When Campy Campaneris tossed his bat at Tiger pitcher LaGrow in the ’72 Playoffs

Bert Campaneris 1972 Oakland A's vs. Detroit Tigers

Oakland shortstop Bert Campaneris unleashes his bat toward the pitching mound after being brushed back in the 1972 AL Playoffs.

Nearly 40 years since the Tigers lost the pennant to the Oakland A’s in the 1972 American League Playoffs, the one incident that stands out more than any other was not a key hit or a spectacular defensive play.

It was however one of the scariest moments in baseball history.

In the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Two in Oakland, the A’s shortstop Bert “Campy” Campaneris stepped up to the plate to face Tiger reliever Lerrin LaGrow.

As the first batter of the game Campaneris singled, stole second and third, and then scored the first run. He would also get two more hits and scored yet another run before facing LaGrow.

LaGrow’s first pitch was thrown hard and inside at Campy’s feet and though he tried to jump out of the way it nailed him on the left ankle.

With a look of murder on his face, the 30-year old Cuban immediately reached back and threw his bat at LaGrow who barely ducked out of the way of a Louisville Slugger that spun like a helicopter blade.

Led by Tiger manager Billy Martin, the Tigers rushed off their bench towards home plate where umpire Nestor Chylak had held Campaneris from charging the mound. Chylak ended up being a bodyguard for Campaneris.

Not since Giants’ pitcher Juan Marichal hit Dodger catcher John Roseboro in the head with his bat in 1965 had baseball seen such a deplorable incident.

Surprisingly there was not a huge brawl between the teams especially since Oakland and Detroit had previously had bench clearing fights several times since the mid-1960s. Chylak ejected both Campaneris and LaGrow.

After the game Billy Martin, who some speculated had ordered that Campaneris be hit, had this to say to Detroit Free Press writer Joe Falls:

“I don’t know what that idiot was thinking. He may have to talk to his psychiatrist to find out. You can bet your ass I was going out there for him. I’m not going to get after him now, but if there’s ever another fight out there, I’m going out there and find him and beat the shit out of him.”

Afterwards the explanation from Campaneris was rather lame you might say.

“I [did not] try to hit him with the bat”, Campaneris said. “If [I wanted] to hit him, I [would] throw it more sidearm than overhand. I just [wanted] to warn him not to do that again to me.”

Martin and the Tigers would not have another opportunity to get a piece of the American League stolen base champion.

The following day American League President Joe Cronin suspended Campaneris for the remainder of the ALCS, fined him $500 and suspended him for the first seven games of the 1973 regular season.

Although they missed their sparkplug, the A’s had a commanding 2 games to 0 lead but the Tigers stormed back to tie the series before losing to Oakland in the deciding game 5 in a 2-1 heartbreaking loss at Tiger Stadium.

Campaneris was allowed to play in the 1972 World Series and helped lead Oakland to their first World Championship when they defeated Sparky Anderson’s Reds in seven games.

And so whatever happened to that famous bat that had nearly beheaded Lerrin LaGrow?

Well it didn’t last long.

Tiger utility infielder Ike Brown was so mad that he picked up the Campaneris bat, smashed it into pieces, and threw the lumber towards the Oakland dugout.

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.