Surrounded by superstars, Bert Campaneris was a key contributor to the great Oakland teams with his competitive spirit and superb play. His memorable debut with the Kansas City A’s (July 23, 1964) included two home runs, one off the first major league pitch ever thrown to him. Bert became only the third player in big league history to hit two homers in his first game. He made headlines in one of club owner Charlie Finley’s publicity stunts in 1965. On September 9, Campaneris played every position in a nine inning game. He also led the A’s in hitting (.270), edged his cousin, Jose Cardenal, for the league lead in steals (51), and led the league in triples (12). Campy became one of baseball’s all-time top base thiefs, stealing 649 bases to rank seventh all-time on his retirement and leading the American League six times, including his first four full seasons (1965-68).
When the A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, Bert led the league in hits (177) and at-bats. Though he struck out more than some leadoff hitters and didn’t walk much, he was a catalyst in the Oakland attack. Hitting from an extreme crouch, the Cuban righthander would get on base and disrupt pitchers. He improved consistently on defense, leading AL shortstops with 795 chances in 1972. An adept bunter, he led the AL in sacrifice bunts in 1972 (20) and 1978 (40). Despite these credentials, Bert is most associated with an unfortunate incident in the 1972 American League Championship Series. In Game Two, he already had three hits, two steals and two runs scored as he faced Detroit hurler Lerrin LaGrow. When LaGrow’s pitch hit Campaneris in the ankle, Bert flung his bat at the hurler. A near-riot ensued as Detroit manager Billy Martin charged Campaneris. The batter and pitcher were both ejected. Bert was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs, reinstated for the World Series (in which he was hit by pitches three times), and suspended for the first seven games of 1973. He was the shortstop on TSN’s post-season AL All-Star Team in 1973 and 1974. In 1976, his 52 steals helped the A’s set an AL club record with 341 steals. Like most of the A’s, Campaneris played out his option, moving to the Rangers. After a full season with Texas (1977), age and injuries limited Bert to part-time, utility duty. He spent 1982 in the Mexican League. In 1983, at the age of 41, Campaneris returned to the big leagues as a utility infielder with the Yankees, playing for Billy Martin. He responded with a career-high .322 batting average in 59 games and solid defense at second and third base.