World Series–1974, Game 3November 2, 2009
I don’t know what kinds of pitches Rollie Fingers threw. I saw him pitch a few times in All-Star game play, and I’m sure I’ve read about his repertoire at some point, but the information from both of those sources has receded back behind the fiction I’ve had in my mind about him since I was a young kid, one that combined his unusual name, his curly mustache, and the heavy influence on my worldview of Saturday morning cartoons that toyed with the rules of physics. In my mind, it’s simple: Rollie Finger’s goofy bamboozling pitches came with their own clownish slide-whistle soundtrack.
Here he is in one of the handful of cards in my collection that make reference to World Series play, looking as if he’s about to unleash another corkscrewing dipsy-doodle to tie Steve Garvey or Jim Wynn into a bow. The back of the card offers little in the way of the kind of illustrative data that might have dampened my imaginary version of Rollie Fingers. There’s no text recounting the game, just a box score in the style used back in the days of Tinkers to Evers to Chance. There is a line score but no pitching statistics, and the efforts of each hitter are represented in terms of AB, R, H, PO, A, and E. I doubt that when I first got this card at the age of seven I knew what all these abbreviations referred to, and when I did figure them all out I probably was disappointed that so much space had been given over to fielding statistics that did little to suggest how the game was won and lost. Who was the hero of the game? Who had the key hit? It’s impossible to tell.
The pitcher who was awarded the win is identified in the primitive box score, his name in capital letters (HUNTER) and the initials “w.p.” after his name. (There is no corresponding designation for the losing pitcher.) Fingers’ name is also on the card, but it has only zeroes in the batting and fielding columns beside it.
A few names above Fingers: “H. Washington, pr.” He’s the only other A besides Fingers with nothing but zeroes after his name. This was Herb Washington, the sprinter who was the “designated pinch runner” for the team. I’m somewhat shocked that Oakland’s brief experiment of carrying a player on the regular season roster who couldn’t pitch, hit, or field extended into postseason play. In fact (and by this point in my imagining of October 1974 I have moved beyond the limitations of my cards and begun checking baseball-reference.com), Herb Washington got into two games in the 1974 American League Championship series (he was caught stealing both times) and three games in the World Series (perhaps cowed by his results in the ALCS, he didn’t attempt a steal and did not score a run).
Rollie Fingers got into one more game than Herb Washington in the 1974 World Series, and his pitching in each of his four appearances, all A’s wins, was seen as the key contribution of any player: he won the series MVP award. Despite ending in just five games, the series was a tightly contested one (four of the five contests ended in a 3-2 score), so the work of an effective and tireless reliever stood out more than it would have if the teams had taken turns crushing one another. Fingers was credited with two saves and a win, and it seems to me that he should have earned another save in the game commemorated by the card at the top of this post. He entered that game with one out in the eighth inning with a two-run lead and closed things out despite surrendering a solo home run in the ninth to Willie Crawford. I was thinking that saves were accounted for differently in those days, but in the very next game Fingers entered with one out in the eighth inning with two men on and an even bigger lead (5-2) and upon closing out the game was credited with the save. The only thing I can think of is that maybe in those days they stripped you of a save if you gave back any of the inherited lead. But the entry on the history of the save statistic at BR Bullpen doesn’t seem to offer any evidence that this was the case. Am I missing something obvious? Or does Rollie Fingers deserve to be awarded an additional World Series save? [Update: See comments below for an explanation of why Fingers didn't get a save.]
Anyway, back to the card. In the absence of any defining data, the picture has to carry all the weight of any questions about how the game was won and why. The game was won because in the otherwise murky shadows of that game, the A’s had bright yellow shirts, yellow socks, and white shoes. The A’s had Rollie Fingers.