A couple months ago I talked with Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle about the Giants' 1989 season. It's available over at McCovey Chronicles. Here's a sequel discussion with Bruce Jenkins, the long-time Chronicle columnist who'd been on the A's and Giants beat earlier in the '80s. Jenkins was lucky enough to start his career as a columnist in 1989. That fall, he co-wrote the Three Weeks in October book about the Giants, the A's, the Bay Bridge Series, and the Loma Prieta quake. Last week Jenkins took the time for an email exchange with me that's focused on the '89 A's, but covers the Giants and Loma Prieta as well.
Q: How do you remember the trade for Rickey Henderson and how the Bay Area, Rickey, and the A's responded to having him back? It seemed to me that Rickey welcomed the chance to return, and he was clearly the A's key player for the rest of '89.
A: This trade was considered nothing short of a miracle. Sandy Alderson was known as one of the brightest general managers at this time, and from the beginning, this seemed like his master stroke. A lot of cynicism accompanied Henderson as his career went on, but at that time, he was whole-heartedly welcomed back by everyone. I've always felt the addition of Henderson made that team one of the greatest of all time.
Q: Do you have a story about going through Loma Prieta? I suppose you were at Candlestick waiting for game 3 to start.
A: I was in the upper deck, hanging out with some friends. I remember the ominous sound, the tremendous rumbling as the earthquake approached us. And as we rocked back and forth up there, we were pretty sure the whole place would come down. When it stopped, and everyone was alive in a stadium that had withstood the onslaught, there was tremendous cheering.
Q: When I asked Ray Ratto about how Loma Prieta changed the Series, he said the A's were less rattled by the quake than the Giants were. Would you agree? I remember La Russa took the team down to Arizona soon after the quake, and was criticized for leaving town, and of course several of the A's were from the Bay Area, which maybe helped the team.
A: That was a tremendous move by La Russa. I went down there to cover it, and the refreshed mood affected everyone. I went into the Pink Pony, the famed baseball tavern, and set up my computer right on the bar to write a story. Really, though, it didn't matter who was loose and who was uptight. The A's steamrolled easily through the first two (pre-quake) games in Oakland. They were vastly superior. It ranks with the great World Series mismatches of our time.
Q: What was the feeling at Candlestick when the two teams came back to start the Series again on the 27th?
A: Somewhat empty. I had covered every previous series dating back to 1979 -- and every one since up to 2000 -- and never experienced such a feeling around a Game 3, or any World Series game. Too much time had passed between games. Too many people had gone through too many life experiences. Baseball still seemed a back-burner deal.
Q: There was a strong rehab element to the A's, with Welch, Eckersley, Parker, and Stewart all having gone through addictions or scandals. The A's had many injuries in '89, Gallego had had testicular cancer, Honeycutt had the thumbtack suspension in his past, Rickey Henderson had had quite a bit of controversy in his career, and Canseco was using steroids and must have worried about being found out. But the team was famously cocky and self-assured, as though nothing could upset its dominance. How do you account for the seeming contradiction?
A: Great players, and great teams, put everything aside when they take the field. Nothing matters but the competition. In retrospect, this was the perfect team: Rickey's speed, astounding power, two almost unbeatable ace starters, one of the greatest relievers in history, excellent bullpen, uncommon smarts, great manager. Controversy, steroid allegations, injuries, whatever -- none of that matters when a focused athlete takes the field. Doesn't matter to the fans, either. And that team was focused to be the best.
Q: Following up on that question, how do you compare the personalities of the '89 A's and GIants?
A: The Giants had quite a bit of swagger, personified by Will Clark. They had just beaten the Cubs in a memorable playoff series, and Clark personally had one of the greatest playoff series in the game's history. They didn't feel at all inferior to the A's going in. They had played the A's so often in spring training, they didn't feel there was any particular aura around Oakland. But there was, and that quickly became evident. The addition of Henderson had made a significant difference.
Q: There's the notion that the A's dynasty was a fraud because Canseco, and maybe McGwire, was taking steroids. Do you agree with that? Also, do you now or did you then have any suspicions or guesses about whether McGwire was taking steroids?
A: I am certain that Canseco, McGwire and several teammates were taking steroids. That team was at the vanguard of the movement. But that's how baseball was at that time. It wasn't any kind of cartoon, as people have described it. This is not a subject addressed in two or three sentences. I have a blog on the Chronicle website in which I describe my reasons for voting for McGwire for the Hall of Fame. The blog is called the 3-Dot blog; the column is from 2006, and I posted it a few days ago. Says everything that I feel about the steroid era.
Q: Looking back on 1989, who do you think was the most admirable player on the Giants and A's?
A: For me personally, it was Clark -- not even a question about that -- and Dennis Eckersley. Eckersley had a brand of short-relief command, virtually eliminating the element of "ball four," that I've never seen in 50 years following the game. He's also one of the brightest, funniest, stand-up athletes I've ever come across. But I'd put Henderson, Dave Stewart and Dave Parker up there with Eckersley, as well.
Q: How did the Pete Rose scandal impact the '89 season, both for the entire league and for the Giants and A's? I know one of Rose's last games was the Dravecky comeback at Candlestick on August 10, and it was a generally tumultuous year for MLB even before the earthquake.
A: I don't have any specific memories as to how it impacted the game. That was a great, memorable season in countless ways; the game always goes on.
Q: I read a column you wrote in 1990 about Billy Martin and La Russa being similarly intense managers. Back then, with his ballet t-shirts and vegetarianism, and his animal welfare causes, I thought of La Russa as very much a relaxed and offbeat Bay Area man, but that was wrong. Of course, La Russa's kept his combativeness from becoming physical, and Martin didn't. He's managed continuously for over 30 years. What do you think keeps La Russa motivated?
A: Nothing more than the simple desire to win, to be ahead of the game, to see things other managers don't, the sheer pleasure of putting each of his players in their best position to succeed.