Thursday, August 15, 2013

Short Term Stops: The All-A's Team (Pt. 1)


The A's franchise has to be amongst the most interesting in baseball history.

For one thing, they've been around since the dawn of the American League in 1901, starting their tenure as the Philadelphia Athletics. A couple moves and over 112 years later, they're still going strong.

In Oakland, they won the 1972, '73, and '74 World Series, making wacky mustaches and bright green uniforms an acceptable part of the game along the way.

Their 2002 club was at the heart of one of my personal favorite baseball books ever in Moneyball. Regardless of where you stand on sabermetrics (I'm somewhere in the middle), it's a great read.

These days, they're continuing to surprise everyone around the game. Call me a bandwagon fan if you must, but I've been rooting for them since around July of last year. I'm still picking them to win the AL West here in 2013.

After over a century in the game, a franchise is bound to rack up quite the roster of "Short Term Stops" hopefuls. The A's have done exactly that.

A lot of these "All-A's" roster choices were tough, but I think I landed on a nice group of nominees.

Here's the best of the unfamiliar from the A's annals.



Pitchers

1972 Topps #753 Denny McLain TRADED

"Short Term Stops" A's Accolades:

Denny McLain (1972 Oakland A's, 5 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

As one of my best pickups of the year so far, I nabbed this '72 McLain from a dollar bin back in March.

Even 1972 high-numbers of no-namers will often run you a lot more than a buck. Finding one of a guy like Denny McLain for a mere dollar was certainly a welcome surprise.

Because of my longtime love for unfamiliar uniforms, it was a card I'd always dreamed of owning.

As most fans know, McLain is the game's last 30-game winner, as he went 31-6 for the 1968 Tigers. Given the shift in pitching these days, it's probably safe to say he'll be the last 30-game winner we'll ever see. (At 24-9, he'd win a second straight Cy Young in '69.)

Sadly, McLain's star vanished in what seemed like the blink of an eye. After an ugly gambling bust that led to a lengthy suspension, he'd lead the league with 22 losses for the '71 Senators.

He split his '72 "sunset" campaign with both the A's and Braves. While McLain only spent five games in Oakland, that didn't stop Topps from issuing a card of him with the franchise. 

Not surprisingly, it's his only A's card.

That instantly makes it the stuff of legend in my collection.



2004 UD Timeless Teams #125 Jim Perry 

A's Accolades:

Jim Perry (1975 Oakland A's, 15 games, half-year stint, sunset season)

Before this card came along, I had no idea Jim Perry ever played for the A's.

But, alas, he did. The Indians shipped him to Oakland in May of 1975, a deal that would send "Blue Moon" Odom back to Cleveland.

Perry would play in 15 games with the '75 A's, going 3-4 with a 4.66 ERA while working as both a starter and a reliever. They'd be the last games he'd play in the majors.

Topps chose not to grant Perry a true "sunset" card, leaving him out of their '76 checklist. This issue from the great 2004 UD Timeless Teams checklist is the only one I've seen of him with Oakland.

Even sweeter is the fact that I found it in a 15/$1 box.



 1986 Topps #240 Tommy John


A's Accolades:

Tommy John (1985 Oakland A's, 11 games, half-year stint)

Competition for the third pitcher slot on this roster was intense.

After giving some consideration to the trio of honorable mentions you see below, I decided to go with Mr. Tommy John.

While he's probably best known today for the innovative surgery named after him, John enjoyed a stellar 26-year big league career. (One that, I think, should've earned him a spot in Cooperstown by now.)

He had stints with six different franchises during his time in the bigs, the shortest of which came in Oakland during the tail end of the '85 season.

Weeks after being released by the Angels, the A's signed John in July of 1985. He wouldn't do much in Oakland (2-6 with a 6.19 ERA), but he did wind up spending four more years in the bigs with the Yankees after the fact.

He'd play his final big league game in 1989 at the age of 46.

Like McLain and Perry, this is the only card I know of that features John in A's garb.

They're what I like to call the "one-card wonders". 

Honorable Mentions:

Al Downing (1970 Oakland A's, 10 games, half-year stint)
Don Sutton (1985 Oakland A's, 29 games, half-year stint)
Ben Sheets (2010 Oakland A's, 20 games)



Catcher

 1978 Topps #658 Manny Sanguillen


A's Accolades:

Manny Sanguillen (1977 Oakland A's, 152 games)

Twelve of Manny Sanguillen's 13 underrated years in the bigs came with the Pirates.

That lone year away from Pittsburgh was 1977, a season which saw him suit up for the A's. He'd have a respectable year there, hitting .275 with six homers and 58 RBIs.

Come 1978, though, he'd go right back to being a Pirate, spending his last three seasons in the black and gold.

A man who seems to genuinely love the game of baseball and its many fans, Sanguillen currently runs "Manny's BBQ", a delicious barbecue joint (from what I hear) inside PNC Park. Pittsburgh just seems like home to him.

Without the advent of baseball cards, I bet a lot of us wouldn't even know that Sanguillen was ever an Oakland A.

I know I wouldn't.



First Base

 1973 Topps #545 Orlando Cepeda

A's Accolades:

Orlando Cepeda (1973 Oakland A's, 3 games, half-year stint)

Mr. Cepeda here makes for an interesting choice at first base.

He played in 28 games for the '72 Braves before coincidentally being dealt to the A's for fellow "Short Term Stops" nominee Denny McLain in June of that year.

The trade didn't work out for either side. McLain struggled in his brief stint with the Braves, and Cepeda's tenure in Oakland consisted of exactly three games for a total of just three at-bats.

All three, as it happens, were pinch-hit plate appearances. He never got on base as an A, nor did he ever play the field for the franchise.

But, as is the case with my positionally-aligned organizing methods, I defer to the card in all cases. Cepeda's 1973 Topps issue lists him as a first baseman, so under the "first baseman" group he goes in my A's binder.

It's my method, and I'm sticking to it.

As forgettable as they may have been, though, those three at-bats made him one of the all-time MVP's in the world of "Short Term Stops" cardboard.

Honorable Mentions:

Carlos Pena (2002 Oakland A's, 40 games, half-year stint)
Eric Karros (2004 Oakland A's, 40 games, sunset season)
Todd Walker (2007 Oakland A's, 18 games, sunset season)



Second Base

1985 Topps #352 Joe Morgan


A's Accolades:

Joe Morgan (1984 Oakland A's, 116 games, sunset season)

All three of the honorable mentions you see below played in far less games with the A's than Joe Morgan.

It's not the number of games alone that determine who makes the "Short Term Stops" roster, though. Unfamiliarity is what makes a truly great nominee.

And, to me, Joe Morgan is the most unfamiliar second baseman the A's have ever had. Arguably the most integral part of "The Big Red Machine", Morgan just looks flat-out odd in an Oakland jersey.

Much of the second baseman's final years in the bigs were somewhat strange, as he'd don five different jerseys in his last six seasons. The last of those came withe A's in 1984.

He hit just .244 (albeit with a nice .356 OBP) with six homers and 43 RBIs in his "sunset" season. At the time of his retirement, he ranked second in career homers by a second baseman with 268. (Just behind Rogers Hornsby's 271 career dingers.)

After his illustrious Hall of Fame career, Morgan would go on to have another long career in the broadcast booth...

...but that's another story altogether.

Honorable Mentions:

Manny Trillo (1973-74 Oakland A's, 38 games)
Willie Randolph (1990 Oakland A's, 93 games, half-year stint)
Ray Durham (2002 Oakland A's, 54 games, half-year stint)

As usual, be on the lookout for Part 2 of this roster later tonight.

2 comments:

Red Cardboard said...

The script "A's" on the '78 Topps is fantastic.

Fuji said...

Sure hope you're right about the A's capturing the AL West title this year. I'm not so optimistic. On the flipside... I just appreciate the fact that they've been on top of their division for most of the season and are still contenders halfway through August. Go A's!

P.S. That McLain card is sweet... especially for the price.