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Sports Then and Now

Gene Tenace: World Series Hero

Posted on October 03, 2010 by Dean Hybl

Gene Tenace

The October Sports Then and Now Athlete of the Month came out of nowhere to become the hero of the 1972 World Series for the Oakland A’s.

After hitting only five home runs in the 1972 regular season, Gene Tenace became an overnight superstar by becoming the first player in World Series history to hit home runs in his first two World Series at bats. He went on to drive in all three runs in a 3-2 game one win over the Cincinnati Reds.

With slugger Reggie Jackson out of the series with an injury, Tenace filled the void and helped lead the A’s to victory. During the seven game series, Tenace hit four home runs and drove in nine runs. In the decisive seventh game, he drove in two runs in a 3-2 victory that lifted the A’s to the first of their three straight world championships.

His tremendous performance in the 1972 World Series proved to be just what the former back-up catcher needed to be propelled to the next level. Tenace had never played in more than 82 games during his first four major league seasons, but from 1973-75 played in at least 158 games each season.

In 1973, Tenace played in a career-high 160 games, including 134 at first base while hitting 24 home runs, driving in 84 runs and walking 101 times. While the A’s won another World Series, Tenace didn’t have the same impact as he hit .158 with no home runs and three RBI. Interestingly, Tenace walked 11 times during the series, but never scored a run.

The following season, Tenace again saw action at both first base and catcher. He increased his home run total to 26 and walked 110 times, but his batting average plummeted from .259 to .211. He played in five of the seven World Series games and hit .222 with no RBI as the A’s edged the Dodgers.

For the first time since becoming a regular, Tenace played in more games as a catcher than at first base during the 1975 campaign. He earned his only All-Star Game selection while hitting .255 and setting career-highs with 29 home runs and 87 RBI. The A’s lost in the AL Playoffs to Boston and Tenace didn’t have a hit in nine at bats.

The 1976 season would be the last one for Tenace in Oakland as the A’s were in the process of dismantling their dynasty. He hit .249 with 22 home runs and 66 RBI and actually received AL MOVP votes for the only time in his career as he finished 18th in the voting.

Following the 1976 season, Tenace and closer Rollie Fingers signed free agent contracts with the San Diego Padres. After making little more than $40,000 in Oakland, Tenace signed a six-year, $1.815 million contract that would pay him more than $300,000 annually for six years.

Tenace spent four seasons playing for the Padres and played in at least 133 games in each campaign. He led the National League with 125 walks in 1977 and earned at least 100 free passes in three of his four seasons with the Padres. He hit between 15 and 20 home runs each year, but never reached the power levels he displayed in Oakland.

Traded to the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 1981 season, Tenace’s days as an every-day player were over. He spent two seasons in St. Louis and hit a total of 12 home runs with 40 RBI as the backup catcher. He did return to the World Series with the Cardinals in 1982 and earned his fourth ring, though he didn’t get a hit in six plate appearances.

Tenace completed his career with one season in Pittsburgh as their backup catcher. During his 15 year career, Tenace hit .241 with 201 home runs, 674 RBI and 984 walks.

He went on to a successful career as a hitting coach, including earning two additional World Series rings with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.

But, Tenace will forever be known for one week in 1972 when he turned the baseball world around with his power and timely hitting to lift the A’s to their first-ever World Series title.

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