Oakland A’s history: How Eric Plunk turned into Rickey Henderson

1989: Pitcher Eric Plunk of the Oakland Athletics prepares to throw the ball. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule /Allsport
1989: Pitcher Eric Plunk of the Oakland Athletics prepares to throw the ball. Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule /Allsport /

It is a badge of honor to be traded for a future Hall of Fame player. With the Oakland A’s, Eric Plunk was a part of Rickey Henderson’s first two trades.

It is understandable as to why the Oakland A’s come to mind when one thinks of Rickey Henderson. He had his best seasons as a part of the A’s, easily the best player in team history since the move to Oakland. And, Henderson was a part of the A’s franchise four times as a player, spanning 14 seasons.

Amazingly, for a player of Henderson’s ability, he was on nine different teams and traded four times. Overall, he switched teams an incredible 12 times. But it is the first two trades that are particularly noteworthy, as Eric Plunk was turned into Henderson each time.

Obviously, Plunk was not the only piece in those deals. In each trade, he was part of package of players sent between the Yankees and A’s for Henderson’s services. It also speaks to Plunk’s perceived value in that he was a part of a deal for the same Hall of Fame player on two occasions.

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The first time, Plunk was one of the Yankees’ top prospects, a starting pitcher that had dominated in the lower minors in 1984. While he was considered the Yankees’ fifth best prospect, and a potential top of the rotation arm, the Yankees were more interested in trying to buy a pennant than in giving the rookies a chance. Oakland, meanwhile, was rebuilding, and loathe to pay Henderson what he expected for his services. In receiving four of the Yankees’ top five prospects, they had what appeared to be quite the impressive haul.

Four and a half years later, the tables were turned. The A’s were contending for a playoff berth, fighting off a tough Royals team. Henderson, who was set to be a free agent, was struggling on the Yankees, who were heading to the bottom of the standings. This time, Plunk was sent back to New York, along with Luis Polonia and Greg Cadaret, with Henderson heading back home.

Plunk may not have been the star pitcher he was expected to be, but he still carved out a solid career for himself. He pitched for 14 seasons, posting a respectable 3.82 ERA and a 1.439 WHiP. In his 1151 innings, he struck out 1081 batters, but also issued 647 walks. Plunk was a key part of the Indians bullpen during their run in the mid 1990s, a solid reliever who could dominate on occasion.

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However, he is likely to be known for the player he was traded for. On two occasions, Eric Plunk was part of a deal between the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees for Rickey Henderson.