- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How good were the Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s? Don’t ask them, because they would disagree.

Why not? After all, they seemed to disagree on almost everything else.

The Athletics were baseball’s most dysfunctional family - and one of its most successful. Over 106 seasons, only two franchises have won three or more consecutive World Series: the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1939, 1949 to 1953 and 1998 to 2000 and those fightin’, fussin’ and feudin’ A’s from 1972 to 1974.

Oakland’s third Series triumph was its most unexpected. After the first two, manager Dick Williams quit because of constant meddling and second-guessing by irascible owner Charlie Finley - the latest upheaval for a franchise rife with them. Williams was replaced by Alvin Dark, but the A’s posted only a 90-72 record while winning the weak American League West in 1974 and then defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Championship Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who finished 102-60 before beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLCS, were solid favorites in the first all-California World Series. Instead, Dark’s A’s easily whipped Walter Alston’s Dodgers in five games, closing out the Series on Oct. 17 and preserving their feats for horsehide posterity.

So much for unity, camaraderie and team spirit.

“We fought more in the clubhouse than we did on the field,” recalled closer Rollie Fingers, who saved six career Series games on his way to the Hall of Fame. “That’s the way we were. It was just that kind of ballclub.”

Indeed. Fingers and starter Blue Moon Odom got into a fistfight during the season. So did slugger supreme Reggie Jackson and base-stealing whiz Billy North. Ace Catfish Hunter threatened to file for free agency if Finley refused to give him back pay Hunter claimed he was owed. And former second baseman Mike Andrews threatened legal action because Finley had ridiculed him and booted him off the team after an error in the previous World Series.

Plus, Jackson’s arrogance likely didn’t endear him to some teammates. This was the same Reggie who joined the New York Yankees several years later and conducted famous verbal battles with owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin. In Oakland, Reggie’s ego was just as gigantic but didn’t attract as much attention. He said things like, “The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is that I can’t watch myself play.”

Despite, or maybe because of, all the hassling, the 1974 A’s were a marvelous team whose record didn’t really reflect its talent. Jackson, outfielder Joe Rudi and third baseman Sal Bando drove in 90 or more runs, although none of the regulars hit .300. Hunter won 25 games, Ken Holtzman 19 and Vida Blue 17 with low ERAs. North stole 54 bases and shortstop Bert Campaneris 34.

And the A’s, of course, had the happy facility of delivering when it meant the most.

Pitching dominated the World Series, with three of Oakland’s victories coming by 3-2 and the other by 5-2. The A’s batted just .211 and the Dodgers .228. Oakland’s ERA was a dazzling 2.05, with Hunter, Holtzman, Odom and reliever Fingers winning a game apiece.

Future Hall of Famer Don Sutton was the Dodgers’ only winner, shutting out the A’s through the eighth inning to beat Blue 3-2 in Game 2. It didn’t faze the rollicking A’s a bit.

As you might expect, the A’s took their third championship in a row with relative calm. Said Fingers in retrospect: “Probably the most exciting moment I’ve spent on the field was getting Pete Rose to fly out for the final out of the 1972 World Series because that was the first one.”

Still, tons of teams have won a single World Series; the A’s are the only nonpinstriped club to collect three back-to-back-to-back. The Toronto Blue Jays lost a chance to do so when the 1994 Series was erased by the players’ strike.

The A’s quest for a four-peat was derailed in 1975, when they were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS after, oddly enough, winning eight more games during the regular season than in 1974.

Then the combination of free agency and cheapskate Finley selling off his star players sent the once-proud A’s screeching toward the bottom of the AL West. By 1979, when the club went 54-108, it was known derisively as the Triple A’s.

Yet nothing can dim the glory of their earlier times. For three seasons, unglamorous Oakland was the baseball capital of the world.

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