Oakland Athletics: Coast-to-Coast History
The Oakland Athletics are a Major League Baseball franchise that has spanned the nation and much of baseball history.
From its early beginnings in Philadelphia, to a short stint in Kansas City, and now in the “Bright side of The Bay,” fans have witnessed the good and bad of baseball.
And despite the long periods of few triumphs, fans on both coasts have been treated to 16 division titles, 15 American League pennants and nine World Series champions.
At the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, when baseball was beginning to thrive as a professional sport, a new league emerged to compete with the more-established National League.
The new American League decided to place a team in Philadelphia to compete with Phillies. The league recruited a former catcher, Connie Mack, to manage the team, and Mack in turn recruited Ben Shibe and others to invest. Shibe and Mack would soon become full partners in the ownership.
The new team chose a name to reflect the athletic club background of Philadelphia baseball, and the Athletics were born.
They opened play in 1901, with home games in Columbia Park, until they started selling many more tickets to Athletics games than the small park could hold. In 1909, the Athletics moved into the new Shibe Park.
Mack would guide the team for 50 years. With players such as Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Rube Waddell and Frank "Home Run" Baker, the Athletics won the World Series three out of four years, starting in 1910. Then they won an AL pennant in 1914 with Eddie Collins winning league MVP.
But there were also some lean years.
They wouldn't make another World Series until 1929. That team had a feared batting order led by Al Simmons, Jimmie Fox and Mickey Cochrane, along with a pitching staff featuring Lefty Grove. All were bound for the Hall of Fame.
That team had three straight 100-plus win seasons and won World Series over the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals would thwart the Athletics' third straight World Series bid on Pepper Martin's running catch to stop a rally in the final inning of the seventh and final game.
That dynasty would fade, and the mighty Athletics would be humbled for decades. Over the course of 20 seasons, Philadelphia didn't get near a World Series and rarely had a winning season.
Attendance declined, Shibe died, and an aging Mack gave up control of the team to his sons. Eventually a number of power struggles developed between the Macks, Shibes and other investors, before the 1954 season when the Athletics finished 60 games back in the American League.
Real estate magnate Arnold Johnson bought the ailing franchise, and the five-decade Philadelphia era was over.
Midwest and Beyond
Johnson's motivation for owning the team had nothing to do with baseball, and it reflected on the field.
He moved the Athletics to Kansas City, and the KC Athletics never fielded a winning team in the 13 years they were in town.
It wasn't until the 1960s, when Charlie Finley bought controlling interest in the team and eventually moved it to the West Coast, that the Athletics would again be a force to contend with.
Finley had a number of cities in mind for moving the team after he had trouble landing a lease for Kansas City's municipal stadium. But the league owners denied proposals for several of them before finally accepting the move to Oakland.
Building a Powerhouse
Not long after the team's move to Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum, the A's were producing winners.
In 1968, they went 82-80, the first winning season since the Philadelphia years. They would build on that.
Finley had been structuring a strong farm system for several years, and by the time they were in Oakland, they had Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, and Rick Monday.
By 1969 they were contending, and in 1971 the A's ran off with the American League West Division title behind Cy Young Award winner Vida Blue.
The next season they claimed the AL pennant in a 3-2 series against the Detroit Tigers, and stopped the Cincinnati Reds in the seventh game of the World Series when closer Rollie Fingers halted a rally in the ninth inning. Gene Tenace was the MVP in the first World Series triumph for the Athletics since 1930.
They kept the ball rolling. The next year, they beat the Baltimore Orioles for the AL crown, and topped the New York Mets 4 games to 3 in the World Series. Jackson won the MVP awards for both the season and the Series.
And in 1974 the A's ousted the Orioles for the pennant and beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, as Hunter won the Cy Young, and Fingers the Series MVP.
But those stars faded or were traded, and it wasn't until 1981 that the A's won the AL West title again in a strike-shortened season. That was the same year that Finley sold the team to San Francisco clothing manufacturer Walter A. Haas, Jr.
Haas rebuilt the minor league system, developing players such as Jose Canseco, Walt Weiss, Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire. He also got more people to buy tickets to Oakland A's games; the A's became a Major League leader in attendance not long after Haas took over.
Last but not least, Haas hired Tony La Russa to manage a team that was on the verge of contending.
Back to The World Series
La Russa was hired in 1986, and by '88 his team was in the hunt for a pennant.
They won 104 games that year, dominating the AL West. Then the A's went on to sweep the Boston Red Sox for the AL pennant. But in the World Series, the A's ran into the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitcher Orel Hershiser, and a memorable Kirk Gibson home run. The Dodgers won the Series, 4-1.
The next year would have a much different ending. The Athletics won the AL West, and swept the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League crown.
Then in the World Series between San Francisco Bay rivals, the A's and Giants, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck the Bay area just before the start of Game 3.
The Series was delayed for more than a week, but when it resumed, the A's made quick work of the Giants. Dave Stewart gave two sterling pitching performances to earn the MVP award as the A's swept the Giants, 4-0.
In 1990, a season in which Henderson won league MVP and Bob Welch the Cy Young Award, Oakland won 103 games and swept the Red Sox for the pennant. But the tables turned when they faced the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds' pitching stumped the A's in a 4-0 Series win.
The 1990s were mostly lean years, as a number of changes occurred, prompted by a change of ownership. Owner Haas died in 1995, and the team was purchased by a group led by Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman.
The new owners trimmed the budget by dropping star players and manager La Russa. They sought to rebuild by working from the minor league system and refusing to pay huge salaries.
That lifted the status of Billy Beane, a former player and scout in the A's organization. Beane was promoted to assistant general manager in 1993 and to GM in 1997.
In learning to work on a tight budget, Beane developed a system of grading players on a different statistical meter, and he got some bargains. After his 2002 team won 103 games on one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, "Moneyball" became popular.
Beane's system helped the A's to consistently compete; his A’s won six AL West titles through 2019.
With quality teams, the Oakland A's have always been a team for bargain tickets.
- Venue: RingCentral Coliseum
- Location: Oakland
- Opened: 1966*
- Capacity: 46,847
- In 2018, the Athletics announced the intent to build a new ballpark at the Howard Terminal site at the Port of Oakland.
- The elephant mascot was adopted by Connie Mack not long after the founding of the team, when another owner told reporters that owner Ben Shibe that he had a "white elephant on his hands." For a period of time, during the Charlie Finley years in Kansas City, the mascot was a mule, the state animal of Missouri.
- Over the years, the team has been alternately referred to as the Athletics and the A's. Finley banished Athletics as the nickname in the 1960s, but it was restored in the 1980s.
- * -The stadium was first opened as Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, a name which it carried for 30 years, until naming rights deals
Oakland Athletics Hall of Fame
- Dennis Eckersley P 1987–1995
- Rollie Fingers P 1968–1976
- Rickey Henderson LF 1979–1998
- Catfish Hunter P 1965–1974
- Reggie Jackson RF 1967–1975
- Dave Stewart P 1986–1995
- Charlie Finley Owner/GM 1960–1981
- Tony La Russa Manager 1986–1995
- Vida Blue P 1969–1977
- Bert Campaneris SS 1968–1976
- Mark McGwire 1B 1986–1997
- Walter A. Haas, Jr. Owner 1981–1995