Saturday, November 1, 2014

Almost a Dynasty 1980's Athletics

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a teem needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a 5-10 year period.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.  It will be a series of near misses and what could have beens.

Don't miss the other almost dynasty articles: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's, The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920's, the Boston Red Sox of the 1940s and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s, the Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s and the Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1970's.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Oakland A's of the 1980's

Bashing in the Bay:
Billy Martin was born and raised in Berkeley California, just five miles or so outside of Oakland.  He was a Yankee at heart but when the Yankees fired him he came home and managed an A's team with few stars.  Led by Tony Armas and Rickey Henderson, Martin was able to fire up the A's enough to get them into the 1981 ALDS against the Kansas City Royals.  They swept the Royals but were then swept by the Yankees (who would in turn be humiliated by the Dodgers). Martin's success was short lived.  In 1982 the team added Davey Lopes but it wasn't enough.  They lost more than 90 games and fell to 5th in the division.  By 1983 Martin was gone but the A's did not improve.  They were an afterthought in the races and they started to realize they needed to completely rebuild.  The team in charge of the rebuilding process were General Manager Sandy Alderson and Farm Director Walt Jockety.  Oakland had a smaller budget than most and they felt they needed to be more aggressive in scouting and find gems with talent that others had missed.  Alderson and Jockety started to pick players off the scrap heap.  If someone else thought a player was finished the A's would look at their talent.  They drafted well.  Their scouts found payers that would fit their team concept.  While the other dynasties had a a few key players the A's had a ton:

Terry Steinbach:  The Catcher in the almost dynasty.  he shared duties behind the plate with Ron Hassey who was Bob Welch's personal Catcher but Steinbach was the force behind the plate.  He was a three time All Star and would stay with the team long after most of the rest of the "almost dynasty" was gone.  He made his debut in 1986 but 1987 was his first full year.

Mark McGwire:  Like Steinbach, "Big Mac" made his debut in 1986 but 1987 was his first full season.  He would hit 49 Home Runs (setting a rookie record) and win the Rookie of the Year.  Big Mac would be a 12 time All Star, set the single season Home Run record and become one of the game's biggest stars.  When the "almost dynasty" started he was considered second  to Canseco.  By the end of the almost dynasty he was second to none.

Walt Weiss:  Weiss played 17 games during the 1987 season.  In 1988 he was the full time Shortstop. During the 1988 season he would captain the defense and would win Rookie of the Year.  Injuries would slow him down.

Carney Lansford:  Carney Lansford had talent.  No one could possibly deny it.  The Angels had known it when he came in third in the Rookie of the Year voting.  The Red Sox had known it when he won a batting title with them in  1981.  For whatever reason (likely because the Red Sox had Wade Boggs at third) teams passed on him.  Sandy Alderson and Walt Jockety would not.  Lansford would be a versatile hitter and spark plug for the team.  He was able to hit anywhere in the lineup and quietly led by example by his willingness to adapt to the team's needs.

Jose Canseco:  Jose was the headline grabber  The big name in the lineup.  In 1986 he was an All Star and Rookie of the Year.  Considered one of the great young talents in the game he would reach the height of baseball fame in 1988 and would fall quickly from it one year later.

Dave Henderson:  Unfortunately,  when the A's almost dynasty is discussed Dave Henderson is often overlooked.  Like Lansford there was no denying Henderson's talent.  Every team seemed to want him but none kept him.  The Mariners had sent him to Boston where he put the Red Sox on the brink of a World Series.  At the trading deadline the next year he was sent to the Giants where he arrived early enough to help them win the division but too late to be included on the post-season roster.  He signed with the A's following the 1987 season.

Rickey Henderson:  Rickey came a bit late to the party, or alternately you could say there was no party before Rickey arrived.  Rickey had played for Oakland through 1985 when he left for the Yankees.  Unfortunately playing for the Yankees in the 1980's was not the experience it would become 10 years later.  In mid season 1989 Rickey was sent back to Oakland in a blockbuster deal that gave the A's the final ingredient.

Dave Stewart:  Known to his teammates as "Smoke" because of his blazing fastball Dave Stewart defined this "almost dynasty". An intimidating presence on the mound.  He had the talent and power of Roger Clemens with the class of Bob Gibson.  Stewart had been released by the Dodgers, the Rangers and the Phillies.  The Phillies of 1985 had an abundance of young arms in Kevin Gross, Shane Rawley. Bruce Ruffin and Charles Hudson.  Without room for all of them they chose Stewart as the expendable one.  Like the Phillies of that era often did they chose wrong.  He was released by the Phillies and signed by the A's.  It would be one of the best signings the organization ever made.  Without Smoke there would have been no almost dynasty.  His importance to the success of this era cannot be over estimated.

Bob Welch:  Welch had been a big part of that 1970's-80s almost dynasty in Los Angeles.  He went 15-7 in 1987 and during the off season he was part of a gigantic three team trade with the Dodgers, A's and Mets that would play a big part in the NLCS and World Series.  He and Stewart would form the top 1-2 punch in the 1980's.

Dennis Eckersley:  "Eck" redefined the role of the relief pitcher.  He was the closer and when he hit the mound the other team knew they were fighting an uphill battle.

Rise of the Bash Brothers:
The A's 1986 team may not have looked like the start of a dynasty but the signs were there. Lansford was at third base.  Stewart was learning to become the ace he would be.  Canseco was on his way to rookie of the year.  Yet by June they were in last place.  They replaced their manager, Jackie Moore at about the same time that the White Sox were making a managerial change.  When the White Sox manager became available Sandy Alderson jumped at the chance to sign him.  Tony LaRussa turned the year around.  They may not have caught the division leading Angels but they improved to third place.

The following year saw individuals improve and the team started to come together.  As late as August 28 the team was tied for first.  They were led by the arm of Smoke, who was experiencing his first 20 win season, and powerful bats of McGwire and Canseco.  McGwire, on his way to Rookie of the Year hit 49 Home Runs.  They certainly  competed but finished third in the division.  It was clear that things  still weren't quite where LaRussa wanted them.  Stewart undoubtedly  was the ace but he needed help.  So during the off season the A's made some moves.  Given their penchant for finding talent where others missed they made a trade that worked out for them greatly but would also come back to haunt them greatly.  Jose Rijo was a great pitching talent but his results did not reflect his talent.  On December 8 the team gave up on Rijo and sent him to the Reds.  In return they received Dave Parker.  The next day they signed Catcher Ron Hassey to help Steinbach behind the plate.  December 11 was the big day.  With Walt Weiss set to take over at short Alfredo Griffin became expendable, as did reliever Jay Howell  with Eckersley in town.  So the Mets, Dodgers and A's (three of the four eventual playoff teams) got together on a trade.  The Dodgers got Alfredo Griffin, Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco.  The Mets got Kevin Tapani, Wally Whitehurst and Jack Savage.  The A's got  Matt Young and Bob Welch.  December 21 they signed Dave Henderson.  On January 11 they signed free agent Glenn Hubbard to play second base.  All of a sudden the team appeared complete.

Some predicted success for the A's in 1988.  Few foresaw the assault that would be launched against the league out of Oakland.  They won four of the first five games to jump out to first place.  A short three game losing streak to the White Sox led to a stop in fourth place (although still only 1/2 game out of first) but following that it was off to the races.  Smoke (21-12), Welch (17-9) and Storm Davis (16-7) would lead the A's pitching staff.  Eckersley's success (4-2, 45 saves) would send the rest of the league scrambling to find a closer.  Walt Weiss would won Rookie of the Year and Big Mac established himself as a legitimate star.

The 1988 season, however, belonged to one man.  Jose Canseco.  An almost unbelievable combination of power and speed.  Canseco didn't just dominate the league, he owned it.  Canseco had an offensive season for the ages.  120 runs scored, 124 driven in, .307 average, 34 doubles, 78 walks.  But the thing that caught every one's attention was something that was considered impossible.  Canseco hit 42 Home Runs and stole 40 bases.  Never in history had someone reached a 40/40 mark and the world noticed. Canseco instantly became the best player in the league.  An instant lock for the Hall of Fame.  He was only in his third season but he was clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the world. The A's won their division by 13 games and swept a very good Boston Red Sox team in the ALCS.

Entering the World Series of 1988 they were considered unstoppable.  Most of the first game did nothing to change that view.  While the A's had cruised through the season and LCS the Dodgers had to fight and scrap.  They were tired, beat up and missing some key players.  Oakland had their full compliment of power on the field.  Los Angeles did not. Their key man, MVP Kirk Gibson was not available and with their ace Orel Hershiser pushing himself to the limit to win the NLCS  the Dodgers started Tim Belcher against Smoke.

The A's looked to do damage in the first.  After a Lansford strikeout Hendu lined a single and moved to second when Canseco was hit by a pitch. Which caused an argument.  Lasorda argued the ball had hit the bat not Canseco but it was clearly a hit by pitch.  Hitting the A's star was not unnoticed.  Dave Parker flew out but Big Mac walked to load the bases. With Steinbach coming up Dodgers fans got restless and Oakland fans smiled in anticipation.  The Dodgers survived as Steinbach popped up to end the inning.  Smoke was not happy that Belcher had hit Canseco and he wasted no time getting even.  On the first pitch of the game he came up and in against Steve Sax hitting him on the shoulder.  The Dodgers scored two on a Mickey Hatcher Home Run in the bottom of the first.  Hatcher's Home Run matched his regular season total.  Hatcher sprinted around the bases smiling and jumping like the kid who just got the ultimate Christmas present.  Smoke was not happy about it.  No worries.  These were the A's of the Bash Brothers.  If there were going to be fireworks the A's would supply them.  Glenn Hubbard singled.  Weiss struck out looking but Smoke drew a walk.  Lansford walked and the bases were loaded with the big boys coming up.  Dave Henderson is not someone you want walking to the plate when a big hit is needed but Belcher was able to get Henderson swinging.  In stepped the biggest man.  Canseco.  He took ball one.  On the second pitch he connected.  There was no doubt about where this was headed.  Dead center field.  He could have crawled around the bases, and he basically did.  He stood at the plate admiring the shot.  And why not?  It was impressive.  It landed in Center field on top of an ABC camera leaving a dent. The Dodgers cut the lead to 4-3 in the sixth but Stewart was brilliant and with Eckersley set to come in for the 9th there was a feeling of finality to this game before the 9th started.  Scioscia popped out to Weiss to start out.  Jeff Hamilton struck out looking and with the bottom of the order up Eckersley appeared to be in the clear.  He faced Mike Davis who had played in Oakland the year before.  Davis walked.  When the crowd saw who was limping to the plate as the pinch hitter for the pitcher's spot Dodger Stadium was rocking. It would soon rock so hard it would seem to be rolling down the 101.  Kirk Gibson, barely able to stand, was able to swing well enough to connect and send the Dodgers home with a Game 1 win.

Gibson did well in his only plate appearance in the series but it cost the Dodgers his services for the rest of the series.  The A's had Storm Davis on the mound for Game 2.  He was not quite on the level of Smoke or Welch but Davis was a very good starting pitcher.  His opponent in Game 2 was Orel Hershiser.  Orel, known as the bulldog, was in the middle of a season that was to pitching what Canseco's season was to offense.  He had continued it into the postseason. Hershiser allowed a single to Dave Parker in the 2nd but that was erased when Big Mac grounded into a Double Play.  Parker singled again in the 6th and was erased again when Big Mac hit into his second Double Play of the day.  Parker had a third hit in the 7th but the A's were unable to score. They were the only three hits Hershiser gave up. The final was a 6-0 Dodger win for a 2 games to 0 lead in the series.  The Dodgers provided the fireworks thanks to Mike Marshall's three run Home Run.  Unfortunately for the Dodgers Marshall had injured his back in the process. The Dodgers lineup was now short the two big power suppliers.

The A's had a powerful offense that had been quiet to this point.  That's the reason that Alderson, Jockety and LaRussa focused so heavily on pitching. Of course when your hitting is slumping good pitching can pull you through.  The A's offense finally scored their first run since Canseco's Grand Slam when Glenn Hubbard singled, stole second and took third on a Scioscia throwing error.  Ron Hassey, playing since Welch was on the mound, singled to score Hubbard and the A's led 1-0.  The Dodgers tied it at 1-1 with a single run on an RBI double by Franklin Stubbs.  It remained that way until the bottom of the 9th.  Dodgers relief pitcher Jay Howell was on the mound with the Bash Brothers coming up.  Howell got Canseco to pop out to second but McGwire sent the fans home happy with a bottom of the 9th Home Run to end the game.  It seemed like all was right with the world.  The A's were bashing the ball and beating the under matched opponent.  It was assumed that this would turn the tide.

The A's had 9 hits in Game 4, four of them by Hendu, and scored three runs.  With Smoke on the mound that should have been more than enough. It wasn't.  The Dodgers scored four runs, only two earned, and lost another starter when Scioscia was injured. Still, the Dodgers won the game and took a 3 games to 1 lead.  Dave Henderson continued his hot hitting going 4-5 but the rest of the team was quiet.  Hershiser pitched Game 5 and was even more dominant than Game 2.  The Dodgers beat the team that just a week before was considered unbeatable and they did it in convincing fashion.

A Force So Powerful It Shook the Earth:
The A's signed free agent Pitcher Mike Moore from Seattle in the off season.  With Stewart, Welch and Storm Davis it now gave the A's four strong starters. The anticipation of Canseco's follow up to his 40/40 was tremendous but it was clear that there were off field distractions.  There were the several speeding tickets that started the problem.  Then there was the issue at an airport when a traveling companion was found to be carrying a bag of pills.  The friend swore they were his. although there was a close link to Canseco.  The pills turned out to be steroids which woke up the question that had been shouted down just months before when Tom Boswell of the Washington Post had asked it.  Then came the wrist injury.  Canseco at first thought it was just strained but it got worse and he missed a great part of the season.  He had a few more speeding tickets and when he went to a doctor's appointment at the University of California, Berkeley, he was arrested for carrying a concealed, loaded, handgun.  Canseco's season seemed to be full of nothing but trouble.

Oakland struggled to get ahead of the Royals and Angels who surprised most people with their success.  The A's starters were doing what was expected of them.  In fact they had a chance to become the first team since the 1970 Orioles with four 20 game winners.  The offense still had problems thanks to injuries to McGwire, Lansford and Weiss and the question of what to do with the Outfield.  The final outfield puzzle piece came to town with a June 21 trade.  The A's sent Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia to the Yankees and in return they received Rickey Henderson.  Henderson jump started the team and drove the offense.  The race in the AL West was close heading into September but the A's pulled away and won the division by 7 games.

The ALCS against the Blue Jays was contentious and several times came close to erupting into all out warfare.  The tension had begun in the regular season with two separate bench clearing brawls and when Rickey hit a Home Run and admired the feat he had angered the Jays. Toronto managed to win one game but LaRussa had this team focused.  He was not about to allow this team to suffer the same fate the 1988 group had.

Their opponent in the 1989 World Series was their neighbor in San Francisco.  Game 1 saw Stewart face off against Scott Garrelts.  The A's offense was strong.  They knocked 11 hits and scored five runs.  Dave Parker and Weiss hit Home Runs.  Stewart shut down the Giants on five hits.  Mike Moore started Game 2 and faced off against Rick Reuschel.  The A's had a four run inning in the 4th that included an RBI double by Parker and a three run Home Run by Steinbach.
Moore was strong in 7 innings allowing only 1 run.  The A's were up 2 games to 0.

Everything changed as the teams prepared for Game 3.  The scene shifted to San Francisco and as the teams prepared for the game, the A's were set to have Storm Davis start.  The pregame ceremonies were interrupted by Mother Nature.  An earthquake measuring 6.9 hit the San Francisco Bay area collapsing bridges, flattening homes and buildings, setting off fires and killing 63.  Baseball was unimportant as the area tried to rebuild their lives.  There was talk of cancelling the series completely but it was decided to wait.  After waiting two weeks the Series was resumed.  During the time off the A's flew to their spring training home in Arizona.  The Giants stayed in the area and had a few informal practices but few full team practices.  The A's won  Game 3, 13-7, behind Stewart and Game 4, 9-6, behind Moore.  They had won the World Series but few had noticed.

Rijo the Red Gets Revenge:
Storm Davis had been set to start the third game of the 1989 World Series when the earthquake interrupted.  When the series resumed LaRussa sent Dave Stewart to the mound instead of Davis and for Game 4 Davis was passed over in favor of Mike Moore.  Davis, a free agent, felt under aprecciated and decided it was time to move on so he signed with Kansas City.  Also gone on the free agent market were Dave Parker to Milwaukee and Tony Phillips to Detroit.  With Phillips gone a hole developed at Second Base so the Dodgers sent reserve outfielder Stan Javier to Los Angeles and in return received Second Baseman Willie Randolph.  By resigning Rickey Henderson the team remained strong at every position but they had lost some of their depth without Parker, Davis and Javier.

Still, when the regular season began the A's dominated.  They spent only two days (April 11 and 12) out of first place and even that was only 1/2 game out. Unlike the 1989 champions who struggled to gain traction against the Royals and Angels, the 1990 version seemingly won at will. They outpaced the Western Division by 9 games. Bob Welch won 27 games, Stewart won 22 and Scott Sanderson, the replacement for Storm Davis, went  17-11. The team that was already ahead of everyone even found a way to improve at the trading deadline.  They acquired Harold Baines from the Rangers and Outfielder Willie McGee from the Cardinals.  It certainly appeared this team was now perfect. In the ALCS they had little problems with the Red Sox taking Game 1, 9-1, and sweeping the rest of the way.

Their opponents in the World Series were the surprising Cincinnati Reds.  Smoke started Game 1 and faced off against Jose Rijo.  Rijo, whose father-in-law was Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, had originally started with the Yankees and was sent to Oakland as part of the deal that had sent Rickey Henderson to the Yankees. He spent three years as a starter for the Reds in their rotation but just as the team looked to turn the corner and begin the "almost dynasty" Rijo was sent to the Reds for Dave Parker.  Now he had his chance to show the powerful Oakland bats what they had missed out on. In Game 1 Rijo allowed 7 hits in 7 innings and walked only 2.  The best number he put up on the day was 0 as in 0 runs.  The Reds, on the other hand, pou ded Stewart and reliever Todd Burns for 7 runs to take Game 1.  The A's had a much better showing in Game 2 with Bob Welch on the mound but were tied at 4 when Welch left.  The Reds won in the bottom of the 10th for a 2-0 Series lead.

Few could believe that the A's could lose this series, let alone lose three straight but with Tom Browning on the mound for Cincinnati the A's certainly had their work cut out for them.  They didn't help themselves in any way.  The third inning was a 7 run disaster that included a McGwire error, a wild pitch,a pitching change and the Reds batting around.  The team was playing horribly. Everything had gone wrong for Oakland and everything had gone right for the Reds. The biggest disappointment for Oakland was Canseco himself.  After three games he was 1-12 for a .083 average.  In addition his defense had been causing problems when he was caught out of position on a few plays.  Given the poor results in the first three games LaRussa decided to  shake things up for Game 4 and made several line up changes.  Willie McGee started in Right Field in place of Canseco and Jamie Quirk started at Catcher in place of Steinbach.  The A's started Stewart against Rijo again.  Stewart pitched well.  He threw a complete game and allowed only 2 runs on 7 hits.  Rijo, however, allowed only 1 run on 2 hits.  The Reds won.  The team that looked unbeatable was not only beaten but embarrassed.

The downfall was quick and painful for the decade's most powerful team.  Stewart fell to just 11-11 in 1991 and Welch fell to 12-13.  Carney Lansford  and Weiss saw little playing time due to injuries and McGwire's numbers were suffering due to a painful back injury.  Not one player in the regular starting lineup hit .300 for the season and the A's dropped to 4th.  They would rebound for 1992 and reach the ALCS but by that time it was a greatly different team.

What had looked like one of the most dominant teams in history turned out to be a one time World Series Champion.

The 1988 Dodgers had  several injuries during the World Series leading to a greatly different lineup than the one they had expected to play with entering the playoffs.  Among others Fernando Valenzuela, Kirk Gibson, Mike Marshall and Mike Sioscia missed some or all of the series.  Who was the Catcher that replaced Scioscia and caught the final out of the World Series?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
In 1976 Tommy Lasorda replaced Dodgers legend Walter Alston as manager of the team. Lasorda managed the team through the start of the 1996 season.  When Lasorda started having health issues he handed the reins over to Bill Russell, the former short stop in the "almost dynasty" of the Dodgers.  Russell would manage the team through the end of 1996, all of 1997 and part of 1998.

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting in this article all the players the A's had on their roster who I always associate with other teams.
    Led by Walt Jockety, who I always think of the Cardinals even though he is now with the Reds and LaRussa with the Cardinals.
    Bob Welch I associate with the Dodgers,Walt Weiss with the Mets,Dave Parker with the Pirates, McGuire with the cardinals and Carney Lansford the Angels.
    The A's had players who I really liked; Carney Lansford, Terry Steinbach, Dave Stewart. They also had platers I hate; Jose Conseco,Mark McGuire and one of my all-time hated players (I am the greatest of all time) Ricky Henderson.
    I enjoyed the article but it also brought out my hatred of the A's. I like Billy Beane but just totally hate the A's. I think of all 30 teams in baseball, they are my 31st favorite.
    I have no idea on the trivia question.



Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.