And the Winner for Best Center Fielder in Oakland Athletics History Goes to…
Now that my Golden Bears have been dispatched from the NCAA Tournament, I am very eager for the baseball season to begin. Suddenly, with free time on my hands, I am catching up on my reading. I have found a jewel of a book that I would heartily recommend to all A’s fans. Susan Slusser’s “100 Things A’s fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” is a tremendous book about the A’s through history. Slusser has been covering the A’s since 1999. She is extremely knowledgeable about baseball lore, but even better, Slusser is a great story teller. Pick it up now, it is a gem.
Reading Slusser’s work got me to thinking about the greatest players in Oakland history. I wanted to give you my thoughts on the greatest players since the team moved to Oakland in 1968. You already know that I think Rickey Henderson is the best left fielder in the history of the Oakland A’s. Today, I turn to center field.
First off, Coco Crisp is a current fan favorite, and I love the way he plays. At the plate, Crisp has a great combination of speed and surprising power. When he is healthy, Crisp always seems to come through in the clutch. In the field, no one tracks a ball better than Crisp, but because of injury, Crisp lacks a good throwing arm. What endears Coco to all A’s fans (besides his name) is his willingness to sacrifice his body to make spectacular plays. I just wish we could figure out how to add more padding to outfield walls. I would put Coco Crisp as one of the top three center fielders in A’s history. It will not surprise me at all if Billy Burns makes the list in the near future, too.
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Dwayne Murphy was one of the best to patrol center for the A’s. Sportswriters at the time (early 80’s) were talking about Rickey Henderson, Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas as the best defensive outfield ever. Murphy won six consecutive gold gloves from 1980-1985. At the plate, Murph hit behind Henderson, and he took a lot of pitches to give “The Man of Steal” an opportunity to do his thing. When Henderson broke the single season record for stolen bases, he gave a lot of the credit to Murphy.
The thing about Murphy was that he was so cool to watch. I remember one game, I think it was in Texas, some batter hit a long blast to straight away center. Murphy went back on the ball and, timing it perfectly, jumped as high as he could up against the wall. As he came down, Murphy sort of sagged to the ground at the base of the wall. Everyone, especially the batter, thought it was a home run. Then Murphy slowly climbed to his feet and pulled the ball out of his glove and threw it in to the infield. The third base coach actually had to grab the batter and tell him he was out as he was rounding third. Dwayne Murphy was one of the greatest to play center for the A’s.
In my mind, I admire Coco Crisp and Dwayne Murphy a great deal, but I will always consider Dave Henderson to be the best center fielder in Oakland A’s history. Part of it is sentimental – it is still hard for me to believe that we lost Hendu this past winter. Actually, most of it is sentimental – but Henderson was a crucial part of the Oakland A’s teams that went to three consecutive World Series. Henderson was a dangerous power hitter in a lineup filled with dangerous power hitters. The amazing thing to me about Hendu was that he played center when Rickey Henderson was in left as the fastest and most dangerous leadoff man in the history of the game. Meanwhile, Jose Canseco was playing right while becoming baseball’s first 40/40 man. Hendu proved that speed was not a prerequisite to playing an outstanding center field.
I remember one game, I think it was in Kansas City, where Hendu gunned down two runners at the plate on consecutive plays. It looked almost like instant replay. Hendu was well-loved by the center field fans in the years before Mount Davis. Rumor has it that Hendu would send a message to his fans on where to meet after the game to hoist a few beers.
You gotta love a player like that. Dave “Hendu” Henderson is my pick for the best center fielder in Oakland A’s history.