Saturday, October 05, 2013

Tigers-A's Playoff Rivalry Began With a Bat Toss

The eyes are wild, the face tight and taut. He is caught in pre-fling, rage washed over his mug. He is prepared to throw the bat, and it looks as if in that moment, he wants the lumber to behead its intended target.
Bert Campaneris is shown in the photograph, snapped from the first base side of the diamond, standing in the batter’s box, a baseball bat in his right hand, grasping the handle, barrel down. The photo shows him in the split second before he whipped the bat toward Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow.
With that moment of indiscretion by Campaneris, the first salvo in the playoff wars between the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers was fired.
It came in Game 2 of the 1972 American League Championship Series, in Oakland. The A’s had won Game 1 and were ahead, 5-0, in the seventh inning when Campaneris took leave of his senses.
Some bean ball shenanigans were being played in Game 2. In the A’s fifth inning, Tigers reliever Fred Scherman knocked A’s slugger Reggie Jackson down twice in the same at-bat.
Campaneris was fleet of foot, and there are stories that say Tigers manager Billy Martin ordered the rookie LaGrow—who had just 39 big league innings on his resume—to throw at Campaneris’ legs. Knowing Billy, the speculation is probably true.
LaGrow’s pitch did indeed nail Campaneris in the ankle area. Without hesitation, as if acting reflexively, Campaneris planted his feet and flung his bat toward LaGrow, who ducked to avoid being decapitated.
A donnybrook ensued, and Campaneris was suspended for the remainder of the series.
The series went the maximum (at the time) five games, the A’s prevailing with a nail-biting 2-1 win in Game 5 at Tiger Stadium—aided by a highly questionable call at first base that went against Detroit.
Thirty-four years later, Magglio Ordonez stood in the batter’s box at Comerica Park, a bat in his hand, but he chose to use it in the conventional manner.
It was Game 4 of the ALCS in 2006, the Tigers leading the A’s, 3-0. The game was tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs. Two runners were on base, and Ordonez stepped in against Oakland’s usually reliable closer, Huston Street.
With one swing, Ordonez evoked memories of Kirk Gibson against Goose Gossage in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, sending a Street fastball deep into the night, far over the left field wall, sending the Tigers to the Fall Classic.
No Tigers fan worth his or her salt will ever forget the sight of Placido Polanco jumping up and down like a little boy as he rounded third base, once Magglio’s home run cleared the fence.
The second salvo in the A’s-Tigers playoff wars was fired, more than three decades after the first.
It’s another raucous night at the Oakland Coliseum. Game 5—the deciding game—of the 2012 American League Divisional Series is being played, Tigers vs. A’s yet again.
Oakland and its scrappy bunch, which made the walk-off win part of its strategy in 2012, had roared back on its home field and erased a 2-0 Tigers series lead, forcing the Game 5. Game 4 was won in typical A’s fashion—in the last at-bat, with the crowd beside itself. The A’s scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth off wobbly closer Jose Valverde to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Slugged but not out, the Tigers turned to Justin Verlander, whose charge was simple in definition but difficult in its execution: to shut the A’s down and quiet the feverish Oakland crazies.
Verlander, pitching as if possessed, mowed the A’s down. He pitched all nine innings, allowing just four hits. He walked one and struck out 11. The Tigers won the game, 6-0, and the series, 3-2.
The third salvo was fired.
The Tiger and A’s are separated by thousands of miles, geographically, but historically, the two teams are almost joined at the hip.
It began with the irascible Ty Cobb.
Cobb, after 22 years as a Tigers player and manager, took his services to Philadelphia, to play for the A’s, in 1927. Cobb in an A’s uniform was like Bobby Orr wearing Blackhawk colors.
Mickey Cochrane, old Black Mike himself, was traded by the A’s to the Tigers after the 1933 season. Cochrane managed the Tigers for parts of five seasons.
The Tigers traded for Hall of Fame third baseman George Kell, getting him from the A’s in 1946 for Barney McCosky.
In less than 20 years—from the Cobb defection to the Kell trade—the Tigers and A’s had swapped baseball legends and moved mountains three times, each a stunning move that, had they occurred today, would have sent Twitter and the Internet in general, aflutter.
All was quiet on the A’s-Tigers front for some 26 years, after the Kell trade, until Bert Campaneris treated a baseball bat like a hand grenade.
They’re going at it again, the A’s and the Tigers. They are duking it out in the ALDS. The Tigers, behind new ace Max Scherzer, are up 1-0, thanks to Scherzer’s domination.
Verlander, the old ace, is pitching Game 2. It reminds one of the Dodgers’ 1-2 punch of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the mid-1960s.
Did Scherzer fire the fourth playoff salvo, A’s-Tigers style, with his brilliance in Game 1? Or is there something else coming that will define the fourth post-season series between these two old AL rivals?

I wonder if Bert Campaneris had any idea what his bat toss would spawn.


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