Thank God to YouTube and video poster “TalltallDaddy1.”
While surfing YouTube the other day I stumbled across three short color videos of Games 3, 4, and 5 of the 1972 Playoffs between the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland A’s from Tiger Stadium that you can view at the links below.
Although the combined time of the three videos is only 10 minutes, I felt like a kid at Christmas time opening presents as each minute ticked away in anticipation of what I would see.
You are immediately taken back in time to the green cathedral that was Tiger Stadium. The ushers are wearing green uniforms, and the voices of George Kell and Larry Osterman broadcast the game with some unbelievable camera views behind home plate.
There is Dick McAuliffe digging in with the batting stance so many of us copied as kids. Stormin’ Norman Cash deftly handling first base duties and then approaching home plate with his bat handle covered in pine tar. Joe Coleman and Mickey Lolich facing the likes of Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, and Gene Tenance, from that rambunctious, mustachioed Oakland team that fought on the field and in the locker room.
But perhaps the best scenes are of Al Kaline making two graceful plays in “Kaline’s Corner”, one of which shows him making his patented catch and spin as he rifles the ball into the infield. Pure poetry in motion.
After losing the first two games of the five game series in Oakland, the Billy Martin led Tigers were determined to claw their way back with a squad that included the core of the ’68 World Championship team.
I was 17 years old and had skipped school with two friends to see Game 3 and held onto tickets to Game 5 if we were so lucky to make it that far.
The Tigers came through in Game 3 as they blanked Oakland 3-0 thanks to the great pitching of Joe Coleman and the hitting of square-jawwed Bill Freehan.
The video from Game 3 is only 3 minutes and 39 seconds long but included in it are two beautiful highlights.
The first shows Matty Alou lining a ball towards “Kaline’s Corner.” Number 6 is seen racing over to get the ball and then throwing a perfect strike to second where he nearly nails Alou who is in for a double.
And then there’s big Freehan standing at the plate in the bottom of the 8th when George Kell, with his wonderful Arkansas accent makes the call:
“The pitch to Freehan….here’s a long drive…..way back…..maybe……it is ! It’s gone……….Bill Freehan has just pumped one into the lower deck in left field and the Tigers lead 3-0!”
The Tiger catcher is then seen making his Big Ten football trot around the bases and to home plate.
The Game 4 video is just 4 minutes and 42 seconds long but viewers are treated to Kell calling a McAuliffe home run before the clip shows one of the Tigers’ most famous comeback wins in their history when they evened the series 2-2 after trailing in the bottom of the tenth inning 3-1.
“Way back on the warning track…might be!…..and it’s a HOME RUN for McAuliffe!….It caught the edge of the second deck and the Tigers lead!!
In the bottom of the tenth viewers see McAuliffe slashing a single to right; Kaline hitting a single through the hole between third and short;, a wild pitch to pitch hitter Gates Brown that moves the runner before the Gator walks to load the bases; Freehan grounding a fielder’s choice to third as McAuliffe scores and everyone is safe on the dropped ball at second; Norm Cash walks and violently flings his bat to the Tiger dugout to tie the game; finally Jim Northrup winning the game with a fly ball to the right field wall over the pulled in right fielder Alou to win the game before being mobbed at home plate.
I can remember watching that game in my journalism class as we went absolutely crazy after Northrup’s clutch hit. My feet barely touched the ground when I walked home from school absolutely thrilled that I had tickets the next day to see the Tigers win the pennant!!
As we all know the Tigers lost the pennant when they fell 2-1 in Game 5 on that dreary overcast day.
The Game 5 video is just over two minutes long but it does show Reggie Jackson stealing home on a double steal in the top of the second to tie the game 1-1 as he slides into Freehan on a bang bang play. Reggie screams in pain at the plate after tearing his hamstring.
Finally you will see a highly controversial call at first base.
George Hendrick led off the fourth with a ground ball deep to shortstop Dick McAuliffe whose throw was in the dirt to first baseman Norm Cash who adeptly snared the ball. The replay clearly shows that Hendrick was out by two steps yet umpire John Rice called him safe claiming Cash had pulled his foot off the bag. Following the safe call, Cash and Freehan are seen arguing with Rice.
Years later Jim Northrup told me that the call was so blatantly wrong that he wondered if Rice was on the take.
With two outs and Hendrick on second Gene Tenace hits a single to Duke Sims in left who was handcuffed with the ball at the waist. Slow to recover, he throws to Freehan at home but Hendrick scored with what turned out to be the winning run. Northrup also told me: “ He (Sims) shouldn’t have been out there, but Billy played him. It’s not the player’s fault. It’s the manager’s fault. Should have, would have, could have, whatever. But if we had Duke behind the plate where he belonged (Freehan had a bad finger) and Willie out in left field, I believe we’d have won Game 5.”
Although normally one would not want to be reminded again how the Tigers ultimately lost the 1972 American League pennant and the opportunity to face Sparky Anderson’s Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, seeing these short, crystal clear color videos definitely eases the pain.