The 1972 campaign marked the inaugural season for the Texas Rangers, who moved to Arlington from Washington, D.C. (where they played as the Washington Senators), leaving the nation’s capital without a baseball team for the first time since the turn of the century. The 1972 baseball season also holds special historical significance in that it marked the first time players left their jobs for an extended period of time. Dissatisfied with the existing provisions for pensions and salary arbitration, the players sat out the first week and a half of the season, resulting in a slightly abbreviated regular season schedule. Since both leagues subsequently decided not to make up the cancelled games, teams played a somewhat uneven schedule, with some clubs participating in more contests than others.
The uneven schedule came back to haunt the Boston Red Sox, who finished just ½ game behind the first-place Detroit Tigers in the highly-competitive American League East. The Red Sox posted a record of 85-70 during the season, while the Tigers concluded the campaign with a mark of 86-70. The Baltimore Orioles, who dominated the division the previous three years, finished third, five games back, while the New York Yankees came in fourth, 6 ½ games off the pace.
The Tigers’ top two starters, Mickey Lolich and Joe Coleman, carried them for much of the year. Lolich had his second straight outstanding season, compiling a record of 22-14, with a 2.50 ERA, 250 strikeouts, 327 innings pitched, and 23 complete games. Coleman finished second on the club with 19 victories, a 2.80 ERA, 222 strikeouts, and 280 innings pitched. Between them, Lolich and Coleman posted almost half (41) of Detroit’s 86 victories.
The second-place Red Sox led the league with 640 runs scored. Unfortunately, they also allowed their opposition to cross the plate 620 times. Nevertheless, Luis Tiant had an exceptional year on the mound for Boston, winning 15 games and leading the league with a 1.91 ERA.
The fourth-place Yankees had the division’s best player, as well as its top reliever. Sparky Lyle won nine games coming out of the Yankee bullpen, compiled a 1.92 ERA, and led the league with 35 saves. Centerfielder Bobby Murcer batted .292, placed among the league leaders with 33 home runs, 96 runs batted in, and a .537 slugging percentage, and topped the circuit with 102 runs scored and 314 total bases.
Although the Cleveland Indians finished fifth in the division, 14 games off the pace, their pitching staff featured the league’s top hurler. Gaylord Perry earned A.L. Cy Young honors by tying for the league lead with 24 victories, placing among the leaders with a 1.92 ERA, 342 innings pitched, and 234 strikeouts, and topping the circuit with 29 complete games.
While the Tigers had to wait until the season’s final day to clinch the Eastern Division title, the Oakland Athletics had a much easier time in the A.L. West. The A’s won their second straight division crown by finishing the regular season with a record of 93-62, 5 ½ games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox.
Led by A.L. MVP Dick Allen, the White Sox were the American League’s most improved ball club, finishing 17 games closer to the A’s in the standings than they did one year earlier. Allen made much of the difference, batting .308, scoring 90 runs, and leading the league with 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, a .422 on-base percentage, and a .603 slugging average. Chicago also received an outstanding performance from knuckleballer Wilbur Wood, who won 24 games, compiled a 2.51 ERA, threw 20 complete games, and led all A.L. hurlers with 376 innings pitched.
The A’s, though, were clearly the American League’s most well-balanced team. In addition to finishing second in the league with 604 runs scored, they placed second in the circuit with a team ERA of 2.58. Catfish Hunter led the Oakland staff with a record of 21-7, a 2.04 ERA, five shutouts, 191 strikeouts, and 295 innings pitched. Ken Holtzman finished second on the club with 19 wins, four shutouts, and 265 innings pitched, and he also compiled an outstanding ERA of 2.51. John “Blue Moon” Odom added 15 victories and posted a 2.50 ERA, while Rollie Fingers served as closer in Oakland’s deep bullpen, saving 21 games and winning 11 others.
Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, and Bert Campaneris led the A’s on offense. Jackson hit 25 homers and drove in 75 runs. Rudi homered 19 times, knocked in 75 runs, batted .305, finished second in the league with 94 runs scored, and led the A.L. with 181 hits. Campaneris batted just .240, but he scored 85 runs and led the league with 52 stolen bases.
The A’s pleased the hometown fans by winning the first two games of the ALCS by scores of 3-2 (in 11 innings) and 5-0. However, a key moment from Game Two occurred when Campaneris responded to an inside pitch from Lerrin LaGrow by throwing his bat at the Detroit hurler. The shortstop subsequently found himself fined and suspended for the remainder of the Series. The Tigers stormed back to take the next two contests in Detroit by scores of 3-0 and 4-3. But Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue sent the Detroit fans home unhappy by combining for a 2-1 Series-clinching victory in Game Five.
Oakland then faced the Cincinnati Reds in what turned out to be one of the most competitive World Series ever. The Series went the full seven games, with six of the seven contests being decided by one run. The two clubs posted identical .209 team batting averages and .295 slugging averages. Cincinnati outscored Oakland 21-16, but the A’s came out on top where it mattered most, capturing the franchise’s first world championship since 1930, when the team played in Philadelphia. Catfish Hunter starred on the mound for the A’s, winning two games and compiling a 2.81 ERA. Meanwhile, Gene Tenace earned Series MVP honors by hitting four homers, driving in nine runs, and batting .348.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• April 1 – 13 – The first players' strike in baseball history wiped 6–8 games off the schedule of each major league team. It was agreed that those games would be canceled (i.e., not even played to resolve pennant races). The strike resulted in the team owners adding salary arbitration to the collective bargaining agreement, and increasing pension fund payments.
• June 18 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–3 in favor of Major League Baseball in its antitrust lawsuit with Curt Flood.
• December 10 – The American League voted unanimously to adopt the designated hitter rule on a three-year experimental basis. In the December 1975 meeting, the AL subsequently voted to permanently adopt the DH. The National League declined to follow suit.
• For the first time in World Series history, no pitcher on either team had a complete game.
• Boston's Carlton Fisk (22 home runs, 61 RBIs, .293 batting average) earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Al Kaline's American League record streak of 242 consecutive errorless games in the outfield ended.
• Rod Carew led the American League with a .318 batting average, making him the first A.L. player to win the batting title without hitting a home run.
• California's Nolan Ryan led the American League with 329 strikeouts and established an all-time major league record by allowing only 5.26 hits per game.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, Early Wynn, Lefty Gomez, Will Harridge, Ross Youngs, Josh Gibson, and Buck Leonard.
• Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Pie Traynor, Gabby Hartnett, and Zack Wheat all passed away.
• Freddy Parent, the last survivor of the first World Series, died at 96.
• Cleveland traded Graig Nettles and Gerry Moses to the Yankees for four players.
• The Angels dealt Andy Messersmith and Ken McMullen to the Dodgers for Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, and three other players.
- 1972 World Series, Al Kaline, American League, Andy Messersmith, Bert Campaneris, Bill Singer, Blue Moon Odom, Bobby Murcer, Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, Chicago White Sox, Dick Allen, Frank Robinson, Gaylord Perry, Gene Tenace, Graig Nettles, Harmon Killebrew, Jerry Moses, Joe Coleman, Joe Rudi, John Mayberry, Ken Holtzman, Ken McMullen, Lerrin LaGrow, Luis Tiant, Mickey Lolich, Nolan Ryan, Oakland Athletics, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Rollie Fingers, Sal Bando, Sparky Lyle, Texas Rangers, Vida Blue, Wilbur Wood