The 1972 postseason had already given baseball fans plenty of drama. Both League Championship Series rounds had gone the distance and were marked by individual games that were tensely fought. The 1972 World Series was more of the same. The Oakland A’s and Cincinnati Reds took the full seven games, with six decided by one run before the A’s finally prevailed.
You can read more about the journeys that Oakland and Cincinnati took through the regular season, about their key players, and about their LCS battles, at the links below. This article will focus exclusively o the seven games of the 1972 World Series.
Prior to 2003, homefield advantage for the World Series was determined on a rotation system. This year was the National League’s turn to get homefield, so Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium is where the Fall Classic began on a Saturday afternoon. Ken Holtzman was pitching for the A’s, while Gary Nolan got the call for the Reds.
George Hendrick was a young outfielder getting an opportunity or Oakland in this Series after the great Reggie Jackson had been injured in the ALCS. Hendrick’s two-out walk in the top of the second set up Gene Tenace’s two-run blast and the A’s had a quick 2-zip lead.
Cincinnati put together a rally in their own half of the second, starting with singles from Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. Denis Menke drew a walk and the bases were loaded with none out. Holtzman got Cesar Geronimo to pop out. Dave Concepion’s ground ball out scored a run. The Reds had cut the lead to 2-1, but a potential big inning ended right there.
Bench and Perez again got something going in the home half of the fourth, with a walk and single opening the frame. Menke’s ground ball out brought in Bench from third and tied the game. But in the top of the fifth, Tenace immediately answered with another home run.
Oakland had a 3-2 lead, but Bench continued to be an instigator. The great Reds’ catcher led off the bottom of the sixth with a double. A’s manager Dick Williams went to his great reliever, the future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, early. Fingers struck out Perez and Menke, got Geronimo and preserved the lead.
The Reds kept trying to grind out the tying run. Concepion led off the seventh with a single, but Tenance cut him down on a stolen base attempt. Rose drew a two-out walk, prompting Williams to bring in Vida Blue to replace Fingers. A wild pitch and a walk put runners on first and second. But Blue got Bobby Tolan to pop up.
And in the ninth, Hal McRae hit a leadoff single. Subsequent productive outs moved the tying run to third base with Pete Rose at the plate. Blue got Rose on a grounder to second and the A’s had a road win.
Oakland also had the great starter, Catfish Hunter, primed for Game 2. Cincinnati went with Ross Grimsley. Only 22-years-old, Grimsley had been the hero in a must-win spot in the NLCS. Both pitchers were dialed in on this Sunday afternoon.
The A’s were able to touch Grimsley early, when Sal Bando led off the second with a base hit. With two outs, the bottom of the order came through. Dick Green singled, and so did Catfish, aiding his cause and putting Oakland on the board. A subsequent single from Bert Campaneris resulted in Rose throwing out Green at the plate to keep the score 1-0.
Bench and Perez again were the ignitors of the Cincinnati lineup, with an infield hit and a walk, that was then followed by an errant pickoff throw from Catfish. There were runners on second and third and none out. But the bottom of the order was up. Catfish struck out Menke, Geronimo, and Grimsley in succession and there was no damage.
Joe Rudi homered for the A’s in the top of the third to make it 2-0, and the pitchers completely took over after that. Not until the bottom of the ninth did anything resembling a significant threat take place. Perez singled and took second on a force out. With two down, McRae’s base hit scored the first Cincy run. Rollie came out of the bullpen to face Julian Javier, who was batting in the pitcher’s spot. Rollie got a pop up and the game ended 2-1.
The weekend had seen two excellent baseball games, and great pitching. But that was little consolation for the Reds, who were staring at a 2-0 series deficit as they got on the plane west.
A travel day and a rain delay meant the World Series didn’t resume until Wednesday night in Oakland. Blue Moon Odom, fresh off a terrific ALCS performance, was going for the A’s. Jack Billingham shouldered the burden for the Reds.
Both pitchers were spectacular. Through six innings, Cincinnati had just one hit. Oakland had two—both of them infield singles. A scoreless tie went into the top of the seventh. It was Perez, again the middle of the action, who got it started with a single. Menke got a bunt down to move Perez into scoring position with one out. And Geronimo delivered, a base knock that scored the first run of Game 3.
It would prove to be the only run. Cincinnati threatened again in the eighth, with runners on second and third and one out. Fingers struck out Bench and kept it a one-run game. But the insurance wasn’t needed. Billingham went eight strong. Clay Carroll closed it out. With the 1-0 win, the Reds were back in the Series.
More great pitching followed on Thursday night, with Holtzman going on three days’ rest for the A’s, and facing the young Reds starter Don Gullett. It was scoreless until the fifth, nary a real threat to be found. Tenace hit his third home run of the Series to break the ice of the bottom of that fifth frame.
It took until the top of the eighth for the Reds to threaten. It started softly, with Concepion beating out an infield hit and getting bunted up to second. With two outs, the lefty Blue came out of the bullpen to face the lefty Joe Morgan. The pitching change didn’t work. Morgan kept the inning alive with a walk. Tolan doubled down the rightfield line. Both runners scored, and Cincinnati was ahead 2-1.
Pedro Borbon had come in in relief in the eighth and was now tasked with evening up the Series. Gonzalo Marquez greeted him with a pinch-hit single. Manager Sparky Anderson didn’t hesitate and called on Carroll, his regular closer. Tenace singled. The bottom of the order was up, and Williams continued to empty out his bench. Don Mincher hit a pinch-hit single and the game was tied 2-2. Angel Mangual got the third pinch-hit of the inning. Ballgame. In a dramatic final two innings, the A’s had moved to within one game of a championship.
Moreover, Oakland had another home game in tow, and Catfish going to the mound for Friday afternoon’s Game 5. Cincinnati’s Jim McGlothlin had to try and keep his team’ season alive.
Rose sought to establish momentum quickly and homered off of Catfish to begin the game. In the second inning, Perez doubled and was bunted to third. But Catfish got Geronimo to pop up, that inning came up empty, and Oakland got it going in their own half of the second.
Mike Epstein drew a walk to start. Hendrick beat out an infield hit. Tenace continued to have the Series of his life—a three-run jack that put Oakland up 3-1.
Now, Cincinnati was playing from behind in a desperate spot. Menke responded in the top of the fourth with a solo blast that cut the lead in half. But in the bottom of the fourth, a leadoff walk to Bando prompted Sparky to go to his bullpen for Borbon. Hendrick got down a bunt. Tenace was intentially walked. That set up Marquez for an early pinch-hit opportunity, batting in the 8-spot for second baseman Dick Green. Marquez delivered the RBI single and moved the Tenace to third. It was 4-2, and it might have gotten worse—but Tenace was picked off third.
Morgan drew a two-out wak in the top of the fifth. Tolan hit a deep single to right. Running on contact, and having good speed, Morgan came all the way around to score a big run and cut the lead to 4-3. Williams again chose not to mess around and called in Fingers early.
Rollie settled things down and the A’s held that 4-3 lead into the eighth inning. With the hour late, Morgan again worked a walk. He stole second, setting himself up to again score on a single by Tolan. We had a 4-4 tie.
In the top of the ninth, Geronimo singled. Grimsley, who had come out of the bullpen in the eighth, stayed in the game and got a bunt down. An error by Bando put runners on the corners. Rose came to the plate. He had started the good things for the Cincinnati offense on this night back in the first and he delivered again here—an RBI single that put the Reds on top and chased Fingers.
Concepion, who had reached on the Bando error was on third and there was still only one out. Morgan lifted a fly ball to right. But Alou stopped the insurance run by throwing out Concepion at the plate.
After the way the previous night had ended, no one in Cincinnati could rest too comfortably with a 5-4 lead. And Tenace started the bottom of the ninth with a walk. Ted Kubiak’s bunt popped into the air and turned into an out. Billingham, on a single day’s rest after pitching eight innings in Game 3, came out of the bullpen.
Dave Duncan singled. The tying run was on third in the person of pinch-runner Odom and there was still only one out. Campaneris popped one up behind first base. Morgan ran over to make the catch. Odom decided to gamble and try and score. He made it closer than one might have expected, but Morgan threw him out. The Reds had the 5-4 win. They had taken two of three on the road. And the Series would return to Cincinnati.
The rain earlier in the week wiped out the travel day, so it was a long flight followed by a Saturday afternoon Game 6. Blue returned to his normal role as a starter for Oakland, facing Nolan.
Cincy threated early with Morgan, getting hot as the Series went on, doubling with one out and taking third on a throwing error. But Blue got Tolan to pop up and escaped. The first run of the game didn’t come until Bench’s solo homer in the fourth put the Reds on the board. And the A’s immediately answered in the top of the fifth, with Bando singling and then scoring on Green’s double. Grimsley immediately came out of the Cincinnati bullpen to keep it a 1-1 game.
McRae led off the bottom of the fifth with a double. A productive groundball from Menke and a sacrifice fly by Concepion put the Reds back in front, 2-1. With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Tolan’s base hit chased Blue. Tolan stole second and scored on Perez’s single.
Dave Hamilton was pitching for Oakland in the seventh when Cincinnati broke it open. With one out, Concepion singled and stole second. Rose drew a two-out walk. Morgan’s single made it 4-1 and the throw home left runners on second and third, in position to score on Tolan’s base hit. A wild pitch and two walks later, Geronimo delivered another two-RBI single. The only blowout game in this World Series ended 8-1 for the Reds. And were going to Game 7.
It would be a big Sunday for sports in these two cities. In the NFL, the Raiders and Bengals were both off to good starts, and each were playing in the late afternoon time slot. But in an era when baseball was still the national pastime, the mood of each city would rise and fall by what happened in the early afternoon at Riverfront Stadium.
Oakland needed to get momentum turned back around and they got some help in the first. An error in the outfied by Tolan put Angel Mangual on third base with one out. A Rudi fly ball was too short to score the run, but Tenace delivered with a two-out single for a 1-0 lead.
Odom and Billingham reprised their Game 3 battle, and both pitchers were on in the early going. After the unearned run, Billingham settled in. And the Reds didn’t threaten against Odom until the fifth. Perez hit a lead off double. After two walks, the bases were loaded with one out. With all hands on deck, it was Catfish that got the call from the bullpen. McRae’s sacrifice fly tied the game 1-1, but Catfish limited the damage right here.
Borbon came out of the Cincinnati bullpen in the top of the sixth and was greeted with a leadoff single from Campaneris. Mangual put a bunt down successfully, but with two outs, the A’s were at risk of missing the opportunity. Until Tenace ripped a double for the lead. And Bando ripped another double to make it 3-1.
In the bottom of the eighth, Rose sought to ignite a rally with a leadoff single. Holtzman came out of the bullpen to create a lefty-lefty matchup with Morgan. Again, Morgan beat the lefthander. He doubled and there were runners on second and third. It was Fingers’ turn to try and quell the damage and hold the lead.
Joe Hague popped up and Bench was intentionally walked. With the bases loaded, Perez’s sac fly cut the lead to 3-2. With runners now on first and third, Bench stole second. The go-ahead run was in scoring position. With peak tension, Menke came to the plate. Fingers got him on a fly ball to left. The one-run lead was still intact.
Fingers got the first two batters in the ninth and the pitcher’s spot was due up. Darrell Chaney came off the bench to pinch-hit. Fingers plunked him. The lineup was flipping over the Reds were still alive. But Rose flew out to left. And the Oakland A’s were champs.
Gene Tenace was an easy choice for 1972 World Series MVP—he had gone 8-for-23, tied a World Series record with four home runs and gotten a two-out RBI hit for the go-ahead run in Game 7.
The other notable Oakland performers were on the pitching staff—Catfish had won Game 2 and picked up the Game 7 win in relief, finishing with a 2.81 ERA for the series. Holtzman’s series ERA was 2.13 over 12 innings of work. Odom had been outstanding for the second straight postseason round, going 11 innings with a buck-59 ERA. And Fingers appeared in six games, worked over ten innings, and posted a 1.74 ERA.
Perez was clearly the best player for Cincinnati, collecting ten hits, seemingly all of them significant. The problem for the Reds was that even though their other great players—Rose, Bench, Morgan, and Tolan—all had their moments, they collectively went 22-for-101 (.218) for the Series. The Oakland arms had ground the Big Red Machine to a halt.
The great dynasty of the early 1970s had begun. This was the first of three straight World Series championships for the A’s. And once Oakland was done winning titles, Cincinnati took over, capturing the Fall Classic in 1975 and 1976.