The year 2022 has thus far occasioned nothing but uncertainty insofar as Major League Baseball is concerned. Thanks to the owner lockout, the sport is stalled at a time when free agents should be signing, trades should be rumored and realized, and our thoughts should be drifting to the first inklings of spring. In the absence of those things, we can instead think of 2022, at least for the time being, as marking the 50th anniversary of one of the most roiling and vital seasons the modern game has seen.
The arcs of the year 1972 will be familiar enough – triumph, defeat, tragedy, and glory – but the peaks may be higher and more lasting, the troughs perhaps a bit deeper. Legends, true pantheon-dwellers of the game, will die. Legends will also be born, both in the biological sense and within the boundaries of the game itself. Lasting changes will be forged, and the grappling over power that has for so long defined the game off the field, that defines it still, will begin in earnest. It was not always a good year, but it was always a necessary one.
To commemorate the golden anniversary of 1972 in baseball, to give it the fresh testimony it deserves, let’s look back, week by week, at what made that year so irreplaceable and so worth remembering. While waiting for baseball in 2022 to make its way to us, let’s make our way through 1972.
A timeline of the year in baseball: 1972
With the current pension agreement set to expire on March 31, players and owners continue negotiations on a new one. Traditionally, the players’ pension fund has been tied to revenues from league television contracts, but in late 1971 owners refused to disclose financial details of their new TV deal. The players filed a labor grievance over this refusal (the National Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of the union) and now request a pension increase tied to inflation.
Tigers owner John Fetzer announces that the team will build a multisport domed stadium in downtown Detroit for $126 million. The stadium will never be constructed.
Bernice Gera prevails in a lawsuit against organized baseball and will be allowed to umpire in the New York-Pennsylvania League during the upcoming season. She had signed with the circuit after completing umpire training school, but days later her contract was voided without explanation. Soon after, she filed suit.
Former Dodgers lefty Sandy Koufax at age 36 becomes the youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Koufax retired following the 1966 season while still in his prime because of arthritis in his throwing arm. On the same ballot, baseball writers also elect Yogi Berra and Early Wynn.
A veterans committee elects pitcher Lefty Gomez, outfielder Ross Youngs, and former American League president William Harridge to the Hall of Fame.
The nine-member Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues elects catcher Josh Gibson and first baseman Buck Leonard to the Hall of Fame. Gibson and Leonard become the second and third Negro Leaguers elected to the Hall, respectively. The first was Satchel Paige, who was elected in 1971.
Former Reds and Angels infielder Chico Ruiz is killed in an auto accident in San Diego at the age of 33.
The St. Louis Cardinals make one of the most damaging trades in franchise history when they send 27-year-old lefty Steve Carlton to the Phillies in exchange for right-hander Rick Wise. Wise will put up a pair of quality seasons for the Cardinals before being dealt to the Red Sox in October 1973. Carlton, meanwhile, will establish himself as one of the best pitchers of his generation in Philadelphia. With the Phillies, Carlton wins four NL Cy Young awards, and he’s elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1994 after being chosen by 95.6 percent of voting writers. Cardinals owner Gussie Busch forces the trade after multiple salary disputes with Carlton, beginning with the pitcher’s spring training holdout in 1970. Remarkably, this will not be the last time the Cardinals in 1972 foolishly trade a young left-handed arm.
Hank Aaron signs a three-year contract with the Braves and becomes the first player in MLB history to make an average annual salary of $200,000.
Mets infielder Jim Fregosi, whom the team acquired from the Angels in a December 1971 trade that sent future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan to Anaheim, breaks his thumb while working out during spring training. The injury heralds more than two years of disappointments and struggles for Fregosi. In July of 1973, the Mets will sell Fregosi’s contract to the Rangers, and the Ryan trade will be remembered as one of the worst in franchise history.
Hostilities between players and owners ramp up when owners go back on a prior commitment to cover an increase in health and medical premiums that are part of the pension plan.
The Cardinals invoke the so-called “reserve clause” and exercise contract options on two holdouts, left-hander Jerry Reuss and catcher Ted Simmons. “Signed may not be the word,” a Cardinal spokesperson says upon announcing the decision. “But they are under contract — somewhat like football players who play without actually signing, though there are important differences on renewals between the two sports.”
Here’s how Rule 10A of the uniform player contract – i.e., the reserve clause – reads:
“If prior to March 1 . . . the Player and the Club have not agreed upon the terms of such contract, then on or before 10 days after March 1, the club shall have the right . . . to renew his contract for the period of one year.”
Team owners and the league parse that language to mean that clubs hold one-year options on players that they could self-renew in perpetuity. Players and the union under Marvin Miller, meantime, arrive at a more literal reading – one year means one year. If a player were to play that one renewal season without agreeing to a new contract, then he’d become a free agent, was their wishful-at-the-time thinking. Miller had quietly kept his eyes and ears trained on the possibility of such a “test case” – a player who would take the risk of playing the full year without a contract and then force an arbitrator to rule on these dueling Rule 10A interpretations.
As for Reuss and Simmons, different fates await them.
During spring training White Sox players become the first to vote to authorize a strike, and they do so by a 31-0 margin.
Hall of Fame outfielder Zack Wheat, who spent almost his entire career with the team that would later be known as the Brooklyn Dodgers, dies at the age of 83 at a hospital in Sedalia, Missouri. Per his SABR bio, the departing Wheat’s advice to young aspiring ballplayers is, “Tell them to learn to chew tobacco.”
Pirates legend and Hall of Famer Pie Traynor collapses and dies at the age of 73.
A’s left-hander Vida Blue, the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP winner, announces his retirement from baseball at the age of 22. The announcement occurs amid a salary dispute with A’s owner Charlie Finley. Blue’s retirement will be short-lived.
The final tally of all players at Florida-based spring training camps is 473-8 in favor of a strike.
The U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in the Flood v. Kuhn case. The original suit was brought against MLB by veteran outfielder Curt Flood, who objected to an October 1969 trade that sent him from the Cardinals to the Phillies in exchange for Dick Allen, among others. Flood refused to report to the Phillies and in late 1969 decided to challenge the trade and the reserve system that yoked a player to the whims and preferences of one team for the entirety of his career. While Flood’s assault on the reserve clause is different from what will become Ted Simmons’ burgeoning effort this same year, the potential end result – sweeping changes to that system – is of a similar heft. Flood’s, though, is more purely pioneering and carries with it immense professional risk.
In a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn dated Dec. 24, 1969, Flood wrote in part:
“After twelve years in the Major Leagues, I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. … I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decisions. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season.”
Kuhn of course rejected Flood’s request, and then Flood — with the support of Marvin Miller and the union — sued Kuhn and Major League Baseball in federal court to challenge the reserve clause and, by extension, the game’s exemption from antitrust laws that dates back to the 1922 Federal Baseball decision. The three-week trial, which began in May 1970 in New York, yielded a verdict in favor of the league. Flood appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals also ruled against him in April 1971. The U.S. Supreme Court then accepted Flood’s case for review.
In a rare trade between blood rivals, the Yankees send first baseman Danny Cater to the Red Sox in exchange for 27-year-old lefty reliever Sparky Lyle. In seven seasons with New York, Lyle will pitch to a 2.41 ERA, record 141 saves, make three All-Star games, and win the AL Cy Young award in 1977. Cater will see his career end by 1975.
American League owners unanimously approve the sale of the Cleveland Indians from Vernon Stouffer to a nine-person group of investors fronted by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Nick Mileti. Stouffer first purchased the team in 1966 for a reported $8.2 million.
An ownership committee meets with player reps at spring training in Arizona, but no progress is made.
After adding in the votes from Arizona spring training camps, the players support a strike authorization by a margin of 663-10 with two abstentions.
After player reps vote 47-0 with one abstention (Wes Parker of the Dodgers) in favor, the Major League Baseball Players Association goes on strike. Thus begins the first work stoppage in MLB history. Under the leadership of pioneering union leader Marvin Miller, the players strike over the issue of pension payments. The players want a 17 percent increase to reflect inflation over the prior three years and for owners to honor their commitment to cover medical costs. Owners refuse on both counts. Miller announces that players are willing to end the strike with a new pension accord or an agreement to take the dispute to arbitration. Since the union is still a relatively nascent entity — Miller became the first head of the Major League Baseball Players Association in July 1966, and it wasn’t until 1968 that the MLBPA negotiated its first collective bargaining agreement with the league — owners underestimate the players’ power and solidarity. As John Gaherin, the owners’ lead negotiator, would later say, “The perception on our side was that the union was still weak. This was the time to take it on.”
Gil Hodges, the beloved first baseman for the Dodgers during their final years in Brooklyn and early years in Los Angeles and the manager of the 1969 “Miracle Mets,” dies suddenly of a heart attack after golfing in Florida with members of his Mets coaching staff. He is just 47. Hodges will be elected to the Hall of Fame in 2021. Yogi Berra takes over as Mets manager following Hodges’ death. The Pirates agree to cancel their April 7 game with the Mets so that Mets players can attend Hodges’ funeral mass. However, the players’ strike renders the gesture unnecessary.
Owners reject a new proposal from Miller and players that would have funded the players’ pension by diverting already existing surplus revenues.
The first batch of regular-season games is canceled because of the ongoing strike, which means that Opening Day is postponed for the first time in MLB history.
The Expos trade All-Star outfielder Rusty Staub to the Mets in exchange for Ken Singleton, Tim Foli, and Mike Jorgensen.
Miller offers to temporarily halt the strike for a period of two to three weeks for intense negotiations provided that owners agree to independent arbitration if those two to three weeks don’t yield a new pension agreement. The owners reject the union’s offer.
Following federal mediation at the behest of President Nixon, the two sides agree on a new pension format. However, players and owners remain at odds over whether the canceled games will be made up for a full 162-game schedule and whether players will receive back pay for canceled games.
The MLBPA and owners agree that games lost to the strike will not be made up and no back pay will be received. With that final hurdle cleared, the strike ends. In all, 86 regular-season games are lost to the work stoppage.
Less than two months after trading away Steve Carlton, the Cardinals deal 22-year-old left-hander (and St. Louis native) Jerry Reuss to the Astros for pitchers Lance Clemons and Scipio Spinks. After winning 22 games in three seasons for the Cardinals, Reuss will go on to win 198 more, make two All-Star teams, and finish runner-up for the NL Cy Young award as a member of the Dodgers in 1980. According to Reuss, he is told almost 25 years after the fact that Cardinals owner Gussie Busch ordered him traded because he didn’t like the mustache that he’d grown over the offseason.
In a fitting coincidence, Reggie Jackson of the A’s on this same day – rescheduled Opening Day – is believed to be the first player since Wally Schang in 1914 to wear a mustache in a regular-season game. A’s owner Charlie Finley tells manager Dick Williams to order Jackson to shave his mustache, but Jackson refuses. Finley then takes a different tack by privately pressuring a couple of other players on the Oakland roster to grow mustaches in the hopes that Jackson would abandon his look once it was no longer a point of distinction. To his own surprise, Finley then intuits a marketing opportunity – a way to set his team apart from the vast remainder of MLB and the many clubs with outright bans on facial hair. Soon enough, Finley offers $300 bonuses to any player willing to sprout a mustache or a beard or even grow his hair long, and eventually every player on the roster except two – Larry Brown and Mike Hegan – takes him up on his offer. The manager Williams even grows a mustache.
The season to come will also mark the first time that a majority of MLB teams transition from the time-honored wool uniforms to the double-knit synthetics that will be a kitschy hallmark of the 1970s and 1980s. Teams also abandon button-up tops for pull-over jerseys and opt for beltless uniform pants. In an even more arresting departure, the 1972 Padres will wear yellow jerseys paired with yellow pants for both home and road games.
On the second day of the regular season, Cubs rookie left-hander Burt Hooton twirls a no-hitter against the Phillies in just his fourth career start. With the feat, Hooton becomes just the 12th rookie in major-league history to throw a no-hitter.
Giants rookie third baseman Dave Kingman hits for the cycle in his team’s 10-6 win over the Astros.
For the first time in franchise history, the Yankees play a night game at Yankee Stadium as their home opener. The hosts prevail over the Brewers by a score of 3-0.
The demolition of Cincinnati’s Crosley Field begins when two-year-old Pete Rose Jr. pulls the lever that activates a wrecking ball. The Reds since partway through the 1970 season have played their home games in Riverfront Stadium.
The Yankees’ second home game of the season occasions the debut of their take on the bullpen cart – a pinstriped Datsun 1200 that ferries relievers to the mound:
After rats chew through the cables of the Datsun, the team will switch to a Toyota Celica as its bullpen conveyance.
Also in ’72, Sparky Lyle, the new Yankees relief ace, becomes the first closer to be escorted to the mound by “entrance music.” The flourish is the idea of team public-relations assistant Marty Appel, who asks the Yankee Stadium organist to play “Pomp and Circumstance” (the graduation song) as Lyle makes his way from the bullpen to the mound. Although Lyle dislikes the concept of entrance music, his will be a fixture for another two years, until the team finally accedes to his wishes. Following a game against the Royals in April 1974, the first of Lyle’s Yankee appearances in which “Pomp and Circumstance” didn’t play, he said, “I asked the team management two years ago not to play the music. They did it all next year and started again this year. … I just thought it was stupid and I finally got them to cut it out. What if I got the hell hit out of me? What would they play, ‘The Old Rugged Cross?'”
The Rangers under manager Ted Williams defeat the Angels 7-3 in the first American League game ever played in the state of Texas. The Rangers, who had been the second incarnation of the Washington Senators, relocated to the Dallas area from the nation’s capital and rebranded before the 1972 season.
Future Hall of Fame third baseman Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones is born in DeLand, Florida.
Following a 5-1 home loss to the Mets, the 4-7 Padres dismiss Preston Gomez, the only manager in franchise history. He’s replaced by 41-year-old third base coach Don Zimmer.
Vida Blue ends his holdout and thus his retirement and agrees to a contract with the A’s that will pay him $63,000 for the 1972 season.
Andy Messersmith of the Angels shuts out the Brewers in just one hour and 31 minutes. It’s the shortest nine-inning game in Angels franchise history.
The Giants trade living legend Willie Mays, age 41, to the Mets for right-hander Charlie Williams and $50,000 cash. Mays had spent his entire career with the Giants and had been with the team since before they relocated from New York to San Francisco. That same day, Mets ace Tom Seaver earns his 100th career win.
The Brewers and Twins play 36 innings in two days. The May 12 contest lasts 17 innings before it’s suspended. It’s resumed the next day, and the Brewers win it 4-3 in 22 innings. In the regularly scheduled May 13 game immediately following, the Twins win 5-4 on a walk-off in the 15th inning.
In the fifth inning of a game against his former team, Mays hits a tie-breaking home run for the Mets. The homer, the 647th of Mays’ career, provides the margin of victory.
Angels right-hander Don Rose becomes the third pitcher in MLB history to homer on the first pitch of his first career plate appearance. Rose’s unlikely clout will also be the last home run hit by an American League pitcher for 30 years. The introduction of the designated hitter rule in the AL starting in 1973 means that AL pitchers will no longer bat in the regular season. That holds until the advent of interleague play in 1997.
Moe Berg, a longtime catcher in the majors and later a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, dies at the age of 70 after suffering a fall at his sister’s home in New Jersey.
Manny Ramirez, who will go on hit 555 major-league home runs and make 12 All-Star teams but also become embroiled in repeated banned-substance controversies, is born in the Dominican Republic.
The New York Times runs a story on how Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons may indeed be in line to become the long-sought “test case” that could overturn the prevailing interpretation of the reserve clause, which in essence bound a player to one team for his entire career until that team released him or traded him. The evolving hope was that Simmons would be that player. The Times writes of Simmons’ current straits:
“According to the records of the Commissioner of Baseball who checks on all contracts, this is the first time a player is actually participating in championship games under the reserve‐option clause of his previous year’s contract. The significance of the case is this: It has been established in basketball and football that a man can ‘play out his option’ and, at the end of that season, be legally free to sign with another club. But this has not been tested in baseball for more than half a century, except indirectly in a complicated fashion with respect to the Mexican League right after World War II.”
Since Simmons did not sign a new contract after the 1971 season, the Cardinals exercised his option for 1972 in advance of the March 10 deadline. League rules bar players from playing without a valid contract, but National League president Chub Feeney eliminates that hurdle when he rules that Simmons is eligible to play the 1972 season on that contract option. As such, Simmons’ status moving forward has great bearing on the future of the reserve clause and the union’s ambitions for free agency.
During this month, the Padres select University of Oregon infielder Dave Roberts with the top overall pick of the June draft. Roberts will compile a career WAR of just 0.4 across parts of 10 MLB seasons. In the third round, however, the Indians will select Dennis Eckersley, and the Expos will take Gary Carter. Both are future Hall of Famers.
The Dodgers retire the first three numbers in franchise history: Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, Sandy Koufax’s No. 32, and Roy Campanella’s No. 39.
Pinch-hitting in the second game of a double-header with his White Sox down by a run in the bottom of the ninth, Dick Allen hits a two-out, two-on, walk-off home run to deep left field off Yankees closer Sparky Lyle.
An MLB record is set when eight shutouts are pitched on the same day. The A’s account for two of the eight when they blank the Orioles by the score of 2-0 in both games of a doubleheader.
Hank Aaron of the Braves hits a grand slam against the Phillies. The blast is the 649th of Aaron’s career, which moves him past Willie Mays and into sole possession of second place on the all-time list. Less than two years later, Aaron will break Babe Ruth’s career record.
Sports Illustrated runs the iconic cover photo of White Sox first baseman Dick Allen, who is pictured juggling and smoking a cigarette in the home dugout.
Andy Pettitte, who will win 256 games across 18 MLB seasons and claim four World Series rings as a member of the Yankees, is born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
As a Father’s Day promotion, A’s owner Charlie Finley celebrates the team’s hirsute roster by offering free tickets to any fan who shows up with a mustache.
A three-run homer against the Dodgers gives Roberto Clemente 1,274 RBI for his career and makes him the Pirates’ all-time leader in that category.
Curt Flood loses his case when the Supreme Court by a 5-3 majority upholds the lower court ruling. Baseball’s antitrust exemption remains intact even though the court declares that baseball should be subject to laws governing interstate commerce. Even so, the majority attests that it is Congress and not the courts who should be tasked with overturning MLB’s illegitimate antitrust exemption.
While Flood’s quixotic legal quest does not yield the desired result for him, it did create an environment for an important union victory at the bargaining table. During the process of negotiating the 1970 collective bargaining agreement, players and owners agreed that grievances would go before a neutral arbitrator. Very likely, owners would never have agreed to such a concession without the pressure placed upon them by Flood’s lawsuit and the public attention that it garnered.
Flood never played for the Phillies. Prompted by mounting financial and legal troubles, he played briefly for the Washington Senators in 1971 but barely a month into the season he left the team and fled the U.S.
Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski, age 35, announces his intention to retire at the season’s end. One of the greatest defensive second basemen ever and author of one of the biggest home runs in the annals of the sport, Mazeroski will be voted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.
Bob Gibson collects win No. 211 of his career and becomes the Cardinals’ all-time leader in that category. Gibson also hits a three-run home run.
Bernice Gera works a minor-league contest between the Geneva Rangers and Auburn Phillies and becomes the first woman to umpire an affiliated baseball game. Gera abruptly resigns from her position immediately after the game citing incidents with fans and game participants and a lack of cooperation from the other umpires. She will later work in community relations for the Mets.
Carlos Delgado, who will hit 473 home runs and compile more than 2,000 hits in the majors, is born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
In the first-ever trade in which one former MVP is dealt for another, the A’s send pitcher Denny McLain to the Braves for first baseman Orlando Cepeda.
In a 9-3 win over the rival Dodgers, Willie McCovey of the Giants hits his 14th career grand slam and ties the NL record shared by Hank Aaron and Gil Hodges.
Nolan Ryan of the Angels becomes just the third pitcher in MLB history to throw an immaculate inning – i.e., striking out the side on nine pitches – twice in his career. He joins Lefty Grove and Sandy Koufax. Ryan previously logged an immaculate inning with the Mets in 1968. He strikes out 16 Red Sox hitters on the day.
Phillies GM Paul Owens, on the job just more than a month, replaces Frank Lucchesi as the team’s manager. Owens does so on an interim basis so as to better evaluate the roster. The last-place Phillies are en route to their fifth straight losing season.
Owens’ first games as manager come this same day against the Dodgers in a doubleheader. In the second contest veteran knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm, 49, makes the 1,070th and final appearance of his career. The Dodgers release him after a period of inactivity on July 21. Wilhelm will be voted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
Billy Williams of the Cubs goes 8 for 8 in a doubleheader against the Astros.
Arthur Rivera, a pilot based in Puerto Rico and president of the American Air Leasing Company, purchases a Douglas DC-7 aircraft in Miami.
Reggie Cleveland of the Cardinals spins a two-hit shutout of the Braves in just 1 hour and 33 minutes, which is good for the shortest nine-inning game in franchise history.
For the first time in MLB history, a home plate umpire – Bill Haller – works a game in which his brother – Tom Haller of the Tigers – is one of the starting catchers. The Royals win the game over Detroit by a score of 1-0.
Arthur Rivera has his commercial pilot’s license reinstated by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Federal Aviation Administration had attempted to permanently bar Rivera from flying, but the decision was never executed. Following Rivera’s appeal, the NTSB instead handed down a 180-day suspension.
Ted Simmons signs a two-year, $75,000 contract with the Cardinals, which ends the possibility of his becoming the first free agent test case. The sum – far in excess of what the Cardinals were initially offering Simmons – reveals to Marvin Miller just how much owners fear any testing of the reserve clause.
The National League scores a walk-off win in 10 innings over the American League in the 43rd All-Star Game at Atlanta Stadium. Reds second baseman Joe Morgan records the game-winning hit in the NL’s 4-3 win and is named MVP. Hank Aaron also hits a two-run homer in his home ballpark. With the victory, the NL moves to 7-0 in extra-inning All-Star Games.
Whitey Lockman replaces Leo Durocher as Cubs manager.
Dick Allen of the White Sox becomes the first MLB hitter since 1939 to tally two inside-the-park home runs in the same game.
Nate Colbert of the Padres becomes the second player ever to hit five home runs in a doubleheader. The first to achieve the feat was Stan Musial in 1954. Colbert, a St. Louis native, was in the stands that day to witness Musial’s history-making. Colbert’s 13 RBI in the twin bill breaks Musial’s NL record for most RBI in a doubleheader, and his 22 total bases is an MLB record.
Tigers shortstop Ed Brinkman’s record errorless streak of 72 games and 331 total chances comes to an end.
Atlanta’s Hank Aaron homers twice in a win over the Reds for his 660th and 661st career home runs. He breaks Babe Ruth’s all-time record for most home runs with one team.
The Yankees snuff out rumors of relocation by signing a 30-year lease to play in a refurbished Yankee Stadium beginning in 1976. While the House That Ruth Built is undergoing those improvements, the Yankees will play their 1974 and 1975 home games in Shea Stadium, home of the crosstown Mets.
Pursuant to having lost four in a row and five of the last six, Tigers manager Billy Martin resorts to drawing names from a hat to fill out his lineup card for the first game of a doubleheader against Cleveland. Detroit wins the game 3-2.
Former Yankees executive George Weiss dies at age 78. Weiss had been elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.
Phillies lefty Steve Carlton defeats the Reds for his 20th win of the season. The team as a whole, however, has just 42 wins on the season and is 27 games out of first place.
In his 415th career game, Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa hits his first MLB home run – an inside-the-park homer against the Astros. Bowa won’t hit his first over-the-fence home run until April 30, 1974, his 599th career game. He’ll end his career with 15 home runs across parts of 16 big-league seasons.
Steve Carlton’s streak of 15 consecutive wins comes to an end with a 2-1 loss to the Braves.
White Sox cloutsman Dick Allen becomes just the fourth player ever to reach the center-field bleachers of Comiskey Park. The prior sluggers to achieve such distances are Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, and Alex Johnson. The booming homer, Allen’s 32nd of the season, almost hits broadcaster Harry Caray, who is calling the game from the stands.
Leo Durocher, who stepped down as Cubs manager during the All-Star break, is named Astros manager. Durocher is the only manager to guide two different National League teams in the same season. He previously did it in 1948 as skipper of the Dodgers and Giants.
Cubs third baseman and future Hall of Famer Ron Santo notches his 2,000th career hit with a third-inning home run against the Giants at Wrigley Field.
Giants right-hander Jim Barr sits down the first 20 Cardinals batters he faces and in doing so sets the all-time record with 41 straight batters retired.
Roberto Clemente ties Honus Wagner’s Pirates franchise record with his 2,970th career hit. On this same night, Pete Rose ties Vada Pinson’s Reds franchise record with his 1,881st career hit.
During this month, Arthur Rivera’s DC-7 plane is flown from Miami to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The plane will not take to the air again until New Year’s Eve.
The Mets erase an 8-0 deficit going into the eighth inning and beat the Astros 11-8 for the biggest comeback win in franchise history. Per basic win expectancy, the Mets in the eighth had a 0.15 percent chance of winning the game.
Roberto Clemente’s three-run homer off Sam McDowell of the Giants makes him the Pirates’ all-time hits leader.
Cubs right-hander Milt Pappas, one out from a perfect game, issues a full-count walk to Padres pinch-hitter Larry Stahl. The payoff pitch is borderline, but young plate umpire Bruce Froemming deems it ball four instead of strike three. Pappas recovers to retire the next batter and notch a no-hitter, but Froemming’s call clings to him over the years. “To this day, I just don’t understand it,” Pappas will say some 37 years later.
Ken Holtzman, Mike Epstein, and Reggie Jackson of the A’s wear black armbands on their uniform sleeves to honor the 11 Israeli Olympians murdered by terrorists at the Munich games.
Dick Allen sets the White Sox franchise record with his 34th home run of the season.
In the final batter faced of his major-league career, Denny McLain, who was suspended by commissioner Bowie Kuhn for possible bookmaking activities in 1970, allows a single to Pete Rose, who years later will be placed on baseball’s permanently ineligible list for gambling.
During an eventual 18-5 win over the Mets, Cubs second baseman Glen Beckert goes 0 for 6 and sets the MLB record with 12 runners left on base.
Phillies rookie third baseman Mike Schmidt hits the first of his 548 career home runs.
In a key AL West clash, the White Sox edge the A’s by a score of 8-7 in 15 innings. The two teams combine to use an MLB-record 51 players in the game.
Milt Pappas defeats the Expos at Wrigley Field for the 200th win of his career. He becomes the first pitcher to reach 200 victories without a 20-win season.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, defending World Series champions, beat the Mets by a tally of 6-2 and in doing so clinch the NL East title for a third straight year.
With a 4-3 win over the Astros in Houston, the Cincinnati Reds clinch the NL West title.
Yankees closer Sparky Lyle sets the AL record with his 35th save of the season.
An 8-7 walk-off win at home over the Twins gives the Oakland A’s the AL West title for 1972. It’s their second of what will be a run of five straight division championships.
Pirates star Roberto Clemente, with a fourth-inning double off the Mets’ Jon Matlack, becomes just the 11th player in MLB history to reach 3,000 career hits.
Bill Stoneman of the Expos blanks the Mets 7-0 at home for his second career no-hitter. He becomes the first MLB pitcher to throw a no-hitter on Canadian soil.
The Red Sox, leading the Tigers by a half-game in the AL East standings, begin a three-game series in Detroit that will end the regular season and determine the division title. The Tigers win the opener by a score of 4-1 behind Mickey Lolich to move in front of Boston by a half-game.
Playing in what will be his final regular-season game, Roberto Clemente breaks Honus Wagner’s franchise record by appearing in his 2,433rd game as a Pirate.
The Detroit Tigers secure the AL East title for 1972 with a 3-1 win over the Red Sox. The critical moment comes in the bottom of the seventh with the tie scored at 1-1. With a runner on second and one out, Boston manager Eddie Kasko allows Luis Tiant to pitch to Al Kaline rather than intentionally walk the future Hall of Famer. The decision is defensible, as Tiant owns the platoon advantage. However, Kaline yanks an inside pitch to left, which scores Dick McAuliffe from second to give Detroit a lead it would not relinquish.
The win gives the Tigers a 1 1/2-game lead over Boston with one game remaining in the regular season – an oddity owing to the games lost to the spring players’ strike. Because both sides agreed the lost games would not be made up, the Tigers and Red Sox will wind up playing a different number of games for the season – 156 for Detroit versus 155 for Boston. The Tigers will lose the finale on Oct. 4 and end the regular season ahead of Boston by a half-game, but the two teams will be even in the loss column. Under normal circumstances, that missing Red Sox game would be been made up to determine whether a tiebreaker is needed. The 1972 season structure, though, doesn’t allow for such additions to the schedule. So the Tigers are division champs, albeit by a margin that wouldn’t stand in most years.
The Mets defeat the Expos to finish the regular season with an 83-73 record. They become the first team in MLB history to have no player reach 100 hits.
The Royals defeat the Rangers by a score of 4-0 in the final game played at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. The Royals will move into state-of-the-art Royals Stadium – later to become Kauffman Stadium – to begin the 1973 season. Rangers manager Ted Williams will soon be replaced by Whitey Herzog.
Dave Bancroft, one of the leading shortstops of the 1910s and 1920s, dies at age 81, less than a year after being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris during Game 2 of the ALCS throws his bat at Tigers reliever Lerrin LaGrow, who had just plunked Campaneris on the ankle with a pitch. Both players are ejected from the game, an eventual 5-0 Oakland win.
“I don’t know what that idiot was thinking,” Detroit manager Billy Martin says after the game. “He may have to talk to his psychiatrist to find out. You can bet your ass I was going out there for him. I’m not going to get after him now, but if there’s ever another fight out there, I’m going out there and find him and beat the sh– out of him.”
As for Campaneris, he denied intent: “I [did not] try to hit him with the bat. If [I wanted] to hit him, I [would] throw it more sidearm than overhand. I just [wanted] to warn him not to do that again to me.”
American League president Joe Cronin rules that Campaneris, in the wake of the bat-throwing incident, will be fined $500 and suspended for the remainder of the ALCS and the first seven games of the 1973 season. As for Campaneris’ status during a possible A’s appearance in the 1972 World Series, Cronin leaves that decision to commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
In the deciding fifth game of the NLCS, Johnny Bench ties the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth with a clutch home run. Soon after, George Foster sends the Reds to the World Series thanks to a walk-off wild pitch uncorked by Pirates reliever Bob Moose.
Arizona State head baseball coach Bobby Winkles is named manager of the Angels and becomes the first skipper to make the college-to-majors leap since Hugo Bezdek of the Pirates in 1917. Winkles will be dismissed by the Angels less than halfway through the 1974 season.
With their 2-1 win over Detroit in Game 5 of the ALCS, the A’s clinch their first pennant since 1931. However, All-Star slugger Reggie Jackson tears his hamstring while scoring the tying run on a double steal in the second inning. He’ll miss the entirety of the World Series. Also marring the occasion is a postgame brawl between Oakland teammates Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue. Blue, who was left out of the postseason rotation, touches off the fracas when he makes the “choking” gesture in reference to Odom’s Game 5 start. While Blue threw four scoreless innings in relief in Game 5, Odom was almost as strong with one run on two hits in five innings of work.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn rules that A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris will be eligible to play in the World Series despite throwing a bat at a Detroit pitcher during the ALCS.
Oakland’s Gene Tenace in Game 1 against the Reds becomes the first player ever to homer in each of his first two World Series at-bats. No one will match the feat until the Braves’ Andruw Jones in 1996. The A’s take Game 1 by a score of 3-2.
Jackie Robinson – the Hall of Famer and luminous American hero who broke MLB’s color line as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 – delivers a brief speech before Game 2 of the World Series in Cincinnati. In that speech, Robinson asks baseball to hire its first Black manager.
Robinson’s dream of seeing a Black manager in MLB will not be realized until 1975 when Frank Robinson is named player-manager of the Cleveland Indians.
The A’s take Game 2 of the World Series by a score of 2-1 thanks in large measure to Catfish Hunter’s 8 2/3 strong innings and a home run from Joe Rudi. In the ninth, Rudi also makes a leaping backhanded catch at the left-field wall to preserve the Oakland lead.
In the eighth inning of Game 3 of the World Series, A’s reliever Rollie Fingers and catcher Gene Tenace strike out Reds slugger Johnny Bench after pretending to intentionally walk him on a full-count pitch.
The Reds, however, win the contest by a score of 1-0.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4, the A’s notch four consecutive singles – three by pinch-hitters – to earn a walk-off win and take a 3-1 lead over the Reds in the series.
The Reds send the World Series back to Cincinnati with a 5-4 win in Game 5. Oakland’s Gene Tenace homers for the fourth time in the series, which ties the record for most home runs in a single World Series shared by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Duke Snider, and Hank Bauer.
The Reds force a Game 7 with an 8-1 win over the A’s in Game 6. Six different Cincy hitters drive in at least one run.
The A’s edge the Reds 3-2 in Game 7 to become the first Bay Area team to win the World Series. Gene Tenace, who is named series MVP, drives in two of Oakland’s three runs in the clincher. In the end, six of the seven games are decided by a single run, and the two teams wind up with identical batting averages and slugging percentages for the series. The A’s will also win the World Series in 1973 and 1974, which will make them the first team since the Casey Stengel Yankees to win at least three titles in a row.
Jackie Robinson, a mere nine days after speaking and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series, suffers a heart attack at his home in Connecticut and dies at the age of 53. Robinson had been afflicted by diabetes for years and is nearly blind at the time of his passing.
Jackie Robinson’s funeral service takes place at Riverside Church in Manhattan. His pallbearers include former Dodgers teammates Don Newcombe and Ralph Branca and NBA legend Bill Russell. More than 2,000 attend the services and hear the Rev. Jesse Jackson deliver Robinson’s eulogy. That eulogy reads in part:
“Jackie as a figure in history was a rock in the water, creating concentric circles and ripples of new possibility. He was medicine. He was immunized by God from catching the diseases that he fought. The Lord’s arms of protection enabled him to go through dangers seen and unseen, and he had the capacity to wear glory with grace.”
Following a mile-long funeral procession in which more than 10,000 mourners line the streets, one of the towering cultural figures of the 20th century is laid to rest in Brooklyn’s Cyprus Hill Cemetery, alongside his son Jack Jr.
The Phillies trade Don Money, John Vukovich, and Bill Champion to the Brewers for Jim Lonborg, Ken Brett, Ken Sanders, and Earl Stephenson. Money will become a four-time All-Star for Milwaukee.
Cleveland’s Gaylord Perry takes the American League Cy Young award for 1972 despite winning just nine of 24 first-place votes.
Phillies GM Paul Owens replaces himself as manager with Danny Ozark. Over the next six-plus seasons, Ozark will lead Philadelphia to three division titles.
After accounting for almost half his team’s wins for the season, Phillies left-hander Steve Carlton wins the National League Cy Young award for 1972. Carlton goes 27-10 for a team that finishes 59-97. He also leads the NL in innings, ERA, and strikeouts while registering an MLB-best 30 complete games.
Freddy Parent, the last surviving former player to appear in the first World Series in 1903, dies at age 96.
After leading the American League in home runs, RBI, and OPS, White Sox slugger Dick Allen is named AL MVP. Allen receives 21 of 24 first-place votes in the balloting.
Reds catcher Johnny Bench wins the National League MVP award for the second time in the last three seasons. Bench, who leads the majors in 1972 with 40 home runs, becomes just the fourth catcher to win multiple MVP awards.
The Cardinals re-acquire catcher Tim McCarver from the Expos in exchange for Jorge Roque. McCarver left St. Louis in 1969 as part of the fated Curt Flood trade with the Phillies.
Pirates star Roberto Clemente travels to Nicaragua to manage his native Puerto Rico in the Amateur World Series. Clemente first developed an affection for Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan people while playing there in the International Series during the winter of 1963-64.
Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk and Mets left-hander Jon Matlack are named AL and NL Rookies of the Year, respectively. Fisk, the first unanimous AL Rookie of the Year, will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Roberto Clemente of the Pirates wins his 12th straight Gold Glove award.
Cleveland trades third baseman Graig Nettles and catcher Gerry Moses to the Yankees for catcher John Ellis, infielder Jerry Kenney, and outfielders Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres. Nettles will go on to be a core member of the Yankees championship teams of the late 1970s.
Regional rivals the Dodgers and Angels get together on a major trade that sends Frank Robinson, Bobby Valentine, Bill Singer, Billy Grabarkewitz, and Mike Strahler to California and Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith to Los Angeles. The trade will have far-reaching implications. Messersmith in 1974 will win 20 games and finish second in the NL Cy Young vote and decline to sign his contract for 1975 because of his desire for a no-trade clause. Messersmith and Dave McNally of the Expos pitch the 1975 season despite not signing a contract, and they become the long-sought test cases for Marvin Miller and the players association. In late 1975, a neutral arbitrator – via the process that Curt Flood’s court fight helped bring about – will come down on the side of Messersmith and McNally in their dispute against the league and thus establish the players’ transformative right to free agency.
The Royals acquire Hal McRae and Wayne Simpson from the Reds for Richie Scheinblum and Roger Nelson. McRae will go on to play 15 seasons for the Royals and be inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 1989. The trade is one of 12 executed on this day, involving 36 players in all.
Arthur Rivera, the commercial pilot in Puerto Rico, fails to close a hydraulic pump and crashes his DC-7 into a concrete ditch while taxiing. The plane sustains significant damage. Rivera assures an FAA airworthiness inspector that all necessary repairs will be made. Those repairs will not be inspected by the FAA.
Following a season in which offensive outputs cratered to levels not seen since 1968 – a.k.a., the Year of the Pitcher, which prompted a lowering of the mound – American League owners vote unanimously to implement the designated hitter rule, which allows a hitter to be “designated” to bat for the pitcher while not playing a position in the field. National League owners do not follow suit, and starting in 1973 the two leagues will play under different rules. The rule is implemented on an experimental basis, but in December 1975, the AL will vote to make the DH rule permanent.
Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett, who spent all but one season with the Cubs, dies of complications from cirrhosis of the liver on his 72nd birthday. His “Homer in the Gloamin'” late in the 1938 season remains one of the most iconic blasts in baseball history.
A series of earthquakes devastate the Nicaraguan capital city of Managua. According to early estimates, 18,000 are dead, almost 300,000 are left homeless, and 70 percent of the city is in ruins. Moved by the suffering of the Nicaraguan people following the earthquakes, Roberto Clemente leads a relief effort to provide the victims with emergency supplies like food, water, and medicine.
Amid his work to raise money and supplies for the earthquake victims, Clemente hosts a baseball clinic for 300 local youth in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico – the town where Carlos Delgado was born on June 25.
After the clinic, Clemente puts on a batting demonstration, and, according to the UPI, he homers on the fifth and final pitch he sees. Fernando González, a young Pirates infielder who helps with the clinic, will later say it was the last time that Roberto Clemente swung a bat.
Clemente arranges to airlift three planeloads of emergency supplies from Puerto Rico to Managua. After the third and final plane is filled, however, more supplies remain. At this point, Arthur Rivera approaches Clemente, who’s overseeing the operation at the San Juan airport, and says he can provide a plane with which they can transport the remaining supplies to Nicaragua. Clemente agrees to pay Rivera $4,000 to do so. Rivera accepts the offer even though he doesn’t have a flight crew. He’s able to find a pilot, and he himself serves as co-pilot despite not being certified to fill such a role on a DC-7. As well, Rivera was unable to locate a flight engineer. The flight to Nicaragua will proceed without one, in violation of federal regulations.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires, which leads to the first owner lockout in MLB history.
In Puerto Rico, Rivera’s DC-7 is loaded with the remaining supplies. Clemente, after hearing that government officials may have interfered with the distribution of supplies from the previous three planes, decides to fly with the remaining cargo and personally oversee the relief efforts on the ground in Nicaragua. Clemente, Rivera, the pilot, and two other men taxi down Runway 7 at 9:11 p.m. and take off at 9:20 p.m. after receiving clearance from the San Juan tower. Rivera’s plane, overloaded by more than 4,000 pounds, is not able to gain sufficient altitude, and at 9:23 the plane turns north. The cockpit radios that the plane is returning. Moments later, the DC-7 crashes into the Atlantic Ocean about a mile and a half from the airport. All onboard are killed, including Clemente at age 38.
Clemente’s Pirates teammate Manny Sanguillén will spend the next three days swimming the shark-infested waters off Piñones Beach searching for his friend. Fans and admirers throng at the shore and watch the search crews. Some paddle out and lay wreaths upon the water. On January 7, 1973, U.S. Navy divers will discover the wreckage of the plane spread across four acres of the ocean floor, but Clemente’s body will never be found.
Later that year, a special election is held, and Clemente becomes the first Latin-born player voted into the Hall of Fame.
Sources: Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia by David Peitrusza, Matthew Silverman, and Michael Gershman (editors); Baseball-Almanac.com; BaseballHall.org; BaseballProspectus.com/Cot’s Contracts; Baseball-Reference.com; Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss; Clemente! by Kal Wagenheim; Clemente v. United States, 422 F. Supp. 564 (D.P.R. 1976); Clemente v. United States, 567 F.2d 1140; ConstitutionCenter.org; Dressed to the Nines: A History of the Baseball Uniform; Green Cathedrals by Philip J, Lowry; Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law by Roger I. Abrams; Lords of the Realm by John Helyar; MLB.com; MLBPlayers.com; NationalPastime.com; “Milt Pappas always will be remembered for the call that went against him,” by Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune; New York Times archives; Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October by Dayn Perry; SABR.org; “Uniform design broke all the rules during 1970s” by Todd Radom, BaseballHall.org; VintageDetroit.com