Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Boston Athletics: Part One

By Jacob Kelly

This year's trade deadline swap of Jon Lester and Yoenis Cespedes got me thinking on all of the great players that have passed through both the Oakland Athletic and Boston Red Sox home clubhouses.  So much so, that I decided to try and construct a semi complete roster of the all-time Oakland/Boston team, with background information on each guy.  Since there are so many players that I wanted to cover, I'm breaking this into a four part series that will carry through the week, as I take a look at each "era" of great players, until finally coming to some time warping amalgamation of a team at the end.

First, here are the rules that I am using to construct this roster:
- The player must have played at least one Major League game for each franchise.
- The player must have played for the Oakland Athletics.  Both Kansas City and Philadelphia are DQ'd here.  Sorry, Lefty Grove.
- Bonus points for having been good for both franchises.
- Bonus points for not having been a jerk.

The roster will include all 8 fielding positions, 3 starting pitchers, 3 bullpen pieces, a designated hitter, and a manager.

With that, here's the first group of the Boston Athletics.

Swappin’ Power for Speed (‘70s- ‘80s)
3rd Base: Carney Lansford

Lansford played for the Red Sox in ’81 and ’82, posting batting averages above .300 both years and netting himself a Silver Slugger award.  His incredibly high OBPs counter balanced a fairly pedestrian slugging percentage, leading him to OPS .828 and .803 in his years in Beantown.  The following offseason, Lansford was traded to the A’s in a package that included Garry Hancock and minor leaguer Jerry King for Tony Armas and Jeff Newman.  Armas brought a ton of power with him to Boston (slugging .480 over the course of his 4 seasons there, including a 43 HR season), but never the consistency that Lansford gave Oakland in defense or getting on base.  Over parts of 10 seasons with Oakland he would put up a triple slash line of .288/.343/.404 while belting 94 homers and swiping 146 bags, making him one of if not the best 3rd basemen to ever wear the green and gold.  Arguably, Lansford could just as easily fit in with the next group of guys for the mid '80s to '90s era, but given when he played for Boston, and that they were a couple of great years, his inclusion with this group makes a bit more sense to me.
Outfield: Tony Armas

Armas began his career with the Pirates, playing in just four Major League games with Pittsburgh in ‘76 before coming over to Oakland as part of a 9 player deal the following year.  He quickly established himself as a solid offensive outfielder, mainly playing right, over his six seasons with the A’s (’77-’82).  Armas slashed .250/.286/.434 with Oakland, hitting 111 of his 251 career home runs, earning an All-Star selection in the strike shortened season of ’81, and finishing 4th in MVP voting that same year.  When he came to Boston in a deal including teammate Jeff Newman for (among others) Carney Lansford, he continued to put up offensive numbers while healthy.  He led the league in RBI (123) and HR (43) in ’84, but finished 4th in MVP voting despite the offensive production, another All-Star nod and a Silver Slugger.  Leg injuries stalled his output in his Boston years after that, however, and the acquisition of Dave Henderson from Seattle helped dwindle his playing time, particularly in his only postseason trip with Boston.  After regular playing time and mediocre production in the ALCS, Armas got just 1 at bat in the Fall Classic, striking out in the 7th inning of game 7.  To his credit, Armas was a homerun slugging machine from 1980 to 1985, belting more home runs (187) than any other AL player over that time frame.  

Outfield: Joe Rudi

Rudi made his Major League debut way back in 1967 for the Kansas City Athletics, the year before the team moved out west for the Bay Area.  Rudi was one of the centerpieces of the A’s dynasty, and was a huge force on all three consecutive World Series Champion teams.  From ’68 to ’78 with Oakland he hit .276/.321/.437, played a solid left field (collecting three straight Gold Gloves from ’74-’76), and swatting 111 homers with 521 driven in.  He was a three time All-Star in Oakland, finishing runner up in the AL MVP voting both in ’72 and ’74.  His exit from the Bay Area was a bit less illustrious, however; in 1976, team owner Charlie Finley was attempting to teardown what had been the core of his World Champion teams with the first ever player class of free agency impending.  After being unable to, as Finley claimed, trade or sign players such as Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, and Rudi, he attempted to sell them.  Rudi and Fingers were to be sold to the Red Sox for $1M each, but MLB Commissioner Charles O. Finley and newly appointed Executive Director of the MLB Players Association Marvin Miller put the kibosh on Finley’s plans.  Rudi would sign with the California Angels that offseason, but struggle to play regularly due to injury.  The left fielder (and by ’81 DH and 1st basemen) was apparently intent on getting into a Boston uniform someday though, as he was traded to the Red Sox by the Angels in January of ’81.  He got into limited action with the Sox in his lone season with the club, playing in just 49 games and slashing an anemic .180/.239/.352.

Catcher: Jeff Newman

The player pool for catchers in this little experiment isn’t very deep, and Newman gets the nod here based more on his one decent season with Oakland than anything else.  In 1979 Newman would make his first and only all-star team, when he belted 16 homers to go along with a line of .228/.258/.410 leading up to the break.  He’d end the ’79 season with 22 long balls and a line of .231/.267/.399, a season that across MLB had seen more homers than any other year up to that point than 1977 (3,644 were hit in ’77, while 3,433 balls found the seats in ’79, the two highest totals ever up to that point).  Newman would slug 15 the next year, but largely fell into a backup/split role with Mike Heath in ’81, and by the ’82 offseason he was traded to Boston, where his playing time further diminished.  In two seasons with the Red Sox he hit just .200/.262/.292 with 4 HR over 83 games.  He gets bonus points for helping make the trade involving Carney Lansford and Tony Armas possible, allowing for this strange mutant of a team.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the mid '80s to '90s players.  Feel free to sound off in the comments below if I've missed one of the great Boston Athletics from this era.

Photo credit: StephenGllmer (Fenway Park) and Bay Area Bias (O.Co Coliseum)

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