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Oakland A’s History in 4 Games


Former A's SS Miguel Tejada; Photo via Jon Gudorf Photography; CC BY-SA 2.0

On November 16th, 2023, the A’s announced that they would be moving to Las Vegas after the 2024 season, officially ending baseball in Oakland for the near future. We all saw this coming, as the A’s attendance has cratered over the last couple of years, and the ownership showed little to no interest in putting money into the team or having them stay in Oakland. However, there was still some hope among A’s and baseball fans alike that someone would swoop in and buy the A’s to keep them in Oakland. But that never came to fruition, and Oakland A’s baseball is effectively over. Now all there is to do is reminisce and look back at this franchise that changed the game of baseball in more ways than most fans know.


The Oakland Athletics have a storied history. From their dominant World Series three-peat in the 70s to the Moneyball era, Oakland baseball was consistently in the limelight. Stars like Rickey Henderson and the Bash Brothers shined in the Bay Area. Simply put, the story of baseball needs a chapter about the Oakland Athletics.


However, that is an ordinary and simplistic way to tell the story of a team that is not ordinary and simplistic. The A’s were revolutionary and transcendent, and just summarizing the entirety of their history would not do them justice. Instead, I am borrowing an idea from a Foolish Baseball video called, “Bonds in 4.” Foolish is an amazing YouTuber who does a great job explaining analytics and making them fun. In the aforementioned video, Foolish analyzes Barry Bonds's impact on baseball by looking at just 4 at-bats throughout his career to show how incredible of a player he was. Based on this idea, we are going to tell the history of the Oakland A’s through just 4 games in their history.


However, before diving into this, it is important to understand that the A’s had a history before they ever reached Oakland. They played in Philadelphia from 1901-1954 and won 5 World Series before moving to Kansas City, where they played from 1955-1967. Owner Charlie Finley saw the promise and opportunity of moving to the West Coast so he moved his team out to Oakland for the 1968 season. The A’s had a long and important history before ever reaching Oakland, but some of their most timeless and impactful moments occurred in Oakland.


Tuesday, September 18th, 1973

California Angels at Oakland Athletics

Final Score: Athletics 5-4 Angels


This was the A’s sixth season in Oakland, but they were already defending champs after winning the 1972 World Series. Future HOF Catfish Hunter got the start for the A’s and went 7.2 innings, giving up 4 ER and exiting the game with a 5-4 lead. Hunter was in the middle of an exceptional year in which he put together a 3.34 ERA and placed third in AL Cy Young voting. The game was then closed by another future HOF, Rollie Fingers, who threw a shutout inning to get the save. Across Fingers’ five seasons in Oakland as a primary reliever, he put up a 2.50 ERA. Fingers is one of two pitchers in Oakland history to have a stretch of 348 games pitched and a sub-2.50 ERA.


The A’s offense was aided by SS Bert Campaneris, who had a hit coming from the 2-hole spot in the lineup. Bert spent his first 13 seasons in Oakland and had a 49.0 WAR. That was unfortunately not good enough for Cooperstown, and he is considered one of the biggest HOF snubs ever. The A’s were able to win this game despite 1973 MVP Reggie Jackson not starting and getting only one pinch-hit PA. Jackson spent 9 seasons with the A’s and blasted 254 HRs with a 150 OPS+.


This stacked A’s team also featured former Cy Young and MVP pitcher Vida Blue. Blue won these awards at just 21 years old, making him the youngest MVP winner ever. This team has featured multi-time all-stars like Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Ray Fosse, and Ken Holtzman.


However, this was just a midweek game in late September. Why is it crucial to the history of the A’s? First of all, this game occurred during the greatest era in Oakland Athletics history in which they won 3 straight WS from 72-74. They are the only team outside of the Yankees to ever win 3 straight, making this one of the best dynasties ever. It is impossible to tell the story of the Oakland A’s without discussing a game from this era.


Another reason this game was chosen is that Rollie Fingers got the save and Bert Campaneris added a base hit. I mentioned above that the A’s are revolutionary, and Fingers is a perfect example of that. He was one of the first true closers in MLB history, and the A’s use of him helped revolutionize that position and changed how the league viewed closers. It was not rare to see relievers, but it was rare to see one who was a star and considered one of the best players on their team. Fingers' lights-out performance and electric personality made him a household name at a time when closers just weren’t that important. Without Oakland’s embrace of Fingers, the closer position could look very different today.


Bert Campaneris was one of the first Cuban players to ever play in the MLB. He helped set an early precedent as to what players from other countries could offer. He was an electric player and a flat-out winner. Oakland fans embraced him for it, and he went down in history as an A’s legend.


The final reason for this game’s inclusion is the A’s opponent, the California Angels. These were the two West Coast teams in the AL. They helped show a whole side of the country what baseball had to offer as a sport. These early A’s teams in the 70s and their success helped inspire kids across the West Coast to pick up a bat. Young Oakland kids like Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson watched these teams and grew to love the game, eventually lacing up their cleats and changing the game themselves. This game is a perfect example of what Oakland had to offer in the world of baseball.


Thursday, August 30th, 1990

Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

Final Score: Athletics 6-5 Royals


On August 30th, 1990, the Royals, led by George Brett and hovering around, played the finale of a 3-game series against the defending World Champion Athletics. In 1989, the A’s had won their 4th title while in Oakland and their first since the 3-peat in the 1970s. So far into 1990, they appeared to be much of the same, as they were off to an amazing 81-49 start and in first place in the division for this Thursday game. On the bump for the A’s was Oakland-born Dave Stewart. He was in the middle of the greatest run of his career. From 1986-1990, he pitched to the tune of a 3.20 ERA and placed top four in Cy Young voting each season. On this day, it was no different, as Stewart tossed 7 innings of four-run ball to keep them in the game and pass it off to the bullpen.


The game was saved by HOF closer Dennis Eckersley, who was in the middle of arguably the greatest four-year stretch ever seen by a closer. Eckersley is one of only two pitchers to have a span of 250 games with a sub-1.80 ERA and at least 175 saves. 1990 was the best of these seasons, as he had 0.61 ERA and 48 saves.


Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, one of the greatest power combos in the league at this time, captained the offense. Canseco drew three walks, and McGwire added a 2-hit game. The lineup also featured future HOF Harold Baines and six-time all-star 2B Willie Randolph. However, the best player on this team was another Oakland kid: Rickey Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of baseball. Rickey was in the middle of what most call his greatest season ever. He led the league in runs scored (119), stolen bases (65), OBP (.439), OPS (1.016), OPS+(189), and bWAR (9.9).


But once again, what’s so memorable about this specific game? It falls into what is likely the most memorable era of Oakland A’s baseball. They were really good, and, most importantly, they were really fun. The Bash brothers, McGwire and Canseco, were one of the best power-hitting combos ever, each with electric personalities. These guys sent balls into orbit, and the A’s faithful loved them for it. From 1986 to 1991, Canseco and McGwire combined for 382 HRs, 1,138 RBIs, 9 All-Stars, 2 ROTY, 9 seasons receiving MVP votes, and 43.3 bWAR. While both of these guys are not in the HOF due to steroid allegations, it cannot be denied the impact they had on the game, as it showed what guys with pure power can do. At the time, it was rare to see guys who were so power-focused, but they paved the way for the multitude of power hitters we see today.


Dennis Eckersley was the greatest relief pitcher in an era that produced the most HOF relievers. Dominant closers (i.e., Rollie Fingers) have been a staple in Oakland A’s history. However, Eckersly was somehow better than Fingers, taking home an MVP award, which now seems unfathomable for a closer. He and Fingers together helped build the RP role into what it is today, where teams will spend top dollar to get the best relievers. Fingers and Eckersley laid the groundwork so guys like Riviera, Hoffman, Kimbrel, and Chapman could become superstars in the closer role.


This game also featured Rickey Henderson doing what only Rickey Henderson could do. He went 3 for 5 with a HR, SB, 3 RBIs, and 2 runs scored. There is nothing I can say about Rickey that has not already been said. Even so, diving deeper into his stats gives some shocking revelations about how truly generational he was. Hendersson stole 1,406 bases in his career at an 80% success rate. This record will likely never be touched and could last for the remainder of MLB history. He also hit 297 HRs throughout his career. Rickey is the only member of the 250 HR/1,400 SB club, 250 HR 1,200 SB club, 250 HR/1,000 SB club, 250 HR/900 SB club, 250 HR/800 SB club, and 250 HR/700 SB club. Only three players in MLB history have had seasons of 15 or more HRs, 55 or more SB, and an OBP over .410. Rickey did this twice. He is one of the greatest baseball players ever and his impact on the city of Oakland can not be understated. He inspired kids for over 20 years and showed them what a kid from Oakland can do. He still lives there and has given back a lot to his community. All that considered, you cannot tell the story of baseball without mentioning the name Rickey Henderson.


The final reason I chose this is because there were 36,000 people present in Oakland to watch it. Recently, people have dogged Oakland for having poor attendance. That is true, but anyone who says Oakland does not care about the A’s is lying. In this 1990 season, they were third in overall attendance and attendance per game. Oakland loves and rallies behind this A’s team. They do so much for the community, giving kids role models to look up to, and the city has shown support for this team in the past. However, if you have an owner who refuses to spend any money to bring in new players, then the attendance will fall off. Say what you want about Oakland, but never say the fans are not faithful.


Tuesday, July 16th, 2002

Oakland Athletics at Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Final Score: Athletics 2-1 Devil Rays


This is one of the most famous teams in A’s history as there is even a movie about the 2002 A’s (Moneyball if you somehow have not seen it you absolutely should). This contest was the second game of a two-game visit to Tampa for Oakland, who was in the middle of a battle for first place in the division.


24-year-old lefty Mark Mulder got the nod for the A’s and tossed 7.1 innings of one-run ball. Mulder was in the middle of the best span of his career, tossing a 3.65 ERA from 2001 to 2004. He is one of four players in A’s history to have a 120-start span with a sub-3.65 ERA and sub-0.8 HR/9. He is one of the most underrated pitchers in A’s history.


Chad Bradford got the hold. If you have seen Moneyball, you know this name. The submarine reliever was largely forgotten among organizations at the time, but the A’s picked him. He pitched four years in Oakland, amassing a 3.34 ERA, a 3.68 FIP, and an insane 0.7 HR/9. The game was closed by journeyman closer Billy Koch, who led the MLB that year in games pitched with 84. The lineup featured Moneyball legends Scott Hatteberg and David Justice, who hit second and fourth, respectively, in this game. This lineup was anchored by 2002 MVP Miguel Tejada, the last A’s player to win the award, and also featured A’s mainstays like Mark Ellis, Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, John Mabry, and Eric Byrnes. The pitching staff was led by the three-headed monster of Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito. The latter of the two both had sub-3.00 ERAs. Zito won the Cy Young award that year, and he is the last A’s player to win the Cy Young for the A’s.


This matchup featured two teams with similar philosophies but very different results. In 2002, the A’s finished with the 28th-highest payroll in baseball ($40 million) and a 103-59 record, while the Devil Rays had the lowest payroll in baseball ($34 million) with a 55-106 record. These were the two lowest payrolls in the AL this year: one team won one hundred games, and the other lost one hundred games.


Everyone knows the story, GM Billy Beane lost three of his best players from the previous season due to an owner unwilling to spend. But with an analytical approach, Beane was able to assemble a team that won more games than the previous season despite having little funding. There is an argument that no team ever changed the game of baseball more than the 2002 Oakland Athletics. Teams across the league began to look at the game with a more analytical approach. Everything, including the draft, free agency, trades, and player development, became driven by analytics. Now, most teams have an analytics department that numbers well over 50 employees, and many decisions made in the front office are made through an analytical lens. Even college baseball teams are now being driven by analytics to develop players and scout other teams. Love it or hate it, baseball is now an analytics-driven sport. The Drummey Angle would not exist as a blog without this A’s team, I would not be pursuing a career in baseball analytics without this team, and the game of baseball would look very different today without the contributions that this team made to the game. Yes, baseball would have ended up incorporating analytics eventually, but the A’s were trailblazers in this way of thought.


Saturday, August 5th, 2023

San Francisco Giants at Oakland Athletics

Final Score: Athletics 2-1 Giants


This brings us to this past season. The 2023 A’s were likely the worst team in baseball, with by far the lowest attendance in the MLB. The city and its fans knew what was coming. Though it had not been made official, everyone knew a move to Las Vegas was imminent. In a last-ditch effort, the fans began holding reverse boycotts. They packed the stands and let owner John Fisher know what they wanted him to do: sell the team. This Saturday game was the final reverse boycott. 37,000 fans packed the Oakland Coliseum to witness the A’s face the crosstown rival San Francisco Giants. They cheered their hearts out and chanted “Sell the team!” over and over again. In the midst of this, the 31-80 A’s were able to put together a great game. Paul Blackburn tossed six innings of shutout ball, and veteran closer Trevor May went 1.2 innings to seal a 2-1 victory.


For one of the last times, it was put on display what the A’s could be when the fans had something to cheer for. Throughout 2023, chants for Fisher to sell the team broke out everywhere, including the All-Star game and even Giants games. A’s fans want them to be in Oakland, but it was unfortunately a lost cause. This game was the beginning of the A’s farewell to Oakland but offered a glimpse back to the glory days: Hunter and Fingers carving up hutters, McGwire and Canseco hitting bombs, Rickey being Rickey, and countless other memories.


 

Oakland A’s baseball changed the game. They built one of the greatest dynasties ever and trotted out some of the best players ever in the 80s and 90s, and they also just so happened to change the direction of front offices along the way. 2024 will be the last season that the A’s play in Oakland, and I highly recommend that any baseball fan should attend an A’s game in Oakland before it is too late. Baseball owes a lot to the Oakland A’s, and the game will not be the same without them.



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