The third entry in the Franchise Greats Series is the Oakland Athletics. Unlike the first two teams in the series, the Angels and Astros who are relatively young franchises, the Athletics are an original American League franchise. They began in 1901, in the city of Philadelphia, as one of the eight franchises in the inaugural AL season. In 1955, they moved to Kansas City, where they’d play until 1967. In ‘68, they shortened their name to the A’s and joined the teams migrating west to California, settling in Oakland. Finally, the modern Oakland Athletics moniker became official in 1987. This protracted history results in a larger pool from which to choose players and more difficult comparisons as their careers span vastly different eras.
The Athletics have had several periods of success. They hang fifteen pennants at the Coliseum and have nine World Series titles. In the Philadelphia years, they lost the second-ever World Series in 1902 and again in ‘05 and then they won titles in ‘10, ‘11, ‘13, ‘29 and ‘30 while losing in ‘14 and ‘31. The KC teams went completely pennant-less before another run of success once they arrived in Oakland resulting in the ‘72-74 titles and most recently the 1989 Series title with losses in ‘88 and ‘90. So the periods of 1910-14, ‘29-31, ‘72-74, and ‘88-90 represent four separate dynastic periods in Athletics’ history. Each dynasty has representation on the All-Athletics and the result is a pretty fearsome roster.
The A’s have a HOFer at nearly every position, and at Catcher that’s Mickey Cochrane. Gordon “Mickey” Cochrane was the key piece of a triumvirate of superstars that led legendary manager Connie Mack’s 1920-30s Philadelphia A’s dynasty. Defensively, he was a solid backstop, never grading negatively for a single season. Offensively, he was a monster. During his peak, from ‘30-33, he slashed .330/.429/.526 for a 144 wRC+ and 135.1 Off. Each of those marks led all Catchers during that time by a considerable margin. Fellow HOFers Gabby Hartnett and Bill Dickey were tied for second in wRC+ with 123. His 22.6 fWAR during that span was 9th among all players trailing names like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mel Ott. He was the 3rd Catcher to be selected to the HOF and was the greatest Catcher to play the game until Yogi Berra came along. A certain superstar from Commerce, Oklahoma was named after him. So the All-A’s don’t have to look far for their starting Catcher but which of the others back him up?
The late 80s A’s dynasty also had a proficient Catcher. Terry Steinbach broke into the league in ‘86 and played in 100+ games for the A’s over 11 seasons. Never a particularly scary hitter, Steinbach was a well-regarded defender saving double-digit runs above average three of his last five years with the A’s. His final season in Oakland, he also managed to break out offensively setting career highs in HRs (35), RBIs (100), wOBA (.370), SLG (.529), and Off (12.8).
As will be the case throughout this analysis, each A’s dynasty will probably have a say at each position. The 70s team had their Catcher in Gene Tenace. After four part-time seasons from ‘69-72, Tenace was the primary backstop through the next four strong Athletics seasons. During the offensively suppressed era, Tenace was an above-average bat. He homered 20+ times all four seasons with a .244/.381/.444 slash, 144 wRC+, worth 112.5 Off. He was relatively the equivalent of Cochrane during those years, albeit slightly less effective with the glove. He reached another level in the playoffs winning the ‘72 World Series MVP with a .913 SLG, 4 HRs, and 21 total bases in the seven-game victory over Cincinnati.
Wally Schang is the representative from the early dynasty, playing in both the ‘13 World Series win and ‘14 loss. Schang was the 3rd best offensive Catcher in the majors in ‘14, his best year, but was never a star and bounced around to several franchises as a result.
Cochrane is the obvious starter but choosing between Steinbach and Tenace is too difficult. So, both will make the team, Tenace played some 1B in his career, and between the three of them, they provide plenty of offense and flexibility.
C – Mikey Cochrane, Terry Steinbach, and Gene Tenace
In an era loaded with fearsome hitters, one of the greatest was Jimmie “the Beast” Foxx. From 1925-35, Foxx absolutely mashed baseballs for the Philadelphia Athletics. He had 302 HRs, 1075 RBIs, slashed .339/.440/.640, a 169 wRC+, and was worth 489.7 Off. Only Gehrig and Ruth were worth more offense through that time. In 1932, he delivered one of the greatest offensive seasons in history, with 58 HRs, 169 RBIs, a .522 wOBA, and 198 wRC+, worth 92.9 Off. His 11.3 fWAR led all of baseball including the aforementioned Yankee greats. He won back-to-back MVPs in ‘32 and ‘33 while leading the majors in HRs, RBIs, SLG, OPS, and TBs both years. He was purportedly described as being “so strong, even his hair had muscles” by Yankees ace Lefty Gomez. The All-A’s have their 1B (that 30s team was nuts, and isn’t done yet).
Once again, it’s the 80s “bash-brothers” Athletics that present the strongest challenger to Connie Mack’s champion. The easier of the two “brothers” to like was 1B Mark McGwire. From ‘87-92 “Big Mac” provided above-average pop and won the ‘87 Rookie of the Year award, and went to six-straight All-Star games on the way to launching a league-leading 217 HRs. Then he lost a pair of seasons to injury and there was legitimate concern he would never be the same. Then in ‘95 he came back and began a one-man demolition of the league which lasted until ‘99 when his injuries began to catch up again. The first 2+ years of that slugfest was spent in Oakland, during which he blasted 125 HRs. His wRC+ of 183 and 190 in ‘95-96 respectively led the league. In ‘96 he hit 52 HRs, slashed .312/.467/.730, worth 68.4 Off – career-highs he would later break with the Cardinals. He went to six-straight All-Star games from ‘95-00 for a second time, making him an All-Star 12 of his 16 seasons.
Davis, Giambi, and Fain all had good seasons and respectable cases but they don’t hold a candle to Foxx and Mac. All due respect to McGwire but Foxx is the starter.
1B – Jimmie Foxx
Eddie Collins was elected to the HOF in 1939. He was the heart and soul of the first great A’s dynasty. He became the starter in 1908 and won the 1913 AL MVP before leaving Philadelphia for the White Sox. From ‘12-14 he led the league in runs scored (137, 125, 122 respectively) and was the 2nd best player in baseball behind fellow HOFer Tris Speaker. He returned to finish off his career with the A’s from ‘27-30 just missing participating in two of the A’s dynasties. In the dead-ball era, his .338/.420/.440 Athletics’ slash was an impressive 159 wRC+ and worth 307.0 Off.
Replacing Collins in Philadelphia was Max Bishop. From ‘24-33 he was a source of positive value at 2nd hitting his peak in ‘31 with 6.2 fWAR leading all 2B. His career SLG of .370, while baseball was opening up offensively, is too low to make the All-A’s team.
Danny Murphy split time with Collins while also logging innings in the outfield. A weaker fielder than either Collins or Bishop, Murphy did provide value with the bat topping 130 wRC+ 6 of his 11 A’s seasons.
Jimmie Dykes played alongside Max Bishop. The stretch from 1900 to 1932 featured four of the five best 2B in A’s history. Dykes bounced around the infield but provided above-average defense and about average offense for 15 years. His career-best season he slashed .327/.412/.539, a 143 wRC+ worth 27.8 Off.
Bishop, Murphy, and Dykes provided very similar value playing through the same years but were overshadowed by the superstar Collins. Mark Ellis made the list with his glove. Saving 126 runs over his 9+ seasons in Oakland from ‘02-11, Ellis never hit much, slashing just .265/.331/.397 during a more offensive era in baseball resulting in a 96 wRC+.
2B – Eddie Collins
Semien is the current shortstop for the Athletics. He had been a middling offensive player with significant defensive shortcomings when he first came over from the White Sox in ‘15. However, he has improved in both areas drastically. In ‘18, he flipped the switch defensively, and saved 15.6 runs, 3rd best in the league behind Francisco Lindor and Andrelton Simmons. Then in ‘19, the offense followed suit. He went crazy, blasting a career-high 33 HRs, slashing career highs across the board (.285/.369/.522, a 137 wRC+), and was worth an eye-popping 37.5 Off. To that point, his career Off was -5.5. His fWar of 7.6 as a SS trailed onlyAlex Bregman, who spends most of his time at 3rd but was a SS due to injuries in ‘19. The sudden improvement is not enough to place him amongst the best of the A’s SSs yet but he is poised to launch up the list with more consistent numbers like ‘18-19.
Miguel Tejada is another modern name that made the list. He broke into the majors with the A’s in ‘97 and rose to stardom before leaving in ‘04 for the Orioles. From ‘99-’03, he provided slightly above average offensive value, above-average defense, and some flashy numbers. He was the 4th best SS during that span behind Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Derek Jeter. He hit 30 HRs and drove in 100 runs each of the ‘00-’02 seasons missing both benchmarks barely in ‘03 (27, 98). His best season was in ‘02 when he had 34 HRs, 131 RBIs, slashed .308/.354/.508, a 129 wRC+, and was worth 29.5 Off. However, in the offensive climate he played in, he was only a 105 wRC+ as an A and only accrued 17 fWAR, neither good enough for the All-A’s squad.
Eddie Collins’ double-play partner was Jack Barry. He began his career in Philly in 1908 and played into 1915 before being shipped to Boston. He provided very little with the bat, even for the Deadball era, but was very effective in the field. As an A, he was worth 90+ Def which was 6th among SS during that span. However, his bat cost the A’s runs and he only accumulated 20.1 fWAR for the A’s.
Playing during one of the only dry spells in Athletics history was Eddie Joost. After 9 years between the Reds and Braves, Eddie joined the Athletics in ‘47 and remained there until ‘54, their last year in Philadelphia. Joost had a couple seasons of standout production which lifted his career numbers into respectable company. In ‘49 he slashed .263/.429/.453, a 136 wRC+ and in ‘51, he slashed .289/.408/.461, a 134 wRC+. Those two seasons were nearly half his career fWAR.
The hands-down favorite for the SS spot for the All-Athletics is Bert Campaneris. The 5x All-Star led the league in steals six times over his 13-year Athletic career. He went on to have one more All-Star season as he bounced around a little till his age-41 season. So far the only Kansas City Athletic to be considered, Campaneris entered the league in ‘64 and followed the A’s to Oakland and hung around till ‘76. He had very limited value with the bat, with one odd breakout season, ‘70, when he popped 22 HRs (over a quarter his career total of 79) and was worth 15.6 Off. However, he was a steady superstar with the glove.
As a full-time Athletic (‘65-76) he was worth 161.9 Def which was 3rd in the league behind Mark Belanger and Ed Brinkman. Both of them were even worse at the plate than he was meaning over that span, Campaneris was the best SS in baseball with 42.6 fWAR. In fact, despite only being worth 6.1 Off, he was the 6th best hitting SS in the somewhat muted offensive era of the 60s-70s.
SS – Bert Campaneris
The 3B next to Campaneris during the 70s was Sal Bando. He began his career in Oakland in ‘66 and remained until ‘76 before finishing up in Milwaukee. His career ebbed and flowed throughout the 70s, but he had some impressive high points. From ‘69-71, he popped out 75 HRs and was worth 97.7 Off. He was an All-Star in ‘69 and the runner up in the ‘71 AL MVP race to a teammate who will show up later on. He had a down year in ‘72, despite making the first of 3-straight All-Star games, before going on another tear the next two years. All told, his 34.7 fWAR from ‘69-74 led all 3B and his wRC+ of 139 was tied with Tony Perez for 2nd behind Harmon Killebrew.
Frank “Home Run” Baker was the A’s 3B for the early dynasty, holding down the hot corner from 1908-14. He then wrapped up his career with the Yankees, retiring in ‘22. Selected to the HOF in 1955, Baker was one of the first sluggers in baseball history. During his peak, ‘11-14, he was 5th in the league in HRs (42) and led baseball in RBIs (451). His .321/.375/.471 slash, as an A, was a 148 wRC+ worth 212.2 Off and 40.9 fWAR leading all 3B. He was no slouch in the field either, his 40.7 Def as an A coming in 5th among contemporary 3B.
Matt Chapman is barely getting started and already looks to be one of the greatest players in Athletics history. With just 3 seasons under his belt, he is already 5th in fWAR for 3Bs and his .500 SLG leads all 3B in franchise history with 500+ PAs. The sky’s the limit for Chapman, but he’s got work to do before he can catcher Baker or Bando.
One of the anonymous members of the “Bash Brothers” 80s dynasty was Carney Lansford. Never particularly amazing with the bat or glove, Carney was a grinder who accumulated enough fWAR to make the list.
The real competition to Bando and Baker is Eric Chavez. After breaking into the league in ‘98, Chavez took over 3B for Oakland and in ‘01 began a six-year run of excellence. Six straight Gold Gloves (probably deserving of five of them) coupled with strong offensive production and productive base running made him the 3rd best 3B in baseball by fWAR behind Alex Rodriguez and Scott Rolen. He piled up 32.4 fWAR before leaving to finish his career elsewhere. His 230 HRs lead all Athletic 3B by a healthy margin but, weighted by his era, 113 wRC+ dampens the outlook.
Home Run Baker was a pioneer and an extremely valuable player but Bando was better in the field and had seasons which were just as potent as Baker ever was. Frank will factor into the bench however.
3B – Sal Bando
The Outfielders in contention include a few HOFers for the All-A’s, the nine are Rickey Henderson, Al Simmons, Reggie Jackson, Bob Johnson, Dwayne Murphy, Jose Canseco, Topsy Hartsel, Elmer Valo, and Socks Seybold.
Socks Seybold (not to be confused with Socks Seibold…really) was a key offensive piece of the turn of the century A’s. From 1901-06 he was worth 122.3 Off, good enough for 9th among OFers. Elmer Valo logged 16 of his 22-year career with the A’s from 1940-55 and accumulated nearly as much Off as Seybold (121.6). Topsy Hartsel was Seybold’s teammate and had a lesser career but a brighter peak when in 1905 he slashed .275/.409/.346, a 142 wRC+ worth 31.2 Off. Socks and Topsy were joined by Ollie Pickering for one of the most interestingly named outfields in baseball history. None of these players were quite productive enough to make the All-A’s squad.
McGwire’s other “Bash Bro” was the infamous Jose Canseco. Canseco mashed as an Athletic. From ‘85-92 he slashed .266/.347/.511 with 235 HRs, leading the league. In ‘88 he became the inaugural member of the 40-40 club with 42 HRs and 40 SBs, a mark only reached by 3 other players, Barry Bonds, Alfonso Soriano, and Alex Rodriguez. He was the ROY in ‘86, MVP in ‘88, and a 5x All-Star with Oakland. He led the league with a .569 SLG and 169 wRC+ in ‘88 and his 7.6 fWAR was 3rd behind Wade Boggs and Mike Greenwell. However, he was traded to the Rangers for three players and cash ending his A’s career short of the heights reached by some of the other names on the list. And of course, since his playing days, Canseco has done more to damage his reputation than perhaps any professional athlete in memory.
In between the 70s and late 80s dynasties, Dwayne Murphy roamed CF and had a few big seasons while making a name for himself defensively. He entered in ‘78 and was a fixture in one of the best outfields in baseball before leaving after the ‘87 season. In ‘84 he had his best offensive season, popping 33 HRs, driving in 93, and slashing .256/.342/.472, a 130 wRC+. His real value was in the field. From ‘79-87 his 46.4 Def was 5th amongst OFers and he won six straight Gold Gloves from ‘80-85. His 30.4 fWAR is 5th in team history despite only having a 116 wRC+ as an Athletic.
Bob Johnson also plied his trade during a dry spell in A’s History. From 1933-42, he was the 4th best OF in baseball by fWAR behind HOFers Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, and Joe Medwick. Of OFers, only Ott hit more homers and only Medwick drove in more runs, as Johnson hit 20+ and drove in 90+ every year but his last with the A’s. In ‘39, he set career highs with a .338/.440/.553 slash, a 150 wRC+, and 45.7 Off. He produced a wOBA of .400+ his first seven seasons in the league and averaged .415 over his Athletics career, good enough for 6th among OFers during that time. Perhaps due to a late start (he debuted at 27) and an abrupt end as younger players returned from the War, his career ended up just outside of the traditional HOF metrics.
The next three are bonafide HOFers and have unique claims as the greatest Athletic in history. The first, with the lowest fWAR (45.2) of the three is Reggie Jackson. While he ended up being fairly well-traveled over his 21-year career, he started and ended in with the A’s. After debuting in ‘67 he quickly became a regular a year later and a staple in the 70’s A’s dynasty. Then he made a one-year stop in Baltimore and had another impressive chapter in New York. Then after bouncing to the Angels for six years he wrapped things up with Oakland in his age-41 season in 1987.
His first standout season (and possibly his greatest) was in ‘69. He hammered a career high 47 HRs, scored 123 runs (he’d never score 100 in a season again), drove in 118 and slugged a ridiculous .608. His 1.018 OPS led the AL as did his 179 wRC+ and 62.9 Off. He topped 140 wRC+ four of his last five A’s seasons in the 70’s, missing five straight by 1 point in ‘75. He was an All-Star each of those five seasons and in ‘73 was the AL MVP. That year he slashed .293/.383/.531, a 159 wRC+ worth 43.4 Off. His dominance continued that year as he slugged .941 in the ‘73 World Series against the Mets to earn series-MVP honors as well. His 269 homers as an Athletic lead all OFers but his 145 wRC+ is 2nd behind the next name on the list.
Connie Mack’s dominant 30’s lineup had a nickname and we’ve met two of the three pieces of it. The middle man of the Cochrane-Simmons-Foxx powerhouse was the next subject, Al “Bucketfoot” Simmons. From ‘24 to ‘32, Simmons was an offensive machine. His .358 average was tied for 3rd with Harry Heilmann behind Lefty O’Doul and Rogers Hornsby. His 208 HRs were 4th behind Hack Wilson, Gehrig, and Ruth. In 1930, he won the batting crown and slashed an absurd .381/.423/.708 with 36 HRs and 165 RBIs, a 176 wRC+ worth 64.8 Off. He followed that up with a second batting crown in ‘31 with an only slightly less insane .390/.444/.641 slash with 22 jacks and 128 RBIs.
He drove in 102+ runs every year from ‘24-32 and trailed only Ruth in RBIs over that span. He had 200+ hits 5x and led the league twice, with a career-high of 253 in ‘25 which at the time was the second-most in a single season, although it’s been surpassed three more times since. Simmons never won an MVP but he finished in the top 5 four times as an Athletic, his closest was in 1925 when he lost out to Roger Peckinpaugh. His nickname, Bucketfoot, referred to his awkward footwork but no one could possibly argue with the results.
The player with the most career fWAR as an Athletic at any position was Rickey Henderson. Compared to Rickey’s pinball career, Reggie looks downright stable. Playing for nine teams over a 27-year career, Rickey had four separate stints in Oakland. He broke into the league in ‘79 and was an All-Star in four of his six seasons as an Athletic before being traded to the Yankees in ‘85. He was traded back in ‘89 and then re-signed with Oakland for the next 3+ seasons before being flipped to the Blue Jays in ‘93. Then in ‘94 he signed with the A’s again, then with the Padres in ‘96. He was traded to the Angels in ‘97, and once again signed with Oakland for the last time in ‘98 for his age-39 season. He left for the Mets in ‘99 and played an additional 5 seasons on 5 different teams, before retiring after a brief stint with the Dodgers as a 44-year old legend.
Rickey’s standout tool was speed, and the league had never (nor will it ever again) seen anything like him on the basepaths. From ‘80-84 he led the league in steals each season, swiping 100+ 3x, and in ‘82 he stole 130 bags – 2nd all-time in a single season and most since 1887. When he returned to Oakland he led the league again in ‘90-91 and then again in ‘98. All-told he stole 867 bases as an Athletic which would be good enough for 5th all-time without any of his other seven seasons. He also led the league in runs scored 2x as an Athletic and is the All-Time record holder in runs, steals, and caught stealing. He wasn’t just fast, in ‘90 he popped 28 homers and slashed .325/.439/.577, a blistering 190 wRC+, and his 10.7 fWAR earned him the AL MVP. He was also the runner-up to a mustachioed reliever we’ll discuss later in the ‘81 MVP race despite leading the AL in runs, hits, and SBs, with a strong wRC+ of 152. On the way to the ‘89 World Series victory, Henderson earned the ALCS MVP when he slashed .400/.609/1.000 and stole 8 bases in 5 games. While Rickey wasn’t a stellar CF, he was a very good LF and with the two bats the All-A’s will put on either side of him, a slightly weakened defense is a small price to pay.
RF – Reggie Jackson
CF – Rickey Henderson
LF – Al Simmons
The five players that are being considered for the DH position have a combined career fWAR of 35.2. So, Jack Cust, Geronimo Berroa, Mitchell Page, Khris Davis, and Matt Stairs will not factor into the All-A’s roster.
Instead, the most difficult choice in the positional decisions, 1B, was made much easier by being able to plug the runner-up here.
DH – Mark McGwire
Since the All-A’s are carrying three Catchers, there are only two remaining spots. They were filled by a pair of strong bats giving the Athletics an extremely potent roster.
Bench – Bob Johnson and Frank Baker
Last man off would be Dwayne Murphy.
The All-Athletics have a rich history of epic arms to choose from. The top ten are Eddie Plank, Lefty Grove, Chief Bender, Rube Waddell, Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, Eddie Rommel, Rube Walberg, Barry Zito, and Dave Stewart.
The two modern arms, Zito and Stewart, won over 100 games for the A’s and were at times each in the conversation for best starter in the league. Their respective fWAR’s 23.8 (Zito) and 23 (Stewart) are simply significantly lower than the other options. 20-30s era starter Rube Walberg rode Cochrane, Simmons, and Foxx to 134 victories but his peripherals are also too weak to factor in the final rotation.
Also a member of the Connie Mack A’s, Eddie Rommel has a better claim. The 6’2” righty won 171 games over his 13-year career entirely with Philadelphia. From 1921-29 he was one of the premier starters in baseball and appeared on the league MVP ballots twice, and in ‘22 came in 2nd behind George Sisler. That season he won 27 games with a 3.28 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 22 CGs, and 3 shutouts. Five years in a row, Eddie completed over half his starts. He was as reliable as they come and was the only pitcher to appear in 500 games during the span of his career. However, he was overshadowed by the next name on this list.
Rommel and Walberg were good, but the Ace of Mack’s staff was Lefty Grove. Elected to the HOF in 1947, Grove won 300 games and K’d over 2200 batsmen. Spending the first half of his 17-year career in Philadelphia, Grove was a monster accruing 6+ fWAR for seven-straight seasons. He won 20+ games from ‘27-33 leading the league 4x and peaking at 31-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 1931. That season he led the league in K’s for the seventh year in a row (his final season to do so) and he was the AL MVP. He led the AL in ERA 5x as an Athletic, in CGs 3x, and tossed 20 shutouts. He was 3 innings short of 200 his rookie season and never fell below 258 as an Athletic after that. His 195 wins as an A is 2nd in franchise history; the lefty they called Lefty will have a spot in the All-A’s rotation.
The other five arms feature a pair from the 70s and three from the dawn of the league. From ‘69-77 the A’s premier left-hander was Vida Blue. Blue had ups and downs in his A’s career but was a key part of all three World Series wins from ‘72-74. His best season actually came in 1971 when he went 24-8 with a league-leading 1.82 ERA over 312 innings. He also led the league with 9 shutouts and his career-best .95 WHIP and won the CY and MVP while going to his first of three All-Star games with Oakland.
From ‘71-77 (his full seasons with the A’s) he was top-10 in several categories including 9th in wins (171), 8th in shutouts (26), and 7th in K’s (1256). He tossed a pair of no-hitters and is as of yet the only Athletic to do so. The first was in 1970 in a blowout of the Twins and the second a combined no-no over the Angels in 1975. Like Rommel, Blue was somewhat overshadowed by his own rotation mate.
HOFer James “Catfish” Hunter was the more famous starter of the two 70s greats. Catfish debuted with the KC A’s in ‘65 and had an early pair of All-Star appearances in ‘66-67 but didn’t really blossom into a star until ‘70. From ‘70-74 he led the league in wins (106) with a 2.89 ERA over 1406 innings. He was one of the first high-profile Free Agents of the post-Curt Flood era when he signed with the big market Yankees in ‘75 but five years later he was forced to retire due to complications from diabetes at just 33 years old.
Hunter’s HOF selection is somewhat maligned, particularly in comparison with his teammate Blue who exceeded many of Catfish’s numbers but was quickly dismissed by HOF voters. One thing Catfish did accomplish that Blue didn’t, was on May 8th, 1968 when he twirled the first perfect game in franchise history. He stymied the Twins while driving in three of the A’s four runs in route to the first American League perfect game since 1922. Lefty Dallas Braden threw the second franchise perfect game 32 years and one day later. Catfish’s best season as an Athletic came in 1974 when he won the AL CY going 25-12 with a league-leading 2.49 ERA and .099 WHIP over 318 innings.
Connie Mack said if he had one game to win, he’d want HOFer Charles “Chief” Bender to be the starter. Bender’s mother was American Indian, believed to be of the Ojibwe who were settled in Minnesota, so Charles was known as Chief as a player. He was one of three extraordinarily successful starters for the inaugural AL A’s. From 1903-14 he won 193 games with a 2.32 ERA over 2602 IP. Only 4 pitchers had more wins including a soon to be discussed teammate, HOFers Christy Matthewson, and Mordecai Brown and Tiger’s ace George Mullins.
Between ‘09-10 Bender went 41-13 with a 1.62 ERA and was worth 10.1 fWAR over exactly 500 innings. A prototype “big game” pitcher, Bender went 6-4 in World Series starts with a 2.44 ERA and helped the A’s win three rings. He also tossed the 2nd no-hitter in franchise history in 1910 over the Cleveland Naps. After his A’s career, Bender started 23 games for the Baltimore Terrapins of the Federal League in ‘15, 47 games for the Phillies of the NL in ‘16-17, and finished his career with the White Sox in 1925 in a single appearance of one inning while the manager of the club. Bender’s 2.32 ERA is 2nd in franchise history among A’s starters with 1000+ innings and his 193 wins are 3rd. His other two teammates were even better.
Rube Waddell was one of the first great overpowering starters. After a few years in the NL with the Louisville Colonels, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Chicago Cubs, Rube came to Philadelphia in 1902 and was immediately dominant. He proceeded to lead the league in K’s six-straight seasons, K 200+ seven-straight, and his 349 in ‘04 were the most post-1900 and stood until Sandy Koufax came along in 1965 with his 382.
The lefty’s best season was in 1904 when he went 25-19 with a 1.62 ERA in 383 innings, 39 CGs, 8 shutouts, 349 K’s, and a 1.04 WHIP. And then in 1905 he regressed slightly and won the pitching triple crown (led the league in wins, K’s, and ERA). If the CY existed then (of course it didn’t, since it’s namesake was earning the right to have it named after him) Waddell would’ve been the odds-on favorite to win between two and four of them from 1902-05. His 1.97 ERA, 7.59 K/9, and 1.06 WHIP are all franchise leading marks. His 41.9 fWAR, however, is 4th in franchise history behind Bender, Grove, and the franchise leader.
Eddie Plank’s 57.8 fWAR is the highest mark for a pitcher in Athletics history. Only Rickey Henderson and Jimmie Foxx accrued more as an Athletic. Pitching all but three of his 17 years with Philadelphia, Plank piled up a franchise leading 284 wins, 3860.2 IP, and 1985 K’s. Unlike Waddell or Bender, Plank was probably never the best pitcher in baseball in a particular season. But over his career he was consistently great resulting in being 3rd in wins and K’s, 2nd in IP and games, and 3rd in fWAR behind Mathewson and Cy Young. He won 14+ games every year of his Athletic career and completed 20+ each of the first 12 years. He topped 300 IP 5x and 200 K’s 2x. His .08 HR/9 is the best mark in league history among pitchers with at least 3000 IP.
Plank, Waddell, and Bender are in the rotation along with Lefty Grove. The 5th spot is one of Catfish, Vida, or Rommel. Vida Blue’s heights were as good as anybody in the list and that earns him the 5th spot.
Rotation: Eddie Plank, Lefty Grove, Rube Waddell, Chief Bender, Vida Blue
Reminder from the earlier articles this list is as much about what a player contributed to the franchise as it is about being the best so only pitchers used primarily as relievers will be considered for the ‘pen.
We looked at 10 relievers to fill 8 spots, as usual, however, this is typically a quicker section but the A’s have a pair of all-time greats that deserve a little more discussion. The 10 candidates are Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Billy Taylor, Sean Doolittle, Huston Street, Liam Hendriks, Paul Lindblad, Jim Mecir, Ryan Cook, Rick Honeycutt, Justin Duchscherer, and Chad Bradford.
HOFer Dennis Eckersley was a decent starter with the Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs before coming to Oakland in 1987. In ‘88 he was made the closer and proceeded to come one short of the then single-season saves record with 45. Eck kept going, notching 30+ saves 6x as an Athletic. His 1990 season was one of the most dominant by a reliever in history. Appearing in 63 games, he had a .61 ERA and 73 K’s in 73.1 IP. Only 9 of the 262 batters he faced that year crossed the plate. His wild hair and slingshot delivery are iconic but he’s even better remembered for serving up one of the most dramatic homers in playoff history in Game 1 of the ‘88 World Series to Kirk Gibson. In the ALCS that year, Eck was the MVP allowing a single hit over 6 scoreless innings and notching 4 saves.
If Eck’s hair was iconic, it fades in comparison to the massive cultural impact of Rollie Fingers’ mustache. It’s a wonder there isn’t a separate plaque in Cooperstown for the elegantly twirled handlebar that somehow gives off a welcoming sense of home while simultaneously invoking images of turn-of-the-century bare-knuckle boxers and dastardly villains. Along with having all-world facial hair, Fingers was a very effective pitcher. Only briefly a starter in ‘70, Fingers was the epitome of the “relief Ace” throwing between 100-140 innings each year between ‘69-76 with an ERA of 2.88 and a 6.95 K/9. He also piled up 136 saves and appeared in 502 games in his A’s career, 3rd in franchise history behind Plank and Eck.
The rest of the bullpen would be Billy Taylor (100 saves, 8.43 K/9), Sean Doolittle (7.3 fWAR, 10.67 K/9, .93 WHIP), Huston Street (2.88 ERA, 1.07 WHP), Liam Hendriks (6.0 fWAR, 11.34 K/9), Rick Honeycutt (2.97 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), and Ryan Cook (2.77 ERA, 9.23 K/9).
Bullpen – Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Billy Taylor, Sean Doolittle, Huston Street, Liam Hendriks, Rick Honeycutt, Ryan Cook
Results and Lineup
Presenting the All-Athletics:
C – Mickey Cochrane, Terry Steinbach, Gene Tenace
IF – Sal Bando, Frank Baker, Bert Campaneris, Eddie Collins, Jimmie Foxx, Mark McGwire
OF – Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Bob Johnson, Al Simmons
SP – Chief Bender, Vida Blue, Left Grove, Eddie Plank, Rube Waddell
RP – Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Liam Hendriks, Rick Honeycutt, Huston Street, Billy Taylor
- Rickey Henderson 8
- Al Simmons 7
- Reggie Jackson 9
- Jimmie Foxx 3
- Mark McGwire DH
- Mickey Cochrane 2
- Sal Bando 5
- Eddie Collins 4
- Bert Campaneris 6
Reggie, a Bash Bro, and Cochrane-Simmons-Foxx. Not a lineup to wink at.
Let me know in the comments where I went wrong and look out for the other entries in the series coming out soon.