On October 12, 1974, forty years ago, the World Series opened with the Oakland A’s playing the Los Angeles Dodgers for the championship. It was a lackluster World Series, but both teams were superb. The A’s were the reigning champions of baseball, having won the World Series in both 1972 and 1973. Led by three future Hall of Famers (Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Catfish Hunter) and a terrific supporting cast that included Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Bert Campaneris, Sal Bando, and Ken Holtzman the A’s swept into the playoffs on the strength of a 90-72 record.
The Dodgers had assembled a great infield of Steve Garvey at first, Davy Lopes at second, Bill Russell at shortstop, and Ron Cey at third. This infield had been playing together since 1973 and would do so until 1981. They set the record for the longest-serving infield in baseball history, and during that run they went to four World Series, losing each time until 1981 when they beat the Yankees in a dramatic seven game series.
The Dodgers also had a pitching staff anchored by future Hall of Famer Don Sutton. The Dodgers had dominated its division with a 102-60 season record in 1974 and blew past the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs three games to one. The Cincinnati Reds finished four games behind at 98-64, still better than any team in the American League. If the Reds were “The Big Red Machine,” the Dodgers liked to call themselves the “Little Blue Bicycle,” but they were so much more.
A lot of baseball experts expected the Dodgers to take the A’s in 1974. For one, the A’s had been there twice before; they were not the hungry team that they had seemed in earlier years. They also did not get the same dominant pitching from their top three starters that had been the case earlier. Catfish Hunter finished at 25-12, but Ken Holtzman declined to 19-17, and Vida Blue to 17-15. Their winning percentages were certainly not what they had been previously.
The everyday players were again led by Reggie Jackson, whose .289 average, 29 home runs, and 93 RBIs put him among the league leaders. Joe Rudi contributed with a .293 average, 22 home runs, and 99 RBIs. Sal Bando’s batting average dipped to .243, but he also hit 22 homers, and drove in 103 runs, the only player on the team to crack the century RBI mark. Gene Tenace continued to hit for power, 26 homers, but only batted .211 while driving in 73 runs. Of course, the steady Bert Campaneris batted .290 while providing speed at the top of the lineup. Designated base stealer Herb “Hurricane” Washington did not contribute much to the offense.
The 1974 World Series was never really all that close, the A’s dominated the Dodgers. The A’s beat them 3-2 in game one at Dodger Stadium on October 12, with Jackson hitting a solo home run in the top of the second to put the A’s in the lead, a lead they never relinquished. The next day the Dodgers won their only game in the series, 3-2, before traveling to Oakland for game three on October 15 through 17. The A’s then took three straight from the Dodgers—3-2 on the strength of Hunter’s seven hit start, 5-2 with Holtzman hitting a home run to help his own cause, and 3-2 in the final game of the season with Blue Moon Odom getting the win after relieving Vida Blue and giving way to Fingers with the save.
Just like that, the A’s were the champions of the baseball world once again, the only three-peat other than the Yankees ever to do it. As in past years, A’s owner Charlie Finley was everywhere taking bows for the victory. But it was not the same sweet victory that the first had been. The years that followed would be increasingly difficult for the A’s. They collapsed after the departure of the terrific core of veterans who could not wait to get away from Finley. They A’s would not reemerge as champions until the latter part of the 1980s with another terrific team led by a new generation of players.
The Dodgers, who rolled over in the 1974 World Series, would go on to several more years of contention, including two losses in the World Series in 1977 and 1978 to the New York Yankees and a victory in the World Series in 1981 over those same Yankees.
As the postseason this year is underway, it is good to recall the World Series of 1974 and the great teams that played it.