Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Greatest Ever: Oakland Athletics

In my last post, I chose Lefty Grove and Eddie Collins as the greatest Philadelphia Athletics of all time. Today I'll choose the greatest Oakland A's:


I'm going to choose this one first because it's so easy. Here are the candidates: Reggie Jackson, Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson.

It's pretty obvious who's number one, right? Henderson, of course. He played four separate stints with the A's, helping them to four postseason appearances. But what he's really known for his his title as The Greatest Leadoff Hitter Ever. He got on base over 40% of the time, and, during his prime, he hit for more power than many cleanup hitters. He hit 81 leadoff homers, easily the record, including 44 of them for the A's. Bill James once wrote that if you split Rickey Henderson in half, you'd have two Hall of Famers. He clearly stands as the greatest Oakland A hitter of all time.


This comes down to a starter vs. a reliever: Catfish Hunter or Dennis Eckersley. They're both in the Hall of Fame, they both won multiple pennants, they both won Cy Young Awards.

Let's break it down a little.

Hunter had four 20-win seasons for the A's, plus one more for the Yankees. Eckersley had four 40-save seasons for the A's, plus four more 30-save seasons (2 for the A's) and a 20-win season (for the Red Sox). (I know that statistically or sabermetrically, a 20-win season is not truly analogous to a 40-save season, but we're just having fun here.)

Eckersley is considered one of the 3 or 4 greatest relief pitchers of all time, but that's mainly because relief pitching is a relatively new phenomenon in baseball history. Hunter doesn't rank among the top 25 pitchers of all time, though he was one of the 5 or 6 greatest starting pitchers of the 1970s (behind at least Seaver, Carlton, and Palmer, just off the top of my head).

It's a close contest, and I went back and forth several times in my thinking. But I finally decided that a starting pitcher who logs 300 innings per season is simply much more valuable than a reliever who tosses 70 or 80, even if those 70 or 80 innings are the most important of a game.

I'm going to go with Catfish Hunter as the greatest pitcher in Oakland A's history.

No comments: