The Oakland A’s have over a half-century of history in the books, and it’s filled with star players. Several have made the Baseball Hall of Fame after long careers wearing green and gold, including Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, and Reggie Jackson from the 1970s, and more recently Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley.
But there’s also a long list of stars who finished right on the borderline of HOF consideration, and are now on the outside looking in. The question today is, who is the best of that group? We’re only looking at players who spent significant time in Oakland — for example, you might notice Frank Thomas and Harold Baines aren’t included in the list of HOFers in the first paragraph, after merely brief cameos with the A’s.
There are too many worthy candidates to fit in one post, so we’re splitting them up into four categories:
- 1970s Swingin A’s
- Bash Brothers era
- Moneyball years
- ... and a special one just for Closers
This first edition will include four players from the 1970s three-peat World Series champion team. After a quick word about each, and some key stats, there is a poll at the bottom for everyone to vote. Each of the four posts in this series will produce one winner, and then we can have one final vote with four options to crown a champion.
What’s more, the stakes are particularly high. I’ve contacted the Hall* and they’ve agreed to officially induct whoever we pick, so choose wisely.
* Note that the Hall that I contacted was my father Nick Hall and the poll-winner’s plaque will be inducted into a shed in his backyard. Also the plaque will be a lawn mower and the player’s name won’t be on it, unless their name is coincidentally Ryobi.
Honorable mention to Joe Rudi, Ken Holtzman, and many others, who had wonderful careers but don’t measure up statistically with this quartet.
Sal Bando | 3B
61.5 bWAR | 56.2 fWAR
For some voters, the article will end here. If you go by pure career stats, then Bando is the answer, and he has a borderline case for the actual HOF. He was an above-average everyday player nonstop for 11 straight seasons, from the A’s first year in Oakland in 1968 through a pair of summers with the Brewers in 1977-78, and often he was a star-level producer. The JAWS system has him rated as the 16th-best 3B of all time, at an underrepresented position that only has 17 current HOFers (it’ll become 18 when Adrian Beltre joins in 2024).
That said, the other non-HOF names above Bando on the JAWS list are Scott Rolen, Graig Nettles, Ken Boyer, and Buddy Bell, so you can see why he didn’t quite get over the hump. This is the very top of the Hall of Very Good. Sure, Captain Sal has the three rings and three top-5 MVP finishes, but Nettles also won two rings, Boyer was an MVP and 11-time All-Star, and Bell won six Gold Gloves to go with 2,500 hits, so they all have their respective merits behind their lofty WAR totals.
But for this A’s list? Four All-Star berths, seven seasons with MVP votes, 242 homers, a 121 wRC+, plus defense, and the highest WAR out of the group, make him an early front-runner.
Vida Blue | LHP
44.9 bWAR | 49.2 fWAR
Or perhaps you prefer an even higher peak? Blue didn’t quite have Bando’s relentless consistency, but when he was on he was one of the best. His 1971 season was legendary, featuring a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts, and it won him both the Cy Young and MVP. He got Cy votes in five seasons overall, and MVP votes in four, to go with six All-Star berths.
Mix in three 20-win campaigns when that meant something, a full no-hitter, and another combined no-hitter, and there’s no question he was a star. He didn’t have enough great seasons to make the actual HOF, and like Bando his postseason record was only mediocre, but he could get a lot of support in this A’s vote.
Bert Campaneris | SS
53.1 bWAR | 44.9 fWAR
Campy gets into the conversation because of his WAR, but his case for your vote revolves around being one of the best at a certain specialty. In the Modern Era (since 1900), he ranks 10th in stolen bases with 649, and when he retired he was sixth. If you start the clock after World War 2, he’s seventh.
Looking deeper, he led the league six times, and broke 50 in seven years. His 76.5% success rate was enough to be productive, even if the names above him were all more efficient. Everyone is looking up at Rickey, but Campy was one of the very best ever at this one thing. His biggest drawback was not getting on base enough to run more, with modest batting averages and low walk rates (.311 career OBP).
But he rated as an excellent defensive shortstop, and along with his wheels that helped him get downballot MVP votes eight times, with six All-Star berths — both superior to Bando’s totals. And 2,249 hits aren’t too shabby either.
Gene Tenace | C/1B
46.8 bWAR | 45.0 fWAR
You might not have expected to see Tenace net a mention on the list, but his sparkling numbers warrant some love.
His career 140 wRC+ ties him for 60th in the Modern Era, along with Mike Piazza, Larry Walker, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, and Kevin Mitchell, and it’s around twice as good as Bando’s mark. And Tenace did it while playing over half his games as a catcher, as opposed to strictly at 1B or DH or another corner position. He was a 4-5 WAR producer for eight straight seasons, on both scales, which is a strong peak.
The downside is he was never great, with no seasons above 6 WAR. For comparison, fellow backstop Piazza had 3-5 such monster summers, depending who you ask. He also never factored much into regular season honors, with only one All-Star berth and two years of downballot MVP support.
But Tenace has a set of advantages that nobody else on this A’s list can match. First, he won a fourth ring elsewhere, as a spectacular 35-year-old bench bat on the 1982 Cardinals. Furthermore, while in October for Oakland, he provided the postseason heroics that some of the other stars couldn’t muster.
In the 1972 World Series, with Reggie Jackson out injured, Tenace practically won Game 1 single-handedly with two homers to drive in all the team’s runs; singled to set up the winning 9th-inning comeback rally in Game 4; and drove in the go-ahead run in Game 7, all of which earned him WS MVP honors. He was quieter the next two Octobers, but ‘72 was enough to seal his playoff legacy, and you could argue that he’s the reason the other guys all have three rings instead of a smaller number.
Alright Athletics Nation, time to vote. One of these 1970s Swingin A’s stars will move on to the finals to face off with players from other eras. Who you got?
Who is the best 1970s A’s player not in the Hall of Fame?
This poll is closed