Thursday, May 5, 2016

20 Facts about the lovable, sometimes laughable, but always entertaining Oakland Athletics

“Hope springs eternal” are the opening lines to a famous essay by Alexander Pope, but it also could describe the optimism of Oakland A’s fans, who typically enjoy hot starts, stellar play by breakout stars, and even knock on the post season door before ending up cooling off with the fall weather.

Still, there’s no denying that NorCal’s A’s are one of the most entertaining and storied franchises in baseball history, home team to Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Vida Blue, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, José Canseco, Jason Giambi and others.

Yet, no team in baseball trades away their homegrown young talent like the A’s, and their front office penny-pinching approach has led to some genius innovation that inspired a best-selling book and movie, but World Series glimpses that are few and far between lately. Still, if you grew up in Sacramento or the surrounding area, you might have grown up loving and emulating the A’s, not their cross-Bay Giants, and it’s a love affair that won’t fade soon.

So here are 20 facts about your Oakland A’s as we go through the summer enjoying A’s baseball, with hope that maybe – just maybe – this will be their year!

1.         The A’s are one of few teams in major professional sports that features green as their team color, along with the Celtics and NFL’s Eagles. But Oakland’s squad is definitely the only team in sports to rock green and gold as the official team colors, and in such wild (and often atrocious) combinations that their fashion choice contributed to their nickname, “The Swinging A’s.” Always ready to rock the baseball boat, the A’s are the only team in the Majors to wear their white cleats both at home on the road, a tradition that goes back to owner Charlie Finley’s era.

2.         While many celebrities and prominent Californians regularly jump on the Giants and Dodgers bandwagons, NorCal and Sacramento native Tom Hanks is a lifelong A’s fan, and still periodically attends games or is caught in private moments wearing an A’s baseball cap.

3.         You wouldn’t believe it by watching baseball these days, but for most of the 20th century, baseball players were all clean-shaven and facial-hair free. But that changed dramatically in 1972, when the Oakland A’s played the baseball renegades with a wild array of facial hair and went on to win the World Series.

4.         The A’s won World Series titles nine times throughout their history, including 1989, 1974, 1973, 1972, 1930, 1929, 1913, 1911, and 1910. Those nine World Series rings are the third most of any current team in baseball.

5.         They’ve also won 15 Pennants, 16 West division titles (the latest in 2012 and then again in 2013), and Wild Card births in 2001 and 2014.

6.         The A’s not only changed baseball but also revolutionized front offices across all major sports with their Moneyball approach. The term was coined for the 2003 Michael Lewis book that documented A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s unconventional approach to fielding a competitive team despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. Moneyball is really a testament to advance statistics and analytics, and went on to be a hit movie with Brad Pitt in 2011, complete with a green carpet – not the traditional red carpet – at the premier.

7.         The Oakland A’s came incredibly close to being the New Orleans A’s. In 1978, the New Orleans Superdome wanted the A’s to relocate east to the city of Mardi Gras and jazz, and started negotiations. The A’s were reportedly very interested, and the move could have become official if the A’s weren’t bound by their stadium lease in Oakland, and could find no way out.

8.         While the 1989 World Series winning Bash Brothers of Jose Canseco, a young Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, Dennis Eckersley, etc. were an incredible team, the best Oakland A’s squad ever assembled was the 1972-1974 team that won three World Series in row with behind Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, ace reliever Rollie Fingers.

9.         The A’s hosted their first game after moving to California on April 17, 1968, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in front of a jubilant crowd of 50,164 fans.

10.      The A’s (at that time the Athletics) started in Philadelphia in 1901 as one of the American Leagues first eight charter teams. They had success in the early decades, winning multiple World Series behind iconic manager Connie Mack. The team relocated to Kansas City in 1955, keeping the Athletics team name, and then to Oakland in 1968.

11.      The A’s mascot is a white elephant, with origins going as far back as the team itself. Although this might be impossible for current A’s fans to believe, back when the team started in Philadelphia they were known for spending big to bring in the best talent. (Yes, the A’s were a big market, free-spending team!) At the time, John McGraw, manager of the New York Giants, told reporters that the rival A’s had “A White elephant on their hands,” a term that meant something looked good but was actually high maintenance. Never to be one-upped, A’s owner and manager Connie Mack embraced the intended-slight by giving McGraw a stuffed white elephant at the start of the 1905 World Series, and by 1909 had white elephants put on the sleeves of the team’s sweaters, and it was an official part of the uniform and the team by 1918.

12.      The A’s mascot elephant has been called Stomper since the 1997, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, when it was called Harry Elephante in the mid 1980s (worst mascot name ever?). Prior to that, in 1963 when the A’s called Kansas City home, team owner Charlie Finley tried to change the elephant mascot to a Missouri mule! It’s rumored that he wanted to make the change partially because Missouri was such a popularly Democratic state and he wanted to appeal to fans of the donkey, not the traditional Republican elephant.

13.      The team has a long and often confusing history with their name. The “A” in A’s originated from the term “Athletic Club” back in 1860. That first amateur team played with a black “A” on the front of their jerseys. The A’s became the team moniker through the decades and into the next century as a professional team in the major leagues, though it wasn’t always popular, as several owners or staffers tried to expunge the “Athletics” from the A’s official team name, while others wanted to keep it to honor the tradition.

14.      The Oakland A’s have retired six player numbers in their history. However, only five of those players ever suited up for the A’s. Oakland pulled a classy move by retiring Jack Robinson’s number 42 when baseball honored the 50th anniversary of his accomplishment breaking the color barrier.

15.      The Oakland A’s tradition of elite hurlers extends back to their first years in California. Since then, Vida Blue (1971), Catfish Hunter (1974), Bob Welch (1990), Dennis Eckersley (1992), and Barry Zito (2002) have all won Cy Young awards.

16.      They’ve also had a great modern tradition of fielding the top player in the game in certain years, as Vida Blue (1971), Reggie Jackson (1973), José Canseco (1988), Rickey Henderson (1990), Dennis Eckersley (1992), Jason Giambi (2000) and Miguel Tejada (2002) have won Most Valuable Player Awards.

17.      The team also has a well-deserved reputation for developing some of the best homegrown talent in the game (and then trading them away, unfortunately.) The list of Oakland A’s that have won Rookie of the Year winners includes José Canseco (1986), Mark McGwire (1987), Walt Weiss (1988), Ben Grieve (1998), Bobby Crosby (2004), Huston Street (2005) and Andrew Bailey (2009).

18.      A’s all-time team hitting records include:
Batting average .356 Al Simmons (1924-44)
Hits 1,882 Bert Campaneris (1964-1976)
Home runs 365 Mark McGwire (1986-1997)
Stolen bases 867 Rickey Henderson (1979-1988 on and off)

19.      A’s team pitching records include:
Wins 284 Eddie Plank (1901-1914)
Win-loss percentage .712 Lefty Grove (1925-1933)
ERA 1.97 Rube Waddell (1902-1907)
Saves 320 Dennis Eckersley (1987-1995)
Strikeouts 1,985 Eddie Plank (1901-1914)

20.      Who holds the A’s all-time record for most home runs in a single season? It’s got to be Mark McGwire, José Canseco, or maybe Reggie Jackson, right? Wrong! In fact, Jimmie Foxx set the A’s single-season homer record when he hit 58 in 1932. (He also set the A’s record with 169 RBIs that year.)

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