Cleon Jones from a mid-season game in which Jones, batting near .350, half-heartedly pursued a baseball hit near him, gets bolstered here with quotes from Hodges’ widow and others that show a lack of internal certainty on Hodges’ part that he covered up by appearing to be certain he was doing the right thing. Hodges seems almost slow-witted at times in his tendencies to underreact to events unfolding rapidly around him, in juxtaposition to opposing managers, such as Earl Weaver and Leo Durocher, who tended to act impulsively and loudly and violently in ways that worked against their own best interests. The theme of this book is to ignore most of the noise that others might make all around you and to stay focused sharply on your own goals, an important and much-needed message to me at the time, and long afterwards.

 

When I was discussing my end-of-life concerns with my family recently, I told them, not entirely jokingly, that they had permission to pull the plug on me if I were to exhibit signs of failing mental capacity. (The joking part was that if there were no actual plugs to be pulled, they could unplug my TV set, my toaster oven, and my alarm clock.) How could they tell if my brain was failing me? I suggested they keep a full 25-man roster of the 1969 Mets handy—if I couldn’t name all 25 players within two minutes, they had my permission to end my life. (And as I was reminded by Coffey’s book, there were actually 26 Mets wearing World Series uniforms—Hodges got permission for Bobby Pfeil, his third-string third baseman, to be in uniform despite being ineligible to play in the Series. Pfeil had been on the team all season long, and Hodges felt that team morale demanded his presence in the dugout.)  When I have trouble sleeping, it sometimes helps calm me down to reconstitute that roster in my mind—pleasant thoughts about those players, and their contributions to a season I remember vividly and fondly, is a very effective sleep-aid, I have found. And the day that I cannot remember everyone who played on that team is, indeed, a clear sign that my life is no longer worth living.

 

What both Coffey’s and Turbow’s books had in common was how even the most successful and the most determined of ballclubs are never solemn, never grim, never without humor, in their determination. Both the Mets and the A’s thrived on looseness, which took the form of players teasing and joking with each other, often in ways that appear from the outside to be mean-spirited, even cruel. This was obvious with the A’s, who were a notoriously contentious crowd, but not so well-known with the 1969 Mets—I had read many times how Mets’ veterans Ed Charles and Donn Clendenon brought a steadying influence to a young and unexperienced team, but they also infused their younger teammates with an edginess and a raw intensity as well. Clendenon, for example, used to prod Gil Hodges’s young son to challenge his father’s authority, as a necessary step in asserting his own manhood, knowing full-well the whole time that such an action would have been near-suicidal. When someone confronted Clendenon’s cruelty to Gil Hodges Jr., asking him "Why don’t you test Hodges? Why don’t we see what kind of man you are?", Clendenon answered, "I’m not testing him. Are you crazy?"

 

The Mets needled each other, and sometimes fought with each other, though not  as often or as intensely as the Oakland A’s would do, and it’s good to realize that, up until punches are thrown, a certain level of competition and contention is actually beneficial to a team’s morale. These two books illustrate the uses and the abuses of letting off steam. The difference is that the A’s had a lot more steam as well as a lot more natural talent fueling their championship runs.

 

 

 

 

 

QUIZ ANSWERS

 

1)      Bridge

 

2)      Vida Blue Sr.  (The pitcher’s full name is in Baseball-Reference.com as just "Vida Rochelle Blue Jr." without the extra middle names given for Vida Blue Sr. so I don’t understand how he could be a Jr., but we’ll let that pass for now.)

 

3)      Rollie Fingers

 

4)      Also Rollie Fingers. His father, George, played one season of minor league ball.

 

5)      Harry Walker

 

6)      Dick McAuliffe

 

7)      Tommy Davis (gave this one away in my article, didn’t I?)

 

8)      Debby Sivyer, later known as "Mrs. Fields"

 

9)      Sparky Anderson (this is a trick question in that the usual "Oakland A’s batboy" question is usually answered as "M.C. Hammer.")

 

10)   Kenny Holtzman, who spoke to him briefly as he was leaving the 1972 World Series game at which he threw out the first ball, nine days before he died.

 

11)   Sal Bando

 

12)   Art Shamsky (the A’s already had Ken Holtzman and Mike Epstein)

 

Bonus question—Joe Rudi was famous for getting a lot of ink about never getting any ink.

 
 

COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

Steven Goldleaf
I doubt anyone will see this here any more, but I came across an article about the last living woman to be slave-trafficked into the US, who lived in the same community I refer to, that Agee and Jones grew up near: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/26/world/transatlantic-slave-trade-survivor-scli-intl/index.html


8:43 AM Mar 27th
 
steve161
When observing a dispute, it's natural to want to take sides. But how do you choose a side between Charlie Finley and Bowie Kuhn?

Excellent piece, Steven.
2:47 PM Mar 15th
 
Gfletch
That was a pleasure to read, Steven, and encourages me to read both books.

There's magic to observe, isn't there? We like to think we can reduce complicated equations to simple ones, that we can plug in some extra OBP or SLG or (even more ridiculously) WAR and, voila, massively improve a team. But it's like adding pepper to the pot, ignoring its varied effects on the multiple ingredients of a stew.

By the way, really appreciated your comments on Gil Hodges. I'm very much an under-reactor in my real life, an attitude I came to adopt after a singular episode in my early 20s. The difference between me and Hodges (Or Andy Taylor of Mayberry) is huge, but not in that aspect.
12:01 PM Mar 15th
 
 
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