The book: “Hairs vs. Squares: The Mustache Gang, the Big Red Machine, and the Tumultuous Summer of ’72”
The author: Ed Gruver
The vital statistics: University of Nebraska Press, 408 pages, $29.95. To be released May 1.
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Powells.com, at Vromans.com, at the publishers’ website.
The pitch: According to those who operate the Coordinated Universal Time index, 1972 was the longest year ever. It was already a 366-day leap year, and two leap seconds were added to balance the universe.
For the rest of us who might remember more about it, that year may only seemed to be longer.
It started with a players’ strike that eliminated an odd amount of games for each team made the final standings a mess — the Boston Red Sox lost the AL East by a half game to the Detroit Tigers. Ooops.
The Dodgers, with Frank Robinson playing right field and Steve Garvey misappropriated at third base, didn’t even have their star infield together yet, although they were two years away from the World Series. Claude Osteen somehow wins 20 games, Don Sutton wins another 19, with 48-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm is tutoring 24-year-old Charlie Hough in the bullpen about the art of the knuckleball.
The Angels had 25-year-old Nolan Ryan winning 19 games, losing 16, posting an ERA of 2.28. striking out a league-high 329, and, since the DH was one year away, he hit. .135 with five doubles and a triple.
(As a kid, I’d listen to Dick Enberg call Angels games at this time. He once mentioned that Eddie Fisher was up in the bullpen warming up. I had no idea that Elizabeth Taylor’s former husband was a pitcher, but then again, the Angels did once have Bo Belinski.)
Mets manager Gil Hodges dies of a heart attack at age 47 before spring training. Jackie Robinson dies in October at age 53, a few weeks after throwing out the first pitch of Game 2 of the World Series.
Steve Carlton would win 27 games for a Phillies team that managed a total of 59. (At one point in September, Carlton is 24-9 while the rest of the starting staff is 26-80).
The Giants trade Willie Mays to the Mets.
It artificially felt as if there were more artificial turf fields than natural grass fields. Maybe it was really true.
AL Cy Young and MVP Vida Blue retired from the A’s in March. He rejoins them in May.
The Texas Rangers, managed by Ted Williams, play their first season.
Roberto Clemente played his last, getting his 3,000th hit in his final game.
The Reds win the NL championship on a wild pitch.
The A’s win the AL championship after Bert Campaneris throws his bat at Lerrin LaGrow, leading to Tigers manager Billy Martin wanting to attack Campaneris.
Oh, there was was Watergate break-in and a presidential election. U.S. troops finally start leaving the Vietnam War. Bobby Fischer beats Boris Spassky in a chess match, and we’re wondering if that’s even a sport.
An horrific Olympics take place in Munich. The Boston Marathon finally allow women entrants.
Ed Gruver, who pieced together the decently accepted book called “Koufax” in 2003, goes back to the well with a decently entertaining account of a season that he remembers first off as a 12-year-old from New Jersey visiting the old Yankee Stadium for the first time and then, like the rest of us, has Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek etched in our memories describing this Liberals vs. Conservatives clash in October in living color on NBC.
At least we think we had a color TV by then.
They were, as Gruver writes, the Reds starring NL MVP Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Sparky Anderson, representing Middle America – “big, broad-shouldered, and uncomplicated, they were John Wayne in cleats.”
And the A’s, who were about to win their first of three straight titles, Charles O. Finley’s “Marlon Brando method actors in a complex modern world.” Whatever that conjures.
As we learned in the recent book “Finleyball,” Finley set a tone with his franchise that was very colorful from the start, and this only made playing Cincinnati, the original National League team, more polarizing.
While Gruver does document much of what happened in ’72, including the cause and effect of the Pirates and Tigers also playing a large role in how the leagues would be won — it could have been a much different Fall Classic — this all funnels into a blow-by-blow account of the Oakland triumph.
Although we don’t want to spoil how it turns out, just in case you were current manager Dave Roberts — who was born on March 31 of 1972.
Before the World Series starts, Gruver sites a paragraph from Jerome Holtzman in The Sporting News, for page 291: “So many of those people who have been insisting that baseball is dead, or dying, etc., suddenly have changed their tune. The best of five playoffs, in both leagues, woke them up and now they have returned to jump with joy, and are saying baseball still is and always will be the nation’s No. 1 sport.”
Again, remember, this is 1972.