The Oakland Athletics are a Major League Baseball team based in Oakland, California. They are in the Western Division of the American League. The team is often called the "A's".
- Founded: 1893, as the Indianapolis, Indiana franchise in the minor Western League. Moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1900 when that league became the American League. Moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1955 and to Oakland in 1968.
- Formerly known as: Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1954), Kansas City Athletics (1955-1967)
- Home ballpark: McAfee Coliseum, Oakland
- Uniform colors: 1901-04, 1909-49, 1951-53, 1961: Blue and White; 1905-08, 1954-60, 1962: Blue, Red and White; 1950: Blue, Gold and White; 1963-Present: Green, Gold and White
- Logo design: A stylized capital "A's". The team also occasionally uses an elephant logo.
- Wild Card titles won (1): 2001
- Division titles won (13): 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2000, 2002, 2003
- American League pennants won (15): 1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1988, 1989, 1990.
- World Series championships won (9): 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1989 The Athletics (with the St. Louis Cardinals) are second only to the New York Yankees in the number of World Series championships won.
The Philadelphia Years (1901-1954)
The Athletic franchise was formed in 1901, as one of eight charter members of the American League. A.L. President Bancroft (Ban) Johnson recruited former player Connie Mack to run the club. Mack in turn persuaded Philadelphia manufacturer Benjamin Shibe as well as others to invest in the team, which would be called the Philadelphia Athletics, a name used by earlier teams in the National Association, National League, and American Association. After John McGraw told reporters that Shibe had a “white elephant” on his hands, Mack adopted the white elephant as the team mascot, though over the years the elephant has appeared in several different colors. The team’s inaugural year saw second baseman Nap Lajoie [la-ZHWAY] lead the league in hitting with a .426 batting average, still an American League record.
The new league recruited many of its players from the existing National League, persuading them to “jump” to the A.L. in defiance of their N.L. contracts. The Athletics as well as the 7 other A.L. teams received a jolt when, on April 21, 1902, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated Nap Lajoie's contract with the Athletics, and ordered him returned to his former team, the N.L. Philadelphia Phillies. This order, though, was only enforceable in the state of Pennsylvania. Lajoie was traded to the Cleveland Broncos (now the Cleveland Indians) and did not set foot on Pennsylvania soil until the National Agreement was signed between the two leagues in 1903.
As a Philadelphia team, the Athletics were either a very good team or a very bad team. In the early years, the A’s won the A.L. pennant six times (1902, 1905, 1910, 1911, 1913 and 1914), winning the World Series in 1910, 1911 and 1913. They won over 100 games in 1911 and 1912, and 99 games in 1914. The team was known for its “$100,000 Infield,” consisting of John "Stuffy" McInnis (1b), Eddie Collins (2b), Frank "Home Run" Baker (3b) and Jack Barry (ss), as well as pitchers Eddie Plank and Charles "Chief" Bender. Plank holds the club record for career victories, with 284.
After the heavily favored A’s lost the 1914 World Series to the underdog Boston Braves in a 4-game sweep, Connie Mack traded, sold or released most of the team’s star players. A third major league, the Federal League, had been formed to begin play in 1915. As the A.L. had done 15 years before, the new league raided existing A.L. and N.L. teams for players. Mack refused to match the offers of the F.L. teams, preferring to rebuild with younger (and less expensive) players. As a result, the Athletics went from a 99-53 (.651) won-loss record and 1st place finish in 1914, to a record of 43-109 (.283) and 8th (last) place in 1915. The team would finish in last place every year after that until 1922, when it finished 7th.
After that, Mack began to build another winner. In 1927 and 1928, the Athletics finished second to the New York Yankees, then won pennants in 1929, 1930 and 1931, winning the World Series in 1929 and 1930. In each of the three years, the A's won over 100 games. There are those who feel the 1929 A’s were the best team in baseball history, even surpassing the 1927 Yankees.
After a second-place finish in 1932 and 3rd in 1933, Mack again sold or traded his best players in order to reduce expenses. The Great Depression had occurred, and declining attendance had drastically reduced the team’s revenues. The Athletics finished 5th in 1934, then last in 1935. Though he intended to rebuild once more, Mack was already 68 years old when the A’s last won the pennant in 1931, and many felt the game was passing him by. Save for a 5th place finish in 1944, the A’s finished in last or next-to-last place every year from 1935-1946. By now Mack and his immediate family were the team’s sole stockholders, and he had no intention of firing himself.
The 1950 season would be 88-year-old Mack’s 50th and last as A’s manager, a Major League record that will never be broken. During that year the team wore uniforms trimmed in blue and gold, in honor of the Golden Jubilee of "The Grand Old Man of Baseball." However, the team continued to slide, attendance plummeted, and revenues continued to dwindle. Though last minute offers were put on the table to buy the Athletics to keep them in Philadelphia, the American League owners were determined to "solve" the "Philadelphia problem" by moving the team elsewhere. On October 12, 1954, the owners voted to approve the sale of the Athletics to Chicago real estate developer Arnold Johnson, so that he could move the team to Kansas City for the 1955 season.
An interesting note is that, except for 1954 when the uniforms had "Athletics" spelled out in script across the front, the team's name never appeared on either home or road uniforms. Furthermore, not once did "Philadelphia" appear on the uniform, nor did the letter "P" appear on the cap or the uniform. The typical uniform had only a stylized "A" on the left front, and likewise the cap usually had the same "A" on it.
Connie Mack once said, “You can’t win them all.” The Philadelphia A’s didn’t come close. Though they won 5 World Series and 9 A.L. pennants, their overall record from 1901-1954 was 3,886 games won and 4,239 games lost, for an overall winning percentage of but .478.
The Kansas City Years (1955-1967)
When Arnold Johnson moved the Athletics to Kansas City, fans turned out in record numbers for the era. In 1955, the new Kansas City Athletics drew 1,393,054 to newly renovated and newly renamed Municipal Stadium, a club record easily surpassing the previous record of 945,076 in 1948. What no one realized at the time was that that number would remain the club record for attendance until 1982 -- the Athletics’ 15th season in Oakland!
During the Johnson ownership, any good young players on the Athletics were invariably traded to the Yankees for aging veterans and cash. The cash was used to pay the bills, with the veterans perhaps having star appeal that could improve attendance. It didn’t work. Attendance declined, with fans believing the A’s were little more than a minor league farm team for the Yankees. The trade no one ever forgot was the one made after the 1959 season, when the A’s sent young right fielder Roger Maris to New York for his aging counterpart, Hank Bauer, plus cash.
Arnold died in 1960. In December of that year, controlling interest in the team was purchased by another Chicagoan, insurance executive Charles O. Finley. Finley promised the fans a new day. He purchased a bus, pointed it in the direction of New York City, and had it burned, to symbolize the end of the “special relationship” with the Yankees. More importantly, he poured resources into the minor league system for the first time. He was assisted in this endeavor by the creation of the baseball draft in 1965, which forced young prospects to sign with the team that drafted them – at the price offered by the team – if they wanted to play professional baseball. Thus, Finley was spared from having to compete with wealthier teams for top talent. The Athletics, owners of the worst record in the American League in 1964, had the first pick in the first draft, selecting Rick Monday on June 8, 1965.
Finley also made changes to the team’s uniforms. In 1963, he changed the team’s colors to “Kelly Green, Fort Knox Gold and Wedding Gown White.” In 1967, he replaced the team’s traditional black cleats with white ones. And, in 1963, he replaced the traditional elephant mascot with a Missouri mule – not just a cartoon logo, but a real mule, which he named after himself -- “Charlie O, the Mule.”
But, while laying the groundwork for a future championship team, Finley began shopping the Athletics to other cities, despite his promises that the A’s would remain in Kansas City. On September 18, 1962, after less than two full years of ownership, Finley asked the A.L. owners for permission to move the Athletics to Arlington, Texas. His request was denied by a 9-1 vote. In 1964, he signed an agreement to move the A’s to Louisville, Kentucky. By another 9-1 vote his request was denied. These requests came as no surprise, as rumors of impending moves to Atlanta, Denver, Oakland, San Diego and Seattle had long been afloat. When Finley reacted to the Louisville vote by filing a lawsuit against Municipal Stadium, A.L. President Joe Cronin promised Finley that he could move the team after three years, and the suit was dropped.
Finally, on October 18, 1967, A.L. owners gave Finley permission to move the Athletics to Oakland for the 1968 season. Then-U.S. Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri blasted Finley on the floor of the Senate, calling him "one of the most disreputable characters ever to enter the American sports scene,” and said Oakland was “the luckiest city since Hiroshima.” In 1969, Kansas City was awarded an American League expansion team, the Kansas City Royals.
During their 13-year existence, the Kansas City Athletics were arguably one of the worst teams ever in baseball, finishing in last or next to last place in 10 of those years. Their overall record was 829-1,224, for a winning percentage of .404.
The Oakland Years (1968 to present)
The Athletics arrived in Oakland just as the team was beginning to gel. The A’s finished the 1968 season with an 82-80 record – their best record since 1952. With expansion to 12 teams in 1969, the American League was divided into two 6-team divisions. During that year, the Athletics finished second in the A.L. West Division behind the Minnesota Twins – their highest finish in 37 years! After another second-place finish in 1970, the A’s won the A.L. West title in 1971, only to lose to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series.
Finley had built himself a winner. The Athletics won World Series championships in 1972, 1973 and 1974. Unlike earlier Athletic championship teams, which thoroughly dominated their opposition, the A’s teams of the 1970s played well enough to win their division, then defeated teams that had won more games during the regular season, with good pitching, good defense, and clutch hitting. Finley termed this team the “Swingin’ A’s.” The players, in turn, often said they played so well as a team due to their universal dislike for their employer. Players such as Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, and Vida Blue formed the nucleus of these teams.
The A’s teams of the 1970s were also known for their sartorial and tonsorial appearance. Beginning in 1972, the Athletics began wearing jerseys of solid green or solid gold color, with contrasting white pants, at a time when all other teams wore white uniforms at home and grey ones on the road. Furthermore, in conjunction with a Mustache Day promotion, Finley offered $500 to any player who grew a mustache, at a time when every other team forbade facial hair. The 1972 World Series against the heavily favored Cincinnati Reds was termed “The Hairs Against the Squares,” as Cincinnati wore traditional uniforms and forbade facial hair on its players.
After the Athletics' victory in the 1974 World Series, pitcher Catfish Hunter filed a grievance, claiming that the team had violated its contract with Hunter by failing to make timely payment on an insurance policy during the 1974 season as called for. On December 13, 1974, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled in Hunter’s favor. As a result, Hunter became a free agent, and signed a contract with the New York Yankees for the 1975 season. Despite the loss of Hunter, the A’s repeated as West Division champions in 1975, but lost the ALCS to Boston in a 3-game sweep.
As the 1976 season got underway, the basic rules of player contracts were changing. Arbitrator Seitz had ruled that baseball’s reserve clause only bound players for one season after their contract expired. Thus, all players not signed to multi-year contracts would be eligible for free agency at the end of the 1976 season. The balance of power had shifted from the owners to the players for the first time since the days of the Federal League. Like his predecessor Connie Mack had done twice before, Charles Finley reacted by trading star players and attempting to sell others. On June 15, 1976, Finley sold left fielder Rudi and relief pitcher Fingers to Boston for $1 million apiece, and pitcher Blue to the New York Yankees for $1.5 million. Three days later, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the transactions in the “best interests of baseball.”
After 1976 the season, most of the Athletics’ veteran players did become eligible for free agency, and predictably almost all left. Three thousand miles and several decades later, one of baseball’s most storied franchises suffered yet another dismemberment of a dynasty team. The 1977 version of the A’s finished in last place, behind even the expansion Seattle Mariners, who entered the American League that year.
After three dismal seasons on the field and at the gate, the team started to gel again. In a masterstroke, Finley hired Billy Martin to manage the young team. Martin made believers of his young charges, “Billyball” was used to market the team, and the Athletics finished second in 1980.
But, the Finley era was coming to a close. The man who brought American League baseball to the San Francisco Bay Area was being sued for a divorce. As his estranged wife would not accept part of a baseball team in a property settlement, the team had to be sold. Though Finley found a buyer who would have moved the Athletics to Denver, the tentative deal was voided when the Oakland Coliseum refused to let the team out of its lease. He then looked to local buyers, selling the Athletics to San Francisco clothing manufacturer Walter A. Haas, Jr. prior to the 1981 season.
Under the Haas ownership, the minor league system was rebuilt, which bore fruition later that decade as Athletics José Canseco (1986), Mark McGwire (1987) and Walt Weiss (1988) were chosen as A.L. Rookies of the Year. During the 1986 season, Tony La Russa was hired as the Athletics’ manager, a post he held until the end of 1995. In 1987, LaRussa’s first full year as manager, the team finished at 81-81, its best record in 7 seasons. Beginning in 1988, the Athletics won the A.L. pennant three years in a row. Reminiscent of their Philadelphia predecessors, this A’s team finished with the best record of any team in the major leagues during all 3 years, winning 104 (1988), 99 (1989), and 103 (1990) games, featuring such stars as McGwire, Canseco, Weiss, Carney Lansford, Dave Stewart, and Dennis Eckersley.
Regular season dominance did not translate into post-season success, however. The Athletics lost the World Series in 1988 and 1990, losing the latter to the underdog Cincinnati Reds in a 4-game sweep reminiscent of the A’s loss to the Braves 76 years earlier. The A’s lone victory was a 4-game sweep of their cross-bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants, in the 1989 World Series. The team began a slow but steady decline, winning the A.L. West championship in 1992 (but losing to Toronto in the ALCS), then finishing last in 1993.
During the 15 years of Haas ownership, the Athletics became one of baseball’s most successful teams at the gate, drawing 2,900,217 in 1990, still the club record for single season attendance, as well as on the field. After a 23-year hiatus, the elephant was restored as the club mascot in 1986. Moreover, the team’s official name of “Athletics” was restored in 1981, having been discarded by Charles Finley in favor of simply “A’s.”
Walter Haas died in 1995, and the team was sold to its present owners, San Francisco Bay Area real estate developers Stephen Schott (no relation to one-time Cincinnati Reds’ owner Marge Schott) and Kenneth Hofmann, prior to the 1996 season. Once again, the Athletics’ star players were traded or sold, as the new owners’goal was to cut payroll drastically. Many landed with the St. Louis Cardinals, including McGwire, Eckersley, and manager La Russa. In a turn of events eerily reminiscent of the A’s Roger Maris trade 28 years before, Mark McGwire celebrated his first full season with the Cardinals by setting a new major league home run record!
Current ownership allocates resources to building and maintaining a strong minor league system while almost always refusing to pay the going rate to keep star players on the team once they become free agents. Perhaps as a result, the A’s at the turn of the 21st century are a team that usually finishes at or near the top of the A.L. West Division, but cannot advance beyond the first round of playoffs. The Athletics made the post season playoffs for four straight years, 2000-2003, but lost the first round (best 3-out-of-5) in each case, 3 games to 2. In two of those years (2001 against New York and 2003 against Boston), the Athletics won the first two games of the series, only to lose the next three straight and hence the playoffs.
In recent years, the Athletics were best known for starting pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito, collectively referred to as “The Big Three,” as well as infielders Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi, and Miguel Tejada. After becoming free agents, Giambi left for the New York Yankees after the 2001 season, while Tejada departed for the Baltimore Orioles after the 2003 season.
In 2004, the Athletics finished in 2nd place in the A.L. West Division. After the 2004 season, Athletics General Manager Billy Beane shocked many by breaking up the Big Three, trading Tim Hudson to the Atlanta Braves and Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals. Following this trend, some are speculating that Barry Zito could land with a team in the National League West before Opening Day 2005.
Events and Records of Note
- 20-Game Win Streak: The Oakland Athletics won an American League Record 20 games in a row, from August 13 to September 4, 2002. The last three games were won in dramatic fashion, each victory coming in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Athletics played their former co-occupants of Shibe Park, the Phillies, for the first time in a championship season in June of 2003. Previously they had only played each other in exhibition games, dubbed "The City Series", which was played annually. However, since the teams never faced each other in the World Series, they never played each other in games that counted; interleague play made the recent matchup possible. Ceremonies were held for the first game of the 3 game series at Veterans Stadium, as former Philadelphia A's players were honored on the field. The Phillies took the series against the A's, 2-1. They will play each other again in June of 2005 in Oakland, at McAfee Coliseum.
Players of note
Not to be forgotten
Managers, coaches, and executives
Minor league affiliates