Major League Baseball in 1972 saw a tumultuous year, with the first player’s strike, an exciting World Series, and the loss of some of the game’s greats. Major League Baseball in 1972 witnessed the beginning of a dynasty that only its owner could finally stop, and the hurlings of a pitcher who would win almost half of his pathetic squad’s games. The American League would not be the same after 1972, as after the season its owners voted to upgrade the offense, allowing the designated hitter to be born. And although the pennant races were not all that close, the playoffs and World Series were suberb.
The strike at the beginning of the 1972 season was ended quickly, but the results were that any games that had been wiped off the schedule were not made up. Some teams played more games than others, and this became important when Boston lost the American League East to the Tigers by a half game, having played one less contest. Detroit had been deadlocked with Baltimore in the middle of June, with the Sox six and a half back, but Boston played twenty games over .500 the rest of the way. On the season’s next to last day, Boston’s Luis Tiant was beaten by the Tigers’ Woodie Fryman 3-1 to clinch things for the Bengals. Tiant had been rescued off the scrap heap by Boston the year before and was 15-6 in 1972, the start of his wonderful run as “El Tiante” in Beantown.
In the AL West, it was Oakland that put it all together and handily beat the White Sox by five and a half games. With Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, and Ken Holtzman winning a combined 55 games, and Rollie Fingers heading an impressive bullpen, the A’s were too much for Chicago to catch, despite an MVP year from slugger Dick Allen. He hit .308 with 37 homers and 113 runs batted in, walking 99 times, but the supporting cast around him was so weak, only one other teammate, Carlos May, had more than 50 RBI. The AL batting title went to the Twins second baseman, Rod Carew, at .318, the second of seven he would eventually garner and the first of four in a row. Carlton Fisk of the Red Sox was awarded Rookie of the Year in a unanimous vote, and the Indians’ Gaylord Perry edged the White Sox knuckleballer Wilbur Wood for the Cy Young. The oft-accused but never proved spitballer won 24 games after coming to the Tribe from the Giants on his way to 314 career triumphs on the hill. FYI, you don’t have to go back to 1972 to place a bet using our Pointsbet Promo Code.
As good as Perry was, his year paled in comparison to left-handed Steve Carlton of the National League Phillies. Many baseball historians point to his 1972 season as the best ever by a pitcher, as he toiled for the lowly Phils, who won just 59 times all year. Carlton was 27-10 for this bedraggled bunch, winning the Triple Crown for pitchers with his 27 victories, 1.97 ERA, and 310 strikeouts. Steve had 8 shutouts and threw 30 complete games, numbers in one campaign that hurlers rarely achieve now for their entire careers.
The pennant races in the National League in 1972 were not close at the end, but in June there was some doubt. The Pirates held a small lead on the Mets and Cubs in the late spring, but pulled away to win the East by 11 contests, getting big years from Willie Stargell and Al Oliver and 19 wins from Steve Blass, who in the coming seasons would be unable to find home plate. The Reds drew steadily away from the Astros and Dodgers to post a similar margin in the West, with league Most Valuable Player Johnny Bench hitting 40 home runs and sending 125 runs over the plate. Manager Sparky Anderson went to his pen often, allowing reliever Clay Carroll to rack up 37 saves. The Cubbies’ Billy Williams won the batting crown with his .333 standard, on his way to the Hall of Fame and 2,711 base hits. Jon Matlack of the Mets went 15-10 to capture Rookie of the Year kudos over the Giants’ Dave Rader, who would go on to a less than stellar career. Matlack would never really fulfill his vast potential, winning one less game than he lost in his thirteen Major League Baseball seasons.
In the post-season, the Tigers and A’s played a lively five game set. In Game Two, base-stealing catalyst Bert Campaneris of Oakland was hit in the ankle by a pitch from the Tigers’ Lerrin LaGrow, prompting Bert to helicopter his bat at LeGrow’s skull. Luckily it missed, but the ensuing brawl got Bert thrown out of the rest of the Championship Series, although he was able to participate in the Fall Classic. The Tigers came back from down two games to none to force a fifth and deciding contest, which Oakland won 2-1 behind Blue Moon Odom and fine relief pitching from Vida Blue. The Reds were in a dogfight with the Bucs in the senior circuit, with their set tied at two. Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth in the Queen City, but Bench homered to knot it up and then Bob Moose tossed a wild pitch to let in the winning run with two outs, endearing himself to Pirates rooters for the rest of time. The Series was splendid, with all but Game Six a one-run nail biter. The Reds stormed back from down three games to one to make a seventh necessary, but lost it 3-2 when they could do nothing late against closer Rollie Fingers. Oakland’s backup catcher, Gene Tenace, was the Series MVP, belting 4 homers in 23 times up as opposed to the 5 he hit during 223 regular season at-bats.
1972 was the first of three consecutive championships for Oakland, but their mercurial owner, Charlie Finley, would eventually meddle too much and the team was fragmented by free agency by mid-decade. In the off-season, the Yankees obtained from Cleveland a player that would be instrumental in their own three straight pennants, getting Graig Nettles from the Indians for, among others, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres. 1972 was the last year on this mortal coil for Hall of Famers Zack Wheat, holder of many of the old Brooklyn Dodger records for hitting, and the great Pie Traynor, voted the greatest third baseman of the first half of the twentieth century. Gil Hodges, the Mets manager, passed way too young from a heart attack during spring training, and to this day still waits for his admission to Cooperstown for his work as the Dodgers’ first baseman. Two immortals of their race left in 1972. Jackie Robinson died at 53 from diabetes complictaions in October, the breaker of an invisible barrier that was stronger than any concrete wall. On a New Year’s Eve mission out of his native Puerto Rico to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, Roberto Clemente, who was to Latin-Americans what Robinson was to African-Americans, got into a rickety old plane and crashed into the sea, his body never recovered. Clemente had recorded his 3,000th hit off of the Mets’ Matlack on September 30th, and his death still haunts his homeland to this very day.