Monday, September 22, 2014

The Boston Athletics: Part Two

By Jacob Kelly

“The Greatest of All Time”… and Some Other Guys (‘80s-‘90s)

Tonight we take a look at three of the guys that helped define the second era of great baseball in Oakland, particularly the three back to back pennant winning years of '88 to '90 (although one of yesterday's guys, Carney Lansford, can just as easily slip in with this group as well).  In my mind this is the "Rickey" era for the A's, but there are some great pieces of Red Sox history here too, particularly when it comes to that other Henderson guy that played for both teams and his postseason heroics.  The fact that two of the players below made the Hall of Fame makes this a short but sweet list.  Let's get started.

Outfield: Rickey Henderson

He’s the greatest of all time!  Well… except when he was in a Red Sox uniform, which was really a blip on the radar of his massive career, but one that makes him eligible for this team.  Rickey played 72 games in Boston in 2002, his second to last season in the big leagues, hitting just .223/.369/.352.  That Henderson managed an OPS over .700 in his age 43 season is nothing short of impressive, despite the numbers not being up to the high standards he set earlier in his career.  He also hit a career milestone in stolen bases that year, swiping his 1,400th bag of his career.  But it’s his credentials from his time in Oakland, the team he made his Major League debut with, that make him the best outfielder on this team.  Rickey spent parts of 14 seasons with the Athletics (he was thrice involved in trades with Oakland; twice away from them and once to them), winning the MVP award with them in 1989, three straight pennants (’88-’90), setting the single season stolen base record in ’82 (130 SB), and 867 career stolen bases there.  Despite being known primarily for his speed, he even slugged 297 homers.  Yeah, you could say he could play some baseball.

Outfield: Dave Henderson

“I hang out when the clock’s ticking out,” Henderson was once quoted as saying by the Boston Globe, in reference to his absolutely torrid play in postseason games.  While he was a very solid regular season contributor early in his career with Seattle, “Hendu” became known for his hot October bat after being acquired by Boston in the Summer of ’86.  In the World Series now more famous for the “Buckner Play” than anything else, Henderson raked, hitting .400/.448/.760 across 29 PA.  But before The Series, he had a big impact on the preceding ALCS; with Boston down to their last strike and facing elimination down 3-1 in the series, Henderson knocked a game tying solo shot to send it into extras.  His postseason heroics would continue in his time with the Athletics after signing with them through free agency in ‘87, and by the end of his career he’d hit .298/.376/.570 with 7 HRs and 20 RBI in October.  He’d play for 3 straight AL Champion Athletics’ squads from ’88-’90, helping them to win it all in the Bay Series in ’89.  In a strange twist, Hendu barely missed out on playing in 5 straight postseasons when he reported a day late to the Giants after being traded away by Boston in 1987.  He was ineligible for the postseason roster, as the deal wasn’t completed before the August 31st trade waiver deadline.  Aside from his postseason heroics, Henderson managed a respectable .258/.320/.436 line with 197 long balls and some very strong center field defense (a 3.4 career dWAR, per baseball-reference).

Starting Pitcher/ Closer: Dennis Eckersley
Such suave.  So wow.

So I’m stretching the rules a bit here, but they’re my own rules… so whatever.  Eckersley really had two careers, one of which was very solid and what most guys would dream of having, and the other was simply dominant.  The first half of Eckersley’s MLB journey started with his debut in 1975 with Cleveland as a starting pitcher, and he came over to Boston in ’78 where he would spend 6 and a half seasons (and later close out his career there in ’98 as a part of their bullpen).  He’d make one All-Star appearance with the Red Sox in ’82, and finish 4th and 7th in the Cy Young voting in ’78 and ’79, respectively.  He totaled 2,496IP as a starter, notching 1,627 strikeouts, throwing 20 shutouts and posting an ERA of 3.67 in his time with the Indians, Red Sox, and Cubs.  But in the offseason of ’86-’87, when “Eck” was traded to Oakland, his career would take a different course. 

At first things were the same, briefly.  He started his first two games of the season for the A’s, but wasn’t very effective.  Then the Athletics’ closer, Jay Howell, hit the DL, and Hall of Fame Manager Tony La Russa moved Eckersley to the ‘pen where he would become a 9th inning specialist.  Prior to La Russa’s years managing in Oakland, the “closer”, “fireman”, or general saves guy would pitch two and sometimes three innings to finish out a game, but he had a new strategy that would catch on like wildfire around the MLB.  It allowed Eckersley to stay fresh from appearance to appearance, and as La Russa put it: “we had a real good club, so we knew that we'd be ahead a large number of games every week, trying to hold leads and getting the win to the clubhouse. That's a lot of work for somebody throwing more than one inning.” Eck ended up with 390 career saves (good for 6th all time), 320 of which came in his nine full seasons with the A’s.  He became and still is one of three relief pitchers to ever win both an MVP and a Cy Young award in the same year (’92), won a World Series (’89) and made 4 All-Star appearances in his time in the East Bay.  Eckersley made sure that he’d be remembered for more than his giving up a dramatic walk off homerun to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series.  

Check back tomorrow night when we move into the New Millennium (does anyone say that anymore?).

Photo Credits: BaseballBacks (Rickey Henderson jersey) and  Rubenstein (Dennis Eckersley)

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