The 1972 World Series was significant in several ways. For one thing, it was the last time the Cincinnati Reds lost a World Series. For another, it was the Oakland A’s first World Series win since 1930, when they were in Philadelphia. Also, Game 3 featured the infamous intentional walk fakeout, when Rollie Fingers struck out Johnny Bench after initially indicating a pitch out. And Game 2, played on Sunday, October 15, 1972 at Riverfront Stadium, featured a Not-So-Great Moment in Reds Fan History.
In the early 1970’s, A’s owner Charlie O. Finley believed in showmanship and personality when constructing his team. He allegedly paid his players to grow mustaches, and even made up nicknames like "Blue Moon" and "Catfish" for his players to make them more interesting to fans. The Reds, by contrast, had a rule forbidding facial hair and were required to wear plain black cleats. So it was probably inevitable that the series would become known as a "Hair vs. Square" matchup that many people looked at as a representation of the youthful exuberance of the era facing off against so-called "traditional" values of the older generation. The two teams’ nicknames – the Mustache Gang vs the Big Red Machine – underlined that difference. If that was the case, youth won out for once, as Oakland took the tightly contested series in seven games.
The World Series MVP was A’s catcher Gene Tenace. Tenace, who grew up in Lucasville, Ohio, hit four home runs in the seven game series and posted a .400 OBP on the way to achieving a 1.313 OPS (more than doubling his 1972 regular season OPS of .646). The series was unquestionably the highlight of Tenace’s otherwise respectable if not outstanding major league career. And his accomplishments appear all the more impressive in light of the fact that he spent most of the series under FBI protection after a Reds fan made what law enforcement considered a credible threat on his life.
The incident is generally said to have occurred before Game 6, but according to Tenace himself, the threat actually occurred during Game 2. The confusion is likely due to the fact that Game 6 was the next game in Cincinnati after the threat was made, so that’s when security was tightest. But according to Tenace himself (and he would have cause to remember better than anyone else), he was called into manager Dick Williams’ office in the Riverfront visitors’ clubhouse after Game 2, where he was introduced to two men who turned out to be FBI agents. In Tenace’s own words:
One of [the FBI agents] goes into this story that a woman on a concession line early in Game 2 at Riverfront Stadium stood behind this man who was saying to no one in particular, "If that guy on Oakland hits another homer, I’m gonna put a bullet in his head as he rounds third base." A couple of people around him laughed it off, but this one woman went to an usher who grabbed security and a police officer. They found the guy, got him out of the line and sure enough he had a .22 in one pocket (loaded, too) and bottle of bourbon in the other.
Despite my best Googling efforts, I could find no information about this model citizen – not even his name – except that he was a 32 year old man from Louisville, which helps explain the bourbon at least. The man was arrested of course, but there was the possibility that he could have had friends or accomplices who still posed a threat. Tenace describes living under 24 hour guard and being hustled out of the stadium via a secret door. He continued to play well under the threat, although he didn’t homer at Riverfront again.
After the series ended, Tenace went on with his career, playing in and winning two more World Series with Oakland in 1973 and 1974, although he never reclaimed the heights he reached in the 1972 Series. He later played for the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, both National League teams, which means he made regular visits to Cincinnati as a player, which apparently passed without incident. It was with the Cardinals that he returned to his fourth World Series in 1982, at which point the story of the 1972 threat received a fairly odd postscript. Again, in Tenace’s own words:
10 years later, I’m with the Cardinals, going back to the series in ’82 against the Milwaukee Brewers, guess who I get a letter from? "Mr. Tenace, I’m so sorry what I put you through. It was a bad time in my life. In and out of jail, broke. Please forgive me." How about that? He was apologizing. Fine, I guess, but I couldn’t believe, 10 years later, this guy’s still got me on his mind? Are you kidding me?
Reds fans, like all sports fans, can be passionate people. Perspective is important, though. If the letter Tenace describes is indeed from the man who made the threat against him, it appears as though he did eventually learn his lesson, which is good. Thankfully nobody had to get hurt for him to learn it.
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