First MLB players’ strike begins

At 12:01 a.m. on April 1, 1972, the first collective players’ strike in Major League Baseball history begins. The strike lasts 12 days, ending on April 13, and 86 games are cancelled, throwing the season into flux from the start.

The cause of baseball’s first strike was the expiration of the league’s three-year pension agreement. The Major League Baseball Players Association, led by seasoned union negotiator Marvin Miller, had made modest requests to increase benefits. However, the owners balked at the proposals, and never took the players’ threat to strike seriously.

In his book, A Whole Different Ballgame, Miller wrote: “The last thing I expected in 1972 was a strike. The owners had decided to bring the Players Association’s progress to a halt either by provoking a strike, which they felt confident of winning, or by forcing the players to back down and accept their unreasonable position in the negotiations.”

As it turned out, the players were prepared to take control of their own destiny. In fact, the players voted 663-10 in favor of authorizing their executive committee to call a strike. MLBPA general counsel Dick Moss advised the players that it was not the right time to strike because they had yet to be paid that season and didn’t have a strike fund. But the players stood their ground.

Oakland A’s star Reggie Jackson yelled at a meeting with Miller and Moss: “Goddammit, there are just times when you’ve got to stand up for your rights!” Although the players were not paid for the 12 days of the strike, their effort ultimately was a success. Owners agreed to a $500,000 increase in the pension fund and to allow salary arbitration.

The 1972 MLB season yielded some bizarre results from the strike—some teams only played 153 games instead of the customary 162. The Detroit Tigers won the AL East by a half-game over the Boston Red Sox, who played one fewer game than the Tigers. 

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Sandy Koufax becomes youngest player elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

On January 19,  1972, 36-year-old Sandy Koufax, the former Los Angeles Dodgers star, becomes the youngest player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “This is the only thing that’s made having to retire early a little easier,” says Koufax, who retired at age 30. “This is the biggest honor I’ve ever been given, not just in baseball, but in my life.”

Koufax made his Major League Baseball debut in 1955, but was inconsistent early in his career. Before 1961, his biggest claim to fame was leading the majors in wild pitches in 1958. In 1961, however, Koufax led the National League with 269 strikeouts and made the  all-star team. 

He was the most dominant pitcher in Major League Baseball over the next several seasons, winning three Cy Young Awards and the 1963 Most Valuable Player Award. He also led the league in ERA for five straight seasons, helping the Dodgers to three NL pennants as well as World Series titles in 1963 and 1965.

The left-handed Koufax was known for his fastball and a curveball that often broke a foot or more, as well as for his commitment, as a Jew, to not pitching on the Sabbath.

After a 1964 baserunning injury, Koufax was diagnosed with traumatic arthritis in his throwing arm, but he continued pitching through constant pain. On September 9, 1965, he threw a perfect game, the first by a lefthander since 1880 and a then-record fourth career no-hitter.

Koufax declined to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it coincided with Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday. But he went on to make three appearances in the Series: a loss in Game 2, a complete-game shutout in Game 5, and a second shutout, on just two days’ rest, to win Game 7 and earn his second World Series MVP.

Despite his doctor’s warning that his arm could not handle another season, Koufax threw 323 innings in 1966, more than any pitcher in the majors, and led the league in wins (27), strikeouts (317) and ERA (1.73). Also, he pitched a complete game on two days’ rest to win the NL pennant, but the Dodgers went on to lose the World Series to the Baltimore Orioles in four games. Koufax retired a few weeks later.

Koufax, in his first year of eligibility, entered the Hall alongside pitcher Early Wynn and New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, who had famously said of Koufax’s 1963 season: “I can see how he won 25 games. What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

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Los Angeles Lakers’ record winning streak ends

On January, 9, 1972, the longest winning streak in major professional sports is snapped at 33 games when the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 120-104. A 39-point performance by the Bucks’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hands the Lakers their first loss since October 31.

Afterward, Lakers coach Bill Sharman kept the locker room closed for 15 minutes. He had a speech written for when the team’s streak ended, but he kept the dog-eared paper in his coat pocket, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Oh, I had a couple of corny things written,” he said. “but I didn’t read them today.” Sharman credited the Bucks’ aggressive defense for being the difference. “We had to work for every shot we took,” he said.

The Lakers included center Wilt Chamberlain, a future Hall of Famer, who had set a season record for points 10 years earlier. But the aging Chamberlain was only fourth on the team in points per game. Gail Goodrich and Jerry West, both of whom would  join Chamberlain in the Hall of Fame, led the team in scoring at nearly 26 points per game apiece.

Abdul-Jabbar, the Bucks’ star and a future Hall of Famer, was traded to the Lakers in 1975.

Beginning with a 110-106 victory over the Baltimore Bullets in the first game of November, the Lakers tore through the league for the next two months. Their closest brush with defeat came on December 10, when the Phoenix Suns took them to overtime.

Two nights later, the Lakers broke the NBA record for most consecutive wins by defeating the Bucks, who had set the record at 20 the previous season. The Lakers scored at least 100 points in every game during the streak, and only failed to do so once all season.

“When we put it all together, we’ve got to be perhaps the greatest club ever,” Sharman said during the streak.

After losing to the Bucks on January 9, the Lakers hit a rough patch but finished the regular season with a 69-13 record. In the first round of the playoffs, they swept the Chicago Bulls in four games, then defeated the Bucks in the second round in six games. In the NBA Finals, the Lakers beat the New York Knicks in five games to earn their first title since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960


NCAA grants freshmen eligibility in football, basketball

On January 8, 1972, the NCAA grants freshmen eligibility in its two biggest team sports, basketball and football. An overwhelming majority of representatives at the annual NCAA convention vote for freshmen participation in basketball; a closer majority vote in favor of freshmen participation in football.

Before freshmen were eligible to play on varsity, they played on junior varsity teams, no matter how dominant they might be in their sport. The consensus for decades was that freshmen were not ready to compete at the varsity level, especially in football.

It was no coincidence that this vote came shortly after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s legendary collegiate career and during Bill Walton’s equally impressive college tenure. The two UCLA stars were among the best college basketball players ever, yet both could not play during their freshman seasons at UCLA—1965-66 for Abdul-Jabbar and 1970-71 for Walton.

Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, famously led the freshmen UCLA team to an easy victory in an exhibition game against the two-time defending champion Bruins varsity team, 75-60. Walton won the John Naismith Award as college basketball’s top player in all three of his varsity-eligible seasons at UCLA.

College coaches and administrators were not universally pleased with the groundbreaking move.

When asked about the rule change, Rutgers football coach John Bateman told the media, “If freshmen can play, you don’t have a very good program.” Chuck Neinas, commissioner of the Big Eight Conference (which eventually became the Big 12 Conference), said, “Our football coaches are unanimously against freshman on varsity teams.”

Missouri athletic director Sparky Stalcup told the Kansas City Star that freshmen eligibility in basketball and football would be “a whole new ballgame.”

“If the other major conferences do it, we’ll have to.” he said. “It’s a recruiting gimmick.”

The 1972 season was not the first that freshmen were eligible to play varsity basketball or football—freshmen were given varsity status during the Korean War from 1950-51. In 1970, freshmen were allowed to play varsity in sports other than football and basketball. 


Pittsburgh Steelers’ Franco Harris scores on “Immaculate Reception,” iconic NFL play

On December 23, 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Oakland Raiders, 13-7, on rookie running back Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” touchdown in the waning seconds of a playoff game—one of the greatest plays in NFL history. 

Between 1933 and 1972, the Steelers were lovable losers, playing in only one postseason game—a 21-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1947 Eastern Division playoffs. In 1972, the Steelers put together a rare winner, finishing the regular season with an 11-3 won-loss record and winning the AFC Central division to set up the playoff showdown with the Raiders in Pittsburgh.

After a scoreless first half, the Steelers built a 6-0 lead on field goals by Roy Gerela. But with less than two minutes left, Oakland quarterback Ken Stabler scored on a 30-yard scramble. The extra point gave Oakland a 7-6 lead. Pittsburgh’s season appeared over. 

On 4th-and-10 from his 40-yard line with 22 seconds left and no timeouts, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, under pressure, threw a pass toward Frenchy Fuqua at Oakland’s 35-yard line. Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum crashed into Fuqua, apparently hitting the football, which ricocheted toward Harris, who caught it inches off the turf and ran down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.

The miraculous score touched off a wild celebration by Steelers fans. After a review, officials kept the original touchdown call. The play remains controversial—if the ball had hit Fuqua last, the touchdown would have been declared an incomplete pass according to NFL rules at the time. 

Pittsburgh radio play-by-play broadcaster Jack Fleming’s call of the play became famous: “Bradshaw’s running out of the pocket, looking for somebody to throw to, fires downfield, and there’s a collision! And it’s caught out of the air! The ball is pulled in by Franco Harris! Harris is going for a touchdown for Pittsburgh!″

The following week, the Steelers lost to the undefeated Miami Dolphins in the American Football Conference championship game in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers—losers for most of their existence—became a powerhouse in the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls. 


Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashes in the Andes

On the afternoon of October 13, 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 begins its descent toward Santiago, Chile, too early and crashes high in the Andes Mountains. After more than two unthinkably harrowing months, 16 of the 45 who boarded the plane will be rescued—and sometimes referred to as the Miracle in the Andes.

The plane had been chartered to fly the Old Christians Rugby Club of Montevideo, Uruguay to a match in Santiago. 19 of those aboard were members of the team, while most of the other passengers were friends and family of team members. Flying through the cloud-obscured mountains, the co-pilot began his descent prematurely. Survivors recalled feeling turbulence before a black ridge appeared directly in front of the plane. The pilot tried to fly straight up and over the ridge, but the plane nonetheless hit the mountain, breaking into several pieces and skidding until coming to rest on a glacier. 12 people died in the crash, including the pilot, and five more died shortly thereafter, including the co-pilot who had been operating the controls. Within an hour of the crash, the Chilean Air Search and Rescue Service had planes in the air looking for survivors, but it would be 72 days they were found.

WATCH: I Am Alive: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash on HISTORY Vault

On their eleventh day in the mountains, the survivors learned via a makeshift radio that the search had been called off. They quickly ran out of food. As survivor Roberto Canessa remembered, “After just a few days, we were feeling the sensation of our own bodies consuming themselves just to remain alive. … We knew the answer, but it was too terrible to contemplate.” Eventually, after prayer and heart-wrenching deliberation, all but one agreed that the solution was to eat the dead. It is a virtual certainty that all those remaining would have died had they not resorted to cannibalism. 

On the seventeenth day, an avalanche struck the fuselage of the plane, where the survivors were taking shelter, killing eight more and nearly burying the rest alive. On November 15, an expedition of four set out in an attempt to find help by heading into a nearby valley. Although they were forced to turn back, they did find the tail of the wrecked plane, which contained a small amount of food and medicine as well as comic books.

Understanding, based on the failure of the first expedition, that the only way to reach help would be to climb the mountain that lay to the West, the survivors knit insulation from the airplane into a sleeping bag that could protect Canessa, Nando Parrado and Antonio Vizintín, who were chosen for the second expedition. After a grueling three-day climb, Parrado and Canessa reached the summit, where they learned that they were deeper into the mountains than they had expected—their assumption that they were close to Curicó, Chile had been based on the same navigational error that had caused the crash in the first place. 

Certain that they were going to their deaths, Parrado and Canessa hiked onward for nine more days, eventually following a river down into a valley where they were able to find help. After being rescued by a local muleteer, they guided two Chilean Air Force helicopters to the crash site, where half the survivors were evacuated on December 22 and the rest were evacuated on the morning of the 23rd.


Shirley Chisholm visits her opponent George Wallace in the hospital

Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, visits Alabama Governor George Wallace, perhaps the single most famous supporter of racial segregation in modern history, as he recovers from an assassination attempt on June 8, 1972. The two were both seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.

Wallace won the governorship on a platform of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” and rose to national prominence in 1963 when he appeared on the steps of the University of Alabama to block Black students from attending. He won five Southern states as a third-party candidate in the 1968 presidential election, promising to end the federal government’s attempts at desegregation. Chisholm, who began her career as an early-childhood educator before entering politics, won her Bedford-Stuyvesant seat the same year, presenting herself as “Unbought and unbossed.” Chisholm’s campaign was a long shot—she would later state that her Democratic colleagues refused to take her seriously because she was a woman—but Wallace’s prospects looked decent until he was shot five times at a campaign stop in Laurel, Maryland on May 15, 1972, leaving him permanently paralyzed.

READ MORE: ‘Unbought and Unbossed’: Why Shirley Chisholm Ran for President

Chisholm’s unexpected visit to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring lasted roughly fifteen minutes. The congresswoman recounted that she told Wallace “I wouldn’t want what happened to you to happen to anyone,” and that the governor “cried and cried” in response. She added that, despite their profound disagreements on fundamental issues like racial equality, she agreed with Wallace’s criticisms of “the domination of corporate institutions…and unresponsiveness of the Government to the people.” Wallace won two primary races after the shooting, but it effectively ended his campaign. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota ultimately won the nomination, only to lose to incumbent Richard Nixon by a count of 520 electoral votes to 17. Two years later, Wallace threw his support behind Chisholm’s bill to give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage, marshaling enough support from Southern Democrats to get the bill passed. 

READ MORE: Shirley Chisholm: Facts About Her Trailblazing Career


Clean Water Act becomes law

Month Day
October 18

The Clean Water Act becomes law on October 18, 1972. After centuries of reckless treatment of American rivers, streams, lakes and bays, the landmark act institutes strict regulations on pollution and quality controls for the nation’s waters for the first time in its history.

The ’60s had been marked by some truly horrific revelations regarding water pollution. A 1968 survey revealed that pollution in the Chesapeake Bay resulted in millions of dollars of lost revenue for fisherman, while a 1969 study found that bacteria levels in the Hudson River to be at 170 times the legal limit. The same year, pollution from local food processing plants killed 26 million fish in one lake in Florida, the largest fish kill on record, and an oil slick resulted in an infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland. When President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, it was clear that water pollution would be one of its top priorities.

Though Nixon was generally very proactive on environmental issues, he vetoed the Clean Water Act, even after it sailed through both houses of Congress, on the grounds that its price tag was too high. The legislature overruled his veto the following morning, and the bill became law on October 18, 1972. The CWA mandated the protection of any waters in the country with a “significant nexus” to navigable waters. It established a framework for identifying, licensing, and enforcing standards on originators of “point source pollution,” contamination stemming from a single point like a factory or sewage treatment plant. It also contained many other provisions for finding, regulating and cleaning up water pollution, giving most of these responsibilities to the recently-created EPA. 

Since the CWA took effect, levels of pollution have greatly decreased, although many environmentalists believe it did not do enough to control non-point source pollution, the kind of contamination that cannot be traced back to a single origin. Though the CWA clearly had a positive impact, a high percentage of American waterways still do not meet the water quality standards it set forth. 


Labor organizer and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez begins hunger strike

Month Day
May 01

On May 1, 1972, Mexican-American labor organizer and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez begins a hunger strike. The strike, which he undertook in opposition to an Arizona law severely restricting farm workers’ ability to organize, lasted 24 days and drew national attention to the suffering of itinerant farm workers in the Southwest.

A fervent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez had undertaken several hunger strikes before. As a co-founder of the United Farm Workers, he and his strikes had played important roles in many major labor actions, including the five-year Delano Grape Strike in California. In response to the wave of organizing that had swept the region, Arizona’s legislature passed a bill that constricted workers’ rights to organize, outlawed secondary boycotts, and allowed growers to obtain a restraining order to prevent strikes during the harvest. Despite an outcry from farm workers and Chavez’s request that they meet to discuss the bill, Governor Jack Williams immediately signed it into law. Later that day, Chavez began his fast.

READ MORE: When Millions of Americans Stopped Eating Grapes in Support of Farm Workers

An increasingly emaciated Chavez appeared regularly at mass, attended by his supporters and others from the civil rights movement. Coretta Scott King, whose husband Martin Luther King, Jr. had supported Chavez in his previous strikes, attended one such mass, as did Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. Chavez referred to the strike as “a fast of sacrifice,” repeatedly reminding observers that his suffering was meant to represent the daily suffering of farm workers. Finally, after 24 days, he ended his fast at a memorial mass for Bobby Kennedy, who had thrown his political support behind Chavez’s cause in the years prior to his 1968 assassination. The following year, Chavez and the UFW organized another major agricultural strike, the Lettuce Growers Strike, and in1975 California passed a landmark law affirming workers’ rights to boycott and to collective bargaining.

READ MORE: Cesar Chavez: His Life and Legacy


The United Arab Emirates is formed

Month Day
December 21

On December 21, 1972, the United Arab Emirates is formed. The union of six small Gulf kingdoms—to which a seventh was soon added—created a small state with an outsized role in the global economy.

A number of kingdoms on the norther coast of the Arabian Peninsula came under British protection through a series of treaties beginning in 1820. Concerned with protecting trade routes and their prized colony of India, the British navy protected what became known as the Trucial States in exchange for their cooperation with British interests. During this period of British protection, the region’s vast oil reserves were discovered. As the Trucial States and nearby kingdoms like Bahrain and Qatar became major suppliers of oil, the British Empire’s influence receded due to a number of factors, the two World Wars chief among them. In 1968, the British government declared that it would end the protectorate, withdrawing its military and leaving the people of the region to their own devices.

Dwarfed by their neighbors in terms of size, population and military capabilities, the small kingdoms of the region attempted to organize themselves into a single political unit. The negotiations proved difficult, and Bahrain and Qatar elected to declare independence unilaterally. With the British treaty due to expire and both Iran and Saudi Arabia eyeing their territory and resources, the kingdoms of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai and Umm al-Quwain became the independent United Arab Emirates on this day in 1972. Ras al-Khaimah joined two months later.

Since then, the UAE has been a sovereign nation, enjoying the profits of its natural resources—its reserves of oil and natural gas are the seventh-largest in the world, and it has the seventh-highest GDP per capita. This wealth has turned the Emirates into a major hub of trade, travel, tourism and finance. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world, is emblematic of the Emirates’ dramatic construction boom and rise to global prominence. Though its cities are some of the most modern in the world, the nation remains a monarchy governed by religious law—its president and prime minister are the absolute monarchs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, respectively, and apostasy, homosexuality and even kissing in public are punishable by law.