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yer builds 'em up, but yer cants keep 'em!

Of the 16 Major League franchises that have existed since 1901, the Philadelphia-Kansas City-Oakland Athletics are the only one with no players who lasted 15 continuous seasons with their team. Yet, the Athletics have won nine World Championships - tied with Boston having more than any other American League franchise except the Yankees.

 

Unfortunately for fans who like to milk their team's glory years as long as they can, the Athletics have been notorious for losing their star players shortly after their championship runs. Obviously, the lack of long tenured players isn't due to the Athletics' lack of talent development. It is due to their relatively small revenue streams and financial misfortunes of its principle owners Connie Mack, Arnold Johnson, Charlie Finely, Walter Haas, Stephen Schott, and Lew Wolf. Johnson's regime was particularly inept and marked by dubious ethics, but his seven year ownership cannot take much of the blame for the entire century old franchise's lack of ability to retain its best. Connie Mack owned and managed the team for half a decade. He sold off two dynasties just past their peaks. Charlie Finley's meddling deep into his players' lives coinciding with the arrival of free agency helped cause one of the largest talent exoduses in baseball history.

  

Connie Mack, whose real name was Cornelius McGillicuddy, owned or part owned the Athletics for their first 54 years. He built two back-to-back champions. The first in 1910-1911 was noted for having the best infield in baseball led by arguably the greatest all-around second-baseman ever: Eddie Collins. The pitching fronted by Jack Combs, Cy Morgan, Eddie Plank, and Chief Bender was the best (by ERA) in the league as well. The great infield was formed in 1908 when 23 year old third-baseman Frank Home Run Baker and 22 year old shortstop Jack Berry joined the 22 year old super star Collins and 34 year old but still outstanding first-baseman Harry Davis. The three young infielders stayed and starred together for 7 years straight. Starting in their second year, the Athletics won at least 90 games every year they were together winning over 100 games those championship years and 99 games in their final year as a unit in 1914. That was the year the Federal League began giving the two established Major Leagues real competition. By the then Davis and Morgan were long gone, but over the next several months Mack sold Collins, Baker, Berry, Plank, Bender, and Combs just for the cash. In 1915 the Athletics won only 43 games and proceeded to finish in last place amongst the league's 8 teams seven years in a row.

 

The Athletics didn't regain a winning record until 1925.  The stars on that team were 23 year old center fielder Al Simmons, who would have been the superstar of the era if he were not so obscured by the shadow of Babe Ruth, pitching ace Eddie Rommel, infielder Jimmy Dykes and two rookies for whom the word "great" is an understatement: Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove. In 1927 they won 91 games together with pitcher Rube Walberg emerging as Eddie Rommel was fading. 1928 was 20 year old Jimmy Foxx's rookie season as the Athletics won 98 games. That year Mack picked up another pitching workhorse George Earnshaw from Baltimore the same dominant minor league team they bought Grove from. That core won over 100 games the next three years winning the World Series in the next two and 107 games in 1931. Then in 1932, the Athletics were a mere 94-60 finishing in second place. Mack in financial trouble wasted no time cashing in his second group of champions. Simmons and Dykes were sold that September.  A year later Cochrane was traded for a nobody and 100,000 depression era dollars. That same day Mack unloaded Grove - possibly the greatest pitcher ever - and Walberg for a couple of nobodies and a mere $125,000 cash. Again on that same black day for Athletics fans December 12, 1933 even Earnshaw was unloaded netting a mere $20,000. With Jimmy Foxx winning back to back MVP awards in '32 and '33, Mack might have faced riots if he, too, was dumped for money, so he was kept until 1935. As expected the Athletics again became consistent last place 90 game losers.

 

Their next winning record wasn't until 1947, but that winning streak lasted only three years rising no higher than fourth place. It didn't help that the Athletics took until September 1953 to open their team to baseball players of African descent. By then Mack had stepped down as their manager and his sons were running most of the team business.

 

The next phase of the Athletics began in 1954 under new owner Arnold Johnson, who moved the team to Kansas City in time for the 1955 season. Arnold had owned Yankee Stadium and had other business ties to New York Yankees owners Del Webb and Dan Topping before he bought the A's. Suspiciously the Athletics kept sending the Yankees players who became stars in New York (Roger Maris, Ralph Terry, Hector Lopez, Clete Boyer, Ryne Duren, and Bobby Shantz) while getting very little in return. Out of that entire group, the A's received only average Joes: Norm Siebern, Jerry Lumpe, and Woody Held of decent value for this entire bunch - and Held would be squandered in a trade with the Indians for an equally average Joe on his way down (Chuck Hinton) just before Held blossomed into his best years. Why would a last place team trade their youngest starting players (Maris & first-baseman Kent Hadley were 24) one of whom was budding star with a hell of an arm, plus a decent shortstop (Jerry DeMaestri) for a poor fielding outfielder (Siebern), a 37 year old steeply declining former all-star outfielder who should have retired (Hank Bauer), a former World Series hero whose walks exceeded his strikeouts and averaged 18 starts a year for the previous 5 seasons (Don Larsen), and a down grade at first-base who would become the icon for the historic ineptitude of the original Mets (Marv Throneberry). If these were Scoresheet teams, other managers would be shouting "Veto!" The team was weak under Johnson, they never even had a winning record during his 7 year reign or the remaining 7 years in the history of the Kansas City Athletics.

 

Charlie O. Finley bought the A's in December of 1960 (12 months after the Maris trade) putting an end to the Yankees pipeline. Finley was probably the most meddlesome MLB owner of all time (not counting owner-manager Mack), but he also built a 101 game winner in 1971 that became three-peat champions from '72 to '74. This team had a large nucleus of players who could well have stayed with the A's for 15 years or more. However, for financial reasons and because Finley was such an annoying presence, that entire nucleus of champions bolted just as the free agency era began.

 

First, there was Jim Hunter (given the name Catfish by Finley) who had been a starting pitcher for the team since 1965 and their ace since 1967. He left after 1974 because Finley neglected to pay an annuity clause in his contract and was awarded his contract freedom after his grievance went to arbitration. This was a fore-runner of the free agency era.

 

Reggie Jackson had some MVP votes in 1968 his first full season and continued his steady course to the Hall of Fame from there. That was the A's first year in Oakland and the team went from 62 wins to 82 wins.  In April of 1976, a season before the A's would likely lose Reggie as a free agent, he was traded essentially for Don Baylor another free agent to be star outfielder, although Baylor was considered a downgrade from Jackson and, as it turned out, he was.

 

Along with Jackson, the A's traded Ken Holtzman who had averaged a 2.92 ERA and 271 innings over the four years since they acquired him in a trade. The pitcher they received in return for Holtzman in the Baylor/Jackson deal was Mike Torrez, who was considered a huge downgrade from Holtzman at the time, but turned out to be much better. Holtzman pitched well for 13 starts as an Oriole, then was traded to the Yankees where his career caved in. There was an exchange of prospects in this Reggie trade as well. Oakland won that portion of the trade receiving Paul Mitchell, but he did not provide a large impact.

 

Half way through the '76 season, the A's tried to sell their pitching ace Vida Blue to the New York Yankees, but the deal was vetoed by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. A year and a half later Finley managed to unload him for the $300,000 limit and a bunch of San Francisco Giants prospects.

 

Bert Campaneris was an outstanding shortstop who had been with the A's even longer than Hunter. He left the team as a free agent in 1977 the first year it became available to all 6 year veterans.

 

Sal Bando was equally outstanding playing next to Campy at third-base arriving around the same time as Reggie late in '67. He, too, left in '77.

 

Gene Tenace was a catcher/first-baseman with an .818 O+S over his seven seasons (some partial) with the A's before he, too, bolted from the team in the free agent infancy of 1977.

 

And, what about that Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers with that dashing long waxed moustache who pitched 126 innings per year as their relief ace since 1969? He, too, fled in the 1977 Oakland free agency massacre.

 

Joe Rudi had been a star outfielder for Oakland since 1970 receiving MVP votes in '72, '74, '75, and '76.  In '77 he had gone to California, yes, as a free agent. Kuhn also vetoed his sale to the Red Sox during the '76 season.

 

Although, he hasn't owned the team since 1995, the late Walter Haas set the course for the current Athletics as persistent contenders with low end budgets. Actually, the credit rests more with his son-in-law Sandy Alderson. Under Alderson, the Athletics once again rose to dominance. They led Major Leagues in wins three years in a row winning 104 games in 1988 and 103 games in 1990 sandwiching a World Series sweep in 1989. The team crashed from 96 wins in 1992 to 68 wins in 1993. In recent decades it has become common practice to tear apart your team reducing salary and acquiring prospects once they start going downhill. The Bash Brothers at their '89 peak were:

 

Ricky Henderson age 30 after a 4 year hiatus with the Yankees returned to Oakland in a 1989 trade much to the Athletics' advantage. He stayed until their collapse, then was traded to Blue Jays for primarily young fireballer Steve Karsay. Ricky significantly helped the Jays win their repeat championship.

 

Jose Canseco age 24 traded for three lesser veterans in August of '92

 

Mark McGwire age 25; injuries ruined '93 & '94, then returned better than ever and lasted longer than any other Athletic purely in Oakland.  However, he was traded in July of 1997 for three minor leaguers who never amounted to anything. McGwire would hit his 70 home runs the next season for St. Louis followed by 65 more in '99. The abhorrent lack of value for such a player may have led to Alderson's handing the reins over to Billy Beane in 1998.

 

Dave Stewart age 32 who signed as a free agent with the Jays a few months before the Ricky Henderson trade there in 1993.

 

Bob Welch 32 fizzled out as an effective pitcher in '93. (Like Stewart, Welch was a bargain ex-Dodger pitcher.)

 

Mike Moore 29 left as a free agent in '93 and was on his way downhill, anyway.

 

Dave Henderson 30 acquired as a free agent in '88 never fully recovered from his '92 injury.

 

Carney Lansford 32 acquired in an '83 trade suffered a major injury in '91. Possibly as a result, he was finished after '92.

 

Tony Phillips 30 signed the next year (1990) with Detroit. For years he kept improving finally retiring after one last year with Oakland as a 40 year old utility player.

 

Alderson mentored his successor Billy Beane, who for 8 straight seasons beginning in 1999 kept Oakland's win total at 87 or higher - including 5 play-off appearances. The Beane Athletics' rise to excellence was built around Jason Giambi who departed in 2002 as a free agent, Miguel Tejada who left in 2004 for the same reason, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder who were sold for cheaper and younger players a year later, and Barry Zito who left as a free agent in 2007. The only star from those teams who remains is Eric Chavez who hasn't been healthy enough to contribute much since 2006 and likely won't ever again. The Athletics last won 100 games in 2002. They last won 95 games in 2003 and last won 90 games in 2006.

 

I listed three Athletics on the "Longest Tenures for Other Teams" list. Plank had the longest Athletics tenure - just a year shy of 15. Campaneris had the longest tenure of any player since the team moved to Oakland (12 years). Mark McGwire had the longest tenure of Athletics who only played in Oakland (almost 10 years) as Campy's first four full seasons were in Kansas City ('64-'67).

John Carter