Bay Area Sports Franchises: Oakland A’s

OAKLAND A’s

World Series Titles: 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1989 (9)

Retired Numbers: #9 Reggie Jackson, #24 Rickey Henderson, #27 Catfish Hunter, #34 Rollie Fingers, #43 Dennis Eckersley, #42 Jack Robinson (retire league-wide)

Rivals: San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies

The Philadelphia Athletics baseball club was founded in 1901 as part of the brand new American Baseball League. Connie Mack managed the A’s for 50 years, from the team’s inception until 1950. During their 54 year stay in Philadelphia, the franchise produced Hall of Famers like Ty Cobb, Chief Bender, Mickey Cochrane, Nelson Fox, Lefty Grove, Connie Mack, Eddie Plank, Al Simmons, and Rube Waddell. Some of them are better known for their play with other teams but all were A’s at one time.
The team has long adopted the team insignia of a white elephant, with this deriving from when New York Giants Manager John McGraw dismissed the A’s, calling them “The White Elephants.” Mack defiantly adopted this as the program’s symbol. In 1902, the A’s won the American League pennant, an achievement they repeated once again in 1905.

A’s history was truly made in 1909, when Mack formed his famous “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry, and Frank Baker. Those four led the team to World Series wins in 1910, 1911, and 1913 over the Cubs twice and the Giants, respectively. They won over 100 games in 1910 and 1911, and 99 games in 1914.
After a brief period of downturn in the program, partially due to the interruption and conflicts caused by the Federal League, which lured star players away from their teams, Mack began to build another winner. In 1927 and 1928, the Athletics finished second to the New York Yankees, then won pennants in 1929, 1930 and 1931, winning the World Series in 1929 and 1930. In each of the three years, the A’s won over 100 games. As it turned out, this would be the Athletics’ last stand in Philadelphia, as the Great Depression caused Mack to sell or trade his best players in order to reduce expenses. Due to declining attendance and drastically reduced team revenues, the franchise was both unwilling and unable to invest in a farm system.

As a result, the A’s went into a funk that lasted for over 30 years that spanned three cities, from Philadelphia until 1955, Kansas City from 1955-1967, and then in Oakland from 1968 until present. They contended for much of 1948 and 1949, only to collapse back to last place again in 1950. The 1950 season would be the 88-year-old Mack’s 50th and last as A’s manager, a North American professional sports record that has never been threatened.

Additionally, at the same time, the Phillies, who had been the definition of baseball futility for over 30 years, began a surprisingly quick climb to respectability. Philadelphia had been an “A’s town” for most of the first half of the 20th century, even though for much of the last decade the A’s were as bad or worse than the Phillies. However, unlike the A’s, the Phillies began spending lavishly on young prospects in the 1940s. The impact was immediate; the Phillies leaped from dead last in 1947 to the World Series in 1950. It soon became obvious that the Phillies had passed the A’s as Philadelphia’s number-one team.

By the summer of 1954, it was obvious that the A’s could not survive. Though last-minute offers were put on the table to buy the Athletics to keep them in Philadelphia, the American League owners were determined to “solve the Philadelphia problem” by moving the team elsewhere. In 1954, the owners approved the sale of the Athletics to another Chicago businessman, Arnold Johnson, who moved the team to Kansas City for the 1955 season.

The move to Kansas City generated an enthusiastic fan base, but the A’s could still not manage to produce impressive or even mediocre seasons. In their ten-plus seasons in Kansas City, the A’s did not turn in any playoff appearances, with just a .404 winning percentage in that time. Then on October 18, 1967, American League owners at last gave A’s ownership the permission to move the Athletics to Oakland for the 1968 season. This transition to their current home in the Bay Area has proven to be the most successful and effective placement for the franchise.

The Athletics arrived in Oakland just as the team was beginning to gel. They moved into the one-year-old Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. On May 8, 1968 in a game against the Minnesota Twins, Jim “Catfish” Hunter pitched the first perfect game in the American League since 1922. Managed by Bob Kennedy, the A’s finished the 1968 season with an 82–80 record – their first winning season since 1952, which was their second-to-last season in Philadelphia. In light of the expansion in1969, the American League was divided into two 6-team divisions. During that year, the Athletics finished second in the AL West behind the Twins, the first time they had finished in the first division since 1952. The program officially changed the team name from the Athletics to the “A’s” in 1970.

With a new home, a new team name, and a fresh and new squad, everything finally came together for the A’s as the 1970s dawned. After another second-place finish in 1970, the A’s won the AL West title in 1971 for their first postseason appearance of any kind since 1931. However, they lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series. In 1972, the A’s won their first league pennant since 1931 and faced the Reds in the World Series. The A’s seven-game victory over the heavily favored Reds gave the team its first World Series Championship since 1930.

They defended their title in 1973 and 1974. The A’s teams of the 1970s played well enough to win their division, and then upset teams that had won more games during the regular season with their stellar pitching, clean defense, and clutch hitting. Finley called this team the “Swingin’ A’s.” Players such as Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue formed the heart of these teams.

The A’s had never drawn well since moving to Oakland (even during the World Series years), and during the next three years attendance dropped so low that the Coliseum became known as the “Oakland Mausoleum.” At one point during the late 1970s, crowds could be counted in the hundreds. The Coliseum’s upkeep also went downhill. The franchise’s rapid deterioration so soon after being the most powerful team in the game led some fans to nickname them “the Triple-A’s.”

However, as ownership transferred in the early 1980’s, the franchise’s minor league system was rebuilt, a move that proved to be effective later on down the road, as greats such as José Canseco and Mark McGwire were chosen as Rookies of the Year in the late 80’s. During the 1986 season, Tony La Russa was hired as the Athletics’ manager, a post he held until the end of 1995. In 1987, La Russa’s first full year as manager, the team finished at 81–81, its best record in seven seasons. Beginning in 1988, the program went on to claim the AL pennant three years in a row.

This regular season dominance began to lead to some success in the postseasons. The Athletics’ lone World Series championship of the era was a four-game sweep of the cross-town rival San Francisco Giants in the 1989 World Series. After this brief resurgence, the team began declining yet again, winning the divisional title in 1992, but then falling into last at the close of the 1993 season.

At the beginning of the 90’s, payroll was cut drastically due to new ownership, and stars such a McGwire began to disperse to other franchises, making way for a young group of new A’s to begin to establish themselves in Oakland. This period in Oakland history featured splendid performances from a trio of young starting pitchers: right-hander Tim Hudson and left-handers Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Between 1999 and 2006, the so-called “Big Three” helped the A’s to emerge into a perennial powerhouse in the AL West. They gave the Athletics a 1–2–3 punch to add to talented infielders and potent hitters, such as first baseman Jason Giambi, shortstop Miguel Tejada, and third baseman Eric Chavez. Giambi was named American League MVP in 2000, and Tejada won an MVP Award of his own in 2002, a year which also saw Zito win 23 games and the Cy Young Award.

The A’s have been solid in the 2000’s, with playoff appearances in 2000-2003, and 2006. They have fallen victim to high levels of competition within their division, but have also generated a large amount of media attention through some big acquisitions, with pitchers such as Dallas Braden, who pitched a perfect game in the 2010 season. Oakland ended the 2010 season with an 81-81 record, good enough for 2nd in the division, 9 games behind Texas and 1 game ahead of Los Angeles. As spring training is in full bloom, stay tuned tomorrow as we break down the current state of affairs in A’s baseball!

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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