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Rubino: 1974 A's might have been best of dynastic bunch

Besides the New York Yankees, there is only one team in baseball history able to celebrate the anniversary of a third consecutive World Series title — the Oakland Athletics.

Sure, all three A's title teams in that marvelous run in the 1970s are memorable and will always be worthy of celebrating.

The 1972 A's were the first to bring a professional sports championship to the Bay Area. That team won 101 regular-season games, and they knocked off Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in a seven-game Series without Reggie Jackson, who sat out with a broken leg after stealing home in climactic Game 5 of the league championship series at Detroit.

The '73 A's proved the previous year was no fluke, winning 94 regular-season games, going the maximum five games in getting past Baltimore in the LCS, then prevailing against the New York Mets in seven games in the World Series.

But consider the merits of that '74 team.

For one thing, the '74 team, two-time champions with strong personalities, had to adjust to a new manager. Dick Williams had managed the A's to the sort of success the franchise hadn't seen since Connie Mack ran the team in Philadelphia some 40 years earlier. When Williams left after the 1973 championship, tired of owner Charlie Finley's meddling that had included the attempted release of infielder Mike Andrews after Andrews made a crucial error in the World Series, there was serious doubt whether the A's could rally around a new skipper, especially one who arrived with some baggage.

Alvin Dark, who had managed the Giants to the 1962 World Series but left San Francisco two years later after the team unraveled along racial lines, had managed for Finley when the A's were in Kansas City, without success. After being fired by Cleveland in 1971, Dark had been out of baseball for two years when Finley gave him another chance. Although regarded as an astute strategist, Dark didn't appear to command the respect or loyalty that Williams had.

In addition, the 1974 A's were up against long odds. No team had won more than two consecutive World Series since the Yankees of 1949-53, and no other franchise besides the Yankees had ever done it. And there was this: Finley signed Herb Washington, a former collegiate sprinter, to be used exclusively as a pinch runner. Players grumbled it was a gimmick and the roster spot could be better utilized by a real ballplayer. Washington would steal 29 bases in 45 attempts during the regular season, but in the postseason he was 0-for-2 and picked off once.

Five weeks into the 1974 season, team captain Sal Bando had been quoted that Dark "couldn't manage a meat market," Vida Blue had tossed the ball over Dark's head when the manager came to the mound to make a pitching change, and the A's looked as uninspired as their 12-15 record indicated.

Eventually, though, Dark earned the respect of Bando, Blue, Jackson and the rest of the A's, calling Bert Campaneris "the best offensive shortstop since Pee Wee Reese." On May 19, the team moved into first place, a spot they would maintain for the rest of the season.

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