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'Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic' a home run

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New book offers a look at the Oakland A’s of the 1970s

Spring is fast approaching, and with it comes the siren song of baseball.

Baseball has always been the American sport most conducive to literary exploration. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, no sport makes for a better book than baseball.

Some teams – the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees – have had more than their share of ink spilled upon them over the years. But that narrow focus means that some truly fascinating narratives haven’t really been told as thoroughly as perhaps they should have.

Thanks to a new book by author Jason Turbow, one particularly underappreciated team is receiving its due.

“Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26) recounts the weird saga of the Oakland Athletics teams of the 1970s. Despite the fact that they had one of the most successful stretches in baseball history – three straight World Series titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974 – those A’s squads never really received the accolades their successes warranted.

Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter – Hall of Famers all. And all of them came into their own as ballplayers in the garish green and gold of the Oakland A’s. Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Bert Campaneris, Joe Rudi – phenomenal talents whose exceptional play made them key cogs on championship teams. Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Ken Holtzman – volatile pitchers whose tempers off the mound matched their considerable talents on it.

These were the sprawling, brawling Oakland A’s of the 1970s. Perhaps no team in MLB history carried the sort of off-the-field dysfunction that this one did. Sniping in the press, locker room brawls – they were almost cartoonish in their inability to get along.

Yet even as they were at one another’s throats, one thing united them, the one thing that can almost always bring together even those of the greatest antipathy – a common foe. Even with their incredible stretch at the pinnacle of major league baseball, the Oakland A’s were a team that had just such a common foe - their owner, the eccentric Charles O. Finley.

Finley was despised by just about everyone in baseball. His fellow owners hated him. His players loathed him. He simply refused to play by any rules other than the ones he arbitrarily decided on for himself. And while his maverick nature didn’t earn him any friends, it also led – both directly and indirectly – to some of the biggest seismic shifts in the game’s long history.

From the massive rise of the decade’s early years to the cratering of its ending, “Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic” paints a picture of perhaps the most undercelebrated great team of the modern era. This was the team that – thanks to the almost comical combination of tight-fistedness and stubbornness of their owner – essentially opened the door for what would become free agency.

Major league baseball in the 1970s was something different, a violent collision of the establishment and the counterculture. The A’s existed in that nexus, packed with iconoclasts and led by a man who was against any type of authority that was not his own. This was the team that gave us the handlebar mustache of Rollie Fingers and the nonsense aquatic nickname of the pitcher who was born Jim Hunter.

Turbow captures the deep weirdness of the era as it was refracted through the prism of baseball. He brings to life the antagonism that existed between players and recreates the utter disdain they (and everybody, really) had for Charles Finley. In truth, the A’s had no right becoming a dynasty, but the stars aligned in a very specific way. The combination of talent and time led to the kind of success enjoyed by a scant few teams in MLB history, yet just as quickly, the A’s plummeted into the second division and an irrelevant oblivion as Finley steered his rapidly sinking ship into iceberg after iceberg before finally abandoning it at the bottom of the American League sea.

“Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic” tells the story of a team that truly was all of those things. And while those spates of A’s excellence might never be appreciated in the same way that other similar stretches are, thanks to Jason Turbow, fans of baseball history have the opportunity to dig deeper into one of the most bizarre – and fun – teams in the storied saga of the national pastime.

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