The Oakland A’s celebrated their 1989 championship team with a reunion before Sunday’s game, but they had a special honor in store for one player in attendance. The team announced that they will retire Dave Stewart’s jersey next season.
The number 34 is already retired by the A’s, for Hall of Fame closer and three-time 1970s champion Rollie Fingers. Now it will recognize a second great pitcher from the club’s amazing history.
“Stew, for what you’ve done for our organization, our community. Oakland’s own. God bless you, thank you, congratulations,” said team president Dave Kaval during the pre-game ceremony, with nearly 50,000 fans packed into the Coliseum for the finale of the 2019 Bay Bridge interleague series.
Stewart signed with the A’s midway through 1986. His career was on the ropes after falling out of favor with multiple teams, but he reinvented himself in the Bay Area, partly thanks to a new forkball. The right-hander won at least 20 games for four straight years from 1987-90, and finished top-four for the Cy Young in each of those summers. He also led Oakland to the World Series three years in a row, and when they won the championship in 1989, Stewart was named the World Series MVP. He left as a free agent after 1992 but returned in 1995 at age 38, playing one more campaign in green and gold before retiring.
The roots go even deeper than that, though. Stewart was born and raised in Oakland, and grew up watching the A’s play at the Coliseum. He’s still involved with the team to this day, as a TV analyst for NBC Sports on the pre/post-game shows before and after A’s broadcasts.
“For my community and where I come from and the things that I’ve experienced growing up as a kid here in the Bay Area, it’s huge for me. It’s just huge,” said Stewart, fighting back tears during an emotional press conference. (See full video at the S.F. Chronicle)
Unlike the other five players whose jerseys are retired by the A’s, Stewart is not a Hall of Famer. However, last summer he was part of the inaugural class of the new Athletics Hall of Fame, along with national HOFers Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, and Dennis Eckersley. The latter two players were on hand Sunday for the ‘89 reunion, sharing memories of the team’s most recent title, as was their former manager and upcoming 2019 inductee Tony La Russa.
“The fans on this side of the Bay cherish that moment,” said Stewart of the A’s beating the local rival Giants in the 1989 World Series. “It gives us bragging rights for a very very long time. Until [that matchup] happens again, which who knows when that’ll be, but if it never happens again, guess who won?”
The recognition of Stewart is yet another positive step in the A’s recently renewed commitment to celebrating their storied half-century history in Oakland. As a local product, a star player, a champion, and now an A’s media personality, he’s truly one of the greats for this particular franchise, even if his overall numbers fall short of the national HOF.
Of course, there is one small problem with Stewart’s jersey.
“I’m wondering if it’s still gonna fit,” he quipped before Sunday’s ceremony. “I’m about 30 pounds heavier now than I was in ‘89, I can tell you that.”
The shirt itself may be tight on him these days, but the number on the back will never fit on another A’s player. That belongs to Stewart now, right where it belongs.
Bonus! Check out below for the full video of Sunday’s pre-game ceremony, and read all about it in my writeup for the S.F. Examiner (including quotes from Rickey and Eck).