The A in A's may stand for a lot of things
(officially, it's the
Athletics), but Average is not one of them. Throughout
their 97-year history they've either been very, very
good or very, very bad In fact, when the A's moved to
the Bay Area in 1968, a disgusted Kansas Senator Stuart
Symington called Oakland "the luckiest city since
To wit: the Athletics
franchise has won 15 American League championships,
which ranks second place in league history behind the
New York Yankees' 34. Their three straight World
Championships (197273-74) also ranks second on the
On the other hand their 25 last-place league finishes
is a major-league record.
So in a way, it's somehow fitting that as they
gradually moved their way from the East Coast to the
West during the 20th Century, their three permanent
residences - with a fourth one seemingly always rumored
to be in the works - have been in two notoriously
maligned cities (Philadelphia and Oakland) and one the
butt of jokes to Midwestemers (Kansas City).
In Philadelphia they were managed for 50 straight
seasons by Connie Mack, a major-league record that will
never be surpassed. Hall of Famers Nap Lajoie, Home Run
Baker, Elmer Flick, Eddie Collins, Mickey Cochrane,
Rube Waddell, Eddie Plank, Chief Bender, Lefty Grove,
Al Simmons, and the great Jimmy Folot wese among those
who played for Mack. Even Ty Cobb, Zack Wheat, Tris
Speaker and Enos Slaugtrter wore A's uniforms, if only
briefly. Considering they placed first or second 16
times during the Philly years, imagine how bad the rest
of the teams and players were to account for the 22
seventh- and eighth place finishes.
Sagging attendance and in-town competition - somewfiat
of a recurring theme throughout their history - drove
them out of Philadelphia and toward Missouri after the
1954 season. It was in Kansas City (1955-67) that the
A's endured the ignominious reputation of beimg no more
than a farm club for the great New York Yankees; Roger
Maris was among many A's stars shipped from ICC. to
N.Y. During 13 seasons in Kansas City, the A's went
through 10 managers, finished under.400 seven times,
and placed last five times. The best they ever did for
a season was nine games under .500.
Then the franchise really got interesting. Chicago
insurance magnate Charlie Finley bought the team, moved
it to Oakland and, as an absentee owner, proceeded to
a) build the strongest teams ever assembled and b) make
a mockery of the institution of baseball.
To achieve point a), Finley brought eventual Hall of
Famers Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, and Catfish
Hunter to town along with such other stars as Joe Rudi,
Ken Holtrman, Vida Blue, Campy Campaneris, Gene Tenace,
and Sal Bando. From 1971-75, the A's won every American
League West divisional title, sandwiching their three
straight World Crowns.
In accomplishing dubious point b), Finley fired a
player (Mike Andrews) for making an error in the 1973
World Series, reacted to free agency by completely
dismantling his team, operated the franchise without a
front of office save for his cousin and a receptionist,
and hired 15-year-old Stanley Burrell (who grew up to
be pop star MC Hammer) to serve as team vice-presidet.
Never mind his ill-fated hiring of a non-baseball
playing track star Herb Washington) as a "designated
runner", or trying to introduce orange baseballs for
night games. Then again, one of his last acts was to
hire star-crossed Billy Martin as manager.
Finley finally sold the team to the San Francisco based
Haas family, which slowly retumed the team to power.
Under Martin's "Billyball", the A's were briefly
competitive in the early 1980s. But Martin's brief
success turned into turmoil and he was replaced in
quick succession by three managers before the hiring of
Tony La Russa in the middle of the 1986 season.
Bolstered by La Russa and the addition of such stars as
Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Bob
Welch, Rickey Henderson, Jose Canseco, Dave Henderson,
Camey Lansford, and Terry Steinbach, the A's went to
the World Series three straight times between 1988-90,
winning once, and won the divisional title in 1992.
The Haases, faced with astronomically rising costs,
sold the team to Bay Area industrialist Steve Schott
and developer Ken Hoffmann after the 1995 season.
Another austerity movement set in, triggering the
departures of La Russa, Eckersley, Henderson,
Steinbach, Todd Stottlemyre, and others.
Once again the A's found themselves struggling to stay
out of the cellar, once again they were rumored to be
on their way out of town.
(If anyone knows who to credit for this, please
let me know.)