I have an Oakland Tribune, dated April 14, 1968, the week the A’s made their debut in the Bay Area. I don’t even know where or how I got it but I do know that it stands as one of my most prized sport collectibles. The souvenir section is littered with advertisements welcoming the A’s to Oakland and the area writers waxed poetic in anticipation of having the Grand Old game in their own backyard.
Ed Levitt, columnist:
“Baseball is child’s play but it becomes man’s work for the skillful. It happens every time a kid throws a ball against the side of the building and catches it. It doesn’t need fields or grass. The game can be played on asphalt, up alleys and in places where garbage is dumped. It is our part of our heritage.” More Levitt, on how special it was to have a team here: “There are those who ally themselves with a team and make it a personal crusade. They believe a team belongs to them and in a way it does. Soon boys from Hayward, Oakland, Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Richmond will turn into Oakland Athletic stars, to become Catfish Hunter, Rick Monday, Sal Bando, and Campy Campaneris.”
(How right he was!)
Bill Fiset, columnist:
“All of a sudden you’re a baseball nut because Oakland has a big-league team all its own, a bunch of guys whose names will become household words in a matter of weeks despite the garish uniforms and the strange drama that unfolds on a baseball field. By strange drama I mean all that stuff where the pitcher tugs at his cap, the catcher scratches himself in the most unlikely places, the third base coach takes two steps backward and it all means something.”
Success was not immediately apparent for our boys in those “garish” uniforms, as they lost their first game at Baltimore on April 10, and their home opener to those same Orioles one week later. But as demonstrated by the 50,164 in attendance, including then-Governor Ronald Regan, baseball in Oakland was here to stay.
As mentioned last week, the mighty A’s of the early 70’s fell on hard times later that decade, and 1979 was rock bottom. Oakland went 54-108, the worst showing for any A’s team since moving to these parts. No one dared to watch this team – only 306,000 fans passed through the turnstiles that year. By contrast, the 1979 World Series drew over 360,000 spectators – in 74 less games.
On April 17 of that season, only 653 people bothered to show up. No really, I counted them.
Oakland was a happening place to be on April 17, 1981, maybe more so than in anytime in club history – even during the glory years. Coming home after an 8-0 road trip to start the season, 50,255 Athletic supporters applauded like mad for their conquering heroes as they were introduced before the game against Seattle. We cheered on Steve McCatty as he set the Mariners down in order in the first. And we shouted and screamed as the A’s put a five-spot on the board in the bottom of the inning. Captain Murph and Cliff Johnson hit back-to-back homers and the rout was on. Rickey went deep in the third and Armas hit a two-run shot in the fourth, which ended with the A’s in front 10-1. By the time the 7th inning stretch came around, I felt like I was in Fantasyland. The sound system was blaring John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy and I turned around to see my brother John waving his A’s cowboy hat, while fans of every color danced in the aisles. The entire night was like living in a cartoon and just when I thought it couldn’t get any loonier, the A’s exploded for six runs in the seventh, with Armas putting a stamp on the inning- and a 16-1 win- by jacking his second homer of the night and sixth in nine games. With the throng yelling “Tony, Tony”, the right-fielder came out to not one, but two curtain calls, something that even Reggie Himself could not lay claim to. As I waited for that moment for Mom to wake me up from this dream, I turned to my cousin Wayne and we just started laughing. Clapping and cheering no longer made sense. Hell, the whole night didn’t make any sense. So we just laughed as if tons of money had been dropped from the skies above. But it wasn’t just me and Wayne; everyone had that weird, incredulous look on their faces. I ran into a schoolmate after the game and he was talking all fast and his words were running into each other; that’s what that night in April did to all of us.
And I will never forget it.