I have very much enjoyed the glimpses of the A's past of late, from OptimistPrime pumping Campy to dwishinsky's devo-ish spin on Catfish Hunter. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, oakath's yearbook and baseball card posts were overflowing with vintage verbiage.
Today we are going to count down the most famous Oakland A's of all-time, by uniform number. We will begin with 99 to 60, and I am as wary as you are about a multiple-part post, because we all know how the Charlie Finley story ended. (It didn't).
The best part about this exercise was re-discovering all the players I had forgotten had passed through Oakland. Not necessarily the no-names, but the guys who had excelled for other teams earlier in their careers. I mean, really, Ron Cey played for the A's?
Although there are surely some obvious choices in this group- and some win by default as the only player to wear a certain number- there were a few that I had to mull over for a while, and will hopefully prompt some heated, though non-snobbish debate from the natives.
One might think it's a cop-out that I chose "famous" over "greatest", and that's your right, reader. (And maybe you're right, reader).
I do have one rule: a player had to have spent significant time wearing that number to garner consideration, unless of course, he was the only player to wear that number. For example, when Rickey Henderson was traded back to Oakland in June 1989, he wore 22 for a few games. Clearly Rickey is more famous than anyone else who wore the number, but he does not qualify in this case. I have a feeling he'll get his chance elsewhere.
Something you must know: No Oakland Athletic has worn these numbers: 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 74, and 76-through-98. Which might make this post shorter than the next.
A special thanks to baseball-almanac.com for providing the info, and to Evil Don, who spent countless hours exporting and sorting. Without further ado:
Number 99: Willie Crawford (1977)
Our first default winner, Crawford is the only player to don Double-Nine for Oakland. He began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, appearing in his first big-league game at the age of 17. Crawford spent parts of 12 seasons with LA, though he did not develop into a full-time player until his sixth season. He played in two World Series, including in 1974 against the A's, and hit a homerun off future Hall-of-Famer Rollie Fingers.
He was traded to Oakland on June 15, 1977 where he played his last 59 games as a Major Leaguer. On August 22, He entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-hitter. With two men on in a 2-2 tie, Crawford homered to give the A's a 5-2 lead that proved to be the final tally.
It was his first homerun in the American League, and the last of his career. In his final plate appearance- again in a pinch-hitting role- he was intentionally walked.
Number 75: Barry Zito (2000-06)
I don't think I need to overspend my keystroke allowance on Mr. Zito, but I do wish he had a little more competition in this area. Alas, only Barry, and Barry alone, has worn Number 75. We'll see how he ranks in the next episode.
How will Barry Zito fare at Number 53?
Number 73: Ricardo Rincon (2002-05)
Like Willie Crawford before him, Rincon wins by choosing a number that no one else had worn previously or since. But give him some credit; he lasted a few more games in Oakland than Crawford, 223 contests over four seasons to be precise. Some of you might wonder how he lasted that long.
Number 67: Jeffrey Fiorentino (2008)
I ask you, what is not to like about Number 67? You can small-sample size this thing all you want, but I insist there is pure magic in this number. Just ask Fiorentino, who in his lone at-bat in an Oakland uniform - did I mention he wore 67? - singled, and drove home a run. And it was overseas to boot, during the A's two-game Tokyo Dome series against the Red Sox in March 2008. All told, Fiorentino's 58-game career consisted of 148 AB's, or 148 more than me.
Number 66: Tyson Ross (2010)
The fact that it took until last season for someone to officially wear this number for the A's is kind of weird to me.
Number 65: Jon Meloan (2009)
This Hall-of-Fame is starting to look like the Hall-of-Who? Meloan appeared in just 13 big-league games, pitching a measly 17.2 innings. Strangely, he drank more coffee with Oakland (6 games and 8.1 innings worth), his last of three stops on a very short trip to the Majors. For the record, Meloan faced 29 batters in an A's uniform, allowing but three hits, two walks, and one (unearned) run, while striking out 11 hitters. In fact the last two players to ever bat against him- Gary Matthews Jr. and Robb Quinlan- were K'd.
Number 64: Bobby Cramer (2010)
I admit to being a wee bit biased in lieu of Flashfire's epic interview with Cramer last week. His only competition were two players who went/have gone on to wear a different number with the A's: Joe Blanton (64 in 2004, 55 in 2005-07) and Jerry Blevins (64 in 2007, 13 in the three years since).
Number 63: Henry Rodriguez (2009-10)
What is it about recent players choosing never-before worn numbers?
Number 62: Clay Mortensen (2009-10)
This was a toss-up between three players - Mortensen, Brooks Conrad (2008), and Conner Robertson (2007) - who combined to play 16 games for the A's.
Robertson was shipped to Arizona with Dan Haren in a trade that brought Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Chris Carter, Brett Anderson and Greg Smith to Oakland.
Mortensen came to the A's via trade with Brett Wallace that sent the non-smiling Matt Holliday to St. Louis.
Number 61: Dallas Braden (2007)
As was the case with Blanton and Blevins, Braden began his career with a different number than the one he is associated with, taking 61 for his rookie season. He will face stiffer competition when we get to Number 51, but this was pretty easy considering the other contestants: Luis Vizcaino (1999-00), Jason Windsor (2006), and Chad Reineke (2009). Vizcaino also wore 51 (in 2001), meaning there's a good chance he'll feel the sting of losing to Braden once more.
The aforementioned trio combined to wear Number 61 less times (18) than Braden did by himself (20).
Number 60: Dick Allen (1977)
Finally we have some old-time players to choose from. With apologies to Jose Ortiz (2000), Shane Komine (2006-07), and Jeff Gray (2008-09), this was a two-man race all along.
Dave Heaverlo wore 60 on his back and- for parts of his career- no hair on his head, long before shaved heads were considered chic. Unless your name was Otis Sistrunk. He came to Oakland via the Vida Blue trade that sent the latter to San Francisco, in exchange for seven players. He appeared in a career high 69 games for the Oakland in 1978, and 62 more in '79, before the A's shipped him to Seattle for the 1980 season. He returned to the Bay Area for a six-game swan song. One shining off-field moment happened here:
Grew weary of listening to "funeral home music" on Oakland Coliseum public address system so he took matters into his own hands and changed the station on a transistor radio he found sitting, unattended, in front of the open microphone."
But Heaverlo takes a backseat to Dick Allen. The temperamental Allen was a beast with a bat, hitting .292 lifetime with 351 career homeruns. He won National League Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 1964 with his hometown Phillies, and the 1972 American League MVP with the White Sox. As seems to be the case with many former stars, Oakland was the last stop of his career. It's not what he did in 54 games with the A's that stands out, but it's the name that accompanied his Number 60. Rather than feature his last name like most players, Allen wore "Wampum" in honor of his birthplace.
That's famous enough for me.