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.

Oakland A's, Retaliation

Reggie: ‘You Got to Throw at Someone on the Other Team and Hurt Them’

Reggie Jackson, 1969As means of explaining the relative lack of frequency of posts to this site recently , I figure it’s time to announce my latest project: a book about the championship Oakland A’s teams of the early 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in spring, 2015. Suffice it to say that I’ve been fairly well inundated.

I bring it up here because during the course of my research I’ve encountered any number of unwritten rules-related issues from back in the day, covering all manner of topics. Referencing them regularly through the off-season seems like a decent way to pass the time until pitchers and catchers report in February. They might not mean much now, but boy are they fun.

For now, it seems like the best way to approach it is offer up entire excerpts—from game stories, mostly, primarily from the Oakland Tribune’s beat writer par excellence, Ron Bergman. This one is from July 18, 1969.

Even before the game, Reggie Jackson was ticked off.

“I’m telling you,” he said, spitting on his hands, “if they try that stuff on me when Chuck’s pitching, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

It just so happens that Jackson’s roommate, Chuck Dobson, is pitching tonight for the Oakland Athletics in the opener of a three-game series against the California Angels.

For the second game in a row and the seventh time this season, Jackson was hit by a pitch last night during the A’s 8-2 victory in Seattle. This one, thrown by loser Marty Pattin (7-9), struck him on the right forearm.  …

“What they’re trying to do,” said Reggie, “is make a good pitch inside for a strike or miss.”

What the inflamed major league home run leader meant was miss by hitting him.

“That’s one base,” Reggie continued. “That’s better than four. I don’t mind. It’s all part of the game. But all I ask is protect me. A man’s got 35 homers for you, you got to throw at someone on the other team and hurt them.”

Someone reminded Reggie that [A’s pitcher] Lew Krausse threw at Don Mincher Wednesday night after Jackson was hit by Gene Brabender.

“Yeah,” snapped Jackson. “Throw the ball and holler ‘watch out.’ ” When they throw at me they don’t holler watch out. Look, someday I’m going to be hit on the hand and it’s going to break. [Jackson was referring to the hand he threw up when protecting his head.] Then what? I’m going to have to go out there with shin guards on my arms. ”

Catfish Hunter, who won his third in a row with a six-hitter, said he would have retaliated had he thought the Pilot pitchers were throwing close to Jackson deliberately.

“If they start throwing at his head, then I’ve got to brush them back,” said Hunter, referring to Seattle’s Don Mincher, who homered off the A’s for the third straight game.

Of the seven times Jackson had been hit over the team’s first 92 games to that point, most had been on his aforementioned hand. The aforementioned Mincher, who led Seattle with 25 homers in 1969, would be acquired by the A’s for the 1970 season, and again led his team in homers, with 27.

Also worth noting: Reggie’s prescience in envisioning Barry Bonds’ body armor, three decades before it actually came about.