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Looking back at Dick Green

Hal McRae says hello

Portrait of Dick Green

This is another in my series of players who made their major league debuts in Kansas City as members of the Athletics. Dick Green first came to my attention when I was six years old. A friend of my father’s had gone to an Athletics game in 1967 and gave me the program when he got back to town. I loved that old Athletics program and still have it. It’s a fascinating look at the direction the team was heading. Naturally, the first two pages of the magazine are dedicated to owner Charlie O. Finley. I’ll just leave that nugget for you to chew on.

The player bios show the team with up-and-coming stars like Catfish Hunter, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris and a very young Reggie Jackson. Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Gene Tenace and Rollie Fingers were on the way from the farm system and a dynasty was in its infancy. One player that is consistently overlooked on those A’s teams was second baseman Dick Green. Green’s bio caught my eye because he was a dead ringer for my father. Doppelganger is the new term for that. They were nearly the same age, born just a couple months apart and the resemblance was uncanny. I’d look at that picture of Green and think “He looks just like my dad. If he can play pro ball, so could my father”. After all, my dad was a talented baseball and softball player, so why not? I guess that’s how a six-year-old brain works.

Green hailed from Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the Corn Palace and a very underrated Mandan Indian Museum. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop. Being a cold weather, smallish northern state, the list of major leaguers from South Dakota is short but there are a few notables such as Sparky Anderson and Terry Francona, who I think is one of the great managers of this era. A few former Royals like Floyd Bannister, Dusty Coleman and Mark Ellis also hail from South Dakota.

Green was an outstanding high school quarterback and had a scholarship offer from Michigan State but instead elected to sign with the Athletics as a free agent in 1960. He made quick work of the Athletics minor league system and made his debut on September 9, 1963, in a game at Municipal against the Yankees. He collected his first hit on September 18 with a fourth inning single off the Senators Claude Osteen. There were a lot of Kansas City connections on that 1963 team: Jose Tartabull, father of future Royal Danny. Charlie Lau and Dick Howser, two men who played significant roles in the Royals success of the 1970s and ‘80s. Tony LaRussa was on that team as were three of the four players who played for both Kansas City franchises: Dave Wickersham, Moe Drabowsky and Aurilio Monteagudo.

Green was the everyday second baseman beginning the 1964 season and when he wasn’t injured, he was solid with the glove and the bat. Over the next four seasons in Kansas City, Green would appear in 525 games, collecting 421 hits including 40 home runs and 131 RBI. His 62 RBI led the 1966 team and his fielding percentage that year was the third-best in the American League. Prior to injuring his back, Green had a bit of pop, hitting a career high of 15 home runs in 1965.

Green was originally a shortstop, but with Wayne Causey and later Bert Campaneris emerging at that position, the A’s needed to find a new position for him, which prompted a move to second base. Green and Campaneris formed one of the most lethal double play combos in baseball during those years. Granted, the A’s didn’t have a lot going for them, so you take your wins where you can.

Green had his best year in 1969 after moving to Oakland. While the rest of the country was having a summer of love, Green posted career highs in hits (133), doubles (25), RBI (64), walks (53) and OPS+ with 123. His slash was a very respectable .275/.353/.427 and he picked up some down ballot MVP votes.

Green also collected three World Series rings during the 1972-74 dynasties. During the 1974 Series, Green started six double plays, which was a record for a five-game series. He’ll also always be remembered for being on the receiving end of an absolutely vicious slide by the Reds’ Hal McRae in the 1972 Series. It wasn’t so much a slide as it was a cross body block. In today’s game, McRae would have gotten a hefty fine and suspension. Back in those days, both players just dusted themselves off and play resumed. No fisticuffs, no jawing back and forth. I don’t recall the respective managers even coming out of the dugout to discuss. Baseball was a hard-nosed sport then and the players knew what to expect.

The Royals acquired McRae a few months later and at the time I thought it was a terrible trade. After all, they gave up their best pitcher (Roger Nelson) and one of their best hitters (Richie Scheinblum) for a sore armed pitcher named Wayne Simpson, and McRae, who was just coming back from a horrendous broken leg. My thought was, we got McRae, the guy who took out Dick Green. Of course, Mac, under the tutelage of Charlie Lau, blossomed into arguably one of the greatest designated hitters ever and earned a spot in the Royals Hall of Fame. Isn’t it funny how baseball ties itself together over the generations? Charlie Lau, Dick Green and Hal McRae, all with ties to Kansas City and to each other.

Green and Charlie Finley often squabbled about money. Just about everyone on the A’s locked horns with Finley about money. It became something of a running joke in the A’s locker room that Green would announce his retirement before every season only to be talked out of it by Finley. Green was one of Finley’s favorite’s, so that helped.

Green did eventually retire, and he retired on top, after the 1974 World Series. He returned to South Dakota to work in the family moving business. He played for 12 seasons, all with the Athletics organization, accumulating 16.1 WAR. He was selected for the Athletics 50th anniversary team in 2018.