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Who is the best Oakland A’s player not in the Hall of Fame? Bash Brothers Era

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Canseco, McGwire, Stewart, or Welch?

Photo by MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

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, but many more are on the outside looking in.

The question we’re looking to answer here is, who is the best A’s player not in the HOF? The candidates are split into four categories, and in the last post we examined the 1970s three-peat champion Swingin A’s. The community voted in a poll at the end of that post, and the winner of the group was Vida Blue by a sizable margin.

This time, we’re turning our attention to the 80s and 90s, and the Bash Brothers Era. Once again, there are four players to choose from, leaving aside actual HOFers Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley (and Harold Baines). After a quick word about each, and some key stats, there is another poll at the bottom for everyone to vote. The winner of that poll will go up against Vida and two other future poll winners in a final vote to crown a champion.

First, some honorable mentions. Tony Phillips gets snubbed hard, as his 51 bWAR and 46 fWAR should have been enough to get him on the list. But name power counts and being underrated is his specialty, and anyway he was more of a bench/utility player when he was in Oakland — his everyday career came in Detroit.

Next up, Carney Lansford also misses out despite 34-40 WAR, while Terry Steinbach and Dave Henderson both had nice careers as well but don’t measure up to the rest. Dave Parker would have a good case (40 WAR, an MVP, two rings), but he only had a brief cameo in Oakland and we’re strictly dealing with long-time A’s.

Jose Canseco | OF

42.5 bWAR | 42.1 fWAR

If we were having this conversation in 1992, when Canseco was a 27-year-old superstar and national A-list celebrity with an MVP award and a ring and nearly 30 WAR under his belt and the only 40-40 season in MLB history, then we’d probably be making early plans to draft his Cooperstown plaque. But few HOF cases have fallen off a cliff more sharply than Jose’s did from that point forward.

From age 28 on, Canseco only once played more than 113 games in a season. He stuck around through age 36 and never stopped hitting homers, but he never again exceeded 3 WAR in any year and was replacement-level (and/or injured) as often as he was good.

He also became something of a sideshow, with antics including a ball bouncing off his head and over the wall for a homer, and asking to pitch in a game only to tear his elbow and miss a year to Tommy John surgery. Even his departure from the A’s in ‘92 was odd, traded in the middle of a game during a first-place season while he stood in the on-deck circle. His life after baseball has been stranger than fiction, in too many ways to detail here, with the only constants being that he remains famous, controversial, and impossible not to watch.

And then there are the steroids. For some, that will end the conversation immediately. For others, like myself, it’s just one more piece of a complicated puzzle. And his case is particularly notable, as he not only used them but also credits himself as a pioneer of popularizing them within the sport and helping launch an entire tainted era. If being a pioneer of a good thing gets you extra credit, then perhaps this does the opposite.

Despite all the negatives, though, Canseco’s actual numbers are firmly toward the top of the Hall of Very Good — 462 homers, 200 steals, 130 wRC+, 40+ WAR, his share of award hardware, and two rings (he vultured a second one with the Yankees in 2000 despite barely playing for them). They’ll never be enough for the HOF, even without docking him for cheating, but they certainly get him into this A’s conversation.

One last thing: There’s no denying Canseco’s love of baseball. Through it all, he kept playing competitively in independent leagues until he was 53, most recently in the Frontier League in 2018. And he still has the biggest muscles on the team.

Mark McGwire | 1B

62.2 bWAR | 66.3 fWAR

There’s a legitimate argument to be made for McGwire in the real-life HOF. Like with his Bash Brother Canseco, though, it first requires that you move past the steroids issue. If you immediately disqualify someone for confirmed use, which is a perfectly fine opinion to have, then we’re done here and you can decide between the two pitchers below.

The case for McGwire is that he’s the greatest home run hitter who ever played. Not the most prolific, as his career mark (583) ranks only 11th, and Barry Bonds passed his single-season record of 70. But in terms of who homered most often when he came to the plate, nobody else is even close. Big Mac’s 10.61 at-bats per homer are more than a full AB less than runner-up Babe Ruth, and more than two fewer than Bonds in third place. Switch to plate appearances per homer, and his lead is still firm.

Factor in an on-base percentage that sometimes approached .500 (career .394), and decent enough defense at first base (he even won a Gold Glove!), and both his career WAR and JAWS score are within reach of an average HOFer for his position — he ranks 15th in WAR and 17th in JAWS at a position with 24 HOFers. Add a dozen All-Star berths, 10 years with MVP votes, a ring, and multiple all-time dinger records he set along the way (though the big ones have since been surpassed), and he might even be an easy call if not for the PED controversy. After all, his 1998 home run chase with Sammy Sosa is often credited with saving baseball after the damage done by the ‘94 strike.

This vote really comes down to steroids. If they’re a dealbreaker for you, then McGwire is out. If not, then there isn’t a strong case to be made for picking anyone else. McGwire’s resume is a full level above everyone else on this list, both statistically and in terms of fame and reputation.

Dave Stewart | RHP

26.1 bWAR | 27.4 fWAR

That WAR total feels like it has to be a typo. Stewart was so good for so long, but only once did he exceed 5 WAR in a season (1988 by fWAR, 1990 by bWAR). We’re going to have to look beyond that catch-all metric to build this case.

Perhaps Stew was one of those players you had to be there to appreciate. He was larger than life, and you couldn’t help noticing that his teams were usually winning. When I pitched in Little League, I would try to emulate the menacing glare he gave to opposing hitters. He was the man.

The Oakland native began his career with the Dodgers, and won a ring in 1981 as a reliever. After bouncing around to a couple other teams, he joined his hometown A’s and turned into a late-blooming star who produced a monster peak — four straight 20-win seasons, each Top 4 in Cy Young voting, a combined 120 ERA+, and twice leading the league in innings and complete games, with a no-hitter and seven total shutouts along the way.

Also during that 1987-90 span, his team went to three straight World Series and won a ring, and he was a driving force as the 1989 WS MVP and 1990 ALCS MVP. Including the 1992 ALCS, he made 14 postseason starts for Oakland, 13 of them quality starts, resulting in a 2.22 ERA and 10 A’s victories. He averaged over seven innings per start in those 14 appearances with three complete games, one of them a shutout in the WS.

After leaving Oakland, he went to Toronto for a couple years. He was mediocre in the regular season for the Blue Jays, but he turned it on again in the 1993 playoffs, winning the ALCS MVP en route to a third ring with a third team.

The numbers don’t like him. His peak wasn’t long enough, and his success was measured more in team accomplishments than in dominant individual stats. He’s sort of a Jack Morris Lite in that way, with all the reputation of Morris but lighter personal marks — Stew finished with only 168 wins, and an even higher ERA (3.95, a perfectly average 100 ERA+).

But dang, if you were there, he sure felt like every bit the pitcher that McGwire was a slugger. Stew has also stayed locally relevant up through the present day, most recently as a post-game TV analyst for A’s games, and he’s practically the unofficial face of the Rooted in Oakland campaign. He’s a Bay Area sports icon at a level that no other A’s player but Rickey could probably ever be. Is that enough to make him a HOFer, or in this case the club’s best non-HOFer? The poll is below, you tell me.

Bob Welch | RHP

43.4 bWAR | 38.9 fWAR

My list was originally only going to include those top three, but the other two eras are each getting a fourth so I wanted to balance it out. Welch is my pick for that bonus slot, again with apologies to Phillips and his superior career numbers.

Welch is either Stewart Lite or Stewart Supreme, depending how you look at it. His numbers are better, his WAR is higher, he won the Cy that Stewart never did, and he also has another ring to go with his ‘89 A’s championship — in fact, it’s the same 1981 Dodgers ring, but Welch was a starter on that team.

However, Welch didn’t carry quite the same level of fearsome reputation as Stew, nor the same level of postseason record. The two times his team won the WS, he didn’t even pitch in the Series, though he did have a memorable moment as a rookie in the ‘78 WS (striking out Reggie Jackson). And even that 1990 Cy Young is dubious, as it was based purely on win-loss record — Stew was actually better that year, maybe even twice as good. (Oddly, neither got any All-Star support, with two berths for Welch and one for Stewart.)

But 211 wins, a 3.47 ERA, 106 ERA+, 40ish WAR, officially a Cy, five trips to the WS, two rings, and a dugout bench named lovingly in his honor in the A’s spring training stadium are a pretty strong resume for this vote. The outpouring of support upon his untimely passing in 2014 gave an illustration of how beloved he was to so many people, as a player, teammate, and high-quality human.

***

Alright Athletics Nation, time to vote. One of these 80s/90s Bash Brothers Era A’s stars will move on to the finals to face off with players from other eras, including Vida Blue. Who you got?

Poll

Who is the best Bash Brothers Era A’s player not in the Hall of Fame?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Jose Canseco
    (26 votes)
  • 61%
    Mark McGwire
    (250 votes)
  • 25%
    Dave Stewart
    (105 votes)
  • 5%
    Bob Welch
    (23 votes)
404 votes total Vote Now