The Oakland Athletics Baseball Rushmore is the twelfth in a series revealing the top four players for each franchise as selected by writers and fans.
What defines a franchise?
Before the Athletics brought major league baseball to Oakland, the Bay Area city was represented by the Oaks in Pacific Coast League play. The minor league club went by other names prior to 1908, perhaps most enjoyably “Dudes.” Most historians and fans count these as distinct entities.
For the purposes of this series, however, OTH is embracing the idea that these iterations are one club telling a shared story. These teams represented Oakland in professional baseball. They played with Oakland written proudly on their uniforms. They share a common fanbase that enjoyed successes and lamented failures.
This series of articles serves, in part, as an attempt to recapture the legacy of those earlier teams. OTH recognizes that while an owner may move the corporate structure, the legacy belongs to the fans and the city for which the team played.
For cities that fielded two teams in the shameful era of segregated ball, this series will consider both sides as part of the same club. Today, to a degree, major league clubs take a similar approach. The Washington Nationals, for instance, include Washington Homestead Grays players in their Ring of Honor, and most teams tip their caps to their city’s Negro League predecessors by donning their uniforms for Negro Leagues heritage games.
The NBA and NFL have recognized the validity behind this line of thinking. The modern Charlotte Hornets inherited the legacy of the Hornets that moved to New Orleans. The modern Cleveland Browns inherited the legacy of the Browns that moved to Baltimore. Now Rob Manfred and MLB need to do the same.
1887 in the minors; 1968 in the majors
- Athletics (1968-present)
- Oaks (1908-1955)
- Larks (1946)
- Commuters (1904-1907)
- Recruits (1903)
- Dudes (1899-1902)
- Reliance (1898)
- Colonels (1889-1893)
- G&Ms (1887-1888)
World Series titles (4)
American League pennants (4)
Pacific Coast League League pennants (5)
California League pennants (4)
Oakland Athletics Baseball Rushmore
After counting votes from OTH writers and baseball fans, here are the top four players in Oakland Athletics (and Oaks) history.
- Oakland Years: 1979-1984, 1989-1995, 1998
- Oakland Stats: 72.7 WAR, 867 SB, 1,768 H, 289 2B, 1,227 BB, .288/.409/.430, 79 Rbaser, 59 Rfield, One Oakland World Series title (1989)
Rickey Henderson might just be the single most underrated player in baseball history. Rickey’s fame is not the issue (nearly all devoted and many casual fans know Rickey as the career steals leader), but not often enough is Rickey included in greatest of all-time discussions.
Before the sabermetrics revolution, Rickey Henderson tore up the basepaths with abandon, creating a stolen base record far surpassing the next closest. After intelligent people applied a keener analysis of what is really going on in baseball, stolen bases dropped precipitously. The calculations simply bore out that, most of the time, attempting a steal was detrimental to winning. Yet, Henderson’s performance shows an exception to the rule while proving that sabermetrics can account for a generational talent like in other ways.
Sabermetrics may suggest on its face that steals should rarely be attempted. Yet this newer way of thinking also cuts in favor of Henderson’s talent applied to his particular style of play. For decades, baseball minds frowned upon the walk. Henderson, however, knew that getting on base, not how one gets on base, is what matters in creating runs (later borne out in sabermetrics analysis). The Californian set the career mark for bases on balls with 2,190 and led the American League in the category in four different seasons. Combined with more than 3,000 hits, Henderson posted a career .401 on-base percentage.
Once on base, the same sabermetrics analysis that would tell almost all runners to stay put would have told Rickey to run. Through his 1,406 steals and baserunning on 3,400 non-homer total bases, Henderson created 144 runs, including an incredible 17 runs in two different seasons. He complimented this with nine seasons of double digital fielding run creation. All in all, Henderson accumulated 111.2 career wins above replacement and a solid place in MLB history.
- Oakland Years: 1968-1975, 1987
- Oakland Stats: 48.5 WAR, .262/.355/.496, 268 HR, 1,207 H
It is somewhat surprising that the all-time major league leader in a negative category makes the Oakland Rushmore. Perhaps there is just something about being good enough to stick around for long enough that a player is going to pick up some ignominious honors. Reggie Jackson is the all-time strikeout leader in all of baseball, and yet he rightfully belongs among Athletics greats..
In postseason play, Mr. October hit the fifth-most home runs and ninth-most total bases while helping his teams claim five World Series titles. In regular-season competition, Jackson was almost as impressive. Contemporaries saw him as one of the best, awarding him Most Valuable Player once and giving him votes on 12 other occasions. He led the American League in home runs and OPS+ four times. In his career, Jackson mashed 563 homers, 463 doubles, and 2,584 hits. Oh, and just for fun, he swiped 228 bases.
- Oakland Years: 1987-1995
- Oakland Stats: 15.9 WAR, 2.74 ERA, 320 SV, 145 ERA+, 0.953 WHIP, 2.44 FIP
Arguably the first great modern reliever, Dennis Eckersley is a fitting selection for the Oakland Athletics Baseball Rushmore. The Oakland native twice led the big leagues in saves. His 1992 campaign featured 51 saves, a 1.91 earned run average, an even better 1.72 FIP, 0.913 WHIP, and 10.5 strikeouts per nine. Reporters rewarded him with both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards.
- Oakland Years: 1968-1974
- Oakland Stats: 20.8 WAR, 3.00 ERA, 1,139 K, 109 ERA+, 3.56 FIP, 1.103 WHIP
Sometimes a name makes a player, and Catfish Hunter certainly made this Oakland pitcher. There is just something classic and baseball about it. The mustachioed North Carolinian brought World Series success to the East Bay, propelling the A’s to a threepeat. In those title series, Hunter posted ERAs of 2.81, 2.03, and 1.17 and cWPAs of 20.6, 18.8, and 13.1 percent.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images