Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72

Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72

by Ed Gruver
Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72

Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72

by Ed Gruver


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Hairs vs. Squares is an ode to an unforgettable season that began with the first major players’ strike in the history of North American sports and ended with a record-setting World Series played by two of the game’s greatest and most colorful dynasties. In a sign of the times it was Hippies vs. Hardhats, a clash of cultures with the hirsute, mod Mustache Gang colliding with the clean-cut, conservative Big Red Machine on the game’s grandest stage.

When the Oakland A’s met the Cincinnati Reds in the 1972 Fall Classic, more than a championship was at stake. The more than two dozen interviews bring to life a time when controversy was commonplace, both inside and outside the national pastime. In baseball, Willie Mays was traded, Hank Aaron was chasing down Babe Ruth’s home run record, and Dick Allen was helping to save the Chicago White Sox franchise while winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. Outside the American pastime the war in Vietnam was raging, campus protests spread throughout the country, and Watergate and the Munich Olympics headlined the tumultuous year.

The 1972 Major League Baseball season was marked by the rapid rise of rookies and young stars, the fall of established teams and veterans, courageous comebacks, and personal redemptions. Along with the many unforgettable and outrageous characters inside baseball, Hairs vs. Squares emphasizes the dramatic changes that took place on and off the field in the 1970s. Owners’ lockouts, on-field fights, maverick managers, controversial trades, artificial fields, the first full five-game League Championship Series, and the closest, most competitive World Series ever, combined to make the 1972 season as complex as the social and political unrest that marked the era.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803288171
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 05/01/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 582,094
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Ed Gruver is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles as a columnist and has reported on MLB All-Star Games, playoffs, and the World Series. He is the author of six sports books, including Koufax and The Ice Bowl: The Cold Truth about Football’s Most Unforgettable Game.

Read an Excerpt

Hairs vs. Squares

The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of '72

By Ed Gruver


Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-8817-1


Reginald Martinez Jackson loved to hit a baseball. In the spring of 1972 the star right fielder for the reigning American League Western Division champion Oakland Athletics lived to hit. He was twenty-five years old, stood six feet tall, and weighed 204 pounds. Heavily muscled — he had been a running back at Arizona State — he boasted seventeen-inch biceps and twenty-seven-inch thighs.

There was no one in baseball, Jackson believed, who could do as many things as well as he could. He had only a fair batting average, but he hit with great power and ran with surprising speed for a big man. Baseball Digest would feature Reggie on the cover of its June issue, along with Pete Rose and Willie Mays, and declare the '72 season to be the start of baseball's Jacksonian Era. "This Will Be His Year!" the magazine proclaimed.

Prior to a 2009 World Series game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Yankee Stadium, Reggie held court on the field with a group of writers. He talked about hitting, about hitting in the clutch, about how he had loved to hit the ball — "that little white sum-bitch," he used to call it. In July 1971 Jackson smashed one of the longest home runs in history when he connected with a pitch thrown by Pittsburgh's Dock Ellis in the All-Star Game. The ball was still rising when it struck one of the light standards on the roof of Tiger Stadium, 520 feet from home plate.

NBC Radio color commentator Sandy Koufax was impressed by what he had witnessed: "It looked like Dock got the breaking ball up just a little bit to Reggie Jackson and, I mean, he hit it hard. I don't know when I've seen a ball hit as hard as that one. That would have gone out at the airport."

In his first weekend in the majors late in 1967, Jackson blasted five balls into a forty-foot-high screen in Kansas City's Municipal Stadium. They went for doubles and triples but would have been homers in almost any other ballpark. Two summers later, in just his second full season in The Show, Reggie hammered 47 homers and drove in 118 runs. Several of his drives went five hundred feet or more. By the end of July he had belted 39 homers and was being called the next Babe Ruth. At the time Ted Williams called Reggie the "most natural hitter I've ever seen." A's teammate Sal Bando believed Jackson had more ability than anyone in the game.

By the spring of '72 Jackson had established himself as one of the game's most feared hitters. He exuded power, charisma, and confidence, but he was also a complicated man. He was intelligent and sensitive, given to fair amounts of introspection. He was dogged by mood swings and depression. In 1973 he began seeing a therapist to deal with the demands of stardom and the end of his marriage to college sweetheart Jennie Campos. It was his interracial marriage, Jackson thought, that caused the Mets to pass him over in the amateur draft and allowed him to be signed by the Athletics.

When the A's 1971 season ended abruptly with a three-game sweep by defending World Series champion Baltimore in the American League Championship Series, cameras caught Jackson slumped on the dugout steps, his head bowed. He had hit two home runs off Orioles ace Jim Palmer in Game Three and batted .333, but Reggie was inconsolable in defeat. After six long months Oakland's season was suddenly over. The A's star slugger couldn't believe it. It took half an hour for Jackson to finally make his way to the somber locker room. When he arrived, Reggie's eyes were red and swollen.

In time Jackson was able to put the playoff loss in perspective. Oakland's division title in 1971 was its first; the A's weren't prepared to go any further, he reasoned. Just winning the division had been enough for them. Jackson thought they had acted afraid of Baltimore, a veteran squad with marquee names — Palmer, Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar. The Orioles were a group of established stars whose experience in October baseball extended back to 1966.

Six months later, as he stepped into the batter's box beneath a bright Arizona sun at the A's spring training headquarters, Jackson was a hard man playing a hard game. He prided himself on having a working man's hands and body; he beamed with pride when one of the younger A's referred to Reggie as "one big callus."

He wanted to be the leader of the A's, the man the other guys looked up to. "Just call me Mr. B & B, Mr. Bread-and-Butter," he would say. "That's me, the guy who does it, the guy who puts it on the table so everyone can eat."

Not all of the A's appreciated Reggie's bombast. Mike Epstein, a slugging first baseman obtained in a trade the previous May from the Washington Senators, represented the other half of Oakland's power from the port side. Epstein's resentment eventually resulted in a shouting match between him and Jackson over Epstein's use of free game tickets.

Catfish Hunter took Jackson's outsized personality in stride. Reggie, Hunter said, was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. "Of course," the Cat added, "he would call a press conference to announce it."

A's catcher Dave Duncan knew that while Jackson was an outspoken person who would stir things up, Reggie also meant a great deal to a team and a city. A guy like Reggie could mean as much as two hundred thousand more fans in a season. Duncan also knew Jackson had a lot of natural leadership.

Oakland manager Dick Williams considered Reggie one of three leaders in the A's rollicking clubhouse. The other two were Hunter and Bando. Bando was the captain, the quiet leader, the guy who led by example. Hunter led through practical jokes that kept the clubhouse loose, and the Cat never let teammates take themselves too seriously.

Williams considered Jackson the guy "with the lungs, the vocal one." As far as Williams was concerned, Jackson's constant chatter gave his teammates something to both laugh at and rally behind. The best thing about it, Williams wrote in his autobiography, was that it was all an act. Cut through all of Reggie's B.S., Williams said, and he was a guy who would play his heart out for his team.

There was a time when Jackson didn't want the responsibility of leadership, when he didn't want to stand out. But he found he could handle pressure. He would bend, but he wouldn't break. He had grown up. He was a mature man. He didn't fear anyone or anything on the baseball field.

Jackson may not have feared any situation or any man, but at the plate he could present a frightening picture to pitchers. With his feet spread wide as he settled into his stance, he glared out at the mound from beneath the bill of his two-toned batting helmet. He wore Oakland's brand new green and gold pullover jersey with alternating piping on the sleeves, a large "A's" on the left breast, and number 9 on his back. His baseball pants — called Sans-a-Belts because they had an elasticized waistband that eliminated the need for a belt — were white with green-and-gold trim on the outside of each leg. Green stirrups, gold socks, and white cleats completed the A's new look.

The A's, who had as many uniform combinations under Finley as Elton John had stage outfits, began wearing alternating jerseys in 1966. While it's become common for teams to have numerous uniform combinations to increase revenue, the A's were a team ahead of their time when it came to alternating jerseys and pants.

Oakland's pullover tops were a double-knit made of synthetic material popularized by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1970 and by the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros in 1971. Oakland and others followed suit in '72, and by 1975 two-thirds of major league clubs had adopted the new look.

Straddling home plate from the left side, Jackson's right hand, covered by a white batting glove, gripped his thirty-six-ounce bat near its handle. Whipping his bat through the strike zone, the man known to teammates as "Buck" blasted balls to the outer reaches of the sun- drenched diamond. He knew his main asset as a hitter was his strength, so he concentrated on putting every ounce of himself into each swing. Strong as he was, he could have used a heavier bat; Babe Ruth had toted a fifty-four-ounce tree trunk. Jackson, however, preferred a lighter stick, one he could swing with more bat speed.

Putting on a hitting clinic, Reggie would rip at each pitch, scraping the skies with prodigious drives and lashing liners that crashed into outfield fences with frightening force. Onlookers were impressed; Jackson, however, was not. Some hitters could catch hold of a pitch and feel satisfied. Reggie was never satisfied. One great hit only served to make him want another.

Contrary to league practice, he had grown a mustache for the new season. He would become the first major league player since Wally Schang in 1914 to have facial hair in a regular-season game. In time eighteen of Jackson's teammates and even his manager followed his lead, growing long hair and mustaches that gave the Mustache Gang an esprit de corps.

Oakland owner Charlie O. Finley grew to like his team's unshorn appearance and offered each man $300 cash to grow a mustache for a Father's Day promotion. Relief specialist Rollie Fingers opted for a waxed mustache; Epstein favored a Franz Josef look.

Finley's promotional ideas flowed throughout the organization and the sport. He gave his players headline-grabbing nicknames — "Catfish" Hunter, "Blue Moon" Odom — and tried to convince southpaw ace Vida Blue to legally change his name to "True." Blue declined, angrily suggesting the owner change his name to True Finley.

Finley built a team of colorful characters: Dagoberto "Campy" Campaneris; Fiore Gino Tennaci, a.k.a. Gene Tenace; Salvatore "Sal" Bando; Vida Blue, John "Blue Moon" Odom, and Dick Green; Reggie, Rollie, and Joe Rudi; Catfish, Kenny Holtzman, and Mateo "Matty" Alou.

Throughout his tenure as A's boss, Charlie O. livened up game days by using a yellow cab to drive pitchers in from the bullpen, installing a mechanical rabbit named Harvey that popped up behind home plate with new baseballs for the umpire to the tune of "Here Comes Peter Cottontail," and hiring Miss USA as a bat girl.

Bored with baseball's conventional ways, he dressed the A's in gaudy uniforms at a time when every other team wore home whites and road grays. He pushed for the adoption of a permanent pinch hitter for pitchers. Charlie O. and his Mustache Gang would prove to be trendsetters. The designated hitter rule would be adopted by the American League in 1973. By the midpoint of the decade, big league players were expressing their individuality through flamboyant coiffures, mustaches, and beards.

Emboldened by their maverick owner, members of the Mustache Gang would look the way they wanted to look and act the way they wanted to act. Outfitted in eye-popping colors and wearing hair that hung in thick clumps, they would shoot from the lip, speak their minds, and punch each other out when tempers flared. They got away with all of it. No longer were the A's the team that in Jackson's estimation had acted afraid of the Orioles the previous October. They had been toughened by tough times.

Bando believed the organization had developed a nucleus of players who loved a challenge. In time the A's would develop into a fearsome squad that didn't know how to lose. Come game time, Hunter said, no matter how mad the A's were at one another, when they stepped on the field, they played as a team.

That's the way it is with the Mustache Gang, Jackson said at the time. The A's say what they have to say and do what they have to do. They would fight and fuss among themselves, but they were together when it came time to take on another team. It was a matter of attitude, and the A's were at their best when they had attitude.

Like the St. Louis Cardinals' "Gashouse Gang" who preceded them and the Philadelphia Phillies' "Macho Row" who followed, the Swingin' A's of the seventies swaggered through life. They were rebels but with a cause. They wanted to leave their mark on the game.

The Mustache Gang was badass, and Reggie was the biggest badass of them all. He was one tough cut of hardtack. Frank Robinson, one of the game's great sluggers and the only man to win Most Valuable Player awards in both leagues, was a contemporary of Jackson who served multiple roles in the young superstar's life: friend, confidant, mentor, manager. Robinson said Reggie had so much strength and ability, nothing Jackson did on the field surprised him.

Jackson credited Robinson with influencing him when he was at the crossroads of his young career in 1971. At the height of his great season in 1969 Reggie began feeling the pressure of the chase of Ruth's hallowed home run mark of 60, set in 1927. It was the same pressure that caused Yankees slugger Roger Maris's hair to fall out in '61. In Jackson's case it was hives on his body, and he was hospitalized for nervous exhaustion. Without their slugger the A's faltered in a Western Division race won by Minnesota.

Jackson never really thought about breaking any records, but he did want to hit 50 homers in '69. Because he went yard just once in his last thirty-five games, Jackson finished with 47 homers. It was the closest he would ever come to his goal of 50 homers in a season. Reggie took the blame for the A's collapse and put pressure on himself to carry the team in 1970. But his disappointment was mixed with defiance.

Jackson rebelled the next season, and his contract holdout in spring training set the tone for a personally traumatic season. The tortured young slugger struggled with slumps, benchings, and ultimately with a threatened demotion to Des Moines.

He never expected to be an overnight sensation, an anguished Jackson told the media in the middle of his nightmare season. He just wanted to progress steadily until he reached his full potential. Now he was on the bench part of the time, and there was talk of sending him to the minors.

Monte Moore, the A's longtime broadcaster, recalls thinking that baseball humbled Jackson. Reggie had been through the mill, Moore said. He'd had his ups and downs and knew the game wasn't easy. Jackson, Moore thought, had expected too much too soon.

Moore remembered that when Jackson had first arrived in the majors, he had loved to show off the strength and accuracy of his throwing arm. There was one occasion when Reggie made a magnificent throw from deepest right-center field in Yankee Stadium. The ball zipped to third base on the fly, causing everyone on the A's to talk about it for a long time. The problem was, Moore said, Jackson kept trying to top it. As a consequence, Reggie would make a great throw one day and then fire the ball over the fielder's head the next.

Jackson was having problems at the plate as well. He had a big swing and struck out a lot, and the more Reggie struck out, the more he sulked. Moore recalled seeing Jackson brood and fret over his mounting whiffs. The result was that one strikeout would lead to another and perhaps still another, all in the same game. Suddenly the biggest talent in the A's starting lineup was facing a fragile future.

The career-saving changes came when Jackson played winter ball in Puerto Rico in 1971. His manager was Frank Robinson, and it was Robby who gave Reggie renewed confidence in his ability. After Frank told Jackson to just go out and play the game and allow his ability to take care of the rest, Reggie believed Robinson all but guaranteed he'd have a good season. Jackson also credited Gary Walker, his friend and partner in the land business, with giving him direction.

Moore, among others, saw the positive changes in Jackson starting with the '71 season. Moore said Reggie stopped worrying about his strikeouts. Jackson realized he had a big swing and was going to fan a certain amount of times. When he did, he forgot about it and concentrated on getting a hit the next time. Jackson batted a respectable .277 in '71, with 32 homers and 80 RBIs. His base running improved, and in the field he worked hard on throwing to the right base, hitting the cutoff man, and using his arm to the A's advantage. He also became a leader in the outfield, moving fielders into the proper position for different hitters. Moore thought Jackson had a great baseball mind and knew the abilities of every hitter in the American League.


Excerpted from Hairs vs. Squares by Ed Gruver. Copyright © 2016 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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