A Comparison Of Oakland A’s Teams Era By Era

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Since the cross-bay rival’s winning of the World Series for the third time in five seasons the word “dynasty” has been thrown around as well as talk of which was their “best team” of their World Championship teams.

With that, it got me to thinking of all the OAKLAND A’s playoff teams over the years – 18 of them if you count two wildcard berths – and which ones were their “best” teams over the years. (By the way: In the same amount of years – since 1968 – the Giants have only had 12 post season teams)

Having the luxury of being the only writer on our staff that has actually seen all 18 Oakland A’s playoff contenders take the field and compete over 47 seasons, I figured I would take a look at the various A’s teams over the years for the purpose of determining the best I’ve seen.

The first thing I noticed when compiling the information for the ranking is the A’s post season teams appear to have “eras” of winning – with the exception of the 1981 Billy Ball team which climbed to first after four cellar dwelling years, then losing in three straight to the Yankee in the LDS before dropping back into years of AL West obscurity.

There’s no doubt the Mustache Gang of the 1972-1974 teams was a dynasty. Those three world championships are also sandwiched between AL West winning teams of 1971 and 1975 formulating five straight years of placing first.

The next era would be the Bash Brothers of 1988 to 1992 where the A’s won the west in four out of five seasons, going to the World Series in three straight years, 1988 to 1990, winning it all only in 1989.

Seven long losing seasons would pass until the A’s had another era of winners when in 2000 to 2006 the Big Three of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder with MVP performances by Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada would underscore five playoff appearances in seven seasons, but losing four straight ALDS’s before getting swept in the ALCS by the Detroit Tigers and a walk-off by Magglio Ordonez in Game 4.

Now we are in another era, 2012 to 2014, with the A’s making the post season the last three straight seasons after five years of sub-.500 baseball in Oakland. Enjoy it and see what develops with these guys, A’s fans.

For the benefit of space, rather than compare each by position-by-position, I opted to break the teams down in six categories for the assessment – Pitching, Catcher, Outfield, Infield, Bullpen, and Manager –using the individuals that played the most during those eras.

PITCHING
1971-75: Jim Hunter, Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue, John Blue Moon Odom
1988-92: Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch, Storm Davis
2000-06: Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Rich Harden
2012-14: Many familiar names – Colon, Milone, Parker, Griffin, Gray, in two of three seasons.

The main competition here is between the 71-75 group and the 88-92 staff. Blue and Hunter both won Cy Young Awards in 1971 and 1974 respectively. Welch won a Cy Young in 1990.

While many cite Stewart’s three straight years of 20+ game winning seasons, Hunter had four straight in 71-74 and the staff of the 71-75 group had seven 20 game winners compared to four for Stewart (3) and Welch(1).
Winner: 71-75 Era

CATCHER
1971-75: Dave Duncan/ Ray Fosse
1988-92: Terry Steinbach/ Ron Hassey
2000-06: Ramon Hernandez/Jason Kendall
2012-14: Kurt Suzuki/ Derek Norris

While each era has had its catcher appear in the All-Star game, the obvious hands-down choice here, with all due respect to A’s announcer Ray Fosse, is Terry Steinbach who had the better batting average (.263) over the periods as well as a .292 post season BA. No other era had a catcher with such consistency.
Winner: 88-92 Era

OUTFIELD
1971-75: Joe Rudi, Bill North, Reggie Jackson
1988-92: Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, Jose Canseco
2000-06: Too many to name – no consistency
2012-14: Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick

OK, show of hands; how many of you cringed when you saw Cespedes named in those great outfield combinations and had the “if only” thought? Although the 2012-14 outfield may not have the name recognition as the first two, it does/did have potential to show itself comparable with the mixture of speed, power, fielding and hitting as the others.

Again, this goes down to a match between the 71-75 group and the 88-92 unit. Head-to-head, Jackson trumps Canseco in the power department, but Rickey tops Bill North in lead off and stolen base performance. It comes down to Rudi vs. Hendu, with Rudi having a better BA (.273), more HRs and RBIs, and three Gold Gloves.
(This is where the 1981 Billy Ball team deserves a mention with its outfield of Rickey, Dwayne Murphy –both winning gold gloves, and Tony Armas who led the league in HRs that year)
Winner: 71-75 Era

INFIELD
1971-75: Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Dick Green, Mike Epstein/Gene Tenace
1988-92: Carney Lansford, Walt Weiss, Mike Gallego/Tony Phillips, Mark McGwire
2000-2006: Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Mark Ellis, Jason Giambi/Scott Hatteberg
2012-2014: Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss

The one thing that seems to be consistent with all four of these eras is a strong third baseman and a weak hitting second baseman. Also, this seems to be an area where the 2000-06 group shows strength with MVPs of Giambi (2000) and Tejada (2002).

To come to a determination, a breakdown of head-to-head reveals the following for each position:
3B goes to Chavez. With four gold gloves, he also had the most HRs (230), the most RBIs (788) and second in BA behind Lansford.
SS goes to Tejada. He batted .270 with 156 home runs and 604 RBI in his time with the A’s with the most career home runs by a shortstop (156). He also hit 30 or more home runs in three straight seasons (2000-02).
2B goes to Green. While Phillips has slightly better offensive numbers, not all his games were as a second baseman. Green played in 72 post season games, Phillips only 26 and not all at second base.
1B goes to McGwire. I don’t think there’s any argument here. Despite Giambi’s MVP season, he only played for two of the A’s post season teams. Big Mac played more games at first base (1251) than any other player in Oakland history, was named AL Rookie of the Year in 1987, had seven All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, and was in 32 post season games for the A’s.
Winner: 2000-06 Era

BULLPEN (Closer with relievers)
1971-75: Rollie Fingers, Darold Knowles, Paul Lindblad
1988-92: Dennis Eckersley, Gene Nelson, Rick Honeycutt
2000-06: Jason Isringhausen/ Billy Koch/Huston Street, plus host of relief including Tam, Mecir, Magnante, Duchscherer
2012-2014: Grant Balfour/Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, Luke Gregerson

Again, it’s between the 71-75 and the 88-92 era bullpens. Fingers was just defining the closer role at the time, often pitching more than one inning for a save. Both Eck and Rollie were lights out and nearly automatic when they took the mound. Both are Hall of Famers with MVPs and Cy Youngs under their belt (Fingers awards in 1981 weren’t with the A’s) This one is tough since bullpen and closer uses were slightly different. In post season play Fingers doesn’t have any blown saves ala Kurt Gibson or Roberto Alomar, but Eck has more appearances and saves including 1988 ALCS MVP.
Calling this a draw.

MANAGER
1971-75: Dick Williams/ Al Dark
1988-92: Tony La Russa
2000-06: Art Howe/Ken Macha
2012-14: Bob Melvin

Dick Williams and Tony LaRussa are both Hall of Fame Managers. Williams guided the A’s to three AL West titles, two AL pennants and back-to-back World Championships in 72-73. He also has the best winning percentage of any manager in Oakland history. LaRussa, who was with the A’s for 10 years, won four AL West titles, three AL pennants and one World Championship. His win total ranks first in Oakland A’s history.
Winner: 88-92 Era with LaRussa

Now time to determine my overall best era of Oakland A’s baseball.

WINNER: 1971-1975 Era
With the categories I used, the Mustache Gang Era of 1971-75 won three categories with the Bash Brother Era taking two. In the category that neither won, infield, the choice would have to go to the 71-75 Era in head-to-head since the left side of the infield, Campy and Bando, would rate higher than Lansford and Weiss. (Green won 2B and McGwire took 1B.)

Sorry youngsters, but maybe it’s just because with age that I’m fonder of the older teams.

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