All-Time Greatest: Oakland Athletics

The Athletics franchise was one of the charter American League franchises in 1901.  They were founded in Philadelphia by Connie Mack, who was the owner and manager of the team for its first 50 years of existence.  They enjoyed reasonable success in Philadelphia for the first 30 years, but after two decades of decline, the team was moved to Kansas City in 1955.  Unfortunately, the new owner of the Athletics, Arnold Johnson, was more interested in making a profit than in fielding a quality team.  Under Johnson, there were also a number of extremely lopsided trades with the Yankees (whom he had a working relationship with prior to purchasing the A’s), where he would send young, talented players (most notably, Roger Maris), in exchange for aging veterans and cash.  Many accused Johnson of essentially functioning as a farm system at the major league level for the Yankees.  But, in 1960, Johnson suddenly died of a brain hemorrhage, and the majority ownership was purchased by Charles O. Finley.

Finley immediately began work on the public image of the Athletics – including purchasing an old bus, pointing it toward New York, and setting it on fire, symbolizing the end of their “special relationship” with the Yankees.  But, in spite of his antics, and his claims that he wanted to keep the team in Kansas City, he almost immediately began looking for a new home for the A’s.  In 1962, he had serious discussions to move the team to the Dallas area, though no formal proposal was ever set before the owners.  In 1964, Finley signed an agreement to move the team to Louisville, but was blocked by a 9-1 vote by the rest of the owners of the AL.  Six weeks later, he proposed a move to Oakland, but was again shot down.  In October of 1967, he was finally given permission to move the team to Oakland for the 1968 season.  During their 13 years in Kansas City, the Athletics endured some terrible seasons – never finishing with a winning record, and a combined 829-1224 record for an abysmal .404 win percentage.

If I were to ask you who the top three teams in the history of baseball were, in regards to World Series titles, I imagine most would guess the top 2 – Yankees & Cardinals.  But, I wonder how many would guess that third on that list isn’t the Dodgers, or the Giants, or the Red Sox – but the Athletics, who have 9 World Series titles in franchise history.  In Philadelphia, they appeared in 5 World Series from 1905-1914 (just 1 losing season that entire time), and won 3 titles (’10, ’11 & ’13).  They rose to the top of the AL again, winning 3 straight pennants from ’29-’31, and won the ’29 & ’30 World Series’.  After moving to Oakland, they made 5 straight playoff appearances from ’71-’75, and won 3 straight championships from ’72-’74.  They again won 3 consecutive AL pennants from ’88-’90, winning the World Series title in ’89.  Since 2000, they’ve made 7 playoff appearances, but have only once advanced beyond the ALDS – losing the ALCS in ’06.  Even with the amount of success they have had in Oakland, they continue to be largely unnoticed, even by their own fans – consistently finishing in the bottom 1/3 of the league in attendance.  This has prompted lengthy discussions over the last few years of a potential move to San Jose (the most recent of numerous discussions of moving the team, dating back to the ’70’s).

Their success over the years has prompted them to retire 5 players’ jersey numbers (all in Oakland).  They have fielded 12 different MVP winners, 5 different Cy Young winners, and 8 Rookie of the Year winners.  Five players in the Baseball Hall of Fame spent their primary careers in Oakland, and 8 HOFers spent their primary careers with the franchise while it was in Philadelphia.  So, in spite of their relative anonymity, this is a team that has a long and storied history.  Choosing the top 5 here was not a simple task, and you might be a little surprised at some names that are absent.

dennis-eckersley-1992lovero5. Dennis Eckersley (’87-’95) – Eckersley’s trade to Oakland before the ’87 season was the move that made his career.  He was 31, and struggling as a starting pitcher.  The move to the bullpen turned him into a Hall of Famer (elected in 2004 on his first ballot).  His 5-year stretch from ’88-’92 was prolific.  He appeared in 4 All-Star games, finished in the top 6 in Cy Young voting 4 times, led the league in saves twice, had a 1.90 ERA and 0.79 WHIP for the entirety of 5 seasons, and won the Cy Young and MVP in ’92.  In 1990, he became the only pitcher in MLB history to have more saves in a single season than baserunners allowed (48 saves, 41 hits, 4 walks, in 63 games).  His numbers tailed off significantly the remainder of his time in Oakland, which is why he isn’t further up this list.  But, he still ranks 9th in Athletics history in ERA (2.74), 1st in WHIP (0.95), 1st in K/9 (9.3), 1st in saves (320), 1st in K/BB ratio (7.15), and 3rd in ERA+ (145).

AlSimmons_display_image4. Al Simmons (’24-’32, ’40-’41, ’44) – a name I imagine very few are familiar with.  But, when you stack up Simmons’ numbers against the more well-known players in franchise history, he simply surpasses them time after time.  In 9 full seasons in Philadelphia (those last three were at the end of his career, in which he only played a total of 50 games), Simmons was one of the most consistent hitters in the AL.  He drove in 100+ RBI every year, including 150+ three times.  He eclipsed 200 hits five times.  His batting average during those years was .358, including back-to-back batting titles in ’30-’31.  He finished in the top 5 in MVP voting four times, and should have won it in ’25, when he finished just a few votes behind a vastly inferior batter who happened to play for a playoff team.  In addition to his two batting titles, Simmons also led the league in RBI once, and hits twice.  And, something he never led the league in (averaging just 45 per season) was strikeouts.  He was elected into the HOF in 1953.  On the A’s all-time lists, he ranks 1st in career batting average (.356), 9th in OBP (.398), 2nd in SLG (.584), 2nd in OPS (.983), 5th in runs scored (969), 2nd in hits (1827), 1st in total bases (2998), 7th in HR (209), 1st in RBI (1179), 5th in OPS+ (147), and 3rd in runs created (1191).

lefty_grove_283. Lefty Grove (’25-’33) – another name I’m not sure everyone will immediately recognize, but one of the greatest left-handed pitchers of all time.  Robert Moses Grove broke into the major leagues in 1925, and immediately began striking people out at an incredible rate.  He led the league in strikeouts his first seven seasons in the big leagues.  He went 10-12 that first season – which turned out to be the only losing season of his 17-year career!  During his time with the Athletics, Lefty led the league in wins 4 times, ERA 5 times, WHIP 3 times, and K/BB ratio 6 times.  In ’30 & ’31 he won back-to-back pitcher’s triple crowns (leading the league in wins, ERA & K’s), culminating in an MVP award in ’31.  He was an integral part of two World Series championship teams in ’29 & ’30, and was elected to the Baseball HOF in 1947.  On the A’s all-time lists, he ranks 10th in ERA (2.88), 2nd in wins (195), 1st in win pct. (.712), 4th in K’s (1523), and 1st in ERA+ (151).

rickeysteal2. Rickey Henderson (’79-’84, ’89-’93, ’94-’95, ’98) – the greatest base stealer of all-time was so much more than that.  He was also an on-base machine, with a career OBP of .401 (which includes some rough years after he turned 40!).  He was the all-time career leader in walks when he retired (which has since been passed by Bonds).  And, he’s the all-time career leader in runs scored.  He’s also the career leader in lead-off home runs (and by a wide margin over Alfonso Soriano, who’s in 2nd).  In his portions of 14 seasons with the Athletics, Rickey led the league in stolen bases 8 times, runs scored twice, walks 4 times, OBP once, and OPS once.  He appeared in 6 All-Star games, won a Gold Glove in ’81, finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 3 times, and won the MVP in ’90.  He was elected to the HOF on his first ballot in 2009, and his #24 jersey was retired by the A’s later that year.  He ranks 6th on the A’s all-time OBP list (.409), 1st in runs scored (1270 – no one else even has 1,000!), 3rd in hits (1768), 4th in total bases (2640), 1st in walks (1227), 1st in stolen bases (867), 8th in OPS+ (137), and 1st in runs created (1264).

JimmieFoxxAthletics1. Jimmie Foxx (’25-’35) – what does it say about Jimmie Foxx that he not only ranks in the top 5 for two different organizations on my list, but that he ranks in the top two for two different franchises (Boston)??  Foxx started playing for the Athletics when he was just 17 years old.  It took him a few years, but by the time he was 21, he had found his stride, with a .354/.463/.625/1.088 stat line, 33 HR and 118 RBI.  He went on to lead the league in runs once, HR 3 times, RBI twice, SLG 3 times, OPS 3 times, and when he led the league in batting in 1933, he won the Triple Crown, and his second consecutive MVP award.  He was inducted into the Baseball HOF in 1951 on his first ballot.  On the A’s all-time lists, he ranks 2nd in batting (.339), 1st in OBP (.440), 1st in SLG (.640), 1st in OPS (1.079), 4th in runs scored (975), 7th in hits (1492), 3rd in total bases (2813), 2nd in HR (302), 2nd in RBI (1075), 1st in OPS+ (175!!), and 2nd in runs created (1229).

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