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:
On April 17, 1968 the A’s play their first game in Oakland but lose to Baltimore 4-1…Dave McNally limits the A’s to two hits, including a pinch hit single by Tony La Russa in his first at bat a member of the Oakland A’s. #ThisDateInAthleticsHistory— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) April 17, 2020
Over the past week, we took a closer look at the Oakland A’s first-ever game back in 1968 as well as their first-ever win a few days later. However, both of those events occurred during a season-opening road trip, so there’s yet one more milestone to celebrate — the A’s first-ever regular season game in Oakland, at the Coliseum. After spending their first 67 years in Philadelphia and Kansas City, on this date the franchise officially began playing in the spot that they still call home 52 years later.
The A’s opponent on this special day was the Baltimore Orioles, the same team they’d played against on Opening Day the previous week. Unfortunately, just as they’d lost their debut game in a ho-hum 3-1 decision, Oakland dropped their home opener in similarly quiet 4-1 fashion.
There’s not much to say about the game itself. Facing A’s right-hander Lew Krausse, Baltimore gradually built a lead by launching three solo homers. Fearsome slugger Boog Powell hit one in the 2nd, which stands as the first dinger in Coliseum history; 50 years later, a different player named Boog Powell would start in center field for the A’s on Opening Day.
The next homer came off the bat of notoriously light-hitting defensive specialist shortstop Mark Belanger, one of only 20 he hit in his 18-year career. In the 6th, another legend of the glove, Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, sent one deep to left. Their other run came in the 4th on a single by future MLB manager Davey Johnson, driving home another Hall of Famer in Frank Robinson.
On the other side of the ball, Orioles lefty Dave McNally went the distance, beginning what turned out to be the best season of a strong career. He posted a 1.95 ERA in ‘68, the Year of the Pitcher, and he eventually retired as a three-time All-Star and four-time 20-game winner with two rings.
McNally was especially effective in this game. He carried a no-hitter through five innings, with the only baserunner coming when he walked Krausse, the opposing pitcher. Finally, in the 6th, Rick Monday got ahold of one and blasted it to center for a solo homer. That stood as Oakland’s only run of the game, and they only came up with one more hit, a meaningless single in the 9th.
That was that, and the A’s dropped their home opener. Don’t worry, though, they won the next day on a 13th-inning walk-off, and ultimately finished the season with a winning record, so this isn’t a tale of a club’s woefully bad beginnings. They just happened to lose this one. Click here for the full box score and play-by-play.
Instead of focusing on the mundane game action, let’s take a different angle. In 2018, the A’s celebrated their 50th anniversary of arriving in Oakland. On this date, the NBCS television broadcast showed an old scorecard from this game, and I’ve been looking for a reason to geek out over it. The time has now come.
There are some obviously familiar names on that roster: Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, and Reggie Jackson. That group was part of the core of the three-peat champion teams, and they require no further introduction. You could have reasonably expected to see them listed.
(Aside: Rollie Fingers wouldn’t debut until September of this year, and Joe Rudi would wait in the minors until May of this year. Gene Tenace was called up in 1969. Monday was traded at the end of 1971 for pitcher Ken Holtzman, barely missing being a part of one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.)
Here are some more names that are worth pointing out.
Tony La Russa
Among the list of backup infielders was a 23-year-old rookie named Tony La Russa. He’s the one who recorded the team’s other hit in the 9th inning, and that ended up being his only hit of the entire season. After five games in the bigs, he’d go back to the minors for the rest of the year. In 1970 he’d appear in a career-high 52 games for Oakland, but he was done playing the majors after ‘73.
(Note: Selleck’s tweet at the top notes that this was La Russa’s first at-bat for Oakland, which is technically true. However, he’d played a few dozen games for the Kansas City A’s back in ‘63, as an 18-year-old.)
Of course, La Russa’s real place in A’s history comes in the dugout, where he put together a Hall of Fame career as a manager. He skippered the A’s for a decade from 1986-95, leading them to three World Series appearances and one championship. Over a 33-season career with three total clubs, his 2,728 wins rank third all-time.
The lefty reliever isn’t a household name from A’s history, but he was the Adam Rosales of the ‘70s teams. During the 1971 season, he was traded to the Washington Senators in a deal for fellow southpaw reliever Darold Knowles. In ‘72, the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers, and after the season they traded him back to Oakland.
Now back with the A’s, Lindblad pitched in the ‘73 World Series, where he became the last pitcher ever to face all-time great Willie Mays (result: groundout). He stuck around in Oakland through ‘76, at which point his rights were purchased by none other than the Rangers for cash considerations. So, he went from A’s, to Rangers, back to A’s, back to Rangers, over the course of six years. Rosales made his own back-and-forth moves much faster, going Oak-Tex-Oak-Tex in the span of just 17 months, but that’s to be expected from a guy who sprints around the bases after a homer.
Sprague and Segui
These two pitchers are interesting because their children went on to play in the majors as well. Ed Sprague spent the first two years of his eight-year career with Oakland, and his son, also named Ed, played for Oakland in 1998. Ed Junior is now the A’s Director of Player Development, a significant front office position. As for Ed Senior, he was eventually moved to the Reds, and in ‘73 Cincy traded him to the Cardinals for Ed Crosby, father of future A’s Rookie of the Year shortstop Bobby Crosby. To wrap up the loop, Bobby is now a minor league manager in Oakland’s system, and thus works under Ed Junior nearly 50 years after their fathers were traded for each other.
Meanwhile, Cuban hurler Diego Segui is the father of David Segui. David was a quality hitter for several (non-A’s) teams during his 15-year MLB career, but unfortunately is now best known as one of the PED users named in the Mitchell Report. Diego pitched for the A’s in ‘68, then was drafted by the expansion Seattle Pilots for the ‘69 season, then reacquired by Oakland the next season. However, he was traded away again (to the Cardinals) in mid-1972, barely missing the team’s three championships.
There have only been two players named Donaldson in MLB history. One of them was John, an infielder for the A’s in the late-1960s. The other is Josh, who was also an infielder for the A’s in the 2010s. As near as I can tell, they are unrelated.
Josh is the far more famous Donaldson, having made the All-Star team with Oakland and later winning an MVP for the Blue Jays, but John does have his own claim to fame in A’s history. The previous week, on Opening Day in the team’s first game as the Oakland A’s, he’d notched their first-ever hit, a 2nd-inning single to center. His short career was more or less finished after ‘69, but he’ll always have that place in the club’s record books.
According to the scorecard above, batting sixth for the A’s was someone named Carlson, at second base. This is a typo, and that spot was actually Donaldson, jersey No. 12. In 120 years of franchise history, no player named Carlson has ever appeared for the A’s. The closest they’ve come was outfielder Matt Carson, who wasn’t even born until 1981.
All the way in the bottom-right corner, under the list of coaches, one more legendary name is hiding in plain sight. Hall of Fame outfielder and Bay Area native Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, served as a hitting coach for the A’s from 1968-69. According to Joe Guzzardi of the Lodi News-Sentinel, it was a symbiotic relationship in which team owner Charlie Finley got a PR splash amid his team’s move to a new city, and DiMaggio got the extra years of employment he needed to “qualify for the league’s maximum pension allowance.”
It’s impossible to know what effect DiMaggio had as a coach, but for what it’s worth the team’s hitting did improve after years of offensive ineptitude in Kansas City. They were good right away in Oakland, shifting from bad to above-average at the plate in ‘68 and beyond. However, perhaps the most lasting legacy of DiMaggio’s time here was his role in suggesting that the team hire a local kid named Steve Vucinich to be their ball boy. Over half a century later, Vucinich still works for the A’s as their equipment manager.
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum has gone through many name changes over the years, most recently to become the RingCentral Coliseum, but 52 years later it’s still the home of the A’s. Well, for now at least, with a new stadium project finally making legitimate progress. On this date in 1968, the team played their first-ever regular season game there.
More this-date tweets from Selleck, over the past few days:
- 4/14: April 14 is milestone day for #ThisDateInAthleticsHistory. In 1971 Reggie Jackson hits his 100th home run in an Oakland uniform. In 1974 Catfish Hunter strikes out his 1,000th batter in an Oakland uniform. In 1976 Vida Blue records his 1,000th career strikeout.
- 4/15: On April 15, 1924 future Hall of Famer Al Simmons collects his first major league hit off another future HOFer, the Senators Walter Johnson, in the A’s 4-0 loss to Washington on Opening Day. #ThisDateInAthleticsHistory
- 4/16: On April 16, 1969 Sal Bando hits the first grand slam in Oakland history in the A’s 6-1 win over California at the Coliseum. #ThisDateInAthleticsHistory