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The Arm of God Against Catfish and The Swinging A’s: ’63 Dodgers v. ’73 A’s

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The times were changing in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. President Kennedy and then his brother Bobby had been assassinated as well as civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Then just after man landed on the moon, the culture of the United States changed with the advent of the music festival, Woodstock. The 1970’s came about as did the end of the Vietnam War, and President Richard Nixon was forced to resign after the Watergate scandal. In the baseball world, the Yankees were ending their run of World Series titles that began in the late 1940’s and would run until 1963 when Yankee fortunes went down the tube. In 1963 the winners of the World Series were the Los Angeles Dodgers, who ironically had begun their existence in the New York borough of Brooklyn/Queens. Fast forwarding into the 1970’s, the Oakland Athletics were in the middle of a 3-year World Series winning run from 1972 until 1974. This match-up will feature the 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers versus the 1973 Oakland Athletics.

Los Angeles would be managed by Walter “Smokey” Alston, the Dodger skipper since the 1954 season when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn. It was Alston who had managed Brooklyn to their only World Series title in 1955. Alston would manage for a total of 23 years and would win 7 National League pennants and 4 World Series titles. Alston would also manage a total on 9 All Star games and would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1983.

Alston would manage a roster that would have on it players that included catcher John Roseboro, first baseman Ron Fairly and second baseman, Jim Gilliam. Manning the left side of the infield were shortstop Maury Wills and third baseman Ken McMullen. Tommy Davis would be in left field, Willie Davis in centerfield and finally Frank Howard in right field, comprised a well-rounded outfield for Los Angeles. For Los Angeles, their pitching rotation consisted of Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Johnny Podres, Bob Miller and Pete Richert.

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Dick Williams would manage to Oakland A’s in 1973 to their second consecutive World title. Williams was also the manager of the “Impossible Dream” Red Sox team in 1967 and would manage in the major leagues for a total of 21 years. He would win 3 American League pennants and one National League pennant to go with his two World Series titles. He would be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. His starting lineup in this one game series would have Ray Fosse at the catching position, Gene Tenace at first base and Dick Green at second base. The left side of the infield had Bert Campenaris at shortstop and Sal Bando at third base. Joe Rudi would be in left field, Bill North in center field and in right field was Reggie Jackson (before he became “Mr. October”. Anchoring the A’s pitching staff was Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, John “Blue Moon” Odom and Dave Hamilton.

In the position of catcher, the Dodgers would be sending John Roseboro up against the A’s Ray Fosse. Roseboro in 1963 was a veteran of 7 major league seasons and a 3-time National League All Star selection. Roseboro would hit 9 home runs and had 49 runs batted in to go with a .291 batting average. He would handle 982 chances in 1963 and make only 8 errors for a .992 fielding percentage. Roseboro, later in his career would be involved in one of baseball’s more famous fights after Juan Marichal hit Roseboro with a bat after one of Roseboro’s throws back to Sandy Koufax allegedly grazed Roseboro’s ear.

For the Athletics, the catcher was Ray Fosse who had caught for the Cleveland Indians for 6 years before being traded from the Indians to the Athletics. He would play in 2 All Star games and was a 2-time Gold Glove winner as a catcher. Fosse would have 7 home runs and 52 runs batted in as well as a .256 batting average. With the catcher’s gear on Fosse had 10 errors in 786 chances for a .987 fielding percentage. Fosse, was himself involved in a rather infamous incident himself, when in the 1970 All Star game Pete Rose barreled into Fosse and scored the winning run for the National League squad. Fosse was never the same after that collision and would only play for five more major league seasons.

Fosse was a pretty good catcher, three seasons after that devastating collision but Roseboro was just a bit better both on offense and on defense, which gives the advantage to the Dodgers at the catching position.

The 1963 Dodger team would have Ron Fairly at first base for 154 games and he responded by hitting 12 home runs, driving in 77 runs and hitting at a .271 clip for the season. Fairly would play 21 seasons in the major league and make 2 All Star games through his career. He would make 5 errors in 884 chances. The Athletics catcher was Gene Tenace who had just played in his fifth season in the majors and on the way to a 15-year major league career. He would be selected to the All-Star team in 1975. In the 1973 season, Tenace would hit 24 home runs, drive in 84 runs and hit for a .259 average in the season. Tenace would have 1,169 chances at first base and make 13 errors. Looking at these numbers the advantage at first base goes to the A’s with Tenace. One other thing in Tenace’s favor is that he also played second base and caught for the A’s during the 1973 season.

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Second baseman for the 1963 Dodgers was the veteran Jim Gilliam who was in his 11th season in the Dodgers organization. He was a veteran who was with Brooklyn when they won the title in 1955 and in 1963 he added another jewel to his crown. During the 63 season Gilliam hit 6 home runs and had 49 runs batted in to go with his .282 batting average. He had 527 chances at second and made 8 errors which is a .985 fielding percentage. For the 1973 Athletics the second baseman was 32-year-old Dick Green an 11-year veteran, all with the A’s, first in Kansas City then with Oakland. During the 73 season Green hit 3 home runs, drove in 42 runs and had a .262 batting average. With the glove, Green had only 7 errors in 570 chances for a .988 fielding percentage. Close competition here but the slight edge would go to Gilliam based on his better offensive numbers.

Now, moving over to the shortstop position for the 1963 Dodgers Maury Wills and for the Oakland Athletics we have Bert Campaneris. Wills during the 63 season, had nary a home runs with 34 runs batted in and a .302 batting average to go with 44 walks and 34 stolen bases. Wills made 26 errors in 604 chances for a fielding percentage of .957 for the year. Campy, as he was called hit 4 home runs, drove in 46 runs, had a .250 batting average with 50 bases on balls and 34 stolen bases. In the field, he had 23 errors in 747 chances for a .969 fielding percentage. Both men are matched closely in all the categories, although Campaneris had almost 100 more chances in the field. This one is too close to call and will end in a tie.

At the hot corner, third base the Dodgers had Ken McMullen and the Athletics had Sal Bando. McMullen played in 6 games in 1962 and 79 in 1963. In those 79 games McMullen had 5 home runs, 28 runs batted in and a .236 batting average. McMullen had 13 errors in 195 chances for a .933 fielding percentage. The A’s Bando had 29 home runs, 98 runs batted in and a .287 batting average. In 429 chances at third Bando made 22 errors which computes into a .949 fielding percentage. Clearly the A’s and Bando have the advantage here and now we head to the outfield.

As a group, the Dodgers had Tommy Davis in left field, Willie Davis (no relation) in center field and Frank Howard in rightfield. The A’s of 1973 had Joe Rudi in left field, the speedy Billy North in center field and in right field before he became known as “Mr. October was Reggie Jackson. Tommy Davis had 16 home runs, 88 runs batted in, 15 stolen bases and a .326 batting average. He also in the field had 15 errors in 287 chances for a .948 fielding percentage. Willie Davis had 9 home runs, 60 runs batted in and a .245 batting average, with 25 stolen bases. Willie Davis in the field had only 8 errors in 359 chances, which is a .978 fielding percentage. The “man mountain” Frank Howard had 28 home runs, 64 runs batted in and a .273 batting average for the 1963 season. Howard’s fielding percentage was .960 as he made 8 errors in 201 chances.

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Joe Rudi hit 12 home runs, had 66 runs batted in and hit for a .270 average during the 1973 season. Rudi made only 2 errors in 240 chances in 1973 for a .992 fielding percentage. In centerfield, Bill North hit 5 home runs, had 34 runs batted in and a .285 batting average and 53 stolen bases. North had 9 errors in 452 chances for a .980 fielding percentage During the 1973 season Jackson had 32 home runs, 117 runs batted in and a .293 batting average to go with 22 stolen bases. Reggie, made 9 errors in 316 chances which is a .972 fielding percentage. Overall looking at all the numbers and both groups, Oakland holds the advantage both at the plate and in the field.

Pitching is the final facet of this and in looking at the Dodgers in 1963 they had Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, Bob Miller and Pete Richert. The A’s could throw either, Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue, John “Blue Moon” Odom or Dave Hamilton.

Koufax in 1963, was in the midst in one of the greatest runs of pitching performances in Major League Baseball history. He had pitched his second career no-hitter and finished the year with a record of 25 wins 5 losses, a 1.88 ERA. He also had 20 complete games, 11 shutouts, while striking out 306 batters and walking 58 hitters. Drysdale had 19 wins, 17 losses, a 2.63 ERA. He also had 17 complete games and 3 shutouts. He walked 57 hitters and struck out 251. Johnny Podres record 14 wins and 12 losses with a3.54 ERA. He had 10 complete games, 5 shutouts, while walking 64 batters and striking out 134. Bob Miller won 10 games and lost 8 with a 2.89 ERA. He had 2 complete games and walked 65 and struck out 125. Pete Richert had only 5 wins and 3 losses with a 4.50 ERA. He pitched 1 complete game and walked 28 and struck out 54. The bullpen and the role of a relief pitcher was increasing in the 60s and wins and the Dodgers reliever was Ron Perranoski who had a record of 16 wins and 3 losses Perranoski had 21 saves, walked 43 hitters and had 75 strikeouts.

Oakland had a pitching staff that had 3 20 game winners on it in 1973. They were left hander Ken Holtzman with a record of 21 wins 13 losses and a 2.97 ERA. He also had 16 complete games, pitched 4 shutouts and struck out 157, while walking 66. The second 20 game winner on the staff was another left hander, Vida Blue. Blue had a record of 20 wins and 9 losses with a 3.28 ERA. He had 13 complete games, 4 shutouts, 105 walks and 158 strikeouts. Jim “Catfish” Hunter was the 3rd 20 game winner on the staff, coming in with a record of 21 wins and 5 losses with a 3.34 ERA. Hunter had 11 complete games, 3 shutouts. He walked 69 batters and struck out 124. Blue Moon Odom had 5 wins 12 losses and a 4.49 ERA during 1973. He had 3 complete games, 67 walks and 83 strikeouts. Dave Hamilton finished the year with 6 wins 4 losses and a 4.39 ERA. He had one complete game to his credit and walked 24 and struck out 34. The relief role on the A’s team was filled by the man with the famous handlebar moustache, Rollie Fingers. Fingers had 8 wins 9 losses and a 1.92 ERA. He also had 22 saves and walked 39 while striking out 110 hitters.

Even though Oakland had 3 20 game winners on the staff and one of the premier relievers in the game, Rollie Fingers, the duo of Koufax and Drysdale would be more than capable of matching up. Johnny Podres had pitched in big games before and if anything happened to Koufax or Drysdale, Podres could fill in.

Overall, the teams are pretty evenly matched and if the series was the best of seven, certainly it would be a toss-up. But, and this is a very big but, in a one game series the entire advantage would go to the Dodgers because of the pure domination of Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles would win a one game series and advance.

Kevin Larkin has been going to all kinds of baseball amateur and professional since 1969. When asked he says he is a baseball fan who likes the Yankees. He was a police officer for 24 years in his home town of Barrington Massachusetts and helped on investigating most major crimes including murder, plane crashes and automobile crashes. He was certified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction and investigated almost 90 fatal automobile accidents. After retiring from the police force he renewed a love for baseball and as of now has authored three books on the subject: Baseball in the Bay State, Gehrig:Game by Game and Baseball in the Berkshires. He has authored articles for SABR and helps out there with research whenever possible. He has a coloection of almost 700 baseball books and enjoys pre 1900 and post 1900 baseball as well as the Black Sox Scandal and learning about the Negro Leagues. He also writes a column for CNY Baseball and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.

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