October 14, 2019 By: Mario Impemba
Physically, it was a mismatch. Bert Campaneris at 5’10” and 160 pounds and Lerrin LaGrow at 6’5” 220 pounds.
Campaneris though, had the equalizer. His bat.
The 1972 ALCS featured Campaneris’ Oakland Athletics and LaGrow’s Detroit Tigers. After a win in Game 1 of the series behind little known Gonzalo Marquez’ two-run single in the 10th inning, the A’s were leading Game 2 by five runs in the seventh inning.
Campaneris already had three hits in the game when he was drilled in the foot by LeGrow. In an instant, no one was talking about Blue Moon Odom’s stifling performance that day. Odom fired a complete game, three-hit shout. Instead, the attention shifted to the diminutive Campaneris, when he squared his shoulders and launched his bat at LaGrow.
As the lumber helicoptered toward the Tigers big right hander, those in attendance were stunned. Memories of Juan Marichal clubbing John Roseboro over the head with his bat in 1965 were resurrected.
Meanwhile a rage grew over the Tigers bench.
That was not surprising, considering the Tigers manager that year was Billy Martin. The fiery skipper led the charge on the field and had to be restrained by the umpires before he had a chance to shred Campaneris, piece by piece.
LeGrow’s teammates were not amused either. Ike Brown grabbed Campaneris’ bat and shattered it to pieces. Martin and Willie Horton became enraged when LaGrow was also ejected from the game with Campaneris.
For his part, LeGrow seemed more bewildered than angry. He maintained that he was not throwing at Campaneris.
“It’s over, it was all a big misunderstanding. But certainly no reason to throw a bat.” he said.
The Tigers would go on to lose the series in five games when the A’s beat the Tigers 2-1 at Tiger Stadium in the deciding game. Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue combined to shut the Tigers offense down, allowing one unearned run over nine innings.
It was a terrific series that included two extra-innings games. The Tigers trailed by two in the 10th inning of game 4, facing elimination. They scored three times in the bottom of the 10th to force a Game 5. The series also featured Joe Coleman’s masterpiece in Game Three in which he struck out 14, in nine shutout innings.
Following the game, Campaneris was presented a letter from American League President Joe Cronin which read:
“This is to notify you that you are hereby suspended for the remainder of the American League Championship Series and fined the sum of $500 for deliberately throwing your bat at the Detroit pitcher in today’s game,” Cronin’s letter said. “You will not be allowed in uniform during any of the remaining games of the American League Championship Series. … Such actions cannot and will not be tolerated.”
In the end though, it was Campaneris’ actions that many will remember most from the series.
Below are just some of the quotes that came out of the Tigers clubhouse after the game:
Billy Martin on charging out of the dugout:
“You can bet your a— I was going out there for him. If there is ever another fight out there, I’m going to go out there and find him and beat the s— out of him.”
“That’s the dirtiest thing I ever saw in my whole life in baseball. He could have killed my man. Campaneris is as gutless as any player who ever put on a uniform in this game.”
“I wanted to get the gutless —If he wasn’t man enough to fight, he should have just gone to first base and shut up.”
Home plate umpire Nestor Chylak on why he also ejected LaGrow:
“I didn’t want to have any mayhem or a riot out there. I wanted to finish the game,” he said. “I had to even things out. I had to keep the fans in their seats.”
“If he wanted to fight, why didn’t he come out to the mound? He certainly had no reason to throw the bat.”
There was one ironic postscript to the story. Eleven years later, Campaneris then 41 years of age, signed a free agent contract with he New York Yankees. It would be his last season in the big leagues.
The manager of that Yankees squad? Billy Martin.
Below is a clip of Campaneris throwing his bat at LaGrow.