Wednesday, October 24, 2012

1972 World Series: First name Fury

The Teams
American League: Oakland Athletics (93-62) - First World Series
National League: Cincinnati Reds (95-59) - Sixth World Series (Won in 1919, 1940)

What Happened
Not many people outside of Oakland had heard of Gene Tenace before the 1972 World Series. The ones that had heard of Oakland's backup catcher/utility player probably didn't know his real first name was Fury (Seriously! Fury Gene Tenace), and they certainly didn't peg him as the potential offensive star of the upcoming series, not with the Big Red Machine in the other dugout. He was an afterthought, a bit player at best.

And then he hit two home runs in Game 1. After hitting only five home runs during the regular season, on top of a .225 average, Tenace homered in his first two at bats of the 1972 World Series. With his unexpected home runs, plus four innings of scoreless relief from Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue, the A's had a surprising Game 1 win in Cincinnati. They won Game 2, too, helped by a sensational ninth-inning catch by Joe Rudi that saved at least one run:

Rudy's catch

After the Reds won Game 3, Tenace struck again. He hit a home run to open the scoring in Game 4, then hit one of Oakland's four straight ninth-inning singles that gave the A's a commanding 3-1 series lead. He did it again in Game 5, hitting a three-run home run in the second inning - his record tying fourth of the series - that put the A's on the verge of the title. Oakland entered the eighth up 4-3, but the Reds tied the game in the eighth, then took the lead on a Pete Rose single in the 9th. Tenace walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but pitcher Blue Moon Odom, pinch-running for Tenace, was thrown out at the plate on a popup for the final out.

After a Cincinnati thrashing in Game 6, the series went to Game 7, where Tenace shined again. He didn't hit any home runs this time, but he did have two hits, including the go-ahead double in the sixth. After Fingers escaped a jam in the 8th, the A's held on to win their first championship on the West Coast.

Tenace was the obvious choice for MVP, another one of those underdog stories so common in baseball. His four home runs were more than all other World Series batters combined, and they paid off not just in a championship but in the long term. A backup catcher before the 1972 Series, Tenace became a mainstay in the Oakland starting lineup, playing at least 120 games each of the next eight years. He made a name for himself as a low average, high power, high on-base percentage player - he would have fit right in with the "Moneyball" A's. While the series may have turned around his career, he was never able to duplicate his postseason success; his 9 runs batted in in the 1972 Series were almost 2/3 of his career postseason total, and the four home runs were the only four postseason home runs he ever hit.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Oakland32 03413
Cincinnati 21125 82

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

9. 1972 - Oakland (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-3
Numbers 10-19
Numbers 20-29
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

3. 1960: Pittsburgh 10, New York (A) 9
5. 1997: Florida 3, Cleveland 2
7. 1946: St. Louis (N) 4, Boston (A) 3
9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
10. 1926: St. Louis (N) 3, New York (A) 2
11. 1962: New York (A) 1, San Francisco 0
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
14. 1952: New York (A) 4, Brooklyn 2
15. 1971: Pittsburgh 2, Baltimore 1
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
17. 1972: Oakland 3, Cincinnati 2
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
20. 1986: New York (N) 8, Boston 5 
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
23. 1973: Oakland 5, New York (N) 2
24. 2002: Anaheim 4, San Francisco 1
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles (A) 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5
30. 1957: Milwaukee 5, New York (A) 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0
34. 1934: St. Louis (N) 11, Detroit 0 
35. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0
36. 1956: New York (A) 9, Brooklyn 0

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