Don’t panic, Athletics Nation.
Far in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the eastern side of the Bay Area lies a small unregarded green-and-gold baseball team. Their roster is scheduled for demolition this winter, but due to a fluke of timing, a labor dispute is lying down in the mud in front of the bulldozers, blocking their path and delaying the inevitable.
However, that setback didn’t come soon enough to stop the beginning of the Oakland A’s teardown, as a couple of stars already signed elsewhere in free agency before the MLB lockout froze further transactions. One of the players hitching a new ride was Mark Canha, who joined the New York Mets in November on a two-year contract.
A’s fans are used to this story by now. The best players rarely stay here long, as other teams pay higher salaries on the open market, and we’ve grown accustomed to seeing them head out on a regular basis. It’s still a bummer every time, but it’s a routine part of following this club.
We can’t keep all our favorites forever, but we can remember them fondly after they’ve left. Canha spent seven seasons in Oakland, his entire MLB career so far, and he authored plenty of highlights along the way as he blossomed from a Rule 5 draft pick into a star. Grab your rally towel and let’s hike down memory lane.
Seven years is a long time for a player to stay on the A’s. Last summer, Canha was the only name remaining from the 2015 Opening Day roster. And his local roots extend even deeper, as he was born and raised in the Bay Area, though we’ll overlook that he grew up as more of a Giants fan.
Canha was drafted by the Marlins in 2010, in the 7th round out of UC Berkeley, but after five seasons in their system he topped out in Triple-A. Oakland liked what they saw and beamed him aboard via Rule 5, giving him a chance on their major league squad in 2015.
He had a strong rookie year at age 26, enough to stay in the bigs all summer, and smart people recognized his potential right away. He had power at the plate, versatility in the field, and wicked long sideburns for style points.
Unfortunately, injuries caught up with him the next year and wiped out most of his 2016 season. He returned in 2017, but struggled to regain his mojo and bounced up and down to the minors.
At that point, Canha was entering age 29 with a .234 career average, multiple years removed from being simultaneously healthy and productive. But then the galaxy’s improbability drive activated and his fortunes suddenly changed direction, turning around like a fastball after making loud contact with the barrel of a bat.
He returned in 2018, again, and this time it all came together. He stayed off the injured list, found a groove at the plate, and carved out a permanent role on a team that reached the postseason. He was part of a lineup that never gave up, collecting a long list of clutch hits and late-inning comebacks, and he topped it off with a flourish of competitive fire.
His specialty was bat flips. In July of that season, on the road in San Francisco for a heated interleague showdown against the team’s Bay Bridge rivals, Canha hit a pinch-hit go-ahead homer in the 7th inning that served as the eventual game-winner. As the dinger soared deep into the night sky, he gave it a stare and flipped his bat to the ground in triumph, followed by an emphatic celebration as he crossed the plate. “My house,” he proclaimed.
⭐️The swing⭐️— Oakland A's (@Athletics) July 15, 2018
⭐️⭐️The flip⭐️⭐️ pic.twitter.com/vTe40NFMIU
It looks tame by today’s standards, but in 2018 that bat flip was enough to draw questions for comment in the postgame interview. It also helped send a message that the upstart young A’s were for real, which I put like this at the time:
That bat flip is every A’s fan, screaming to the heavens that we’re here and we won’t be taken lightly. Forget the long rebuild and the three last-place finishes, and all the jokes about trading away All-Stars or how the stadium is full of more sewage than spectators. None of that matters now, because we’re focused on the present day and an honest-to-goodness playoff push.
He unleashed a bigger flip a couple months prior, after a tie-breaking 9th-inning homer against eventual AL Reliever of the Year Edwin Diaz:
The next year he got even better, finally forcing his way into the everyday lineup in 2019. His batting line ranked Top 10 in the entire majors, between his 146 wRC+ and .396 OBP, and he tapped into his power more than ever before. On defense he was the glue that held the lineup together, filling in almost anywhere the team needed, even in center field for a couple months. He played at least 10 games at five different spots, including RF, CF, LF, 1B, and DH.
Canha kept rolling in 2020, earning Team MVP honors from Athletics Nation during the pandemic-shortened season. That August he established his full ownership of Oracle Park, blasting another go-ahead homer against the Giants, this time in the 9th inning.
Oakland made the playoffs for the third straight year, and this time Canha got a chance to show off his glove. In Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the White Sox, with the A’s nursing an early lead, he made a leaping grab at the LF wall reminiscent of Joe Rudi in the 1972 World Series. They held on to win the game and eventually won the series, advancing in the postseason bracket for the first time in over a decade.
Most recently, Canha made a couple pieces of franchise history in 2021, in ways that perfectly symbolize his time in Oakland.
In the field, one day in June he played all three outfield positions in the same game. That’s only happened 10 times in Oakland history, and he’s the ninth player to do it, exactly what you’d expect from a defender known for his versatility.
At the plate he moved to the leadoff spot, where his expert plate discipline helped him thrive as an on-base threat. Not only did he draw walks at a monstrous rate, he also earned some extra trips to first by getting plunked with pitches 27 times — the most in A’s history, by seven over the runner-up, and enough to also give him the franchise career record for HBP. That’s appropriate for a player who’s always willing to take one for the team, and who had to grind especially hard to make it in the majors.
He gave us one final spicy bat flip, in the last home game of the year, on a walk-off against the Astros:
Quite the bat flip from Canha pic.twitter.com/mTDzf5YbvP— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) September 26, 2021
It’s not the most improbable journey we’ve seen at the Coliseum. Once, a busted first baseman turned into a great pitcher. Another time, a possum was minding its own business only to suddenly find itself on a lawn surrounded by 35,000 excited people, at which point the confused marsupial fled and the home team rallied to victory. OK fine, it was 18,000 people.
But Canha’s was a classic A’s tale, defying the odds by washing ashore back home in Oakland and finding a place on the island of misfit toys. He morphed from a Rule 5 castoff into a late-blooming star, offering confident at-bats and clutch hits and hustle on the bases and whatever you wanted on defense. He entertained us with his outgoing personality, whether as the Big League Foodie doubling as a food critic on Instagram, or with his engaging interview answers, or by wearing a balaclava mask over his face during cold weather, or simply celebrating hard after a big play.
He’ll put on a different uniform next season, far away in New York, and maybe take in a quick bite at the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe while he’s there. But he’s written himself into A’s lore, and we won’t soon forget him. Earlier this month he posted a message of gratitude on Twitter, thanking a long list of people and finishing up with this:
My time in Oakland was filled with ups and downs. Through all of those, you all stuck with me and supported me, and created an environment that allowed me and my family to thrive. I have so many wonderful moments from my time in Oakland, from my debut to my final game in Oakland that ended with a walkoff win against the Astros. I live for those types of moments, and all of you made them so much more special, so thank you.
Thank you Oakland! The Canha’s love you, and will miss you.
So long Canha, and thanks for all the bat flips!