#CardCorner: 1976 Topps Bill North
A’s owner Charlie Finley loved tinkering with his roster, and players came and went with regularity from 1972-74 when Oakland won three straight World Series titles. But the core of that team remained largely untouched during this years – with the exception of North, who, according to manager Dick Williams in his 1990 autobiography “No More Mr. Nice Guy, ” became: “…the only player I’ve ever seen literally strut on to a world championship team.”
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Born May 15, 1948, in Seattle, North was an infielder in high school but attracted almost no attention from MLB scouts upon his graduation. He enrolled at Central Washington State College (now Central Washington University) in Ellensburg, Wash., eventually establishing himself as a prospect with his sturdy 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame and speed on the bases.
The Cubs selected North in the 12th round of the 1969 MLB Draft, and North starred his first year in pro ball – stealing 42 bases, drawing 61 walks and scoring 67 runs in 59 games with the Caldwell Cubs of the Pioneer League.
North moved through Class A and into Double-A ball in 1970, then hit .291 with 47 stolen bases for San Antonio in 1971. Now viewed as one of the Cubs’ top outfield prospects, North earned a call-up to the big leagues in late 1971, then spent the fall learning how to switch hit at the behest of Cubs manager Leo Durocher.
In 1972, North made the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, but was sent to Triple-A Wichita in May for more seasoning. He returned in June and spent the rest of the season as a reserve, hitting .181 with six steals and 22 runs scored in 66 games.
Then, on Nov. 21, 1972 – a month after the Athletics won their first World Series title in Oakland – Finley traded Bob Locker, a dependable reliever who won six games and saved 10 others in 1972, straight up for North.
The soon-to-be 35-year-old Locker would post fine numbers (10 wins, 18 saves, a 2.54 ERA) for the Cubs in 1973 – but arm troubles would make it his last full season in the big leagues.
North, meanwhile, would inject energy into an already sizzling A’s clubhouse.
Finley opened the door for a regular job for North when he traded George Hendrick to the Indians late in Spring Training of 1973. By the third week of the season, Williams had installed North as his starting center fielder. And by the time May rolled around, North was hitting consistently and providing the A’s with superior outfield play in the spacious center field of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Five days after the disputed was settled, the Giants released North. He hooked on with the Padres – then managed by Dick Williams – in the spring of 1982, but did not make the Opening Day roster, bringing an end to his career.
Over 11 big league seasons, North hit .261 with 395 stolen bases, 627 walks and 640 runs scored.
He played on four teams that advance to the postseason – earning two World Series rings and a place on a true baseball dynasty.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum