The book: “Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s”
The author: Jason Turbow
The vital statistics: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 400 pages, $26, released March, 2017
Find it: At Amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, at Vromans.com, at the writers’ website
The pitch: The Angels open the season in Oakland, which leads to all kinds of memories …
Like, remember the time Reggie Jackson almost got choked to death by teammate Mike Epstein in the Oakland A’s locker room in Texas in May of 1972?
Ah, good times.
An excerpt of Turbow’s book showed up recently on Deadspin.com under the headline “The Time Reggie Jackson Got His Ass Whooped in the Clubhouse by a Teammate” and got some run.
For those who never heard the story, Jackson was throwing a fit about tickets allocated to player families and didn’t think Epstein needed his allotment to give to his friends of his father because “those are family tickets, and there ain’t no Jews in Texas.”
As the book recounts on pages 42-44:
“Epstein threw Jackson to the floor, straddling him and peppering him with punches. When he grabbed Reggie by the throat and began choking him, traveling secretary Tom Corwin raced to get (manager) Dick Williams, and players jumped up to intercede. First to the fray was Gene Tenace, hardly a diminutive figure, who found himself entirely unable to budge the irate behemoth. ‘Reggie’s eyes are spinning around in his head and I think, this ain’t working,’ said Tenace, looking back. ‘I’ve got to get his hands off Reggie. How am I going to do that?’ Eventually the catcher wrapped his forearm around Epstein’s windpipe and, with full force, pulled. Epstein fell backward onto Tenace, sending both men tumbling to the floor. With all three players on the ground, Williams burst into the room.”
Eventually, “Williams talked Epstein and Jackson into agreeing that they could hate each other without killing each other. Clubhouse opinion, meanwhile, was divided.”
The A’s had won nine of 10 at that point and were in first place, about to win the first of three straight World Series titles — the last of them in ‘74 against the Dodgers.
Turbow, who came on the radar with his 2010 gem, “The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime,”
decides now to crack the code of what made the A’s long before they became known as “Team Moneyball” and were more into mayhem and ego-stroking under owner Charles O. Finley.
In the 2016 book, “Finley Ball: How Two Baseball Outsiders Turned the Oakland A’s into a Dynasty and Changed the Game Forever,” a far more loving look is taken at the owner by his cousin’s daughter, Nancy.
Turbow has other words to describe Finley, who is most often referred to as “The Owner” in this book. Such as:
“The Owner’s legacy is one of pure duality, a study in extremes … Such single-mindedness came with a downside … the demons that fed his virtues. Finley’s success was predicated on his essential Finleyness — the ability to seize whatever he sought, primarily through sheer force of will. Softening his personality might have been deleterious to his effectiveness and without his ability to gather information, to make assessment and bold decisions, and above all to sweat and to sacrifice, the A’s would invariably have been diminished … However, Finley’s narcissism and relentless self-promotion were abiding. The Owner systematically propped himself up at the expense of others, in the process alienating nearly everybody who worked for or alongside him … Once Finley’s despotic turns gathered momentum, he cut a national figure somewhere between tyrant and punchline.”
We’ve also noted past books done on these A’s and on Finley are all out there telling sorted tales as remembered by those involved:
= “Charlie O. and the Angry A’s” by Bill Libby in 1975
= “Charlie O” by Herb Michelson in 1975
= “Champagne and Baloney: The Rise and Fall of Finley’s A’s” in 1976
= “Mustaches and Mayhem: Charlie O’s Three-Time Champions: The Oakland Athletics: 1972-74″ by SABR Digital Library in 2015
Turbow references those works as well as other magazine and newspaper accounts of that time, but Turbow also relies on in-person interviews between 2013-14 and more phone interviews through 2016 with people like Vida Blue, Dave Duncan, Mike Epstein, Rollie Fingers, Dick Green, Ken Holtzman, Blue Moon Odom, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace and Herb Washington.
Note: No Reggie Jackson. Unfortunately. And somewhat predictably.
Two local sportswriters, Glenn Schwarz and Jim Street, also added their experiences.