Tenace was an underappreciated talent whose magnificent performance in the 1972 World Series displayed to the world his valuable but rarely spotlighted abilities, abilities which modern-day sabermetric analysis has made more apparent.
Tenace warmed up for his MVP WS effort by driving in the LCS-clinching run in Oakland’s 2-1 victory in Game Five against the Tigers; it was his only hit of the series. In Game One of the WS Tenace became the first player ever to hit home runs in his first two Series at-bats, and in the process drove in all the A’s runs in their 3-2 victory over the Reds. In fact, it was the first time in his career that he hit two homers in a game. In Game Four, the A’s were losing 2-1, with their only run to that point coming on Tenace’s solo HR. A ninth-inning one-out rally consisting of four singles, with Tenace’s the second and the rest coming from pinch hitters, won the game against Cincinnati’s ace reliever, Clay Carroll. Tenace also had a three-run homer in Oakland’s Game Five loss, and was the hero of Game Seven, driving in two runs in the A’s 3-2 clinching victory. He hit .348 overall, and his four home runs tied what was then the WS record. Tenace had been a second-string catcher for most of the regular season, hitting .225 with five HR in 82 games. The only hint of his ability in the clutch came from his 7-for-17 performance as a pinch hitter.
Tenace’s power could not be ignored. He reached 20 HR in five of his seven seasons as a regular, with a high of 29 in 1975. But throughout his career, his low batting averages were focused on. Missed was the fact that, after becoming an everyday player in 1973, he didn’t have an on-base average below .370 until his final year; his OBA was above .400 five times and over .390 (about 60 points above the league average) an additional three times. Six times he drew more than 100 bases on balls, and he led his league twice.
Tenace’s 1972 World Series performance earned him an everyday job the next season. Not blessed with a strong-enough arm to be a good catcher, he was moved to first base. His versatility was always a strong point; he was even briefly used at second base in the ’72 LCS. He had four solid seasons as an Oakland regular, and was appreciated enough that he played 158 games in 1974 despite a .211 batting average. But like most of the A’s stars, he escaped via the free-agent route, signing with the Padres after the 1976 season. He actually had some of his best seasons from then on, but San Diego owner Ray Kroc had little understanding of the fine points of baseball and saw only that he had made a millionaire of a man who hit .233 and .223 in his first two seasons with the Padres. Tenace was traded following the 1980 season, going to St. Louis in the 11-player deal that sent Rollie Fingers (briefly) to the Cardinals and brought Terry Kennedy to San Diego. Tenace spent his last three seasons as a utility man. He got into one final World Series in 1982 with the Cardinals, but he never hit another WS home run after 1972.