As this year is coming to a close, let’s go back fifty years and remember 1972.
After a players strike which lasted from the first day of April to April 13, the 1972 baseball season began. An interesting game started on Friday night, May 12 and after 21 innings the tied night game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins was called at 1:05 in the morning of May 13. The game resumed 12 hours and 10 minutes later and ended in one quick inning with the Brewers winning 4-3 and the game took five hours and 47 minutes to complete.
But the big news took place one day before the 22 inning game started as Willie Mays returned to New York via a trade between the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. The flashy center fielder began his Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants in 1951, the same season Mickey Mantle was a rookie with the New York Yankees.
The Giants relocated to San Francisco and the Dodgers headed to Los Angeles after the 1957 season as both teams played in aging ballparks with limited parking in New York and their new cities promised new stadiums with parking space for thousands of cars. The 41-year-old Mays was in his 15th year playing for San Francisco when he was traded to the Mets. In limited playing time in 1972, the aging Mays batted .250 with eight home runs.
As May neared its end, Moe Berg the former catcher who spoke several languages and went on to work as a spy for the United States in the 1940s, died in a New Jersey hospital at age 70. He always remained a mystery man when it came to answering questions about his colorful past. A frequent visitor at Mets home games, Berg sat in the press box while treating himself to the free food. His last words to an attending nurse before passing were, “How did the Mets do today?”
On May 30, the day after Berg died, a massacre occurred at Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Planned and funded by the General Command of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a three-man hit squad from the Japanese Red Army arrived on a French passenger plane.
Dressed in business suits and carrying cases that seemed to carry violins, the men opened their cases in the ticket counter area and opened fire and used hand grenades when they ran out of ammunition. When the carnage was over, 26 people were killed and 78 injured.
As the memory of the massacre lingered, Jewish swimmer Mark Spitz became an international celebrity by winning seven Gold Medals for swimming in the Olympic Games held in Munich. However, Jews around the world would soon drown in sorrow as Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches in the Olympic Village. On the other side of the ocean, Jewish ballplayers felt the shock and pain.
Mike Epstein and Ken Holtzman quietly walked the streets of downtown Chicago where the division leading Oakland team was staying. Their minds dwelled on the tragedy in Munich and they agreed to wear black armbands on their baseball uniforms. Holtzman, who was the scheduled pitcher that day, defeated the Chicago White Sox 9-1 that night and when the media asked about the armbands, Holtzman responded: “It was the right thing to do and expressed solidarity with the Jewish people.”
With the permission of Oakland manager Dick Williams, Holtzman and Epstein wore the armbands for the rest of the season. It was a good season for Holtzman (19-11, 2.51 ERA), and Epstein (.270 batting average with 26 home runs) and the pair helped their team advance to the World Series.
As the year came to a close most of the talk in office lunch rooms around the country was about the number one rated television program, “All in the Family,” and its star Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, playing an outspoken racist. The number one movie, “The Godfather,” with Marlon Brando as an aging Mafia boss, made stars out of young actors James Caan and Al Pacino.