Don't Steal with a Big Lead, Oakland A's

Bad Blood Easier to Stomach With Beef to Back it Up

Reggie and Epstein II
Mike Epstein (right, with Reggie Jackson): Sizable human.

Research for my next book, about the Oakland A’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest installment, from Ron Bergman of the Oakland Tribune, Sept. 8, 1972, touches on stolen-base propriety and a catcher’s right to block the basepath if he’s not holding the ball:

The bad feeling between the Athletics and White Sox won’t die. It bubbled to the surface again last night when Campy Campaneris stole two bases in the eighth inning with the A’s down by the eventual final score of 6-0.

Campy tried to score on a fly ball to right by Matty Alou. But Chicago catcher Ed Herrmann blocked the plate long before the ball got there, and Campaneris spiked him on the right thigh.

When the A’s took the field, White Sox manager Chuck Tanner yelled to Campy from the dugout that Herrmann was going to get him on any play at second base. A’s manager Dick Williams yelled back that the next time Herrmann tried to block the plate, his runner would come in higher.

“I told campy he should have come in higher and put those spikes right in Herrmann’s chest,” Williams said. “Any time a catcher blocks the plate like that without the ball he’s fair game, lunchmeat. I don’t think Herrmann would have done that with [six-foot-three, 230-pound] Mike Epstein as the runner.

“Herrmann told Reggie Jackson when he was at-bat that it was bush of Campy to steal those bases with us down the six runs. I say anytime you can move up 90 feet, take it. They weren’t holding Campy on at all. They were filling the holes to try to stop base hits.”

Campaneris, now second in the league and stolen bases to Dave Nelson of the Texas Rangers, said he’s trying to regain the King of Thieves crown he lost last year.

“I want to win the title every year,” Campy said. “If they don’t hold me, I still the base.”

In the clubhouse, both Tanner and Herrmann said they didn’t see anything wrong with Campaneris’ thefts. That’s what they said in the clubhouse. Winning pitcher Wilbur wood was more honest in his comments.

“It shows his stupidity,” Wood remarked about Campy’s 37th and 38th steals. “Suppose he gets thrown out at second base? Or third? Then he runs them right out of an inning. As things turned out, he did run them out of the inning because he got thrown out at the plate on a questionable fly.”

Both the A’s and White Sox remember an incident last year at the Coliseum when Chicago reliever Bart Johnson, now a minor-league outfielder, threw at two A’s and paid for it when Epstein hammered him down in a fight that brought all the players onto the field.

The White Sox have murmured about revenge since then, but then they don’t have any players as large as Epstein.

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