Oakland Athletics: The Current Curse of La Potencia

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In July 2014, with the Athletics holding the best record in MLB, General Manager Billy Beane, blind to similar acts of catastrophe in Oakland lore, left fans speechless when he traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox to begin another curse. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
In July 2014, with the Athletics holding the best record in MLB, General Manager Billy Beane, blind to similar acts of catastrophe in Oakland lore, left fans speechless when he traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox to begin another curse. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports /
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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


This quote by philosopher and poet George Santayana reminds me of the Oakland Athletics current situation and advice the Athletics’ front office has appeared to ignore over their 48-year history in Oakland.

Baseball is rife with superstitions. Get on a winning streak and you’ll see guys wearing the same socks or jockstraps, or eating the same pregame meal every day. For some, the superstition never ends; it’s one of baseball’s most powerful forces.  Never mess with a good thing — that’s an almost universal code. And when you do mess with that good thing, curses come – as with the current curse of La Potencia, and past curses when the Athletics dealt away their power-hitting outfielder, leading to hexes of postseason droughts by the Baseball Gods.

Let’s review:

The Curse of Reggie Jackson

In 1968, a 22-year-old muscular right fielder by the name of Reggie Jackson completed his first season with the A’s and wound up third in AL home run production. By 1969, he was chasing Babe Ruth and Roger Maris’s single-season home run record, finishing with 47. In 1971, Jackson was a leading force in the A’s capturing their first of five straight AL West titles, resulting in three straight World Series Championships in 1972, 1973, and 1974. During those years, Jackson captured the 1973 MVP, was an All-Star in 7 of 8 seasons, and led the league twice in home runs, as well as being in the top three for five of those years.

Days before the start of the 1976 season, after five straight first place finishes in the AL West and 253 HRs with 727 RBIs over eight seasons by their slugger, for whatever reason, A’s owner Charles Finley traded Jackson away, along with southpaw Ken Holtzman. The pair was sent to the Baltimore Orioles for Don Baylor (who played for only one season for Oakland, with a .247 BA and 15 HRs) and thus began a five-season famine of playoff appearances.

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The Curse of Tony Armas

In 1980, part-time outfielder Tony Armas became a fixture in right field and the middle of the A’s line-up.  Playing his first full season without a disabled list stint, Armas hit .279 with 35 home runs (fourth in the AL) and had 109 RBIs in 158 games. In 1981, Armas was an All-Star and led the AL in home runs. He was also named the American League Player of the Year by The Sporting News. With Armas peaking, the 1981 Oakland A’s finished the strike-shortened regular season with the best overall record in the American League by winning 64 games and losing just 45, with a winning percentage of .587. They were back in the postseason, taking the ALDS but losing to the Yankees in the ALCS.

But after an off 1982, sliding down in home run production, Armas was dealt away to the Red Sox where he then again led the league in home runs in 1983. Though a short-lived slugger in the A’s lineup from 1980-1982, the A’s were again deprived of a postseason appearance from 1982 to 1987, and once again it happened when they were without a power-hitting outfielder.

The Curse of Jose Canseco

Jose Canseco made his name known in 1986, his first full season, by becoming an All-Star and being named the American League’s Rookie of the Year with 33 home runs and 117 RBIs. Canseco’s power continued through the years and in 1988, Canseco was the AL MVP and led the league in home runs, with 42 – becoming baseball’s first 40-40 man. The Athletics were once again back in the postseason, going to the World Series three straight years and winning it all in 1989.

In 1991, Canseco led the league again in home runs even though the Athletics only finished fourth in the AL West. In 1992, the Athletics were leading baseball again. On Aug. 31, mouths dropped when Canseco, who had compiled 231 home runs with the Athletics and was leading the league at the time with 22 homers, was pulled from the on-deck circle and traded to the Texas Rangers for Ruben SierraJeff Russell, and Bobby Witt. The A’s went 17-15 the rest of the season, but they still made it to the ALCS, losing to the Toronto Blue Jays. The 1992 season signaled the end of an era in Oakland. The team would miss the postseason in each of the next seven seasons, until 2000.

The Curse of Yoenis Cespedes

The 2012 season marked the debut of Cuban defector and new left fielder Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of the Oakland Athletics’ lineup. Cespedes would bat .292 and whack 23 home runs, finishing second in Rookie of the Year balloting as the Athletics finished first in the AL West, making it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Athletics repeated in 2013 as ‘La Potencia’ raised his home run production to 26, and though not an All-Star, took that season’s Home Run Derby Championship. In 2014, this time as the starting left fielder for the AL All-Star team, he defended his title, again winning the derby.

With the Athletics holding the best record in MLB in July 2014 – after 2 ½ seasons of 66 home runs as the regular #3 or #4 hitter in the lineup – general manager Billy Beane, blind to similar acts of catastrophe in Oakland lore, left fans speechless when he traded Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester. The result? The Athletics spun out of control, losing the best record and eventually first place, and settling for the last wildcard berth on the final day of the season. The A’s would go on to lose the AL Wildcard playoff game to the Royals.

Next: Tyler Ladendorf is Likely the Best Backup Third Baseman

The curse of La Potencia showed its ugly face in 2015 as the Athletics finished a frustrating last place and – sorry, Oakland fans – the upcoming 2016 season looks no different as the Athletics’ batting order is void of a power-hitting outfielder. It’s unknown how long the current abyss of postseason appearances will last. Maybe somewhere in Single-A or Double-A ball , there is a young kid at this year’s spring training camp whacking balls over the fence in Arizona during batting practice. For the sake of A’s fans everywhere, let’s just hope that kid isn’t still in high school.

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