MEMORIES OF THE MUSTACHE GANG
By Bruce Markusen
Author of "The Orlando Cepeda Story"
Beginning April 14 and continuing throughout spring training, the regular season, and the post-season of 2002, I will present a daily feature that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Oakland As 1972 World Championship team. The feature, entitled Memories of the Mustache Gang, will allow fans and researchers to relive one of the most memorable seasonsnot only in the history of the Oakland franchisebut in all of baseball lore.
Presented in a diary-type format, the feature will be updated each day, with the exception of the few dates when the As did not play games in 1972, or on occasional dates when work and travel commitments may prevent me from writing new material. The objective will be to give readers as much information as possible about the 72 As, who won the first World Championship team in the history of the Oakland franchise. Those As also became known as the Mustache Gang because of their unique physical appearance at a time when the baseball world remained very conservative. Among the many topics that Ill explore include the following: Vida Blues celebrated holdout and his tumultuous contract negotiations with owner and general manager Charlie Finley; the player strike that delayed the start of the 1972 season; the advent of new Finley-mandated uniforms that continued the As trend toward color and non-conformity; the 65 player transactions that Finley engineered during the season; looks at each of the 47 different players that the As used throughout the year; the near-firing of Dick Williams in mid-season; the suspension of Bert Campy Campaneris during the American League Championship Series; and dramatic post-season series against both the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds.
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Ill begin to set the stage for the start of spring training in 1972 by recapping the events that took place from October of 1971 through early February of 1972. Here are some of the biggest news items from that fall and winter:
*After winning 101 games to claim the American League West in a runway, the As lost the American League playoffs in three straight games to the powerhouse Baltimore Orioles, the defending World Champions. The sweep at the hands of the Birds underscored the As lack of pitching depth, especially in the starting rotation.
*On November 29, the first day of baseballs winter meetings in Phoenix, Arizona, the As made a move to lengthen their starting pitching. Owner Charlie Finley, acting in his usual role as general manager, acquired veteran left-hander Ken Holtzman from the Chicago Cubs for starting center fielder Rick Monday. The No. 1 draft choice of the Kansas City As in the first-ever amateur draft held in 1965, Monday had shown flashes of stardom, but had struggled in his ability to hit left-handed pitching, a shortcoming that prevented him from becoming the impact player the franchise envisioned.
*One day after acquiring Holtzman, the As made a surprising move by waiving veteran relief pitcher Jim Mudcat Grant for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. Grant had pitched effectively for the As since being reacquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in June, winning one game, saving four, and posting an ERA of 1.98. Grant had also helped an unproven Rollie Fingers make the transition from starter to reliever, by giving the young right-hander advice on how to warm up and how to prepare to come into games in the late innings. So why did the As release Grant, who had been so helpful both on the field and in the clubhouse? The reason was simple: money. Finley did not want to pay Grant a salary of $60,000a sum that the owner considered too high a price for a set-up reliever in 1971.
*The As contemplated another move by offering first baseman Mike Epstein to the New York Yankees for a frontline starting pitcher, believed to be either Mel Stottlemyre or Fritz Peterson. The Yankees turned down the offer. The inability to swing the trade might have proved fortunate, given that Epstein lost a reported 30 pounds from his sizeable frame during the winter and also equipped himself with new contact lenses, giving him hope of an improved batting eye in 1972.
*On January 5, 1972, one of Oaklands starting rotation hopefuls barely avoided tragedy. John Blue Moon Odom, who had been beset with elbow soreness in 1971, tried to stop a burglary in his hometown of Macon, Georgia. Odoms wife, Perrie, noticing some intruders at a neighbors house, had called her husband at his work place, a nearby liquor store that was located four blocks away. Odom hurried to the scene and tried to confront three youths involved in the robbery. One of the youths, a 16-year-old boy, responded by firing three shots with a .38 caliber pistol at Odom, from about 15 feet away, according to the pitchers testimony. Two of the shots hit Odom, one in the neck and one in the side of the chest. Fortunately, doctors were able to treat the bullet wounds without surgery and gave Odom clearance to report to spring training as scheduled. With tragic circumstances averted, the As hoped that Odom would compete with Chuck Dobson for the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation, behind staff aces Vida Blue and Jim Catfish Hunter, and the newly acquired Ken Holtzman.