Paul Hartzell recalls 1976 Oakland A’s: team with most stolen bases in MLB Modern Era

Paul Hartzell

Paul Hartzell, 22-year old AL rookie with the 1976 California Angels, with an MLB minimum salary of $19,000, made his big-league pitching debut versus Oakland, April 10, 1976, at Anaheim Stadium.  Future Cooperstown Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan gave way to Hartzell, to start the eighth. The rookie gave up a triple to Phil Garner; an infield hit to Claudell Washington; and a base hit to Bert Campaneris on the “most perfect hit-and-run I had ever seen, as Washington took off for second,” per Hartzell. Garner scored, and Jim Brewer came in with runners on first and third. “Both of my guys scored and such was my first [big-league] outing,” recalled Hartzell. “What I remember most was that I had never seen a man run from home to first as fast as Washington did. I said to myself, if they can all run like this, I’m going to have to step it up and move faster.” https://www.baseball-almanac.com/box-scores/boxscore.php?boxid=197604100CAL

So, how impressive were the 1976 Oakland A’s, who stole 341 bases in 161 games on the basepaths? For perspective, the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals stole 314 bases, modern-day, 1920-2021 single-season NL mark. The 1975 California Angels stole 220 bags for skipper Dick Williams, a most impressive total, led by Mickey Rivers’ 70 steals.  Only the 1911 New York Giants stole more bases (347) than 341 by 1976 Oakland, returning to 1901 for the NL-AL. But 1911 was the “Dead Ball Era.” Oakland’s 1976 feat was a true “baseball masterpiece,” per Table I.

Table I: Big-League Teams, 290+ SB, 1901-2021

TeamSeasonManagerSB
NYG1911John McGraw347
OAK1976Chuck Tanner341
NYG1912John McGraw319
SLC1985Whitey Herzog314
CIN1910Clark Griffith310
NYG1913John McGraw296
NYG1905John McGraw291
CIN1911Clark Griffith290

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Major_League_Baseball_stolen_base_records

The 1911 Giants and 1976 A’s enjoyed seven-year solid runs, with the 1976 A’s about to be decimated by free agency departures and trades. Charles O. Finley’s A’s won five consecutive AL West Division titles (1971-1975) and three straight World Series crowns (1972-1974). John McGraw’s Giants won four pennants, 1911-1917, without winning a World Series. Christy Mathewson won three 1905 World Series games versus Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s. Table II has regular-season W-L records for each franchise in two eras.

Table II: Regular Season W-L Records, 1911-1917 NYG and 1970-1976 OAK

TeamSeasonsW-LPCTGBTeamSeasonsW-LPCTGB
NYG (1)191199-54.647 OAK (2)197089-73.5499
NYG (1)1912103-48.682 OAK (1)1971101-60.627 
NYG (1)1913101-51.664 OAK (1)197293-62..600 
NYG (2)191484-70.54510.5OAK (1)197394-68.580 
NYG (8)191569-83.45421OAK (1)197490-72.556 
NYG (4)191686-66.5667OAK (1)197598-64.605 
NYG (1)191798-56.636 OAK (2)197687-74.5402.5
NYGSeven640-428.599NAOAKSeven622-473.568NA

Source: baseballreference.com (pertinent seasons). Oakland had a better post-season record.

Author’s 1976 Sidebar

The author spent June-August 1976 as a roustabout, with a Phillips 66 Oil and Gas plant, in Chatom, Alabama, north of Mobile. He earned enough money to complete his 1976-77 senior year at The University of Georgia.

Reggie Jackson-Don Baylor Trade

Reggie Jackson was traded to Baltimore, with Ken Holtzman and Bill Van Bommel, April 2, 1976, for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez, and Paul Mitchell. Finley was born in Birmingham, Alabama. So, it made sense that Reggie played for the 1967 Birmingham A’s, with Dave Duncan, Rollie Fingers, Tony LaRussa, Joe Rudi, and two Puerto Rico-born players: first baseman Santiago “Chago” Rosario (Guayanilla) and shortstop Arturito Miranda (Santurce).  https://www.statscrew.com/minorbaseball/roster/t-ba10455/y-1967  Finley set up his Double-A franchise in Birmingham for home games at Rickwood Field, 1967-1975. John McNamara managed 84-55 Birmingham to a 1967 Southern League title, before replacing Hank Bauer as Oakland’s 1969 skipper. (McNamara managed the 1970 Oakland A’s; Dick Williams did so, 1971-1973, followed by Alvin Dark (1974-1975). https://www.statscrew.com/venues/v-265 Coincidentally, Dick Williams played for the 1950-51 and 1955-56 Almendares Scorpions, Cuban Winter League. He was Paul Hartzell’s first big-league manager in 1976.

Hartzell Versus the 1976 A’s

On January 16, 2022, Hartzell, via e-mail, succinctly summarized pitching versus the 1976 A’s. Facing three hitters on April 10, 1976showed “Oakland’s intentions for the [1976] season.” 

  • “I pitched against Oakland on May 11 and June 23 with slightly more success. No stolen bases while I pitched a total of 3.1 innings.”
  • “One of my best outings of the year was on September 4 when I started and pitched a five-hitter. In that game, Phil Garner stole a base for his 30th of the season. That was the only stolen base that day for Oakland.
  • “My final appearance of the season was on October 2, another start. I went 6 innings and gave up six hits and didn’t figure in the decision of a game that ended 9-8, with Oakland winning. Oakland had two stolen bases in that game, with Sal Bando stealing third, while I was pitching for his 20th of the season. Had I known it was his 20th,  I would have been more understanding but I do recall being rather angry at the time. I’m OK with it today!”              

Table III lists stolen bases (SB) and caught stealing (CS), for 1976 A’s players.

Table III: Breakdown of 1976 Oakland A’s SB and CS

PLAYERPOSSBCSSB PCT
Bill NorthCF752972.9
Bert CampanerisSS541281.8
Don BaylorDH/UT521281.3
Claudell WashingtonRF372064.9
Phil Garner2B351372.9
Larry LintzPR/IF311173.8
Sal Bando3B20676.9
Matt AlexanderPR/OF20774.1
Joe RudiLF6185.7
Gene TenaceC/1B5455.5
Billy WilliamsDH4266.7
Ken McMullenIF/UT1150.0
César TovarIF/OF1233.3
Larry HaneyC010.0
Don HopkinsPR010.0
Angel MangualOF010.0
Total 34112373.5

Source: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/OAK/1976.shtml 

The Minnesota Twins were Oakland’s “biggest larceny victims,” per Table IV.

Table IV: 1976 Oakland A’s SB/CS versus Opponents

OPPONENTSBCSSB PCT
Minnesota Twins571085.1
California Angels491675.4
Chicago White Sox391473.6
Cleveland Indians331076.7
Kansas City Royals321174.4
Detroit Tigers281368.3
Milwaukee Brewers261170.3
Texas Rangers261170.3
New York Yankees22971.0
Baltimore Orioles16769.6
Boston Red Sox131152.4
Total34112373.5

Source: https://www.sbnation.com/secret-base/22234816/oakland-athletics-stolen-bases-1976-minnesota-twins-bill-north-don-baylor-claudell-washington

Close Call in 1976

Mike Garcia, a devoted Kansas City Royals fan, shared insights of the 1976 AL West Division race between the Royals and A’s via Facebook Messenger, January 23, 2022. He recalled the Royals’ “downward spiral towards season’s end, losing 25 of their final 40 contests, resulting in a 12-game lead evaporating to 2.5.” He added:

“Let’s also keep in mind that this was a very young Royals team that found themselves under pressure in the middle of a pennant race trying to clinch a playoff berth.”

The above quote is crucial, based on Finley’s assertion published in The Sporting News of August 28, 1976, titled “’Royals Will Choke’ Chortles Charlie.” Finley stated: “Kansas City is looking over their shoulders. In my opinion, they’re going to choke.”

García affirmed the 1976 Royals’ emphasis under skipper Whitey Herzog was “speed and defense.” (Herzog replaced Jack McKeon during 1975, so 1976 was Herzog’s first “full season” at the helm.) Seven Royals stole 20+ bases, led by Freddie Patek’s 51. The Royals hit 65 homers, second-fewest in the A but stole 218 bases, second to Oakland. García noted the connection between some 1976 Royals, and their Puerto Rico teams, including Patek, 1970-71 San Juan Senators, plus:

  • Pitchers’ Dennis Leonard and Mark Littell, 1973-74 Arecibo Wolves.
  • Willie Wilson, Mayagüez Indians.
  • Hal McCrae (1968-69 San Juan Senators).

Importance of Winter Ball to 1976 A’s and Royals

When perusing the 1976 Royals roster, the author noticed:

  • Cookie Rojas backed up second baseman Frank White. Rojas played for and managed Arecibo, 1960s; played in Cuba’s Winter League, LIDOM and Venezuela’s Winter League. White played for Mayagüez, mid-1970s.
  • Catcher John “Buck” Martínez caught for two Puerto Rico champions—1970-71 Santurce Crabbers and 1977-78 Mayagüez Indians, and with Arecibo, 1972-73.
  • Tom Poquette. 1973-74 Arecibo.
  • Jamie Quirk played 3B, 1977-1978 Santurce Crabbers.
  • Tony Solaita was Paul Hartzell’s teammate with 1976-77 Santurce Crabbers.
  • Tommy Davis starred for the 1959-60 Caguas Criollos, in Puerto Rico.
  • Tom Bruno, with 1975-76 Arecibo, had the lowest league ERA (1.23) in Puerto Rico; he pitched for 1977-78 Santurce and reinforced Mayagüez, February 1978 Caribbean Series.

1976 A’s “winter ball connections” reveal:

  • Campaneris played for Oriente, in Nicaragua (1963-64); with 1964-65 Caguas; reinforced 1964-65 Escogido Lions in LIDOM (Dominican Winter League) finals,  a team with Juan Marichal, Ferguson Jenkins, three Alou brothers, etc. (Jenkins was Campaneris’ Caguas teammate; they earned extra cash reinforcing Escogido, swept by Águilas Cibaeñas.)

Campaneris played four seasons in Venezuela: Caracas Lions (1965-66 and 1972-73) and Lara Cardinals (1968-69 and 1982-83). Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Campy’s 1965-1974 Oakland A’s teammate, also pitched for 1965-66 Caracas.

  • Larry Haney caught for Earl Weaver’s 1966-67 Santurce Crabbers, league champs, and in 1967-68. Haney embraced the local culture, noting, “people there are proud of their heritage, and they make you feel part of their culture…they really made us feel at home. I still enjoy the black bean soup and rice and it has become a favorite of mine over the years.” He also played for 1971-72 Estrellas Orientales, LIDOM.
  • Gene Tenace toiled for 1969-70 Caracas Lions, 1970-71 Águilas Cibaeñas (LIDOM), 1971-72 Arecibo Wolves, and in Mexico. Puerto Rico was his favorite Winter League. His friendship with A’s and Arecibo teammate Angel “Cookie-Cuqui” Mangual included being treated to seafood meals and Mangual showing him the Island. Tenace was beaned in a game and appreciated the wealthy Arecibo doctor who “took care of him” in the medic’s home, before him [Tenace] flying to Chicago, to see a brain specialist.
  • Phil Garner wintered with 1973-74 Ponce Lions (Puerto Rico) and 1974-75 Aragua Tigers (Venezuela), and played in the February 1975 Caribbean Series hosted by San Juan. He posted a .285 batting average with Ponce and .284 for Arague. Garner stated: “It [1973-74] was a valuable winter—part of my maturation process. I was getting better and getting more confident to face the better [big-league] competition. You either get up to their level or you’re out of the system. I felt like Puerto Rico was indispensable—couldn’t have gotten to the big leagues without it.”
  • Sal Bando posted a .330 batting average for 1967-68 Arecibo, the third-best in the league.
  • Don Baylor won the 1971-72 Puerto Rico batting title (.324) for Santurce, managed by Rubén Gómez. Baylor reinforced Ponce, winner, February 1972 Caribbean Series, in Santo Domingo; played for Venezuela’s 1974-75 Magallanes Navigators; was a Santurce teammate of Reggie Jackson (1970-71) and Ron Cey (1972-73) under skipper Frank Robinson.
  • Larry Lintz was Phil Garner’s teammate with 1973-74 Ponce Lions. He stole 25 bases.
  • Willie McCovey played for Vanytor (Colombia), 1956-57; 1958-59 Escogido, LIDOM.
  • Nate Colbert, 1969-70 Caguas, led the league with 16 homers.
  • Angel Mangual played for Arecibo and Santurce in his native Puerto Rico.

Pitching-wise:

  • Vida Blue hurled for 1984-85 Arecibo.
  • Mike Torrez spent three seasons with Licey, 1967-68, 1969-70, and 1984-85. He was 15-15 with a 3.18 ERA, in 266 regular-season innings, and 2-1, post-season for two title winners (1969-70 and 1984-85).
  • Rollie Fingers pitched 136.1 regular-season innings for 1968-69 champion LaGuaira Sharks, with a 2.05 ERA, plus 21 post-season frames, in Venezuela. He went 9-5 for 1970-71 Estrellas Orientales, LIDOM. https://beisbolnew.wordpress.com/tag/rollie-fingers/
  • Paul Lindblad was Bando’s teammate with 1967-68 Arecibo and pitched for the 1968-69 Wolves, managed by the legendary Vic Power. He loved Puerto Rico.

Final Thoughts on 1976 A’s Legacy

Larry Gura

Fingers (13-11) saved 20 games. He pitched 134.2 innings in 70 games. Blue (18-13, 2.50 ERA) completed 20 of 37 starts. Torrez (16-12, 2.50 ERA) did so 13 times in 39 starts. The A’s used 10 pitchers most of the season, not including two September call-ups, Chris Batton and Craig Mitchell, who combined for 7.1 innings. ZERO A’s hurlers spent time on the disabled list—this “kept the A’s in the AL West race.”

Mike García, on the May 16, 1976 trade, Larry Gura from the New York Yankees to Kansas City, for catcher Fran Healy: This was huuuuuuge…” Gura, 4-0, 2.30 ERA with the Royals, blanked the A’s, 4-0, in Oakland, on September 29, which clinched the AL West. This gave Kansas City a 3.5 game lead, with three games left versus Minnesota. Garcia shared a fascinating story on how George Brett (.333) won the AL batting title in his last at-bat, over Hal McCrae (.332) when Twins OF Steve Brye misplayed Brett’s fly ball into an inside-the-park home run! And McCrae went off on Twins manager Gene Mauch, thinking this was on purpose.

What IF Catfish Hunter and his 1976 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 3.9 had been for Oakland instead of the New York Yankees? This could have put Oakland on top in the AL West.

Paul Hartzell, who allowed 13 hits to George Brett, in 22 at-bats, throughout his (Hartzell’s) 1976-1980 and 1984 AL career, had this summary statement on the 1976 A’s:

“The bottom line was these guys could run, and for me, they were hard to strike out so you sure didn’t want to walk them. I pitched a total of 18.1 innings against them; gave up 22 hits and nine earned runs. It’s a good thing I pitched better against other teams to end the [1976] season with a 2.77 ERA in 166 innings!”  Kind regards, Paul

Post-Script

Hartzell added this: “I think playing winter ball in general in the Caribbean leagues showed a dedication to learning more about how to play the game at a very high level of competition. I think when you played there, your U.S. teammates had a greater level of respect for those who did. One could make the argument that the fans were more knowledgeable and passionate about the game, too.”

Charles O. Finley

Charles O. Finley believed winter ball was “good for his players.” And, when the Oakland City Council refused to fund a new baseball stadium, Mr. Finley shipped the 1972-1973-1974 Oakland A’s World Series trophies to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, in Birmingham. The author viewed these special items when he was in Birmingham for a Tourism Conference.

Special thanks to Paul Hartzell for recollections of pitching against the 1976 Oakland A’s. To Mike García, for insights as a lifelong Kansas City Royals fan. Thanks to Phil Garner, Larry Haney, Paul Lindblad and Gene Tenace. Jorge Colón Delgado edited the blog/furnished photos.

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