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When the Year ends in "0", Chances are it's A-OK for Oakland

Look, I wish there was an explanation, scientific or otherwise, for why the A's have been particularly awesome at the dawn of a decade. But that just wouldn't be my style, now would it?

(And for you weirdoes who think that the year ending in "1" is your official decade-starter, well that first paragraph would still hold true.)

Since you are no doubt drowning in a sea of suspense, here for your viewing pleasure is a chart. It's a simple chart really, listed by years ending in 0-9, in order of winning percentage for the last 40 seasons in Oakland A's history.  I intentionally omitted the 1968 and 1969 seasons, and also please note that the 1981 strike wiped out 53 games that year, not to mention kept the team with the best record (Cincinnati Reds) out of the mess that baseball referred to as "playoffs".
























































So unless you have already gone on to the next DLD or meta thread or you are under your covers waiting for the P's and C's to report to duty or someone forgot to plug in the coffee pot at work, you can see that the 0's place second with an asterisk, being that the strike came at just right time for the 1981 A's who began the season 20-3 but had skid into the "break" on a 17-20 stretch, and performed barely above .500 after play resumed.  Of course Billy Martin's club needed only to go 16-47 in those 53 stricken contests to keep the 1's at Number 1.

All of this amazing research and data is really just an excuse for me to introduce you to a pretty cool quartet worth of seasons in Oakland A's lore, which produced more victories than any other foursome, including a 100-win campaign, two American League West crowns, and one (disappointing) World Series appearance.  Don't be surprised if this turns into a multiple-post series.  I have been known to get a little wordy. 


The A's third year in Oakland was one win better than the season before, and seven games more successful than the year before that.  It was also the calm before that wondrous storm when the mustachioed A's turned their noses at the Establishment, fought among themselves, and became the only non-Yankee franchise to capture a trio of World Series titles in succession.

So by one account you can say the 1970 A's were the stepping stone to greatness.  On the other hand, you can also say they were boring.  Unless you happen to like off-field distractions. 

As was the case one year prior, Oakland was the only authentic challenge to the robust Minnesota Twins' rightful place atop the American League West.  Managed by the very likeable John McNamara, the A's even caught the attention of the national media:

The clincher may well be McNamara, who managed more than half of the current A's in the minors and was cited by most of them last year, when he was an Oakland coach, as the man who had helped them most in baseball. "We came up together," says McNamara. "You can't spend 18 hours on a bus with these players without getting to know them well." Unaccountably, he even got to like them, and vice versa, under those conditions. If McNamara can bring two or three of his fine young pitchers to their full potential, and coax a good year out of the erratic (Al) Downing, the new skipper might not even be put back on that bus by Charles O. Finley.

Well, Mr. Finley had a gun, and he wasn't afraid to use it.  So despite the Athletics' best season since 1931, McNamara was at the unemployment line at season's end.  Ironically, it was his 1981 Reds that found themselves on the short end of Bowie Kuhn's stick, but Johnny Mac is better known for the 1986 Boston team he managed to the brink of a World Series championship.

To Finley's credit he bullied more than just field generals; he also took pleasure in breaking a player down.  Like Reggie Jackson, who was coming off a remarkable 1969 season, but whom crumbled under an ugly and lengthy contract disagreement.


Reggie and Charlie during happier times (photo courtesy of SFGate)

Already noted for being a slow starter, the lack of Spring Training destroyed Jackson's season before it began.  As late as June 11, he was batting .191 with just 8 homeruns.  Coincidentally, the A's stumbled out of the gate, and were mired in third place at the All-Star Break.

Not surprisingly, Finley directed his discontent towards his struggling slugger.  Jackson was benched against southpaw pitching, and the owner warned that if he didn't start hitting soon, he'd be benched permanently, or worse, sent to the minors.  To say Reggie was turned off by the idea would toe the line of greatest understatements of all time:

"Don't be telling me that shit, going to the minors.  I wouldn't go.  That big a**hole.  If he would've signed me I would've been ready.  If he'd been fair, paid me the money, if he would've cared about his club, he should've had me in on time."

And so it continued all summer long with accusations and counter-accusations, and poor McNamara was stuck in the middle.  Meanwhile Finley was secretly working on a deal to bring the front-running Twins' manager to Oakland.  Guy by the name of Billy Martin.  Then Charlie O did an about-face and guaranteed that his current manager's job was safe.  Well, for this season anyway.

The on-going soap opera between owner and star player diminished the production of Oakland's young pitching staff, headed by Jim "Catfish" Hunter and Chuck Dobson, who tied for the league lead with 40 starts apiece.  But it was a late call-up who stole the show.  On September 11, Vida Blue, who appeared in a handful of games the season before, pitched the first complete game of his life, a sparkling one-hit shutout against the Kansas City Royals.  Ten days and two starts later he was on the mound at the Coliseum, trying to keep the Minnesota Twins from clinching the division in front of a sparse crowd of 4,284.  A fourth-inning walk to the ever-dangerous Harmon Killebrew was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect evening for Blue, whose no-hitter was a portent of many splendid things to come in 1971.

Vida No-No 2

Vida Blue, one out away from a no-hitter against the heavy-hitting Minnesota Twins.

Sadly, John McNamara would not be along for the ride.  He was axed one day after the season ended.  At least the relationship between Finley and Jackson had smoothed over, at least somewhat.

On the fifth of September, Reggie crushed a game-changing grand slam, with Charlie O in attendance.  The slumping slugger took his sweet time rounding the bases then looked defiantly towards the owner's box and mouthed a few choice words Jackson later said were not appropriate for printing.  All of which landed him in the principal's office where he was berated by Finley in front of an audience that included McNamara and team captain Sal Bando.

Later a defeated Jackson issued an apology that came off curiously as if he was a marionette and Finley was pulling the strings.

Charlie O always pulled the strings.  In the off-season Reggie called Finley to asked to be traded.  It wasn't the first time.  The owner responded:

"Reggie, I have let you talk for 30 minutes.  Now I am going to tell you how I feel in 30 seconds. One, I love ya.  Two, I am not going to trade you."