Thursday Throwback: Oakland Athletics Trifecta Rookies of 1986, 1987 and 1988

Oakland Athletics ROYs 86-88 Key To Winning American League in 88-90

After Charles Finley’s sale of the A’s to Walt Haas Jr. in 1981, Haas immediately appointed Roy Eisenhardt, a San Francisco lawyer, and his son Walter J. Haas, known as Wally and who had been director of community affairs at Levi Strauss, to assist with rebuilding the team. They brought in Sandy Alderson to be the General Manager, (a lawyer in Mr. Eisenhardt’s firm) and the Andy Dolich (recruited from the Madison Square Garden Corporation) to be Vice President of business operations.

Rather than spend a lot of money to buy players who would not be around long, the Athletics new front office decided to try research and development to build their own products. They restored the farm system and hired scouts. The effort paid off handsomely and the Athletics farm system produced three consecutive rookies of the year – sluggers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire in 1986 and 1987 respectively followed by defensive master shortstop Walt Weiss in 1988.

These rookies, and some key “has been” acquisitions such as Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, and Dave Parker, were the core of a team that went on to three consecutive World Series appearances and the Championship in 1989.

Jose Canseco was a call-up for the Oakland Athletics when the rosters expanded in September 1985. He made his Major League debut on September 2 and struck out in his one at-bat against vs. the Orioles. His first hit was a few days later off Ron Guidry of the New York Yankees on September 7 and his first home run was off Jeff Russell of the Texas Rangers on September 9 (Ironic note is Canseco would be traded for Russell in a 1992 deal).

Playing outfield and the occasional designated hitter during 1986, Canseco established himself as one of baseball’s most fearsome young power hitters in the game and, as a rookie, earning him a trip to the All-Star game in Houston. In 157 games that season, Canseco hit 33 home runs—almost breaking the team’s record—and racked in 117 RBIs. Despite leading the Athletics with 175 strikeouts and only a .240 BA, he was named the American League’s Rookie of the Year, the first in Oakland, at the conclusion of the season beating out the Angels Wally Joyner.

That same September another rookie named Mark McGwire makes his debut hitting 3 homers in 18 games. During 1987 spring training, McGwire was competing with another rookie the Athletics were high on, Rob Nelson. In the minors, McGwire played a lot of third base (also mainly third base with the 1984 US Olympic Team due to a left-handed first baseman on the team by the name of Will Clark) to give both Nelson and McGwire playing time. In AAA in 1985, McGwire hit 23 HRs with 112 RBIs while Nelson hit 20 HRs with 108 RBIs. McGwire was eventually left off the Opening Day roster in favor of Nelson.

But, when Nelson hit only .167 after starting 13 games, not much attention was made when a roster move came two weeks into the 1987 season. The A’s decided McGwire would play every day in the big leagues and Rob Nelson would go back to the minors. The rest is Rookie history where McGwire broke the Rookie of the Year HR record, belting 49 (despite not playing the last 5 games of the season for the birth of his son) and went on to be the unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year. Only the 1958 and 1959 Senators had ever had back-to-back Rookies of the Year in MLB.

At the age of 23, Walt Weiss made his first major league appearance for the Athletics as a September call-up in 1987. The club was so high with expectations with the youngster that they traded then-starting shortstop Alfredo Griffin that December to the Dodgers for pitcher Bob Welch.

No other Rookies of the Year contributed more to their team's winning than the trio of Canseco, McGwire and Weiss

No other Rookies of the Year contributed more to their team’s winning than the trio of Canseco, McGwire and Weiss. Photo Credit: Rich Paloma

While Canseco and McGwire had brought power to the Athletics’ line up, the slick fielding Weiss solidified the A’s middle infield flanked by Carney Lansford at third and Glenn Hubbard at second that season. In 1987, the Athletics were 11th in team defense with 142 errors. The following season with Weiss up the middle the A’s ranked third in the AL with 105. During 1988, Weiss had a 58-game errorless streak (you hearin’ me Marcus?). He made only one error after the All-Star break for a season total of only 15. Weiss’ offensive numbers were low with only a .250 BA and three home runs, but his defensive wizardry helped lead the A’s to their first American League pennant since 1974 and win him the 1988 Rookie of the year for a three-peat for the Athletics, something that had never been done in the AL (The LA Dodgers had 4 consecutive 1979 to 1982)

The A’s went on to have other Rookies of the Year – Ben Grieve in 1998, repeats of Bobby Crosby in 2004 and Huston Street in 2005, and Andrew Bailey in 2009 – but none contributed to their teams more than the Trifecta of Canseco, McGwire, and Weiss.

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