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Bases Loaded, Part 21:
The History of the Los Angeles Kings
by Chris Oakley
Adapted from material previously posted at Othertimelines.com


Summary:

In the previous 20 chapters of this series we reviewed the history of the Los Angeles Kings baseball club from William Randolph Hearstís creation of the team in 1920 to their 1972 ALCS victory over the Detroit Tigers. In this segment, weíll look back at their 1972 World Series showdown against the Cincinnati Reds

 ******


Cincinnati fans were understandably quite nervous about the Reds’ fifth World Series showdown with Los Angeles; in three of the previous four Series encounters between the two clubs the Kings had prevailed, and memories of the beating Cincinnati had endured at L.A.’s hands in the World Series just two years earlier were still painfully fresh in the minds of the Queen City’s citizens. Some of the more pessimistic local sportswriters were going so far as to predict Los Angeles would sweep the ’72 Series.

Billy Martin, in outlining his offensive strategy for the 1972 Series, was doing his level best to guarantee the sweep predictions became reality. Martin had a paranoid streak as big as the Hollywood sign, and that paranoia motivated him to constantly look for ways to get an edge over his opponents on the field. So far his instincts had been right on the money; there was little reason to think that they wouldn’t serve him well this time. But the man in the opposing dugout wasn’t exactly a slouch at strategic thinking either; Reds skipper George “Sparky” Anderson had consistently averaged between 95 and 100 wins per season since assuming the helm in Cincinnati in 1970, and in spite of the gloom-and-doom predictions being tossed around by certain elements of the local media he was sure he could buck the odds facing his club and beat Los Angeles in the Fall Classic.

As far as the rest of America was concerned, it was anybody’s guess as to who would take home the Series championship pennant this time around. True, Los Angeles had usually dominated Cincinnati in their previous Series confrontations, but the Reds had gone the extra mile to improve their club since the 1970 Fall Classic and nothing in this latest clash between the venerable rival teams could be taken for granted. One Las Vegas oddsmaker saw the Reds as even money to defeat the Kings in seven games in the Fall Classic, while just across town another oddsmaker had Los Angeles pegged to crush Cincinnati in five games. But one thing everybody could agree on: Billy Martin was going to be the wild card in the deck of this particular World Series.

Riverfront Stadium was jammed to the last skybox when the Kings and the Reds took the field for Game 1 of the ’72 World Series. Cesar Tovar, back in the cleanup spot in the batting order, set the tone for the rest of the Series with a rocket of a double to right field early in the second inning; right then and there Tovar sent an unmistakable message to Cincinnati that he would not tolerate being trifled with by the Reds pitching staff. Three pitches later Tovar scored on a Marco dos Santos bullet single to center, and from there the hits just kept on coming-- literally and figuratively. By the time the inning finally ended with Pete Incaviglia grounding out to short, the Kings were in firm possession of a 4-0 lead and Sparky Anderson was on the phone to the Reds bullpen giving his relief pitchers the word to start warming up in preparation for the third inning.

The Kings rolled to a 6-1 victory, and in spite of losing Game 2 4-3 in extra innings they went back to Hearst Palladium with a feeling of supreme confidence they could go on to win the Series. Their fans shared that confidence, greeting the team with a standing ovation as Billy Martin and his players took the field for Game 3. Pete Rose and Tony Perez, the two most potent hitters in the Reds’ lineup, had the daunting task of trying to get runs off Los Angeles starting pitcher Doyle Alexander; Cincinnati’s own Game 3 starter, Gary Nolan, had the equally challenging mission of trying to cool down the Kings’ red-hot bats.

Suffice it to say that Alexander had a bit more success doing his job than Nolan did fulfilling his; Alexander lasted seven innings and gave up just two hits, while Nolan gave seven hits and two runs during the first three innings and was gone from the game before the end of the fourth inning. Cesar Tovar, Marco dos Santos, and Pete Incaviglia all had home runs that afternoon as the Purple & Gold cruised smoothly to a seven-run shutout of Cincinnati. With a 2 games-to-1 Series lead in hand, the Kings felt extremely good about their chances for Game 4. But the best-laid plans of mice and men, to quote Robert Burns, can on occasion go awry....

******

...a fact Billy Martin and company were vividly reminded of when Cincinnati rallied from a 3-1 deficit late in the sixth inning of Game 4 to beat Los Angeles 6-5 and give themselves an opportunity to wrest the Series lead out of the Kings’ hands with a win in Game 5. All of a sudden, a world championship which just a few days earlier had seemed to be right within L.A.’s grasp was at risk of slipping through their fingers. A San Francisco Examiner article published on the eve of Game 5 posed the question “Are The Kings About To Get Crowned?”; there was a distinct(if faint) undertone of schadenfreude in the story about the notion of the Purple & Gold having to take what they more often dished out to the Reds in the Series.

But as it had so many times in the past, the Kings’ penchant for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat reasserted itself. With two outs in the second inning of Game 5, Toby Harrah smacked a screamer of a double to right field that set the stage for an offensive explosion by Los Angeles; by the time the Reds finally managed to get out of the inning, they’d surrendered eight hits and found themselves squarely on the wrong side of a 4-0 deficit. And the bleeding would only get worse from there: a solo home run by Cesar Tovar and a sacrifice fly by Pete Incaviglia would put the Kings ahead of Cincinnati 6-0 by the time the sixth inning began. They went on to win the game by a final score of 8-1 and took a 3 games-to-2 Series lead; with the Fall Classic coming back to Riverfront Stadium for Game 6 and the Purple & Gold having an opportunity to clinch the Series championship, morale was high inside the Los Angeles clubhouse-- to say nothing of the euphoria being felt among fans back home in southern California.

The Kings were loose and relaxed during their pre-game warm-ups at Riverfront Stadium; some of them even took the time to listen to Motown on pocket radios while they were working out. By contrast, the Reds looked and felt like condemned prisoners walking that last mile toward the gas chamber; at least one relief pitcher was heard to ask during pre-game warm-ups if the game could be postponed until the day after Christmas. He was only half-joking.

Game 6 was actually pretty close at first, going scoreless for the first four and a half innings; neither team even got a hit until Cesar Tovar laid down a two-out bloop single in the top of the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, however, Los Angeles started crushing the ball along with what was left of the Reds’ hopes of winning the Series championship. By the time Cincinnati was ready to come to bat in the top of the seventh inning the Kings were holding a 4-0 lead and primed to score even more runs in the bottom of the seventh. And score again they did-- a grand slam by Marco dos Santos stretched the Kings’ lead to 8-0 and put the game hopelessly out of Cincinnati’s reach. The Reds were finished.

Before the end of the eighth plans for a World Series victory parade in downtown Cincinnati had been canceled and the Los Angeles mayor’s office was going forward with preparations for a gala to be held in Hollywood to mark the Kings’ impending Series triumph. Every movie and TV executive worth his three-martini lunch was chipping in a few grand to roll out the red-- or rather purple and gold --carpet for the soon-to-be 1972 World Series champions. When the final out of the game landed in the outstretched glove of dos Santos, it was party time all over the City of Angels. Final score: Kings 9, Cincinnati 2. When it touched down at LAX the following morning, the charter flight carrying Billy Martin and company home from Ohio was mobbed by what to one Los Angeles Times sportswriter poetically referred to as “a human wave of the Palladium faithful seeking to flood their team with every ounce of appreciation in their hearts.”

The victory parade celebrating Los Angeles’ tenth World Series title was the biggest such event the City of Angels had seen in almost fifteen years. Nearly two million people lined Hollywood Boulevard to honor Billy Martin’s first Series championship team; President Richard Nixon addressed the Kings players and coaching staff by telephone when the parade reached its final stop at City Hall Plaza. What seemed like half of Hollywood turned out for the team at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to attend an advance screening of the Kings’ official Series highlight reel. And few in the audience doubted there’d be a sequel coming....

To be continued

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