Tuesday, April 20, 2010

History Between The Yankees And A's

Tonight will mark the first of ten meetings between the Yankees and A's this year. Thanks to the unbalanced schedule, it'll be the first time since 1999 the two clubs meet more than nine times in the regular season.

Despite the lack of meetings in the past decade there is plenty of history between these clubs. As two of the charter members of the American League, it's inevitable that they'd have some shared history over the past hundred years. But it seems that the Yankees and A's have had more than their share of common moments in that time.

Billy Beane was not the first man to build the A's into a contender on a shoestring budget. Hall of Famer Connie Mack owned the Athletics from their inception until shortly before his death in 1956. He served as their manager from their inaugural season of 1901 through 1950, retiring at 87 years old. In his half century at the helm of the Athletics, Mack built up, tore down, sold off, and rebuilt his team several times over, repeating the cycle as his talent outgrew his budget.

The Yankees were the beneficiaries in one of Mack's earliest sell offs. From 1910 through 1914, the Athletics won four American League pennants, winning the World Series in '10, '11, and '13. The backbone of those clubs was Mack's famed "$100,000 Infield", and the crown jewel of that infield was third baseman Frank "Home Run" Baker. Baker earned his nickname with two momentous home runs against the Giants in the 1911 World Series.

Baker led the American League in home runs four straight years from 1911 through 1914. While his yearly totals of 11, 10, 12, and 9 are laughable by today's standards, they were quite prodigious in the dead ball era. Baker and Mack engaged in a salary dispute prior to the 1915 season, and the slugger held out for the entire year rather than accept Mack's offer. With no end to the dispute in sight after a full year, Mack sold Baker to the Yankees for the princely sum of $37,500.

While Baker didn't quite match his Athletics production with the Yanks, he was a valuable player for them, quite possibly their best in the early and unsuccessful years of the team. After retiring for the 1920 season, Baker was coaxed back to play on the Yankees first two pennant winning clubs in 1921 and '22. By that time the game had changed dramatically from Baker's heyday, and teammate Babe Ruth had long since replaced Baker as the preeminent slugger in the league.

After losing in their first two World Series appearances, Ruth and the Yankees finally captured a championship in 1923. They won three more pennants from 1926 through 1928, winning the World Series in '27 and '28. After dominating the American League for the better part of eight seasons, Ruth's Yankees were displaced by Mack's retooled Athletics atop the American League. Mack's squad won the AL flag in '29, '30, and '31, taking the World Series the first two years, before the Yankees returned to the top in '32. Unfortunately for Mack, it would be the last real success he would attain at the helm of his club. As his team sunk in the standings, Mack sold off his greatest assets, just as he had done nearly twenty years earlier. This time the Red Sox were the primary beneficiary, hauling in Hall of Famers Lefty Grove and Jimmie Foxx.

Following a history of financial struggle, the 91 year old Mack sold his club to Arnold Johnson in 1954. Johnson had entered baseball circles the previous year, when he purchased both Yankee Stadium and Blues Stadium in Kansas City, home to the Yankees' top farm team. Though he divested himself of those interests upon his purchase of the Athletics, he still had strong connections to Yankee ownership, and perhaps some other business dealings with them as well. Johnson moved the Athletics to Kansas City after the 1954 season, pushing the Yankees' top affiliate to Denver, but in some ways, Kansas City never stopped functioning as a Yankee farm club.

In the five seasons from 1955 until Johnson's untimely death during spring training in 1960, the Yankees and Athletics executed seventeen trades and purchases. The Yankees acquired the likes of Roger Maris, Ralph Terry, Ryne Duren, Hector Lopez, Clete Boyer, Bob Cerv, Virgil Trucks, Enos Slaughter, Art Ditmar, and Bobby Shantz through these deals, all of whom made contributions to the Yankees' dynastic run from the mid fifties through the early sixties.

Following Johnson's death the club was sold to Charlie Finley. The franchise languished through the sixties, with former Yankees Joe Gordon, Hank Bauer, and Eddie Lopat managing the team from 1961 through mid '64. While the club was bottoming out with three 10th place finishes in four years, the inventive Finley was rebuilding the farm system and plotting a move to Oakland. There, the A's ran off five consecutive AL West titles from 1971 through 1975, and three consecutive World Series championships from 1972 through '74. In doing so, the A's became the first, and thus far only, non-Yankee team to take three straight championships.

Like Mack before him though, financial issues prevented Finley from keeping his dynasty intact. Finley's failure to fulfill his contractual obligation to make statutory payments to Catfish Hunter's life insurance policy after the 1974 season led to Hunter's contract being declared void. He became the first free agent of the modern era, and signed with the Yankees. Two years later, after a one season layover in Baltimore, the Yankees signed former A's slugger Reggie Jackson. Just as they had in 1916, the Yankees had poached a colorfully nicknamed player and the League's top slugger from the A's. While the A's sunk back to the basement, the Yankees returned to prominence, capturing three straight pennants and back-to-back World Series.

Those Yankee teams may have had even more of a former A's flavor to them if not for some intervention. Following a dispute with Finley, Oakland manager Dick Williams resigned from his post after the 1973 World Series. The Yankees attempted hire Williams to replace the outgoing Ralph Houk, but Williams was still under contract with Oakland and Finley wouldn't allow it. Then in 1976, Finley attempted to further dismantle his team at the trade deadline, selling Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn quickly reversed all three transactions.

Instead of Dick Williams in the dugout during their late seventies run, the Yankees had Billy Martin as their manager. After winning the pennant in '76 and World Series in '77, Martin resigned in mid-1978, returned in '79 and was fired after the season, finding George Steinbrenner as difficult a boss as Hunter, Jackson, and Williams had found Finley.

Just as Martin's career as a Yankee player ended with a trade to the Athletics, his first post-Yankee managerial job came with the A's. Returning home to the Bay Area, Martin took a team that had gone 54-108 in 1979 and led them to second place 83-79 finish in 1980. The following year, he had the team in the post-season, falling to the Yankees in the ALCS.

As he did in all his managerial stints, Martin wore out both his welcome and his pitching staff in Oakland. He was gone after the '82 season, returning to New York for his third stint as Yankee manager. He was joined there by Matt Keough, one of the young pitchers whose arm he had decimated in Oakland. After getting fired again, Martin returned for a fourth managerial stint early in the 1985 season.

By then, the Yankees had stolen another superstar from the Athletics. Rickey Henderson broke in with the A's in 1979, and under Martin's tutelage over the next three years, he became the most prolific base stealer in the history of the game. Henderson was supposed to be the piece to put the Yankees over the top when they traded for him in December of '84. Instead he became just another very good player on a series on 1980s Yankee teams that were consistently good, but never great.

While the Yankees were hitting a glass ceiling, the A's were becoming the game's most dominant club. Led by Tony LaRussa and powered by Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the A's captured three consecutive pennants from 1988 through 1990, and won the World Series in '89. In mid-1989, the A's finally got the best of the Yankees in a swap. Unhappy in New York and with his contract expiring at the end of the year, Henderson was shipped back to Oakland for the uninspiring package of Luis Polonia, Greg Caderet, and Eric Plunk, who interestingly enough, had been part of the A's haul from the Yankees in the original deal. Henderson was instrumental in the A's success in in '89 and '90, and earned the AL MVP with an outstanding 1990 season.

The early aughts saw further chapters written between these two teams, as they met in the ALDS in both 2000 and 2001. The A's pushed the Yankees to the limit in 2000 before falling in five games. The next year they jumped out to a commanding two games to none lead. Facing elimination, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera combined for a Game Three 1-0 shutout, aided by a Jorge Posada home run and Derek Jeter's famous flip play. It changed the momentum of the series, which the Yankees took in five games. Adding insult to injury, that off-season the Yankees signed Jason Giambi, heart and soul of that A's team, to a lucrative free agent deal.

The last several years have been relatively quiet between the clubs. At present, the A's are managed by former Yankee Bob Geren, and coaches Curt Young and Mike Gallego also spent time in pinstripes. The A's roster features relievers Chad Gaudin and Edwar Ramirez, both of whom will receive their World Series rings from Joe Girardi this week.


  1. Great article! It's amazing to think of all the poaching that went on between these two teams. I'm glad the Yanks predominantly 'won out' on those player swaps. Although, Giambi's contract was pretty tough to swallow looking back. Of course, at the time, who could resist?!

  2. Love these historical posts

  3. Let's be clear about one thing: Charlie Finley did not break up the 1971-75 A's for the same reason that Connie Mack broke up their 1910-14 and 1929-31 Philadelphia forebears. (Phorebears?) Mack ran out of money, first because of salaries being driven up by the Federal League, then because he got wiped out in the 1929 stock market crash, so when rich owners like Boston's Tom Yawkey and Detroit's Walter Briggs showed him the money, they were offers he couldn't refuse. Finley, by contrast, was nearly as rich as Yawkey. He was just cheap, and didn't want to pay the money.

    I just hope the A's can get a new ballpark built, so they can get out of the unsuitable Oakland Coliseum and without having to move for the third time. Their Oakland edition is one of the great franchises in baseball, and while their lows have been pretty low, their highs have been fantastic, and they've always been one of the most interesting teams, even when they were bad.

  4. Great look back on the dealings between these two teams. Nice work.

    Also, we all remember Scott Brosius who came to the Yankees as a free agent from the A's.

  5. Thanks guys. The Giambi deal did seem to be the right move at the time, even if the dollars and years were excessive. When healthy he was certainly a productive player, but the injuries - and perhaps other issues - made it impossible for him to ever earn the full value of the deal.

    Uncle Mike - that's a fair point about the relative worths of Finley and Mack. However, even with Finley's net worth, I don't know how profitable the A's were under his ownership. Even at the height of their powers in the mid-70s they didn't draw well. I wonder why Baker didn't jump to the Federal League during his holdout. Thanks for providing some more historical background on all of that.

    UU - Completely forgot about Scotty Brosius, thanks for reminding me. He didn't come as an FA though - even better, he was the return for dumping Kenny Rogers on Oakland.

  6. Matt, my bad. Can't believe I forgot about that. I try to forget everything associated with Kenny Rogers' career in pin stripes.

  7. No problem. It could be worse. You could be trying to forget his career with the Mets.

  8. Good stuff. I'll say it again. Nobody does Yankee history as well as you guys do. Since my family moved out from NY to CA in the late 70's i've enjoyed rooting for the A's whenever the Yankees aren't involved. I concur with Uncle Mike and hope they are able to move to San Jose. (For selfish reasons mostly, as they'd be merely a 30 minute drive instead of the current 1 hour+ drive.)

    I got great seats right behind the Yankee dugout for tomorrow night's game (a bargain at $175 a pop). Hopefully the weather doesn't mess things up since I am loooking forward to watching Hughes pitch.

    Look for me behind the dugout sporting my vintage (and well worn) Columbus Clippers hat.

  9. Thanks Mode. San Jose does sound like the best bet for them; I hope all parties can make it work.

    Enjoy the game tomorrow; we'll be on the lookout for you? Just how vintage is that Clippers hat? Didn't they just wear a glorified Cubs hat for most of their existence? http://www.checkoutmycards.com/CardImages/Cards/126/407/07F.jpg

  10. First Minor league hat I got, must have been late 80's early 90's. Yeah, it's much like a Cubs hat in color and the large "C", but it's got a Clipper Ship in it..

    Alright, I did a google search and found this:

    That's the logo that's on the hat. When they scan for celebrities and they do my closeup maybe you'll be able to see it.

  11. Sorry, I didn't notice the link you posted. Great Mattingly Card. Best catch I ever saw live was a Mattingly over the shoulder catch of a foul pop in Oakland Stadium. I was sitting right on the right field line and seemed like he ran for 5 seconds in that foul ground. It used to be even bigger back then without the extra field boxes they've since put in.

  12. Thanks Mode. It took until the late 80s or early 90s until they added the ship on the hat. I think that had been their logo all along, but for whatever reason (probably to save a few bucks) didn't incorporate into the caps.

    Speaking of Donnie Baseball - Happy 49th to him. Almost forgot about him today with all the Cheech and Bong jokes we've been making.