Starting Pitcher #1: Catfish Hunter
Unlike some teams, the A’s refuse to bestow jersey retirement honors on just anyone. Catfish Hunter is one of the few to make the cut, having had his number 27 retired after what can only be described as one of the most stellar careers in baseball history.
Hunter won the Cy Young in 1974, after placing in the top five in both of the previous seasons. He was the runner-up the following year, proving that he was not just good but consistent. An eight-time All-Star, Hunter led the league in wins in both 1974 and 1975 and finished with the best overall record in 1972 and 1973. In 1975, he pitched 30 complete games, including seven shutouts.
It’s hard to think of a better pick for the A’s all-time ace than this right-hander, who debuted in 1965 with the Kansas City A’s and stuck with the Athletics through their move to Oakland. He finally moved on to the New York Yankees after winning arbitration due to a contract violation. Before the 1975 season, Hunter signed a five-year, $3.35 million-deal with New York, making him the highest-paid player in baseball at the time.
Hunter’s best game came on May 8, 1968, when he pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in Oakland. It was the ninth perfect game in major league history. Hunter also scored three of the four runs in the game, including the only run the team needed – a seventh-inning bunt that scored the first run of the game. He also had a two-RBI single in the eighth inning, making his outing even more impressive.
Hunter was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987, and later the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. His Cooperstown plaque does not have a team logo on it, as he didn’t want to choose between his two former teams. Hunter was truly a great player, and he is more than deserving of ace honors.
Runner-Up: Sonny Gray
Let’s be clear: Sonny Gray is not the runner-up ace of the starting rotation. There were five superior pitchers who made the “first round” rotation. But will people someday think of him in the same way they think of Hunter or any of the other names on the list? Gray is just 26 years old, but barring an injury, he’ll make his third Opening Day start next season. He went from not making the roster out of Spring Training in 2013 to becoming the ace in 2014, including winning AL Pitcher of the Month honors in both April and July. In 2015, he went on to become an All-Star.
With a career record of 33-21 and an ERA of 2.88, there’s a lot to like about Gray. He’s no All-Time Greatest Pitcher, but he certainly has the potential to end up on this list at some point, assuming he’s not traded away.
Next: The Rotation: Starting Pitcher #2