I’ll admit it; there are perks that come with working at the Hall of Fame. One of those benefits involves the occasional visit from a retired major leaguer. We had one just last week, when former Kansas City and Oakland A’s second baseman Dick Green came to Cooperstown.
Accompanied by his wife, Lia, Green got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hall of Fame, its collections, and its library holdings. During the tour, I had a chance to meet the Greens, a particular thrill for me given my experience of writing a book about those great A’s teams of the early 1970s.
I was a bit unsure what to expect. I had always heard that Green was a very quiet man who lived a reclusive life at his home in South Dakota. The scouting report was more than slightly off the mark. We all found Green to be extremely amiable, more than happy to talk about his days with the Athletics. At one point, he even started to ask me questions about my experiences writing about the A’s. I told him that a meeting with Joe Rudi ranked as one of the highlights; Greed said he remains close friends with Rudi, who has long been considered one of the gentlemen in the game.
Although Green claimed that his memory was faulty, he regaled us with his memories of just about every major character associated with those A’s, who strung together three consecutive world championships from 1972 to 1974. Green, one of the few players who had a good relationship with Charlie Finley, said that the owner generally treated him well. And he had high praise for pitcher Catfish Hunter, who possessed almost a sixth sense in his ability to change speeds and attack opposing hitters.
Not surprisingly, Green hailed Reggie Jackson as the player most likely to carry the A’s in those days. Jackson had unusual raw power. “He hit a ball once in Boston that the second baseman jumped for—and it went out of the park,” Green told the Hall of Fame’s Craig Muder.
When Muder asked Green which opposing player hit the ball the hardest, he offered two names. The first was Dick Allen, who had tremendous power to right-center field and had a tendency to hit scorching line drives toward Green’s position at second base. Green also named Mickey Mantle, whose left-handed power could intimidate infielders on the right side of the field. “He hit the ball so hard, I can remember being in Kansas City and playing him in right field. Then he’d try a little drag bunt to get on.” Green said he usually handled those bunts and threw Mantle out.
Green’s claim should come as no surprise to anyone who remembers the game from that era. He was one of the game’s best defensive second basemen, a player who often drew comparisons to the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson. With above-average range, sure hands, a quick turn on the double play, and a strong throwing arm, Green provided the defensive glue to those A’s teams of the 1960s and early 70s.
Green’s big league career began in 1963, when he appeared in 13 late-season games and held his own at shortstop and second base. By 1964, he became Kansas City’s regular second baseman, hitting a respectable .264 with 11 home runs while playing steadily in the field. The next year, he hit a career-high 15 home runs, a substantial total for a middle infielder of that era.
Green’s hitting fell off as pitchers became increasingly dominant in the late 1960s. But once the “Year of the Pitcher” came and went, Green bounced back. He put up his best offensive season in 1969, hitting .275 with 53 walks and 12 home runs. Though he didn’t make the All-Star team, he did receive some back-of-the-ballot support in the MVP voting.
A bad back contributed to a career-worst .190 batting average in 1970, leading to rumors that Green might retire and concentrate on running his family’s prosperous moving company in Rapid City, S.D. But Finley talked him out of it and Green rebounded with 12 home runs and 51 walks in 1971. That A’s team won 101 games to claim the American League West.
A series of injuries limited Green to only 26 games in 1972. As a team, the A’s suffered little, holding off the pesky White Sox to win the West. Luckily, Green returned to action in time to play in the postseason, earning his first berth in a World Series. Green became a featured player on a memorable Series highlight, as he absorbed Hal McRae’s full steam body block that planted him six feet beyond the bag. Green held onto the ball, and the A’s held on to beat the Big Red Machine.
Returning to health in 1973, Green didn’t hit much, but helped stabilize the middle infield as the A’s won their second consecutive championship. In 1974, Green played in only 100 regular season games, but saved his best defensive play for the World Series against the Dodgers. Time after time, Green turned in sparkling plays that stopped potential Dodger rallies. “Green has made the difference; he has made the big plays in the key situations,” Steve Garvey told sportswriter Red Foley. “He’s continually making big double plays, the kind that take us right out of possible big innings.” For the Series, Green took part in six double plays.
Despite going hitless in 13 at-bats, Green earned the Babe Ruth Award as Series MVP in direct tribute to his fielding brilliance. It was belated justice for a fine fielder who was always running second to someone else in the Gold Glove race, whether it was Bobby Richardson, Bobby Knoop, Dave Johnson or Bobby Grich.
Coming off such a performance on the World Series stage, at 33 Green seemed capable of playing at least another season. But he finally did what he had threatened to do for years; he announced his retirement. “I would have lost my starting job [in 1975] to Phil Garner, and I just didn’t want to be a utility infielder,” Green said at the Hall. “Besides, I made more money at home with our moving company.”
With his playing days behind him, Green did well with the moving company before eventually selling the business to his partner. Now enjoying retirement in South Dakota, Green weights only a few pounds above his playing weight and still looks like he could turn two if asked to do so.
Just as significantly, Dick Green is not the recluse that I was led to believe. He’s outgoing, and funny, and full of good memories. Yes, sometimes your heroes turn out better than you thought.
Sources: The Sporting News; the New York Daily News; Dick Green’s clippings file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame