1972 World Series
The 1972 World Series matched the American League champion Oakland Athletics against the National League champion Cincinnati Reds, with the A's winning in seven games.
These two teams would meet again in the Fall Classic eighteen years later.
The Athletics won the American League West division by 51⁄2 games over the Chicago White Sox then defeated the Detroit Tigers, three games to two, in the American League Championship Series. The Cincinnati Reds won the National League West division by 101⁄2 games over both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, then defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, three games to two, in the National League Championship Series. In doing so, the Reds, who won one fewer game than the Pirates during the regular season, became the first team in MLB history to reach the World Series without having the best record in its league. This had become a possibility when divisional play was introduced in 1969, but in each of the first six League Championship Series, the team with the better record still won and advanced to the World Series.
This was the Reds' second trip to the Series in three years. It was the Oakland Athletics' first trip to the Series, and the first for the Athletics franchise since their Philadelphia days (1931).
The Athletics prevailed in this matchup of what were to become the two premier Major League Baseball dynasties of the 1970s. Iconoclastic club owner Charlie Finley's "Swingin' A's" featured day-glo uniforms, lots of facial hair, colorful nicknames, and explosive personalities, while "The Big Red Machine" were a more traditional franchise with a more traditional look—and an everyday lineup packed full of future Hall of Famers. The Series was dubbed "The Hairs vs. the Squares".
After a 40-year absence and two franchise relocations, the A's had finally made it back to the Series. They would play the Series without their star right fielder Reggie Jackson, who was injured (pulled hamstring) stealing home in the final game of the season against Detroit. Darold Knowles was also missing. He broke his thumb during a game played on September 27, 1972—less than three weeks before the Series opener.
With Jackson out, Gene Tenace—who had hit five home runs during the entire 1972 season—would fill-in admirably socking four home runs equaling the World Series mark set by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Tenace also had nine RBI in the Series—no other Oakland player had more than one. He was voted winner of the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.
In contrast, the Reds' big boppers, Johnny Bench (.270 avg., 40 HR, 125 RBI, NL MVP), Tony Pérez (.283 avg., 21 HR, 90 RBI), and Denis Menke (9 HR, 50 RBI), combined for only two homers and five RBI the entire Series.
The teams were fairly equal statistically, each club totaling 46 hits with the same .209 batting average. The Reds out-scored the A’s, 21–16, but lost each of their four games by a single run.
One of baseball's original dynasties, the Athletics returned to the World Series after an unwanted forty-one year sabbatical. By now the franchise (like several others) had settled into sunny California and boasted a "homegrown" line-up of standout players that included Reggie Jackson (who was christened Mr. October because of his play in future Fall Classics) as well as a dominant pitching rotation that featured Jim "Catfish" Hunter (twenty-one wins), John "Blue Moon" Odom and a talented left-hander named Ken Holtzman (nineteen wins). The A's had traveled a not-so-long and winding road to the top of the American League after moving to the west coast in 1968. The change of scenery did wonders for the ball club as they managed their first winning record since their Philadelphia days of 1952. The following year they finished second in the American League West (thanks in part to Jackson's forty-seven home runs) and eventually won one-hundred one games and their division in 1971. Their National League opponents, the Reds, were no strangers to postseason play either. After losing the first Series of the decade, Cincinnati evolved into a powerhouse that would grow to become "The Big Red Machine". Things looked in the National League's favor even before the first pitch was thrown due to the absence of Jackson who had gone down with an injury in the final game of the American League playoffs.
Game 1 showcased the hidden talents of an unlikely hero named Gene Tenace who had hit a total of five home runs during the regular season. The harmless utility infielder stepped in for the injured Jackson and hammered two surprise homers in his first two at-bats (a Series record) for all of Oakland's runs. The result was a shocking 3-2 opener that erased any doubts about the A's depth. Joe Rudi followed suite in Game 2 and contributed on both sides of the plate. After hammering a bases-empty home run in the third, the outfielder came up big again with a spectacular game-clinching catch in the ninth. After entering the inning with a 2-0 lead, Oakland stumbled and allowed the Reds to reach base. Denis Menke knocked a long ball to the left-field fence, but Rudi made a wild, backhanded catch to prevent the tie. After getting last-out relief by Rollie Fingers (following an RBI to Hal McRae), Catfish Hunter emerged as the 2-1 victor.
Cincinnati's rotation made their presence known as Jack Billingham and Clay Carroll combined to shut out Oakland, 1-0 in Game 3. However, the scales would tip back in the Athletics favor the following day with a last-minute comeback in the bottom of the ninth. After entering their final opportunity down 2-1, the A's Gonzalo Marquez, Tenace, pinch-hitter Don Mincher and Angel Mangual all laced consecutive singles for the 3-2 victory.
Game 5 spotlighted Pete Rose, who led-off the outing with a home run and then broke through the 4-4 tie in the ninth with a timely single. Menke also put one out of the park in their must-win 5-4 victory that kept the Reds from elimination. Still riding on the momentum of their crucial comeback, Cincinnati took command in Game 6 and ended the one run decision streak that had been the signature for the Series. After Bobby Tolan and Cesar Geronimo ignited a five run, seventh, the Reds went on to flatten the A's with an 8-1 triumph. A few days later, Oakland returned to the hostile ground of Riverfront Stadium for Game 7 and used every tool in the bag to shut down "the machine" (including a rotation that shifted between Hunter, Holtzman and Fingers in relief of Odom). In the end, it was strength in numbers as the A's captured a 3-2 win and their first Series championship title since 1930.
After a 40-year absence and two franchise relocations, the A's made it back to the World Series after squeaking by Detroit in the ALCS. The Reds also narrowly advanced, topping the Pirates with a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5 of the NLCS.
The Series opened in Cincinnati, but Oakland captured the first two games by the narrowest of margins, 3-2 (thanks to a pair of home runs from Gene Tenace) and 2-1.
Game 3 in Oakland was a pitcher's duel between Cincinnati's Jack Billingham and Oakland's Blue Moon Odom. The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, when Cesar Geronimo's single to center field plated Denis Menke, and that's how it ended. The A's took a 1-0 lead in Game 4 when Tenace walloped his third homer of the Series, but Bobby Tolan's two-run double in the eighth gave the Reds a 2-1 edge.
Tenace homered yet again in Game 5, this time a three-run shot in the second inning that gave his club a 3-1 lead. The Reds battled back, though, and Pete Rose's RBI single in the top of the ninth was the deciding blow in Cincinnati's 5-4 victory, with Game 3 starter/winner Jack Billingham picking up the save.
The Reds evened the Series at three games apiece with an easy Game 6 victory, 8-1. The A's opened the scoring in Game 7 with an unearned run in the first inning. Cincy tied things up in the fifth on Hal McRae's sacrifice fly. But the very next inning, Tenace and Sal Bando both stroked RBI doubles to give Oakland a 3-1 edge. The Reds made it 3-2 in the eighth, but A's reliever Rollie Fingers shut the door in the ninth, and the city of Oakland had its first world championship in any sport.