History of the Oakland Athletics: Wikis

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Philadelphia (1901–1954)

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The beginning

Philadelphia Athletics Cap Logo 1902–1954

The franchise that would become the modern Athletics originated in 1901 as a new franchise in the American League. The Western League had been renamed the American League in 1900 by league president Bancroft (Ban) Johnson, and declared itself the second major league in 1901.

In 1901, Johnson created new franchises in the east and eliminated some franchises in the West. (Seeks to snare Duffy of Boston, Chicago Daily Tribune, January 29, 1901, pg. 9.) Philadelphia seems to have been a new franchise created to compete with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies. Former catcher Connie Mack was recruited to manage the club. Mack in turn persuaded Phillies minority owner Ben Shibe as well as others to invest in the team, which would be called the Philadelphia Athletics. He himself bought a 25 percent interest. The other 1901 American League teams included the newly-created Baltimore Orioles (now the New York Yankees) and Boston Americans (now Red Sox), as well as a Kansas City franchise relocated to Washington as the Senators (now the Minnesota Twins) and previous members the Chicago White Stockings (now White Sox), Cleveland Blues (now Indians), Detroit Tigers, and Milwaukee Brewers (later the St. Louis Browns and now the Baltimore Orioles).

The new league recruited many of its players from the existing National League, persuading them to “jump” to the A.L. in defiance of their N.L. contracts. One of them was second baseman Nap Lajoie, formerly of the crosstown Phillies. He won the A.L.'s first batting title with a .426 batting average, still an A.L. record. The Athletics as well as the 7 other A.L. teams received a jolt when, on April 21, 1902, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated Lajoie's contract with the Athletics, and ordered him back to the Phillies. This order, though, was only enforceable in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Lajoie was sold to Cleveland, but was kept out of road games in Philadelphia until the National Agreement was signed between the two leagues in 1903.

The First Dynasty and aftermath

Connie Mack, team manager, 1911.

In the early years, the A’s quickly established themselves as one of the dominant teams in the new league, winning the A.L. pennant six times (1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914), winning the World Series in 1910, 1911 and 1913. They won over 100 games in 1910 and 1911, and 99 games in 1914. The team was known for its "$100,000 Infield", consisting of John "Stuffy" McInnis (first base), Eddie Collins (second base), Jack Barry (shortstop), and Frank "Home Run" Baker (third base) and as well as pitchers Eddie Plank and Charles "Chief" Bender. Rube Waddell was also a major pitching star for the A's in the early 1900s before flaming out. According to Lamont Buchanan in The World Series and Highlights of Baseball, the A's fans were fond of chanting, "If Eddie Plank doesn't make you lose / We have Waddell and Bender all ready to use!" Plank holds the club record for career victories, with 284.

In 1909, the A's moved into the majors' first concrete-and-steel ballpark, Shibe Park. This remains the last time in franchise history where a new ballpark was built specifically for the A's. Later in the decade, Mack bought another 25 percent of the team's stock to become a full partner with Shibe. Shibe ceded Mack full control over the baseball side while retaining control over the business side.

Business took a downturn in 1914. The heavily favored Athletics lost the 1914 World Series to the "Miracle" Boston Braves in a four-game sweep. Miracles often have two sides, and for a few years this "miracle" wrought disaster on the A's. Mack traded, sold or released most of the team's star players soon after, and the team fell into a lengthy slump. In his book To Every Thing a Season, Bruce Kuklick points out that there were suspicions that the A's had thrown the Series, or at least "laid down", perhaps in protest of Mack's frugal ways. Mack himself alluded to that rumor years later, but also debunked it, asserting that factions within the team along with the allure of a third major league, the Federal League had distracted the team. The facts at least in part support Mack's statement.

The Federal League had been formed to begin play in 1914. As the A.L. had done 13 years before, the new league raided existing A.L. and N.L. teams for players. Several of his best players, including Bender, had already decided to jump before the World Series. Mack refused to match the offers of the F.L. teams, preferring to let the "prima donnas" go and rebuild with younger (and less expensive) players. The result was a swift and near-total collapse, a "first-to-worst" situation. The Athletics went from a 99–53 (.651) record and a pennant in 1914 to a record of 43–109 (.283) and 8th (last) place in 1915, and then to 36–117 (.235, still a modern major-league low) in 1916. The team would finish in last place every year after that until 1922 and would not contend again until 1925. Shibe died in 1922, and his sons took over the business side, leaving the baseball side to Mack. By this time Mack had cemented his famous image of the tall, gaunt and well-dressed man (he never wore a uniform during his managerial career, preferring a business suit, tie and fedora; a not-uncommon practice for managers in his day) waving his players into position with a scorecard (since no one is allowed on the baseball field, during a game, without a proper uniform).

The Second Dynasty (1927–1933)

After that, Mack began to build another winner. In 1927 and 1928, the Athletics finished second to the New York Yankees, then won pennants in 1929, 1930 and 1931, winning the World Series in 1929 and 1930. In each of the three years, the A's won over 100 games.

As it turned out, this would be the Athletics' last hurrah in Philadelphia. Mack again sold or traded his best players in order to reduce expenses. The Great Depression was well under way, and declining attendance had drastically reduced the team’s revenues. The construction of a spite fence at Shibe Park, blocking the view from nearby buildings, only served to irritate potential paying fans. However, the consequences did not become apparent for a few more years, as the team finished second in 1932 and third in 1933.

The Meager Years

The Athletics finished fifth in 1934, then last in 1935. Mack was already 68 years old when the A’s last won the pennant in 1931, and many felt the game was passing him by. Although he had every intention of building another winner, he did not have the extra money to get big stars. Unlike most other owners, Mack had no other source of income aside from the A's, so the dwindling attendance figures of the early 1930s hit him especially hard. He was also unwilling (or unable) to invest in a farm system.

As a result, the A's went into a funk that lasted for over 30 years, through three cities. Save for a fifth-place finish in 1944, they finished in last or next-to-last place every year from 1935 to 1946. In 1936, Shibe's last son died, and Mack became the Athletics' sole owner. Even as bad as the club got during this time (some believe that many of his teams were major-league in name only), he had no intention of firing himself. Long after most other teams had hired a general manager, he remained essentially a one-man band, making all baseball decisions as well as leading the team on the field. To the surprise of most people in baseball, Mack managed not only to get out of the cellar in 1947, but actually finished with a winning record for the first time in 14 years. They contended for much of 1948 and 1949, only to collapse back to last place again in 1950.

The 1950 season would be the 88-year-old Mack’s 50th and last as A’s manager, a North American professional sports record that has never been threatened. He was reportedly pushed out by his sons from his first marriage, Roy and Earle. During that year the team wore uniforms trimmed in blue and gold, in honor of the Golden Jubilee of "The Grand Old Man of Baseball."

Final years in Philadelphia

In the late 1940s, Mack split day-to-day control over the team between Roy, Earle and his son from his second marriage, Connie Mack, Jr. After pushing their father out as manager, Roy and Earle assumed control of the team though their father remained nominal owner and team president. In order to do this, the Mack brothers mortgaged the team to Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (now part of CIGNA). However, the team continued to slide (the A's finished with a winning record only once from 1951 to 1954), attendance plummeted, and revenues continued to dwindle. It soon became obvious that the team's cash flow was insufficient to service the new debt, and Roy and Earle Mack began feuding with each other.

At the same time, the Phillies, who had been the definition of baseball futility for over 30 years, began a surprisingly quick climb to respectability. Philadelphia had been an "A's town" for most of the first half of the 20th century, even though for much of the last decade the A's were as bad or worse than the Phillies. However, unlike the A's, the Phillies began spending lavishly on young prospects in the 1940s. The impact was immediate; the Phillies leaped from dead last in 1947 to the World Series in 1950. It soon became obvious that the Phillies had passed the A's as Philadelphia's number-one team.

In spite of the turmoil, some Athletics players shone on the field. In 1951, Gus Zernial led the American League with 33 home runs, 129 runs scored, 68 extra-base hits, and 17 outfield assists; in 1952 he swatted 29 homers and bagged 100 RBI, and hit 42 homers and drove in 108 runs in 1953. Also, in 1952, left-handed pitcher Bobby Shantz won 24 games and was named the league's Most Valuable Player, and Ferris Fain won AL batting championships in 1951 (with a .344 average) and 1952 (with a .320 average). His 1952 batting crown remains the last time an Athletic has led the league in hitting.

By the summer of 1954, it was obvious that the A's could not survive. Though last-minute offers were put on the table to buy the Athletics to keep them in Philadelphia, including one made by a group led by Chicago insurance tycoon Charles O. Finley, the American League owners were determined to "solve the Philadelphia problem" by moving the team elsewhere. On October 12, 1954, the owners approved the sale of the Athletics to another Chicago businessman, Arnold Johnson, who moved the team to Kansas City for the 1955 season.

Kansas City (1955–1967)

The Johnson era

From the start, it was clear that Johnson was motivated solely by profit, not because of any regard for the baseball fans of Kansas City. He had long been a business associate of Yankee owners Dan Topping, Larry MacPhail and Del Webb. He had bought Yankee Stadium in 1953, though the league owners forced Johnson to sell the property before acquiring the Athletics. He'd also bought Blues Stadium in Kansas City, home of the Yankees' top farm team, the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. After Johnson got permission to move the A's to Kansas City, he sold Blues Stadium to the city, who renamed it Kansas City Municipal Stadium and leased it back to Johnson. The lease gave Johnson a three-year escape clause if the team failed to draw one million or more customers per season. The subsequent lease signed in 1960 also contained an escape clause if the team failed to draw 850,000 per season. Johnson was still head of the company that managed Yankee Stadium; Webb's construction company rebuilt Municipal Stadium to meet major-league specifications; and Johnson held a mortgage of the Yankees'. (See The Baseball Hall of Shame for details.)

Rumors abounded that Johnson's real motive was to operate the Athletics in Kansas City for a few years, then move the team to Los Angeles. Whatever Johnson's motives were, the issue soon became moot. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, thereby precluding any move there by the Athletics (although the Los Angeles Angels would begin play in the AL in 1961). Moreover, on March 10, 1960, Arnold Johnson died at the age of 53.

Whatever the concern about the move to Kansas City, fans turned out in record numbers for the era. In 1955, the new Kansas City Athletics drew 1,393,054 to Municipal Stadium, a club record easily surpassing the previous record of 945,076 in 1948 (To put this figure in perspective, in 1955 only the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Braves had higher home attendance than did the A's). What no one realized at the time was that number would never be approached again while the team was in Kansas City, and would remain the club record for attendance until 1982—the Athletics’ 15th season in Oakland.

Finley era

On December 19, 1960, Charles "Charlie O." Finley purchased a controlling interest in the team from Johnson's estate after losing out to Johnson six years earlier in Philadelphia. He bought out the minority owners a year later. Finley promised the fans a new day. In a highly publicized move, he purchased a bus, pointed it in the direction of New York, and burned it to symbolize the end of the “special relationship” with the Yankees. He called another press conference to burn the existing lease at Municipal Stadium which included the despised "escape clause." He spent over $400,000 of his own money in stadium improvements (though in 1962 the city reimbursed $300,000 of this). He introduced new uniforms which had "Kansas City" on the road uniforms for the first time ever and an interlocking "KC" on the cap. He announced, "My intentions are to keep the A's permanently in Kansas City and build a winning ball club. I have no intention of ever moving the franchise." The fans, in turn, regarded Finley as the savior of Major League Baseball in Kansas City.

Finley immediately hired Frank Lane, a veteran baseball man with a reputation as a prolific trader, as general manager. Lane began engineering trades with several other teams, including the Yankees, the bus-burning stunt notwithstanding. Lane lasted less than one year, being fired during the 1961 season. He was temporarily replaced by Pat Friday, whose sole qualification for the job was that he managed one of Finley's insurance offices. On paper, Friday remained general manager until Carl A. Finley Jr. took over as general manager in 1963, when he was replaced by Hank Peters. After only a year, Peters was fired, and the team had no formal general manager until 1981. In fact, Friday and Peters were mere figureheads. With the firing of Lane in 1961, Finley effectively became a one-man band as owner, president and de facto general manager, and would remain so for the duration of his ownership.

Finley made further changes to the team’s uniforms. The Philadelphia Athletics wore blue and white or black and gray outfits through most of their history;[1]; in the last years in Philadelphia and the first in Kansas City, the team used a red, white and navy blue scheme.[2] In 1963, Finley changed the team’s colors to “Kelly Green, Fort Knox Gold and Wedding Gown White” (which, although the kelly green was replaced by a darker, forest green shade in 1981, essentially remain the team colors today). In June 1963, Bill Bryson wrote of the uniforms,

Kelly green is the Athletics' accent color. It was more a nauseous green the players wore on their wholesome, clean-cut faces the first few times they had to appear in public looking like refugees from a softball league.[1]

Finley replaced Mack's elephant with a Missouri mule—not just a cartoon logo, but a real mule, which he named after himself: “Charlie O, the Mule.” He also began phasing out the team name "Athletics" in favor of simply, "A's." Some of his other changes—for instance, his repeated attempts to mimic Yankee Stadium's famous right-field "home run porch"—were less successful. AL President Joe Cronin ordered Finley to remove the fence which duplicated the 296-foot right-field foul line in Yankee Stadium. Smarting from this draconian ukase, Finley had his announcer comment "That would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium" whenever a fly ball passed the limit in Municipal Stadium's outfield.

While the A's were still dreadful in the first eight years of Finley's ownership, he began to lay the groundwork for a future contender. Finley poured resources into the minor league system for the first time in the history of the franchise. Mack never spent money on developing a farm system, which was a major reason his teams fell from contenders to cellar-dwellers so quickly. When Johnson bought the team in 1955, the A's had only three full-time scouts. While Johnson tried to make improvements, he wasn't willing to pay the bonuses necessary to get top talent. However, Finley steadily built up the team's farm system until by 1966, it was one of the best in the majors. He was assisted by the creation of the baseball draft in 1965, which forced young prospects to sign with the team that drafted them—at the price offered by the team—if they wanted to play professional baseball. Thus, Finley was spared from having to compete with wealthier teams for top talent. The Athletics, owners of the worst record in the American League in 1964, had the first pick in the first draft, selecting Rick Monday on June 8, 1965.

Finley looks for a way out

Almost from the minute the ink dried on his purchase of the Athletics, Finley began shopping the Athletics to other cities despite his promises that the A’s would remain in Kansas City. Soon after the lease-burning stunt, it was discovered that what actually burned was a blank boilerplate commercial lease available at any stationery store. The actual lease was still in force—including the escape clause. Finley later admitted he had no intention of rewriting the lease, that the whole thing was a publicity stunt.

On September 18, 1962, after less than two full years of ownership, Finley asked the A.L. owners for permission to move the Athletics to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His request was denied by a 9–1 vote. In January 1964, he signed an agreement to move the A’s to Louisville, promising to change the team's name to the "Kentucky Athletics".[2] (Other names suggested for the team were the "Louisville Sluggers" and "Kentucky Colonels," which would've allowed the team to keep the letters "KC" on their uniforms.) By another 9–1 vote his request was denied. Six weeks later, by the same 9–1 margin, the A.L. owners denied Finley's request to move the team to Oakland.

These requests came as no surprise, as impending moves to these cities, as well as to Atlanta, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Diego and Seattle— all of which Finley had considered as new homes for the Athletics — had long been afloat. He also threatened to move the A's to a "cow pasture" in Peculiar, Missouri, complete with temporary grandstands. Not surprisingly, attendance tailed off. Finally, American League President Joe Cronin persuaded Finley to sign a four-year lease with Municipal Stadium.

Then on October 18, 1967, A.L. owners at last gave Finley permission to move the Athletics to Oakland for the 1968 season. According to some reports, Cronin promised Finley that he could move the team after the 1967 season as an incentive to sign the new lease with Municipal Stadium. The move came in spite of approval by voters in Jackson County, Missouri of a bond issue for a brand new baseball stadium (the eventual Kauffman Stadium) to be completed in 1973. Then-U.S. Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri blasted Finley on the floor of the Senate, calling him "one of the most disreputable characters ever to enter the American sports scene,” and said Oakland was “the luckiest city since Hiroshima.” When Symington threatened to have baseball's antitrust exemption revoked, the owners responded with a hasty round of expansion. Kansas City was awarded an American League expansion team, the Royals. They were initially slated to begin play in 1971. However, Symington was not willing to have Kansas City wait three years for another team, and renewed his threat to have baseball's antitrust exemption revoked unless the teams began play in 1969. The owners complied.

During the Johnson years, the Athletics' home attendance averaged just under one million per season, respectable numbers for the era, especially in light of the team's dreadful on-field performance. In contrast, during the years of Finley's ownership, the team averaged under 680,000 per year in Kansas City. According to baseball writer Rob Neyer (a native of the Kansas City area), this was largely because Finley tried to sell baseball tickets like he sold insurance. Just before the 1960 season, he mailed brochures to 600,000 people in the area, and only made $20,000 in ticket sales.[3] During their 13-year stay in Kansas City, their overall record was 829–1,224, for a winning percentage of .404.

Oakland (1968–present)

The Third Dynasty (1971–1975)

The Athletics arrived in Oakland just as the team was beginning to gel. They moved into the one-year-old Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. On May 8, 1968 in a game against the Minnesota Twins, Jim "Catfish" Hunter pitched the first perfect game in the American League since 1922. Managed by Bob Kennedy, the A's finished the 1968 season with an 82–80 record – their first winning season since 1952 – their second-to-last season in Philadelphia. With expansion to 12 teams in 1969, the American League was divided into two 6-team divisions. During that year, the Athletics finished second in the A.L. West Division behind the Twins, the first time they had finished in the first division since 1952 – during their tenure in Philadelphia. In that season, Reggie Jackson hit 39 home runs in the first half of the season alone, only to hit 8 in the second half, totaling to 47 homers for the year. Finley officially changed the team name from the Athletics to the "A's" in 1970, the first year that an "apostrophe-s" appeared after the traditional "A" logo.

Everything finally came together for the A's as the 1970s dawned. After another second-place finish in 1970, the A’s won the A.L. West title in 1971 for their first postseason appearance of any kind since 1931. However, they lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series. In 1972, the A's won their first league pennant since 1931 and faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.

That year, the A's began wearing solid green or solid gold jerseys, with contrasting white pants, at a time when most other teams wore all-white uniforms at home and all-grey ones on the road. Similar to more colorful amateur softball uniforms, they were considered a radical departure for their time. Furthermore, in conjunction with a Moustache Day promotion, Finley offered $300 to any player who grew a moustache by Father's Day, at a time when every other team forbade facial hair. When Father's Day arrived, every member of the team collected a bonus. The 1972 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds was termed “The Hairs vs. the Big Squares,” as the Reds wore more traditional uniforms and required their players to be clean-shaven and short-haired. A contemporaneous book about the team was called Moustache Gang. The A's seven-game victory over the heavily favored Reds gave the team its first World Series Championship since 1930.

They defended their title in 1973 and 1974. Unlike Mack's champions, who thoroughly dominated their opposition, the A’s teams of the 1970s played well enough to win their division (which was usually known as the "American League Least" during this time). They then defeated teams that had won more games during the regular season with good pitching, good defense, and clutch hitting. Finley called this team the “Swingin’ A’s.” Players such as Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue formed the nucleus of these teams.

The players often said in later years that they played so well as a team because almost to a man, they hated Finley with a passion. For instance, Finley threatened to pack Jackson off to the minors in 1969 after Jackson hit 47 homers; Commissioner Bowie Kuhn had to intervene in their contract dispute. Kuhn intervened again after Blue won the A.L. Cy Young Award in 1971 and Finley threatened to send him to the minors. Finley's tendency for micromanaging his team actually dated to the team's stay in Kansas City. Among the more notable incidents during this time was a near-mutiny in 1967; Finley responded by releasing the A's best hitter, Ken Harrelson, who promptly signed with the Red Sox and helped lead them to the pennant.

The Athletics' victory over the New York Mets in the 1973 Series was marred by Finley's antics. Finley forced Mike Andrews to sign a false affidavit saying he was injured after the reserve second baseman committed two consecutive errors in the 12th inning of the A's Game Two loss to the Mets. When other team members, manager Dick Williams, and virtually the entire viewing public rallied to Andrews' defense, Kuhn forced Finley to back down. However, there was nothing that said the A's had to play Andrews. Andrews entered Game 4 in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter to a standing ovation from sympathetic Mets fans. He promptly grounded out, and Finley ordered him benched for the remainder of the Series. Andrews never played another major league game. As it was, the incident allowed the Mets, a team that went but 82–79 during the regular season, to go seven games before losing to a superior team. Williams was so disgusted by the affair that he resigned after the Series. Finley retaliated by vetoing Williams' attempt to become manager of the Yankees. Finley claimed that since Williams still owed Oakland the last year of his contract, he could not manage anywhere else. Finley relented later in 1974 and allowed Williams to take over as manager of the California Angels.

After the Athletics' victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1974 Series (under Alvin Dark), pitcher Catfish Hunter filed a grievance, claiming that the team had violated its contract with Hunter by failing to make timely payment on an insurance policy during the 1974 season as called for. On December 13, 1974, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in Hunter’s favor. As a result, Hunter became a free agent, and signed a contract with the Yankees for the 1975 season. Despite the loss of Hunter, the A’s repeated as A.L. West champions in 1975, but lost the ALCS to Boston in a 3-game sweep.

Free agency, the dismantling of the A’s, and the end of the Finley years

1975

In 1975, fed up with poor attendance in Oakland during the team's championship years, Finley thought of moving yet again. When Seattle filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball over the move of the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee, Finley and others came up with an elaborate shuffle which would move the ailing Chicago White Sox to Seattle. Finley then would move the A's to Chicago, closer to his home in LaPorte, Indiana; and take the White Sox' place at Comiskey Park. The scheme fell through when Arthur Allyn sold the White Sox to another colorful owner, Bill Veeck, who was not interested in leaving Chicago.

1976

As the 1976 season got underway, the basic rules of player contracts were changing. Seitz had ruled that baseball’s reserve clause only bound players for one season after their contract expired. Thus, all players not signed to multi-year contracts would be eligible for free agency at the end of the 1976 season. The balance of power had shifted from the owners to the players for the first time since the days of the Federal League. Like Mack had done twice before, Finley reacted by trading star players and attempting to sell others. On June 15, 1976, Finley sold left fielder Rudi and relief pitcher Fingers to Boston for $1 million each, and pitcher Blue to the New York Yankees for $1.5 million. Three days later, Kuhn voided the transactions in the “best interests of baseball.” Amid the turmoil, the A's still finished second in the A.L. West, 2.5 games behind the Royals.

1977

After the 1976 season, most of the Athletics’ veteran players did become eligible for free agency, and predictably almost all left. Several decades and 3,000 miles later, one of baseball’s most storied franchises suffered yet another dismemberment of a dynasty team. As happened with the end of the A's first dynasty in the early 1900s, the collapse was swift and total. The next three years were as bad as the worst days in Philadelphia or Kansas City, with the A's finishing last twice and next-to-last once. In 1977, for instance—only three years after winning the World Series and two years after playing for the pennant—the A's finished with the worst record in the American League, and the second-worst record in baseball. They even trailed the expansion Seattle Mariners (though by only 1/2 game, as one game with the Minnesota Twins was canceled by weather and never made up).

At the end of the 1977 season, Finley attempted to trade Blue to the Reds for a player of lesser stature and cash, but Kuhn vetoed the deal, claiming that it was tantamount to a fire sale similar to the sales he voided a year earlier. He also claimed that adding Blue to the Reds' already formidable pitching staff would make a mockery of the National League West race. Later, the Commissioner approved a trade of relief pitcher Doug Bair to the Reds in a deal that resembled a true trade. At the same time, Blue was traded across the bay to the San Francisco Giants in a multi-player trade that likewise received the Commissioner's blessing.

1978–1980

The A's had never drawn well since moving to Oakland (even during the World Series years), and during the next three years attendance dropped so low that the Coliseum became known as the "Oakland Mausoleum." At one point during the late 1970s, crowds could be counted in the hundreds. The Coliseum's upkeep also went downhill. The franchise's rapid deterioration so soon after being the most powerful team in the game led some fans to nickname them "the Triple-A's."

Even during their championship years, the A's had been practically invisible outside of Oakland because they rarely had radio or television contracts. At one point, the A's broadcast their games on KALX, a 10-watt college radio station run by the University of California, Berkeley (Finley himself remarked that the only other alternative at the time was to get on a soapbox and do it himself). KALX was practically unlistenable more than 10 miles from Oakland. At that time, the A's had a radio network stretching all the way to Hawaii, leading one fan to joke, "Honolulu? How about here?"

Finley nearly sold the team to buyers who would have moved them to Denver for the 1978 season and New Orleans for 1979. Though the American League owners appeared to favor the Denver deal, it fell through when the city of Oakland refused to release the A's from their lease. The city was in the midst of its battle with the Oakland Raiders over their move to Los Angeles and didn't want to lose both teams. Not surprisingly, only 306,763 paying customers showed up to watch the A's in 1979, the team's worst attendance since leaving Philadelphia.

After three dismal seasons on the field and at the gate, the team started to gel again. In a masterstroke, Finley hired Billy Martin to manage the young team, led by new young stars Rickey Henderson, Mike Norris, Tony Armas, and Dwayne Murphy. Martin made believers of his young charges, “Billyball” was used to market the team, and the Athletics finished second in 1980.

However, during that same season Finley's wife sought a divorce and would not accept part of a baseball team in a property settlement. With most of his money tied up in the A's or his insurance empire, Finley had to sell the team. He agreed in principle to sell to businessman Marvin Davis, who would have moved the Athletics to Denver. However, just before Finley and Davis were due to sign a definitive agreement, the Raiders announced their move to Los Angeles. Oakland and Alameda County officials, not wanting to be held responsible for losing Oakland's status as a big-league city in its own right, refused to let Finley out of his lease with the Coliseum. Finley then looked to local buyers, selling the A's to San Francisco clothing manufacturer Walter A. Haas, Jr., president of Levi Strauss & Co. prior to the 1981 season. It would not be the last time that the Raiders directly affected the A's future.

Local ownership for the Athletics: the Haas era (1981–1995)

Despite winning three World Series and two other A.L. West Division titles, the A's on-field success did not translate into success at the box office during the Finley Era in Oakland. Average home attendance from 1968–1980 was 777,000 per season, with 1,075,518 in 1975 being the highest attendance for a Finley-owned team. In marked contrast, during the first year of Haas' ownership, the Athletics drew 1,304,052—in a season shortened by a player strike. Were it not for the strike, the A's were on a pace to draw over 2.2 million in 1981. The A's lost in the American League Championship Series after winning the "first half" AL West Division title of the strike-interrupted 1981 season. They finished with the second-best overall record in baseball, and the best record in the American League.

During the 15 years of Haas' ownership, the Athletics became one of baseball’s most successful teams at the gate, drawing 2,900,217 in 1990, still the club record for single season attendance, as well as on the field. Average annual home attendance during those years (excluding the strike years of 1981 and 1994) was over 1.9 million.

Haas set about changing the team's image. He ditched Charlie O. as the team mascot, and pictures of Connie Mack and other greats from the Philadelphia days appeared in the team office. The traditional team name "Athletics" was restored immediately, with the new ownership group formally known as "The Oakland Athletics Baseball Company." While the team colors remained green, gold, and white, the bright Kelly green was replaced with a more subdued forest green. After a 23-year hiatus, the elephant was restored as the club mascot in 1988. The script "Athletics," which had adorned home and road jerseys from 1954–1960, was returned to home jerseys in 1987.

Under the Haas ownership, the minor league system was rebuilt, which bore fruit later that decade as José Canseco (1986), Mark McGwire (1987), and Walt Weiss (1988) were chosen as A.L. Rookies of the Year. During the 1986 season, Tony La Russa was hired as the Athletics’ manager, a post he held until the end of 1995. In 1987, La Russa’s first full year as manager, the team finished at 81–81, its best record in seven seasons. Beginning in 1988, the Athletics won the A.L. pennant three years in a row. Reminiscent of their Philadelphia predecessors, this A’s team finished with the best record of any team in the major leagues during all 3 years, winning 104 (1988), 99 (1989), and 103 (1990) games, featuring such stars as McGwire, Canseco, Weiss, Rickey Henderson, Carney Lansford, Dave Stewart, and Dennis Eckersley.

During this time, Rickey Henderson shattered Lou Brock's modern major league record by stealing 130 bases in a single season (1982), a total which has not been approached since. On May 1, 1991, Henderson broke one of baseball's most famous records when he stole the 939th base of his career, one more than Brock.

Regular season dominance led to some success in the post-season. The Athletics' lone World Series championship of the era was a four-game sweep of the cross-bay rival San Francisco Giants in the 1989 World Series. Unfortunately for the A's, their sweep of the Giants was overshadowed by the Loma Prieta earthquake that occurred at the start of Game 3 before a national television audience. This forced the remaining games to be delayed for several days. When play resumed, the atmosphere was dominated more by a sense of relief than celebration by baseball fans. Heavily favored Athletics teams lost the World Series in both 1988, to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and in 1990, to the Cincinnati Reds. The latter was a shocking four-game sweep reminiscent of the A’s loss to the Boston Braves 76 years earlier. The team began declining, winning the A.L. West championship in 1992 (but losing to Toronto in the ALCS), then finishing last in 1993.

The "Moneyball" years (1996–2004)

Walter Haas died in 1995, and the team was sold to San Francisco Bay Area real estate developers Steve Schott (third cousin to one-time Cincinnati Reds’ owner Marge Schott),silent partner David Etheridge and Ken Hofmann, prior to the 1996 season. Once again, the Athletics’ star players were traded or sold, as the new owners’ goal was to cut payroll drastically. Many landed with the St. Louis Cardinals, including McGwire, Eckersley, and manager La Russa. In a turn of events eerily reminiscent of the A’s Roger Maris trade 38 years before, Mark McGwire celebrated his first full season with the Cardinals by setting a new major league home run record. In fact, McGwire came close to the record in 1997, when he split 58 homers between the A's and the Cards.

The Schott-Hofmann ownership allocated resources to building and maintaining a strong minor league system while almost always refusing to pay the going rate to keep star players on the team once they become free agents. Perhaps as a result, at the turn of the 21st century, the A's were a team that usually finished at or near the top of the A.L. West Division, but could not advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Athletics made the playoffs for four straight years, from 2000 to 2003, but lost their first round (best three-out-of-five) series in each case, 3 games to 2. In two of those years (2001 against the Yankees and 2003 against the Red Sox), the Athletics won the first two games of the series, only to lose the next three straight. In 2001, Oakland became the first team to lose a best-of-five series after winning both of the first two games on the road. In 2004, the A's missed the playoffs altogether, losing the final series of the season – and the divisional title – to the Anaheim Angels.

This period in Oakland history featured splendid performances from a trio of young starting pitchers: right-hander Tim Hudson and left-handers Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Between 1999 and 2006, the so-called "Big Three" helped the Athletics to emerge into a perennial powerhouse in the American League West, combining for a collective record of 261 – 131. They gave the Athletics a 1–2–3 punch to add to talented infielders and potent hitters, such as first baseman Jason Giambi, shortstop Miguel Tejada, and third baseman Eric Chavez. Giambi was named American League MVP in 2000, and Tejada won an MVP Award of his own in 2002, a year which also saw Zito win 23 games and the Cy Young Award.

On May 29, 2000, Randy Velarde achieved an unassisted triple play against the Yankees. In the sixth, second baseman Velarde caught Shane Spencer's line drive, tagged Jorge Posada running from first to second, and stepped on second before Tino Martinez could return. (Velarde had also pulled off an unassisted triple play during a spring training game that year). This was only the 11th unassisted triple play in the history of Major League Baseball.

The general manager of the Athletics, Billy Beane, has become notable in recent years for Michael Lewis's publicization of Beane's novel approach to business decisions and scouting referred to as Moneyball, both the title of the book, and hence the school of thought to management. The Athletics organization began redefining the way that major league baseball teams evaluate player talent. They began filling their system with players who did not possess traditionally valued baseball "tools" of throwing, fielding, hitting, hitting for power and running. Instead, they drafted for unconventional statistical prowess: on-base percentage for hitters (rather than batting average) and strikeout/walk ratios for pitchers (rather than velocity). These undervalued stats came cheaply. With the sixth-lowest payroll in baseball in 2002, the Oakland Athletics won an American League best 103 games. They spent $41M that season, while the Yankees, who also won 103 games, spent $126M. The Athletics have continually succeeded at winning, and defying market economics, keeping their payroll near the bottom of the league. For example, after the 2004 season, in which the A's placed second in their division, Beane shocked many by breaking up the Big Three, trading Tim Hudson to the Atlanta Braves and Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals. To many, the trades appeared bizarre, in that the two pitchers were seen to be at or near the top of their game; however, the decision was perfectly in line with Beane's business model as outlined in Moneyball. The Mulder trade, to many experts' surprise, turned into a steal for the Athletics, as little-known starter Dan Haren ended up pitching far better for Oakland than Mulder has in St. Louis.

Also during this time, the Athletics won an American League record 20 games in a row, from August 13 to September 4, 2002. The last three games were won in dramatic fashion, each victory coming in the bottom of the ninth inning. Win number 20 was notable because the A's, with Tim Hudson pitching, jumped to an 11–0 lead against the AL-cellar dwelling Kansas City Royals, only to slowly give up eleven unanswered runs to lose the lead. Then, Scott Hatteberg, enduring criticism as Jason Giambi's replacement, hit a pinch-hit home run off Royals closer Jason Grimsley in the bottom of the 9th inning to win 12–11. The streak was snapped two nights later in Minneapolis, the A's losing 6–0 to the Minnesota Twins. The Major League record for consecutive games without a loss is 26, set by the NL's New York Giants in 1916. There was a tie game embedded in that streak (ties were not uncommon in the days before stadium lights) and the record for consecutive wins with no ties is 21, held by the Chicago Cubs on their way to the NL pennant in 1935.

The Wolff era (2005–present)

2005

On March 30, 2005, the Athletics were sold to a group headed by real estate developer Lewis Wolff. Wolff, though a Los Angeles businessman, had successfully developed many real estate projects in and around San Jose. The previous ownership had retained Wolff to help them find an adequate parcel on which to construct a new stadium. Because of Wolff's background, rumors that he wanted to move the team to San Jose surfaced periodically upon his purchase of the team. However, any such plans were always complicated by the claims of the cross-bay San Francisco Giants that they own the territorial rights to San Jose and Santa Clara County.

In 2005, many pundits picked the Athletics to finish last as a result of Beane's dismantling of the Big Three. At first, the experts appeared vindicated, as the A's were mired in last place on May 31 with a 19–32 (.373) won-loss record. After that the team began to gel, playing at a .622 clip for the remainder of the season, eventually finishing 88–74 (.543), seven games behind the newly-renamed Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and for many weeks seriously contending for the AL West crown.

Game 1 in of the 2006 ALCS in Oakland, CA.

Pitcher Huston Street was voted the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 2005, the second year in a row an Athletic won that award, shortstop Bobby Crosby having won in 2004. For the fifth straight season, third baseman Eric Chavez won the A.L. Gold Glove Award at that position.

2006

Rally sticks given to fans for game 1 of the ALCS in Oakland.

The 2006 season brought the A's back to the postseason after a two year absence. After finishing the season at 93–69, four games ahead of the Angels, the A's were considered the underdog against the highly favored Minnesota Twins. The A's swept the series 3–0 however, despite having to start on the road and losing second baseman Mark Ellis, who sustained a broken finger after getting hit by a pitch in the second game. Their victory was short-lived though, as the A's were swept 4–0 by the Detroit Tigers. Manager Ken Macha was fired by Billy Beane on October 16, four days after their loss in the 2006 American League Championship Series. Beane cited a disconnect between him and his players as well as a general unhappiness among the team as the reason for his sudden departure.[4]

Macha was replaced by bench coach and former major league catcher Bob Geren. Following the 2006 season, the A's also lost ace Barry Zito to the Giants due to free agency. They also lost their DH and MVP candidate Frank Thomas to free agency but filled his role with Mike Piazza for 2007. Piazza, a lifetime National League player, agreed to become a full-time DH for the first time in his career.

2007

The 2007 season was a disappointing season for the A's as they suffered from injuries to several key players Rich Harden, Huston Street, Eric Chavez, and Mike Piazza. For the first time since the 1998 season, the A's finished with a losing record.

The Athletics signed international free agent Michael Inoa to the largest bonus in team and international free agent history.

2008

The 2008 off-season started with controversy, as the A's traded ace pitcher Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects. This would be followed by trades of outfielder Nick Swisher, who was considered to be a fan-favorite, to the Chicago White Sox, and another fan-favorite Mark Kotsay (also outfielder) to the Atlanta Braves. The trades, especially the first two, caused a lot of anger among fans and the media. The A's were considered to be a "rebuilding" team and were expected to be among the bottom-feeders of the MLB in the 2008 season. However, the A's performed well into the season as of late May, and have even held first place in the AL West for a good amount of time, but a 2–7 roadtrip in mid-May allowed the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to take first place for the time being. An 18–37 record for the months of July and August (including a 10-game losing streak) dropped the A's into third place. In addition, several players acquired in the offseason trades (pitchers Dana Eveland and Greg Smith from the Dan Haren trade, outfielder Ryan Sweeney from the Swisher trade and reliever Joey Devine from the Mark Kotsay trade). Carlos González and Gio Gonzalez (no relation) from the Haren and Swisher trades, respectively, also performed well for the Triple A Sacramento Rivercats. It is worth pointing out that Haren, Swisher, and Kotsay have all played well in their new teams. Kotsay himself had a game-winning RBI as a pinch-hitter, against his former team on May 16 in Game 1 of an interleague series between the A's and Braves. Kotsay also hit for the cycle for the Atlanta Braves.

On April 24, just weeks after playing against him on the Blue Jays, Frank Thomas re-signed with the A's after being released by the Jays after a slow start. On July 8, the A's were involved in a blockbuster trade, dealing Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Chicago Cubs for Sean Gallagher, Josh Donaldson, Eric Patterson, and Matt Murton. Then on July 17, the A's traded Joe Blanton to the Philadelphia Phillies for three minor leaguers. At the end of the 2008 season the Athletics were once again troubled with a losing record, finishing 2008 with a 75 – 86 3rd place finish in the AL West. In the 2008 off season the A's traded promising young star OF Carlos Gonzales, closer Huston Street and a player to be named later, for Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies. On January 6 2009 Jason Giambi signed a one year, $4.6 million contract with a 2nd year option. Giambi said he was glad to be back as he put on his old number 16. Also signed were infielders Orlando Cabrera of the Chicago White Sox and Nomar Garciaparra of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

References


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