Few people had a career so intertwined with Bay Area baseball as Alvin Dark did.
Having spent a bulk of his playing career as a shortstop with the New York Giants, Dark managed both the Giants and A’s to the World Series after each of those franchises re-located to Northern California.
Dark passed away Thursday in South Carolina at the age of 92, leaving behind quite the trail of athletic accomplishments. A standout college quarterback who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, Dark eventually chose baseball and was the 1948 Rookie of the Year with the Boston Braves. He batted .412 in the 1954 World Series, helping the New York Giants sweep the Cleveland Indians for the franchise’s first championship in more than two decades.
A three-time All-Star who hit .289 with 126 career homers, Dark became a manager after his playing career ended and skippered the San Francisco Giants to the 1962 World Series, where they lost in seven games to the New York Yankees. But the pinnacle of his managing career came with the team across the Bay.
Dark took over an A’s team in 1974 that was coming off back-to-back World Series titles and had just said goodbye to manager Dick Williams, an extremely popular leader in the clubhouse. Things got off to a rough start in ’74, as team captain Sal Bando fired off the memorable quote that Dark “couldn’t manage a meat market.”
Former A’s catcher Ray Fosse, a member of that 1974 squad, said it was an unenviable job that Dark stepped into.
“To be honest, it was very difficult for Alvin,” Fosse said. “You could imagine, all the players Dick had from the time of winning the division three consecutive years (1971, ’72 and ’73). I just think it was tough and hard on Alvin. But the guys got to the point where they respected him. They learned that he knew how to manage.”
The A’s rolled to their third consecutive World Series title that year under Dark, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.
Fosse broke into the majors playing under Dark when he managed the Cleveland Indians from 1968-71. Though Dark took the young catcher under his wing, Fosse also learned how demanding he was when he approached Dark about leaving the team briefly to get married during spring training 1970. Fosse’s then-fiance, Carol, was attending the University of Nevada-Reno at the time, and the Indians were training in Arizona.
“I went to Alvin and said, ‘I’d like to go to Reno to get married,’” Fosse recalled. “He had kind of that shocked look. Alvin said, ‘You can go but I want you back because you’re gonna play on (April) 5th and you’re gonna be the Opening Day catcher in Cleveland.’
“We got to Reno on the 3rd, got married on the 4th, and I played in Tempe on the 5th. And I was the opening day catcher” on the 7th.
Fosse -- who remained good friends with Dark and his wife, Jackie, through the years -- said Dark had the ability to anticipate scenarios during a game and develop a plan of attack for them.
“I’ve always felt one of the qualities of an excellent manager is one who would see far enough ahead and be ready when the situation comes up and a decision needs to be made,” Fosse said. “Alvin, I thought, was one of the best. Nothing ever was a surprise for him.”