A Tip Of The Hat To The Former A’s On The 2014 Hall Of Fame Ballot
Can we all agree that a Hall of Fame selection process is a hot mess right now?
There are a ton of worthy candidates but a dearth of available ballot slots. There’s an abundance of questionable voters and an utter lack of guidance on how they should handle players from the steroid era. In this age of 24/7 news coverage there’s a mind-numbing amount of criticism from baseball writers and fans across the Internet about the whole spectacle.
Let’s face it, voting players into the Hall of Fame has always been far from perfect. For some absurd reason players such as Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Tom Seaver, Rickey Henderson and now Greg Maddux have all been denied unanimous support from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on their way to Cooperstown. Obviously, a handful of boneheaded voters have always been among the ranks of the BBWAA and now that everyone and their brother (and maybe even their brother’s pet dog) has a Twitter account and a blog, Hall of Fame ballot bashing has become an annual, boisterous event.
If the brutally flawed Hall of Fame selection process drags on like this much longer there’ll be about as much joy in Cooperstown as there is in Mudville. Hopefully change for the better is on the horizon because the whole convoluted mess has become tiresome and frustrating to follow.
For this Oakland A’s fan, looking over the 2014 ballot and ranking the players who made the biggest impact while wearing green and gold offers a welcome break from everything that’s currently wrong with Hall of Fame voting.
6. Tim Raines
If you want to say that the Rock had a Hall of Fame-caliber career I wouldn’t argue with you, but he didn’t add much to his fabulous resume when he played for the A’s in 1999 at the age of 39. He hit just .215/.337/.341 in 58 games before a case of lupus cut his lone season in Oakland short. It took Raines a couple of years to get his health in order but eventually he managed to make it back to the big leagues and finished his career with the Florida Marlins in 2002 at the age of 42.
The 1999 A’s that Raines briefly played for will always be a sentimental favorite of mine because their second-place finish in the AL West offered a hint at the great run of success the franchise was about to enjoy over the next several years with Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and the Big Three. Of course, the fact that writing about Raines’ days with the A’s gets me more excited about almost everyone else on the 1999 team than him says all you need to know about the Rock’s level of production while in Oakland.
5. Mike Piazza
In 2006 the A’s made it all the way to the American League Championship Series with veteran designated hitter Frank Thomas powering the lineup, but in 2007 the A’s turned to Piazza to fill the same role at a more affordable price. Oakland only got 83 games of production out of one of the best hitting catchers of all time in a final season that was marred by a shoulder injury.
Piazza posted a halfway decent .275/.313/.414 line with the A’s who fell from 93-69 in 2006 to 76-86 in 2007 at the dawn of the infamous Bob Geren managerial era. In the end, Piazza made a forgettable contribution to the A’s as they entered a long, frustrating playoff drought. Should the man be in the Hall of Fame? I’d stick him in Cooperstown if I had a vote but we’ll have to wait and see what the BBWAA has to say about Piazza’s chances at induction.
4. Kenny Rogers
The main things that stand out in my mind about Rogers’ stint with the A’s was that he was a fantastic fielder and he was one of the most successful pitchers I’ve even seen take the mound in Oakland. It felt like he never lost when he was pitching in Oakland and with a 25-4 career record at the Coliseum he almost never did.
His abbreviated career in Oakland ended in 1999 when general manager Billy Beane traded him to the New York Mets for outfielder Terrence Long who posted a 4.6 WAR with the A’s before being traded to the San Diego Padres with Ramon Hernandez for Mark Kotsay in 2003.
Rogers certainly won’t make it into the Hall of Fame, but the benefit of his trade value to Oakland’s future success is more than enough to land him at No. 4 on this list.
3. Ray Durham
You’d think that someone who only spent 54 games with the A’s in 2002 would rank lower on my list but anyone who contributes to a first-place A’s team holds a special place in my heart.
All it took for Beane to acquire Durham at the trade deadline from the Chicago White Sox was some cash and minor league pitcher Jon Adkins. In return for that modest investment Oakland got a .274/.350/.457 line and 1.2 WAR on the way to an AL West title. When Durham signed with the San Francisco Giants as a free agent the A’s received compensatory draft picks back in the good old days when the collective bargaining agreement was more favorable to small-market clubs.
Unfortunately, one of the players Oakland selected with the extra draft picks, Stetson University third baseman Brian Snyder, never made it to the big leagues. However, the A’s also drafted infielder Omar Quintanilla with one of the picks they received for losing Durham and he ended up serving as a trade chip when Beane acquired Joe Kennedy and Jay Witasick from the Colorado Rockies in 2005. Kennedy was good for a 1.2 WAR in 2006, helping the A’s to an AL West crown and a trip to the American League Championship Series.
All in all, Oakland squeezed a lot of value out of their low-risk acquisition of Durham. He may not be getting his own plaque in Cooperstown, but he’s easily in the top three of this list.
2. Frank Thomas
Thomas and the 2006 A’s were a match made in heaven. The A’s needed a slugger but didn’t have much money to spend. Thomas needed a chance to revive his injury riddled career and was willing to play on the cheap if the right opportunity came along.
For just $500,000 the A’s got an fantastic .270/.381/.545 line out of the 38-year-old Thomas along with 39 homers, 114 RBIs and a 3.2 WAR. Thomas briefly got his career back on track and the A’s finally advanced past the American League Division Series before losing to the Tigers in the American League Championship Series.
Letting Thomas walk as a free agent netted the A’s a compensatory draft pick which they used to select outfielder Corey Brown. Brown was eventually traded to the Washington Nationals in 2010 for Josh Willingham, who signed with the Minnesota Twins as a free agent leaving the A’s with (drumroll please) a compensatory draft pick. Beane used that pick on high school third baseman Daniel Robertson in 2012.
Man, I miss all those easy-to-come-by compensatory draft picks.
Brown is back in the A’s organization thanks to a trade with the Nationals this winter. Is it just me or does it seem like the A’s and Nats make a trade very few weeks? As for Robertson, he was ranked as the A’s No. 7 prospect by MLB.com entering the 2013 season and Oakland still has something to show for Thomas’ one great season in green and gold.
It goes without saying that I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote, but I wouldn’t think twice about giving the Big Hurt one of the 10 open spots available on this year’s ballot.
1. Mark McGwire
No. 1 on this list is a no-brainer. It’s also a no-brainer that Big Mac isn’t getting into the Hall of Fame anytime soon but that’s beside the point for the purpose of this post.
McGwire was part of some amazing A’s teams including the 1989 world champion club that gloriously stuck a white shoe up the Giants’ rear end in the World Series. The man racked up a Rookie of the Year award, nine All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, plenty of MVP votes, 363 home runs and a 42.8 WAR during his career with the A’s.
Eventually the team’s payroll started to drop as McGwire’s price tag rose and he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997 for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein. Overall, a pretty disappointing return for one of the most prolific power hitters of a steroid tainted era, but at least Stein ended up being a trade chip in the 1999 deal that brought veteran pitcher Kevin Appier over from the Royals.
Appier anchored a young pitching staff that helped the A’s win the AL West in dramatic fashion on the last day of the 2000 season.
Since I always love tracing the winding path of Beane’s transactions, I’ll note that when Appier signed with the Mets as a free agent the A’s got compensatory draft picks that they used to select pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and John Rheinecker. Bonderman never pitched for the A’s but he was eventually part of a three-team deal in 2002 that brought Ted Lilly to Oakland along with Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin.
Lilly was a key member of Oakland’s first-place team in 2003 before being traded for Bobby Kielty. As for Arnold, in 2002 he was a trade chip Beane used to acquire designated hitter Erubiel Durazo from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Say what you will about the short-armed, defensively-challenged Durazo, but he was also a key contributor to the A’s first-place finish in 2003 and he even nabbed some MVP votes in 2004 with a strong .321/.396/.523 season.
So there you have it, my totally unscientific and strongly sentimental ranking of the former A’s on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Thomas is probably the only guy on this list likely to get into Cooperstown in 2014 while some of these players will never be seen on the ballot again. However, they spent parts of their memorable careers in green and gold which is more than enough to make me tip my hat to every one of them.
I’m willing to bet that in my lifetime Rickey Henderson will be the last player I see inducted into Cooperstown representing the A’s. Which is kind of a depressing thought, but with the franchise’s payroll likely to remain toward the bottom of the league for the foreseeable future and no new ballpark in sight it’s unlikely that a Hall of Fame-caliber player will spend a decade or more excelling in green and gold before I take my last breath.
That will leave me with plenty of time to compile lists like this every year; fondly looking back at great ballplayers who simply passed through Oakland on their way to Cooperstown.