A Little History
The history of the Oakland Athletics resembles a roller coaster. When the team started in Philadelphia in the early-to-mid 1900s, they managed 25 winning seasons in 54 years. Winning five World Series titles while making it to eight overall. When the team moved to Kansas City in 1955, they did little to build any momentum. They did not produce a single winning record in 13 seasons there.
In 1968, the team moved to their current home in Oakland, and their fortunes began changing. The A’s produced winning records in their first nine seasons in Oakland. Winning the World Series in 1972, 1973, and 1974. The A’s would enjoy a relatively decent amount of success over the next few decades. They made it to the World Series in 1988 and 1990, and winning it in 1989.
After a rough stretch in the 1990s, the A’s have enjoyed several playoff runs in the 2000s. Unfortunately, they haven’t produced that same level of success they did from 1968 to 1990. The A’s made ten playoff appearances since the turn of the century but lost every series they’ve been in except for the 2006 ALDS. During that time, however, the A’s were helped by several memorable performers.
Jason Giambi (2000) and Miguel Tejada (2002) each won the American League MVP as members of the A’s. Barry Zito won the 2002 AL Cy Young award in Oakland. Bobby Crosby, Huston Street, and Andrew Bailey each won the AL Rookie of the Year award while in Oakland. The A’s had six representatives in the 2014 MLB All-Star Game. Yoenis Cespedes won two-consecutive Home Run Derbies as part of the team. The A’s definitely had memorable players that helped them in the 2000s but also had help from a few surprising sources.
Johnny Damon (2001)
The 2001 season was arguably one of the most anticipated seasons in the A’s franchise history. Bolstered by a rotation featuring Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Cory Lidle, a lineup featuring Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Chavez, and a bullpen led by Jason Isringhausen, Chad Bradford, and Jim Mecir, the A’s had very promising hopes for 2001.
Although the season didn’t start in their favor, the A’s exploded in the second half, going 63-18 in their final 81 games. The 2001 A’s won 102 games, clinching the AL Wild Card with ease. Their 102-win season set a record for most wins by a Wild Card team that still stands today. Unfortunately, the A’s lost the 2001 ALDS to the Yankees despite winning the first two games of the series.
During the 2000-2001 offseason, in the same trade that brought Cory Lidle to Oakland, the A’s acquired Johnny Damon to help bolster their outfield. His only season in Oakland didn’t produce the most eye-popping numbers, but Damon was valuable to the team nonetheless. He led the team in at-bats and stolen bases, was second to only Giambi in runs scored, and third to Tejada and Terrence Long in games played.
Damon’s 108-run season was his fourth of nine-straight 100-run seasons. When looking at his contributions to the Royals, Red Sox, and Yankees, it’s pretty easy to forget Damon’s short run with Oakland. His speed and his ability to get on base gave the A’s a significant addition to their already feared lineup.
Shannon Stewart (2007)
From 1983 to 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays were one of the best teams in baseball. They finished each of those seasons with a winning record. Making it to the playoffs five times, and winning the 1992 and 1993 World Series. During their first championship season, the Blue Jays selected outfielder Shannon Stewart in the first round of the 1992 MLB Draft. Despite the Blue Jays’ lack of success after 1993, Stewart turned into one of Toronto’s most consistent players. In ten seasons with the Blue Jays, he hit .298, had a .365 on-base percentage, and an 18.7 WAR.
Stewart was then traded to Minnesota and was just as productive. Injuries often prevented him from being an everyday player. His last go-around as an everyday player came in Oakland in 2007. He rebounded from a lost 2006 season by playing in 146 games. Only Mark Ellis (583) had more at-bats for the A’s that year than Stewart, and only Ellis and Nick Swisher (150) played more games.
Though his speed wasn’t as prominent as it was earlier in his career, he led the A’s in stolen bases (11) that season, in addition to leading the team in hits (167). Stewart once again maintained consistency, hitting .290 with 12 home runs, 48 runs-batted-in, and 79 runs scored. Because of his long tenure in Toronto, it’s easy to forget Stewart’s short time in Oakland. His production with the team is definitely worth taking a look at.
Daric Barton (2010)
The A’s had a few short stretches since 2000 where the team was largely out of contention. The longest stretch was between 2007 and 2011, during which time the A’s finished at or under .500. The 2010 season was the closest the A’s came to contending. They finished 81-81, finishing in second place behind the Texas Rangers.
Their season was highlighted by Dallas Braden’s perfect game on Mother’s Day, which was the 19th perfect game in MLB history, and the first of two during the 2010 season (Roy Halladay). Future AL MVP Josh Donaldson also made his MLB debut in 2010, playing in 14 games. The A’s had some help on the pitching side in 2010, as they finished the season with the best team ERA in the American League.
Offensively, the A’s were one of the weaker teams in the AL, but not because of their young first baseman, Daric Barton. Barton debuted in 2007 but struggled offensively in his first full season in 2008. Those struggles continued in 2009, but Barton finally achieved a breakout season in 2010. That year, he led the AL in walks (110), led the A’s in runs scored, hits, doubles, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and was second to only Rajai Davis in batting average. Because of his stellar defense, he was also given a Fielding Bible Award. Ultimately, however, Barton’s career in Oakland didn’t continue well after this, which is why he’s pretty easy to forget.
Jarrod Parker (2012) and A.J. Griffin (2013)
These next two players share a common theme. Not only were their A’s careers derailed by long-term injuries, but they were both part of the same rotation during this time.
By 2012, the A’s were back in the mix to contend. While they didn’t match their 2001 second half mentioned earlier, their second half in 2012 propelled them from “in the mix” to championship contenders. The Bob Melvin-led A’s started the season 22-29, but the team managed to reach .500 by the All-Star break.
After the break, the A’s exploded, going 51-25 the rest of the way. After a small stumble in September, the A’s entered a three-game series against the Rangers only two games behind them in the division standings. The A’s swept the Rangers. They clinched a playoff spot with their first win, tying the Rangers with their second, and winning the division with their third.
That year, as well as in 2013, the A’s were helped by solid pitching. They finished both seasons second in the AL in ERA. Jarrod Parker was a key contributor in 2012, and A.J. Griffin was a key contributor in 2013. In 2012, Parker led the A’s starters in ERA, WHIP, opposing average, strikeouts, and wins (tied with Tommy Milone). He was second to Milone in games started and innings pitched.
Parker helped Milone lead the rotation when Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson were down with injuries, and Bartolo Colon was down with a PED suspension. Griffin also debuted that year, but in 2013, Griffin broke out by setting career-highs in wins, games started, innings pitched (led A’s), strikeouts (led A’s), WHIP (led A’s starting pitchers), and hits-per-nine innings. He was second in ERA only to Colon.
While their success helped the A’s return to the playoffs in 2012 and 2013, their time with Oakland would be short-lived. Parker was originally planned to be the A’s Opening Day starter in 2014 but was sidelined by his second Tommy John surgery. Parker then fractured his elbow twice while rehabbing, and by 2016, he became a free agent. By 2018, Parker was out of baseball, as he announced his retirement on February 13, 2018. Griffin would suffer a similar fate, as he was also down with Tommy John Surgery in 2014, and was designated for assignment and released in late 2015 after never fully recovering.
Unlike Parker, Griffin would eventually return to the Majors with the Texas Rangers but hasn’t been able to find his 2013 form. With Parker and Griffin, the A’s could have had two good rotation pieces for years to come, but they are often forgotten because of their injuries.
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