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Choosing the 50 Greatest Oakland A’s

The A’s are running a fan vote for the top 50 Oakland A’s players for next year’s 50th anniversary in Oakland. Tough calls all around. 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics
Rickey, the greatest Oakland Athletic of all time
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

After so many years of varying degrees of indifference to utter disdain, the A’s rolled out their #RootedInOakland campaign and finally embraced their home of 50 years. Next year they promise to have myriad events and promotions honoring the A’s storied and incredibly successful history in Oakland.

As part of the hoopla, the A’s are asking us fans to vote for the top 50 players from their stay in Oakland. Considering the epic years-long arguments we’ve had here about players like Jack Cust and Daric Barton, I’m sure ANers have plenty of opinions on the top 50 Oakland A’s.

To vote in the official poll, head to Voting ends at the end of the season, so make sure you get your votes in ASAP.

I’m breaking down my initial picks here, but I can be swayed with impassioned arguments. Would love to hear your takes on any bubble players.

The Hall of Famers

Oakland has been home to many all-time greats, but because it rarely had a budget to hold on to players, many saw glory with other franchises. Still, any hall of famers who spent significant time with Oakland are obvious shoo-ins:

Catfish Hunter (1), Reggie Jackson (2), Rollie Fingers (3), Dennis Eckersley (4), and of course, the one and only Rickey Henderson (5). I’m going to make my first controversial pick here and include Frank Thomas (6), who gave the A’s just two years, but one absolutely stellar year that catapulted the A’s to the ALCS, the farthest they have gone since the early 90’s.

The 70’s Title Squads

I was not alive when the A’s went back-to-back-to-back in the 1970’s, but I’ve heard enough Ray Fosse ramblings to make me qualified to definitively pick out the best.

To me, the obvious picks off this era are the captain Sal Bando (7), Bert “Campy” Campaneris (8), Vida Blue (9), Blue Moon Odom (10), Joe Rudi (11), and Gene Tenace (12). I want to give Ray Fosse (13) a nod, only because of his years of service to the franchise and fan base, and the fact that he was a full time and half time catcher on two championship squads. Also he must have been legendary at calling games and blocking balls in the dirt (if we are going off of his commentary).

Ken Holtzman (14) was a workhorse starter on all three title teams, so I’m throwing him in. Bill North (15) was the A’s starting CF for a number of years, including two titles, and turned in above average seasons with the bat during his stint here, so he makes the cut. I’m not sure about Dick Green. People like Fosse say he was a great fielder, but I never saw him play. He wasn’t a great hitter, and he never made an All-Star team. Tough call, but I’m leaving him off.

The Late 80’s/Early 90’s

The other big haul of all-time greats comes from the Tony La Russa era in the late 80’s/early 90’s, where the team appeared in three World Series and took home a trophy in the 1989 Battle of the Bay.

This era of course comes with concerns about steroids, but I don’t really share those concerns. These guys were my heroes growing up, and I still remember them fondly. Also, the passage of time has made steroid users more clearly appear to be a product of their time, and even many of the hardline Hall of Fame voters have softened their stance.

So, with that out of the way, I think some obvious picks are Dave Stewart (16), Dave “Hendu” Henderson (17), Mark McGwire (18), Jose Canseco (19), Carney Lansford (20), Terry Steinbach (21), and Bob Welch (22) (Welch wasn’t amazing, wins are overrated, blah blah blah, but the guy won the Cy), and I’ll throw in Rick Honeycutt (23) who had many great seasons as a reliever in his mid to late 30’s for the A’s.

It’s a hard pass but I’m not throwing in Walt Weiss. He got that Rookie of the Year award, but even at the time I didn’t feel he was really that great (of course my perspective was skewed, because I thought rookies had to come in and dominate like McGwire and Canseco). I’m sure he was a solid defender but I don’t think he makes the cut.

The Early 2000’s (+ 2006)

We’ve covered the two championship eras, so now I’m jumping into some solid, division-winning eras that didn’t come away with titles. The first one is one that I’m sure most of us are familiar with, the start of the Billy Beane era.

Some greats from those squads include Jason Giambi (24), Miguel Tejada (25), Tim Hudson (26), Barry Zito (27), Mark Mulder (28), Eric Chavez (29), Justin Duchsherer (30) (if you don’t remember him, seriously go back and look at his stats, and watch some video...the guy was brilliant and an All-Star as a starter and reliever), and Jermaine Dye (31). I’ll give Chad Bradford (32) a nod for consistency and longevity, and reinvention. Rich Harden is a tough call, as he never could stay healthy enough to reach his potential, but he was brilliant when he pitched.

I’ll include Mark Ellis (33) because of defense, longevity, and because he held the record for most home runs for a player from South Dakota (as they posted about 10,000 times on the old Coliseum jumbotron). I’m adding in Nick Swisher (34) who turned in some great seasons, and was the significant feature of the Moneyball draft.

For all the ridiculous mentions, and for his signature moment in the 20th game of the Streak, the “pickin’ machine” Scott Hatteberg just wasn’t that good. I’m leaving him off, despite his outsized level of fame. He’s probably going to be voted in, and undeservedly so.

The Billy Ball era

The Billy Martin A’s played a crazy brand of baseball, with hardly any relief pitching, mayhem on the basepaths, and a lunatic manager. They did have some success before everyone’s arm fell off and Martin wore off his welcome in the Town. I didn’t witness it firsthand, but these are some of my picks from that time: Dwyane Murphy (35) (6 time gold glover!), Tony Armas (36), and Rick Langford (37) (pitched 290 innings in 1980; arm fell off in ‘83).

2012-2014 A’s

The most recent period of success was deliberately cut short by management (like most great A’s eras) sadly not having that long of an opportunity to reach the promised land. Yet, some definite great A’s game out of these squads, including Yoenis Cespedes (38), Josh Donaldson (39), Brandon Moss (40) (borderline, but I’ll count him in), Sonny Gray (41), and Coco Crisp (42) who of course straddled two eras, a rarity in Oakland, and Jon Lester ( I’m going to throw in Grant Balfour (43) (despite leaving off Keith Foulke, Billy Koch and Jason Isringhausen) and Stephen Vogt (44) because of their impact, popularity, and all-star appearances (for Vogt, especially). I am very torn about Sean Doolittle. In the end, his inability to stay healthy and his postseason failures have me leaving him off this list. I loved Bartolo Colon, but that PED suspension really hurt us in 2012, and the other starters on that team were too short-lived to make the cut (A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, etc.). Jerry Blevins could be mentioned based on his time with the team, but he wasn’t that great so I’m leaving him off.

The dead years

The late 70’s, mid-80’s, late 90’s, and mid-2000’s (the Geren years), and, the past couple of years, were bleak periods in the history of the Oakland A’s. However, there are a few players who did make their mark on Oakland, either via longevity, brilliance, or both. Among those are Brad Ziegler (45), Kurt Suzuki (46), and Andrew Bailey (47). Gio Gonzalez was solid for us, but as much as I love him he didn’t do all that much here. Coco gets a mention here as well.

The current team

I think it’s sad to do something like this and not even have a single current player on the team, so I’m giving the nod to Khris Davis (48), and I’ll assume he’ll hit another 40 jacks and cement his place in Oakland A’s history. Anyway, no one in Oakland A’s history has accomplished back-to-back 40 homer seasons, which Davis will almost certainly hit by the end of the year. Jed Lowrie would be the only other guy that might make it. He has the Oakland record for doubles, but he hasn’t been consistently good in his few years here.

Um, please don’t vote for too many of these guys

There are tough calls on bubble players, and then there are fan “favorites” who don’t deserve to be anywhere near this list, but will almost certainly get votes, especially because of recency bias. For example, Eric Sogard, Adam Rosales, Rajai Davis, and the variations of those players from previous years (e.g. Mike Gallego, Cliff Pennington, Frank Menenchino, etc.). They’re mostly endearing, yet well below average players. I am hoping the squad doesn’t get crowded by too many of these at the expense of more deserving players.

Hey, there’s still two more spots

Maybe I was being too stingy above; I could maybe add Dick Green back in the mix. But I’ll go with Dan Haren (49), who was an exceptionally talented workhorse with us, albeit for a short time. Mark Kotsay brought smooth CF defense and some memorable moments despite lingering back problems, but he didn’t play that much for Oakland. No, I’ll give the last spot to the one and only Jack Cust (50), just because. Hey, it’s my list.

What are your picks?

Like I said above, we probably agree on the top 30 or so. I’d be interested to hear cases from you on any borderline guys before I punch in my vote next week. Remember, voting is over at the end of the season. Make sure you vote, because this team is going to be honored on Opening Night (which is actually game 2) of the 2018 season, and throughout the course of the entire year. Have at it!