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Playoff flashback, 1972: Oakland A’s vs Detroit Tigers

In the 1972 ALCS, the Oakland A's and Detroit Tigers played a thrilling five game series that featured four one run games, two extra inning games, and a bench clearing brawl.

Malcolm Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The 1972 Detroit Tigers were a veteran team featuring a core group of holdovers from the 1968 World Series champions. The lineup included names like Kaline, Horton, Cash, Freehan, Stanley, Northrup, and McAulliffe,with Gates Brown ready to pinch hit.

BYB's complete playoff coverage: 2013 ALDS: Tigers vs. A's

The Tigers had traded two time Cy Young winner Denny McLain in a blockbuster trade that brought shortstop Eddie Brinkman and third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, along with starting pitcher Joe Coleman. Detroit gave up four players who were little use to the Senators. By 1972, Don Wert and Norm McRae were out of baseball, McLain actually started the season in Oakland and was traded in June for Orlando Cepeda, formerly of the ‘68 Cardinals (both would later wind up in prison on drug related offenses), and the Senators had left Washington to become the Texas Rangers.

Detroit was not an offensive powerhouse in 1972. Only Kaline hit above .300 for the season, and he missed much of the season on the disabled list. After that, no Tiger hit above .265. But the Tigers could pitch, and they played solid defense.

Mickey Lolich was the lone holdover from the ‘68 team in the rotation. He pitched 327 innings with an ERA of 2.50 and 250 strikeouts. Coleman was to Lolich what Mickey had been to McLain, or what Dan Petry would be to Jack Morris a dozen years later. A very solid No 2 who would be the ACE in almost any other rotation. Detroit featured four starters with an ERA under 2.90, including Woody Fryman and Tom Timmerman. Jon Hiller had recovered from a heart attack and was back in the bullpen, closing games before the term "closer" was coined.

The Oakland Athletics represented a western division that was akin to the upstart American Football league or the western division in the National Hockey league, which was initially comprised of expansion teams. When baseball divided the leagues into two divisions in 1969, they put the top five teams in the standings into the east, and the bottom five into the west. No west division team had won an American League pennant and moved on to the World Series at the time.

The A’s were many things that the Tigers were not; young, colorful, and controversial. Their owner, Charles O Finley had moved the former Philadelphia club from Kansas City to the west coast just four seasons previous, and the roster featured names like Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, and Rollie Fingers. They wore flashy green and gold uniforms with white shoes and all they seemed to have facial hair which midwesterners had no doubt was influenced by the hippie culture.

On the field, the A’s were a powerhouse. They had won 101 games the previous season, only to be swept in the ALCS by the Baltimore Orioles. The A’s came into the 1972 ALCS having won seven more games than any team in the east. They were the favorites, and they would open the series in Oakland.

The 1972 season began with controversy, as the first player strike- in any sport- canceled the first week of the season, and a decision was made to play the remaining games on the schedule without making up the lost games. When it was over, the Tigers were half a game ahead of the Boston Red Sox, having played one more game than Boston.

The managers of the two teams had a flair of their own. Billy Martin was a fiery, hot headed strategist leading the steady veteran Tigers, while Dick Williams was a disciplinarian who tried to reign in the flippant young Athletics.


Dick McAliffe

2B Bert Campaneris SS
Al Kaline RF Matty Alou RF
Willie Horton LF Joe Rudi LF
Norm Cash 1B Reggie Jackson CF
Jim Northrup CF Sal Bando 3B
Bill Freehan C Mike Epstein 1B
Aurelio Rodriguez 3B Gene Tenace C
Eddie Brinkman SS Dick Green 2B
Mickey Lolich P Catfish Hunter P

Game One- Oakland Coliseum

The series did not start well for the Tigers, as Oakland won an eleven inning game, 3- 2. With the score tied 1- 1 through 10 innings, the Tigers only run coming on a Norm Cash homer off Catfish Hunter, the Tigers took the lead on Kaline’s home run off Rollie Fingers in the top of the 11th inning. Backup catcher Duke Sims followed with a triple, but Cash and Stanley grounded out, stranding the runner at third.

In the bottom of the 11th inning, Lolich still on the mound (they didn’t use pitch counts), Sal Bando and Mike Epstein singled. Martin replaced Lolich with Chuck Seelbach, and Williams had Gene Tenace bunt, but Rodriguez fielded the bunt and threw to Brinkman covering third for the force to nail Blue Moon Odom, a pitcher who was pinch running for Bando. Thanks for the free out!

With one out, runners on first and second, Gonzalo Marquez, a .235 hitter, pinch hitting for second baseman Dal Maxvill (also of the ‘68 Cardinals), lined a single to right field. Kaline fielded the ball as one run scored and he threw the ball on one hop as Tenace was sliding into third. The ball skipped past Rodriguez, and Tenace got up and came home to score the winning run for Oakland.

Game Two- Oakland Coliseum

Game two was won by the A’s, 5- 0. Bert Campaneris singled, stole second and third and scored on a single to open the scoring in the first inning, and the A’s added four more runs in the fifth on a single, bunt, single, single knocking Fryman out of the game. Then, a pair of wild pitches by reliever Chris Zachary sealed the Tigers’ fate as Blue Moon Odom shut them down on three hits.

The game will be remembered for an incident in the seventh inning when Tiger reliever Larin Lagrow faced Campaneris, who had three hits, a couple of steals and had scored two runs. Lagrow hit on the ankle with a pitch, and Campy responded by flinging his bat at Lagrow. The lanky Lagrow ducked the flying bat, which landed behind him in the infield. A bench clearing brawl ensued with Billy Martin being restrained from going after Campaneris. The A’s shortstop was suspended for the remainder of the series.

Umpire Nester Chylak ejected both Campaneris and Lagrow, which further enraged Martin. Chylak was concerned about having a riot on his hands.

"I didn’t want to have any mayhem or riot out there," Chylak said of his decision to eject LaGrow. "I had to even things out. I had to keep the fans in their seats."

Martin wasn't one to mince words:

"That’s the dirtiest thing I ever saw in my whole life in baseball, He could have killed my man. Campaneris is as gutless as any player who ever put on a uniform in this game. It was like using a gun and then running away. The next time he’ll probably use a knife. Or does he fight with his feet?"

Game Three- Tiger Stadium

The series moved back to Detroit for the final three games (they alternated home field year to year) with Oakland leading 2 games to none. Joe Coleman shut the A’s out, scattering seven hits including a pair of doubles by Matty Alou. The Tigers broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning when Ike Brown hit a bases loaded single off Ken Holtzman, scoring Kaline and Freehan, moving Horton to second. Freehan capped the scoring with a solo home run in the eighth.The 3- 0 victory left the Tigers trailing the series, 2 games to 1.

Game Four- Tiger Stadium

The Tigers evened the series at two games apiece in game four with a thrilling ten inning victory, 4- 3. The teams played to a draw over nine innings, with Detroit getting a solo home run by McAuliffe off Catfish Hunter and Mike Epstein evening the score with a solo homer off Lolich.

Martin attempted to break the tie in the eighth, having McAuliffe attempt to steal home, but Fingers gunned him down. The Tigers threatened again in the ninth when Tony Taylor doubled and Gates Brown was intentionally walked with two outs. Willie Horton pinch hit for Lolich, but flied out to end the threat and send the game to extra innings.

Oakland took the lead in the tenth inning off reliever Chuck Seelbach, when Marquez got another pinch hit single, followed by another Alou double. Ted Kubiak singled home Alou and took third on the throw home after Kaline over ran the ball in right field. With two outs, Jon Hiller replaced Seelbach. Reggie Jackson hit a bloop single but Kubiak froze at third, thinking there was one out, thinking it might be caught, and he didn’t tag up on the shallow fly. Hiller struck out Bando, and Kubiak was stranded on third on a costly base running error.

With the Tigers facing elimination, McAuliffe led off the bottom of the 10th with a single and Kaline followed with another single, moving McAuliffe to second. A wild pitch advanced the runners and Gates Brown was walked to load the bases. Bill Freehan grounded to third for a sure double play, but Gene Tenace, who was playing out of position at second base for the injured Ted Green, dropped Bando’s throw, scoring McAuliffe and leaving the bases loaded.

With the A’s leading 3- 2, bases loaded and still no outs, Williams replaced Joe Horlen with Dave Hamilton. Hamilton walked Norm Cash to tie the game. Jim Northrup then singled, scoring Gates Brown with the winning run.

Game Five- Tiger Stadium

Game five at Tiger stadium was another thriller. The Tigers opened the scoring in the first inning on a McAuliffe single, a walk to Duke Sims, a passed ball by Gene Tenace, and McAuliffe scored on a ground out by Freehan.

Oakland tied the game on the most exciting play of the series in the second inning. Reggie Jackson walked, stole second, and moved to third on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Sal Bando. After Epstein walked, one out and runners on first and third, Williams called for a delayed double steal. Freehan’s throw to second was cut off by McAuliffe and returned to Freehan.

Tiger fans had flashbacks of the 1968 series when the Cardinals’ Lou Brock was thrown out at home, with Freehan blocking the plate. This time, Jackson was called safe as Martin came out to argue, but to no avail. The game was tied 1- 1. Reggie tore a hamstring on the play, ending his season.

Oakland took the lead in the fourth inning when George Hendrick, replacing Jackson, grounded out to shortstop, but was ruled safe at first on a bad call. Cash and Martin argued vehemently. Replays showed that Cash kept his foot on the base, and the photo on the front page of the Detroit News the next morning showed the same.

Hendrick advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Bando. Gene Tenace, the goat of the series for Oakland after dropping a sure double play in the tenth inning of game four and allowing a passed ball earlier in game five, became the hero when he singled home Hendrick with what would prove to be the winning (ill gotten) run to send Oakland to the world series.

The Tigers threatened in the ninth when Willie Horton, pinch hitting for Fryman, singled to lead off the inning. But Vida Blue, working four innings in relief of Odom, retired the side in order to close out the game.

The A’s went on to beat the Cincinnati Reds in seven games, for their first of three consecutive World Series titles in 1972, 1973, and 1974. Sparky’s big red machine would return to win the World Series in 1975 and 1976.


Tiger fans and media continued to lament the two crucial calls in game five over the course of the winter. Jackson’s steal of home and the blown call that was scored an error on McAuliffe made for a long, cold winter.

The Tigers have a history with Dick Williams. The A’s skipper in 1972 was the manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1967 when the Tigers finished a game behind Boston after a long, hot summer’s battle. The Tigers would face Williams in one final post season series when he returned as manager of the San Diego Padres in 1984. The Tigers got the last laugh, winning the series in five games.

1972 was the last hurrah for the Tiger heroes of ‘68. The 1972 team had many of the same players, but they were not the same team that won 103 games and a World Series title four years previous. The Tiger season began with the controversy of a players’ strike, and ended with two controversial calls in game five of a thrilling ALCS. ‘72 was also the last season that the AL would have pitchers batting, as the designated hitter was introduced in 1973.

Willie Horton later expressed displeasure at being left out of the starting lineup in the post season, as Martin started the hot hitting Duke Sims, normally a backup catcher, in left field. Mickey Stanley and Eddie Brinkman, both regulars during the season, also found themselves on the bench. Tony Taylor was inserted at second base, with McAuliffe sliding over to shortstop. Horton played in all five games, going just 1 for 10 in the series.

The Tigers finished in third place the next season, and sunk to the bottom of the division for the remainder of the 1970's. General Manager Jim Campbell was criticized for hanging on to the veteran players too long, Horton remained with the team, primarily as a designated hitter for a few more seasons. Lolich was traded for Rusty Staub, but most of the other veterans played out their years in Detroit. Some of the guys hung around until they passed the torch to kids named Whitaker, Trammell, Gibson, and Parrish.

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