Over the last week, home run power has become a big topic of discussion on Athletics Nation. The skill seems to be dropping in price on the open market, which led us to consider a fictional 2017 Beer League Oakland A’s lineup, constructed to maximize pure dinger potential.
Looking forward eventually got me thinking in the other direction, about past A’s power hitters. What would be the most powerful lineup you could make out of former A’s players? Specifically, I decided to consider the largest single-season outputs, so having one great big year will be prioritized over a longer stretch of sustained goodness.
Before we get into the list, though, we may as well have some extra fun with it. I put together a Sporcle quiz to give you the chance to test your own A’s knowledge — how many of the names can you come up with? We’re looking for the top single-season HR total at each position (must play half of team’s games at the position to qualify there). This is only Oakland history, so only since 1968. You only need to write their last names.
The rest of this article is basically just the answers to the quiz, so if you’re trying to play it then don’t scroll down any farther just yet!
To help fill some space to make sure you don’t accidentally see answers, here is a video of Brandon Allen hitting a dinger into the third deck of Yankee Stadium.
OK one more pre-answer buffer for the folks reading on smartphones, where the video embeds come out smaller. I searched YouTube for “puppy home run” and the third hit was a dog named Melvin hi-fiving after an A’s dinger, courtesy of Amanda Brazil (wife of Brodie Brazil). Jackpot.
Now let’s take a look at the answers!
C: Terry Steinbach
Runner-up: Gene Tenace (1975, 29)
This was Steiny’s last year in Oakland, before going home to Minnesota for his final few seasons. He also racked up 100 RBI, which was a big deal at the time, and did all this as a 34-year-old catcher. He never even hit 20 homers in any other season.
1B: Mark McGwire
Runner-up: McGwire again (1987, 49), then Jason Giambi (2000, 43)
We’re staying in the same season for now, 1996, when the A’s hit a franchise-record 243 dingers. That’s 13th on the all-time list, though only third-best in that homer-happy ‘96 campaign (after Orioles, Mariners). All of the other teams above them were more recent, which means that at the time this ‘96 Oakland squad was the third-dingerest in history.
This is also the top single-season total at any position in Oakland history. Jimmie Foxx hit 58 for the Philadelphia A’s back in 1932, also as a first baseman — that’s the only season bigger than McGwire’s on the franchise list, and the only pre-Oakland campaign that would have cracked this all-time lineup. Two years later, with the Cardinals in 1998, McGwire broke the all-time singe-season record with 70 dingers.
2B: Mark Ellis
Runner-up: Davey Lopes (1983, 17)
Easily the lowest total on the list — all the others are above 30, much less 20. We mostly remember Ellis for his magical defense at 2B, but it’s easy to forget that he had some pop in his bat too. He hit for double-digit homers five straight years in Oakland. Fun fact: The quiz is set so that if you type “Unicorn” it gives you credit for Ellis.
SS: Miguel Tejada
Runner-up: Tejada twice more (2001, 31 ... 2000, 30), then Marcus Semien (2016, 27)
Tejada has the top three seasons here, and four of the top five. This particular campaign, the Moneyball year itself, earned him an MVP award. I watched one of these dingers live from the second deck in left field, as it sailed into the nearby bleachers for a walk-off victory in Game 18 of The Streak.
3B: Eric Chavez
Runner-up: Chavez again (2001, 32), then Sal Bando (1969, 31)
Same year as Tejada, same HR total. Chavy won the Gold Glove that year too! And yet, still managed to not make the All-Star team. I’ll never understand how a six-time Gold Glover, with 260 career HR, 35+ career WAR, and MVP votes in four different seasons, was never once an All-Star.
LF: Khris Davis
Runner-up: Jose Canseco (1986, 33) and Jack Cust (2008, 33)
Khrush! At least we got to have one nice thing this year. His three-homer game, capped with the walk-off grand slam, is one of the better performances in history. One day, if my future children ask me about the 2016 season, I will just show them clips of Khrush and say that the rest of the team’s footage and stats were mysteriously lost to a technical glitch.
CF: Dwayne Murphy
Runner-up: Murphy again (1982, 27), then Dave Henderson (1991, 25)
If you missed one on the quiz, it was probably this one. The early-80s aren’t the most famous or celebrated era of Oakland A’s history, so if you weren’t there then you probably don’t know much about them. On the JAWS scale (Jaffe WAR Score system), Murphy ranks as the 63rd-best CF in history, between Brady Anderson and Chili Davis.
RF: Reggie Jackson
Runner-up: Jose Canseco (1991, 44)
I’m not a big Jackson fan, so let’s talk about Canseco instead. What was your level of surprise when you typed his name into the quiz and it wasn’t correct? He’s got two of our top six HR seasons, but he doesn’t make this lineup. Instead, he is the runner-up at two different positions (also LF), which is impressive in a whole different way. Another name buried at this position is Matt Stairs (1999, 38), who I think the A’s literally signed off a beer league team.
DH: Frank Thomas
Runner-up: Geronimo Berroa (1996, 36)
The Big Hurt was one of my favorite players growing up. He won his MVPs when I was 8 and 9 years old. One of my Little League teams around that time happened to be the White Sox, and I was already so tall that they had to give me an adult shirt that year because the normal ones were too small (I’m 6’5 now). It didn’t have a number on the back like the other kids’ shirts, so I* used a felt pen to add a 35. Perfection.
* my mom
And then a decade later he was on the A’s! It was exciting enough just to have him for nostalgic reasons, but it turned out he was still good too at age 38 — he nearly won the MVP again, finishing fourth. Then he led Oakland to their only ALDS victory of the 21st century so far, including two more dingers in Game 1 (one off Johan Santana in his prime). His ‘06 season is one of my happiest A’s memories.
As a bonus, check out that runner-up! One of the best names in A’s history, especially when spoken in the voice of Roy Steele. And if you go one more spot down the DH list to 35 homers, you get Dave Kingman (1984 and 1986) and John Jaha (1999) — can’t do this article without mentioning them!
And that’s a wrap. How did you do on the quiz? Let’s talk dingers in the comments. For now, I’ll leave you with a video that answered the age-old question of what would happen if Mark McGwire got ahold of a Randy Johnson fastball. Big Mac vs. Big Unit.