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Today in Oakland A’s history (4/10): Oakland A’s play first-ever game in 1968

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The day it all began.

MLB Photos Archive
Reggie Jackson, 1968
Photo by Louis Requena /MLB via Getty Images

The 2020 MLB season is on hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic, so we’ve got some time to burn and a baseball void to fill. Fortunately, there are decades of Oakland A’s history to look back on, and even rerunball is better than no ball at all. Let’s reminisce!

Here’s the latest “this date in history” from A’s info manager Mike Selleck:

It doesn’t get much more historically significant than that. On this date, 52 years ago, the Oakland A’s played their first game. Of course, the Athletics franchise had already been part of MLB for a while, stationed in Philadelphia from 1901-54 and in Kansas City from 1955-67, so they weren’t a brand new expansion team or anything. But this was the beginning of the Oakland squad as we know and love them today.

I’ve got a different post about the 1968 team planned for next week, so I’m not going too deep into the specifics here. But for now, let’s have a look at the first game in the club’s modern history, a 3-1 loss to the Orioles.

The A’s began the 1968 campaign on the road, starting with a trip to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The season opener had been scheduled for the day before, April 9, but April 4 brought the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. With his funeral scheduled for the 9th, the Pittsburgh Pirates led a movement to push Opening Day for all teams back to April 10, out of respect for Dr. King. (For more on that bit of history, here’s Joe Posnanski.)

And so, 24 hours later than originally expected, the Oakland A’s took the field for the first time. On the mound for Oakland was Catfish Hunter, already a two-time All-Star from the team’s previous tenure in Kansas City. He was facing an Orioles squad that had won the World Series two years prior, and would win it again two years later, though in 1968 their 91 wins were only good enough for second place. The heart of their lineup consisted of future Hall of Fame inductees Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, plus the original Boog Powell.

Hunter threw six quality innings and allowed just two runs, but that didn’t prove to be good enough on this day. The Orioles struck in the 1st inning on a sac fly by Powell, and then in the 4th on an RBI double by future MLB manager Davey Johnson. Hunter was tagged with the loss, but no matter — less than a month later, he’d throw a perfect game against the Twins.

Meanwhile, the A’s lineup was stymied by Baltimore starter Tom Phoebus, who kept them off the board through seven frames. Finally, leading off the 8th, a 21-year-old named Reggie Jackson offered at the first pitch he saw and sent it over the wall in left-center for a solo homer. It was just the second dinger of Jackson’s young career, out of an eventual total of 563. It was also the only run Oakland scored that day, and it was quickly countered in the bottom of the inning when Brooks Robinson went deep himself, but at least it avoided a shutout.

Click here for the full box score and play-by-play.

And just like that, the Oakland A’s officially became a thing. They lost the opener, but they won their next game and finished their inaugural season with a respectable 82-80 record. It would be another week before they’d actually play a game in Oakland, but that’s a story for another day. (Specifically, next Friday.)

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More this-date tweets from Selleck, over the past few days:

  • 4/8: On April 8, 1934 the A’s and the Phillies meet in a City Series game before 15,000 fans at Shibe Park for the first legal Sunday baseball game ever played in Philadelphia.
  • 4/9: A couple of double notes for April 9...in 1974 Joe Rudi ties an Oakland record with three doubles as the A’s defeat Kansas City 6-4…in 2004 the A’s tie an Oakland record with eight doubles in an 8-6 win over Seattle.