Since the inception of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Rookie of the Year award in 1947, the Athletics have been fortunate enough to field several winners of the award.
In 1952, Harry Byrd won the rookie of the year award as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics. Byrd went 15-15 in his first full season with the team and posted a 3.31 ERA in 228.1 innings of work. He had 15 complete games, including three shutouts and a pair of saves.
Time was not particularly good to Byrd, though, and his numbers in the 1953 season took a steep turn down the wrong road with his ERA jumping to 5.51, his win count dropping to 11-20, his total earned runs spiking from 84 to 145, a career high, and hitting twice as many batters with balls. This was the final year that Byrd played for the Athletics and he would spend the next four seasons playing for the Yankees, Orioles, White Sox and Tigers to mixed success.
Following Byrd’s honors, the Athletics went through an extended dry spell in terms of the Rookie of the Year award, including their entire stint in Kansas City. That drought would end in a big way with three consecutive award winners beginning in 1986 when Jose Canseco was given the honor.
Jose Canseco, in his award winning rookie year, hit 33 homers, drove in 117 runs, stole 15 bases, and got an All Star invitation. Canseco’s OPS was an above average .775 but would, remarkably, dip below that number only once in his 17 major league seasons. His rookie season ranked him second in RBI’s, fourth in home runs, and ninth in extra base hits. His defensive ability, in 1986, left something to be desired but unlike Byrd, this Athletics rookie of the year was not peaking in his first season. Canseco would go on to have a 40/40 year, six all star appearances, a world series victory and an MVP award.
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The following year, 1987, saw the rookie of the year honor go to Mark McGwire who also enjoyed a trip to the all star game during his rookie season. McGwire, who quickly became every bay area kid’s hero (including this writer), hit 49 home runs, drove in 118, and had a .987 OPS. His rookie season saw him post a 5.1 WAR and a league leading .618 SLG%. His career requires little recap for the readers of this site. McGwire, when healthy, was a phenomenal player with several seasons of record breaking success. Of course, despite all the accolades he received during his tenure as a player, the BBWAA still refuses to acknowledge his greatness in the Hall of Fame due to his connection with performance enhancing drugs for which he has admitted sporadic use.
The third consecutive rookie of the year for the Athletics was awarded to Walt Weiss who, in 1988, lacked the power at the plate that Canseco and McGwire had but ranked in the top five in nearly every defensive category as a shortstop. His defensive play earned him the rookie of the year award in 1988 but his ability at the plate, which was a hair above average, made him a critical component to the A’s success for five seasons.
Ben Grieve brought the Rookie of the Year honors back to Oakland in 1998 with a solid season at the plate and a strong showing in right field. At the plate, Grieve was good for .288 batting average with 18 home runs and 89 RBI’s. In right field he posted a .993 fielding percentage (league average was .983. He ranked in the top ten for doubles, walks, win probability added, and fielding percentage in his first season and would go on to have success, although not an all star career, through nine major league seasons.
In 2004, Bobby Crosby received the honor for his rookie season at shortstop. Crosby ranked ninth in defensive WAR (1.4) for the season and ranked in the top five for many defensive categories. Crosby’s rookie of the year honors were followed by another Oakland Athletic in 2005 when Huston Street grabbed the award.
Street, in 2005, was good for 23 saves in 27 opportunities and, through 78.1 innings, maintained a 1.72 ERA. To say that he had a good rookie year is a bit of an understatement but Street continues to have an excellent career on the mound.
Andrew Bailey, from 2009, is the most recent Rookie of the Year recipient for the Oakland Athletics. In 83.1 innings with the A’s, Bailey went 6-3 with 26 saves in 30 chances while posting a 1.84 ERA. Including his rookie year, Bailey represented the A’s two times as an all star but in his final year with the team, 2011, his ERA began to rise while his inning count sank (although he did maintain a 25 save average in all three seasons) and in 2012 he posted a career high 7.04 ERA in 15.1 innings with Boston, where he was traded to obtain Josh Reddick.
Will the Oakland Athletics bring up the next great rookie in 2015 or 2016? It’s very possible. With the number of prospects that Beane has acquired in this off season, we may very well see the title return to Oakland but until then, let’s just hope that the next Rookie of the Year isn’t playing in the AL West!