Monday, February 6, 2012

DAHOF Top 100 -- #49 Gene Tenace

From Sports Illustrated, April 2nd, 1973

If it is true that an ordinary man's life is transformed by great events, then there is no accounting for Gene Tenace. As some few still recall, he is that ordinary chap who hit all those home runs for Oakland in last year's World Series and tasted briefly of the golden nectar of fame. Alas, it was but a sip; Tenace now finds himself to be a wistful soul-mate of the George S. Kaufman contemporary who, according to the playwright, was "forgotten but not gone."

It is a sad commentary on society's ephemeral attention span that a hero of Tenace's melodramatic potential should not be clasped to the national bosom. Consider the World Series scenario:

Tenace spends three-quarters of the season where he has spent much of his four-year major league career—on the bench. He does not become the A's regular catcher until late August and finishes the season with only five home runs and a batting average of .225. In the playoff series with Detroit he goes one for 17 and nearly blows the works by dropping a double-play ball while filling in at second base in the fourth game. But his one hit scores the winning run in the final game. Oakland is the American League champion.

Now for the World Series against Cincinnati. In his first at bat Tenace hits a home run, tying a Series record. In his second at bat he hits another, breaking the Series record. He hits two more homers before the Series is over, tying a record held by Babe Ruth. Duke Snider and Hank Bauer. His Series slugging percentage of .913 breaks the old record of .900 held by the Babe himself. The A's are world champions. Tenace is named the Series' Most Valuable Player. He is even the target of a death threat which was made unbeknownst to him before the sixth game. That makes him a celebrity for sure.

But not for long. In this age of instant stardom fame is more fleeting than ever. Tenace had expected to be overwhelmed with requests to endorse underwear or soft drinks, to plug deodorant on the tube and to favor the talk shows with his homey Midwestern presence. There would be Tenace bantering easily with Cavett, breaking up Carson and McMahon with hilarious baseball anecdotes, perhaps even discoursing on the conservative political outlook of Lucasville, Ohio with William F. Buckley Jr.

"Every time I turned on the television, I expected to see us on it," said Tenace's bouncy blonde wife Linda. But no. The Tenaces remained all alone by the telephone.

"No one ever called," said he. "Not even in Oakland. And it wasn't just me who was left out. None of the A's got asked to do much of anything. Here we are the world champs and no one pays attention. I don't know, maybe the people in Oakland don't deserve a champion. I know I expected more. Carson's only down there in Los Angeles. I would love to have been on his show."

Tenace did appear at about a dozen banquets, including the supposedly prestigious New York Baseball Writers' Association dinner, where he received the Babe Ruth Award as the star of the Series. But his principal off-season occupation was preaching ecology as "sports adviser" for the McCulloch Corporation.

Tenace was neither appreciably enriched nor ennobled by his triumphant Series, but he nevertheless retained the feeling that his future as an A's regular was secure.

"I won't live on what I did in the Series," he says hopefully, "but that one week did get me a regular job. I know now I'll be playing every day someplace."


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