The Oakland Athletics line up along the third baseline before their first home game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, April 17, 1968. 50,164 fans along with Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio (far left) were in attendence as the A’s lost to the Baltimore Orioles 4-1. .(photo by Ron Riesterer/Oakland Tribune)
At a recent Swinin’ A’s writers get together for the Wildcard Playoff Game, as I was drinking a Blue Moon Ale watching the game, I realized I have been legally able to suck on a beer longer than the rest of the staff has been sucking air on this green Earth.
One of the blessings I have over my fellow cadre of scribes, is I have the benefit of being able to say I’ve followed and been to A’s games going back to their opening season when they came to Oakland in 1968 when I was a mere kid of eight years old.
They say, “you never forget your first,” and my first game was May 25, 1968. The game was against the Detroit Tigers and Denny McLain, who would later win a season record 31 games, pitched against the A’s for a 2-1 Tiger victory.
My dad and I sat in the bleachers, the REAL bleachers before the Mt. Davis monstrosity and a child’s ticket was only 75 cents at the time. Dad’s was $1.50. I know this because both ticket stubs remained in my baseball card collection for years.
There were a couple other games that year, including a Sunday July 31 doubleheader back when doubleheaders were real things about four times a year. Just being happy to be at the game, I always asked that we sit in centerfield to watch my favorite player at the time, Rick Monday.
In 1969 I discovered the giveaways which included Cap Day and Bat Day of real Louisville Sluggers (even before the green ones Charlie O Finley came out with in the 70s). I remember the 1969 bat day when not only did I get my Rick Monday bat, but he hit a grand slam against the Yankees – yep, had that stub too.
Members of Reggie’s Regiment were awarded a special membership card during the 1969 season
1969 was also the year of “Reggie’s Regiment” an early day version very similar to the fans of “Section 148”, but honoring upcoming slugger Reggie Jackson and his ‘taters.’ I would sit in right-center to watch both outfielders at that time.
Starting in 1970 my seat location changed from the bleachers to then the third deck due to the A’s Knothole Gang and discounted tickets through UCB Bank.
In 1971 came Manager Dick Williams and a 101-win season (and Mr. Finley’s gold cap bill design that has stayed with the team to its current season). Vida Blue had a breakthrough season going on to win both the Cy Young and AL MVP. I went to quite a few games where Vida, wearing #35 at that time, was pitching that year.
The A’ were later swept in the ALCS by the Orioles but my heartbreak came a month later on Nov. 29, 2971 when Rick Monday was traded to the Cubs for Ken Holtzman. Not seeing the pitching advantage Hotzman would bring the next few years, I was one devastated 12-year-old.
1972 could be classified as my favorite year of A’s baseball. The team had donned the then-introduced colorful new double-knit style of unis with Fort Knox Gold, Kelly Green, and Wedding Gown White jerseys. That year I got my first game baseball, a home run hit by Joe Rudi on Aug. 2 vs the Royals. (Everything was in slow motion but it’s still ingrained in my mind)
That year the A’s, known as the Mustache Gang, won the ALCS vs. the Tigers and on Oct 22, they won the first of four World Championships I would later experience with the team as a fan.
Oakland A’s celebrate after winning the World Series.against the Reds in 1972. L-R Mike Epstein, Dave Duncan, Joe Rudi, and Sal Bando. (photo copyright 1972 Ron Riesterer)
1973 and 1974 were also World Championship years where, at age 13 and 14, I was able to go to games on my own with friends on the newly established BART line and a 30 cent ticket to get from San Leandro to the Coliseum. Tickets were easy to get when a friend and I discovered that the visiting players stayed at the now demolished Edgewater Hyatt House and by asking them when they were poolside, we could have some left for us at will call.
I also discovered that the bat boys would give out the dugout posted line-up cards at the end of games and I still have many from those years stashed away. In fact, the ones I had for both teams for Game 1 of the 1973 World Series and Game 3 of the 1974 World Series were asked for by the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown as a donation by me.
Years 1977 to 1979 were dry years of near 100-loss season and minimal attendance, including a 1979 season where only 306,763 fans (probably 6 were from games I attended since I had my driver’s license by then) witnessed the A’s lose 108 games and finish with a .333 winning percentage.
In 1980 newly-hired Manager Billy Martin resurrected the A’s where he perfected a style of play in 1981, along with new ownership of the Haas family, that became known as “Billy Ball” characterized as featuring aggressive base running and a newcomer named Rickey Henderson.
The 1981 A’s won an ALDS “split season series” to become AL West Champions but went on to be swept by the Yankees.
In preparing for this article, I came across a fantastic website loaded with not only 200-300 vintage Oakland Athletic pictures that are available for purchase, but also pictures of the Raiders, Warriors, Seals and other memorable local happenings from the Oakland area.
The site, Ron Riesterer Photography at http://ronriesterer.photoshelter.com is by Ron Riesterer who spent 45 years as staff photographer at Oakland Tribune for sports, news and feature photos with numerous awards from AP, NPPA and a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.