It’s been a very interesting week for Major League Baseball and its postseason awards. No matter your stance on sabermetrics, traditional scouting or the definition of ‘value,’ the award season always seems to deliver quality topics of conversation among differing baseball minds.
Considering the Oakland A's outstanding 2012 season that surpassed all incoming expectations thanks to a division title, the A's were destined for acknowledgement in some manner by the award voters.
On Tuesday, Bob Melvin was tabbed as the American League Manager of the Year, becoming the sixth skipper in history to win the award in both leagues. He took the honor heading the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.
Days before, the Sporting News named A's general manager Billy Beane as the AL Executive of the Year after he assembled a division champion through a bevy of trades that Oakland appeared to be on the losing end of in the short term. As it turned out, the moves that shipped off three All-Stars re-invigorated the organization, producing immediate results while leaving room for even more future growth.
With the emergence of many key pieces, paired with outstanding timing and luck, the A’s overthrew the two-time defending AL champions en route to the post-season. Oakland took the Tigers the full five games in the Division Series before succumbing to the inevitability that was Justin Verlander’s dominance, ending a season full of fascinating story-lines.
While it’s relatively safe to say Beane wrapped up his award once the A’s clinched a playoff berth during the last week of the season, it likely took Melvin to the last day to grasp his. Baltimore’s Buck Showalter was the favorite by many for most of the year after patch-working a lackluster pitching staff to a playoff appearance for the long-beleaguered Orioles' franchise. But the decision for voters became an easy one after the A’s reeled off six-straight wins to clinch the division title on the season’s final afternoon.
Since the A's arrived in Oakland in 1968, awards season has often produced positive results for the A's. Below is a look back at those who have taken home hardware in the green-and-gold since 1968:
Vida Blue, 1971 American League MVP & Cy Young Award
Back in the days where pitch count was calculated in elbow pain rather than numbers, the 22-year-old hurler struck out 301 hitters in 312 innings with an ERA of 1.82. He led the American League in complete games (24), shutouts (8) and ERA, becoming just the fifth pitcher in history to win both awards. Since then, five have done it - including Verlander who did so in 2011.
Blue led his team to the American League Championship series, where the A's ended up losing to the Orioles in a three-game sweep. But the A’s would go on to win an unprecedented three-straight World Series in the following seasons.
Reggie Jackson, 1973 American League MVP
Before leaving the A’s for further glory on the East Coast, Reggie Jackson was an integral part of the three straight titles (however, he didn’t play in the ’72 World Series while dealing with an injury). He became famous for his three-consecutive home run performance in a World Series clinching game for the Yankees in 1977, but ‘Mr. October’ had his second-best statistical season in ’73 en route to his first and only regular season MVP award.
His best year came in ’69, when he finished in fifth-place behind Harmon Killebrew, Boog Powell, Frank Robinson and Frank Howard, in that order. That season, Jackson slugged 47 home runs and drove in 118. But his RBI total was relative peanuts to Killebrew, who had 140 RBIs and reached base at a .427 clip.
Catfish Hunter, 1974 American League Cy Young Award
In 1974, Hunter became the second A's pitcher in four seasons to earn the Cy Young. In 318.1 innings, he had a WHIP of 0.986 thanks to his impeccable control. He walked just 46 and had a 2.49 ERA, helping him to his 25-12 record.
In 1968, Hunter pitched just the ninth perfect game in history – the first in 46 seasons – as well as the organization's first no-hitter since moving to Oakland. Hunter’s number 27 was retired by the Athletics in 1991.
Jose Canseco, 1986 American League Rookie of the Year
The boisterous outfielder became the first A's player to win the Rookie of the Year Award, an award that would become nearly synonymous with the Green and Gold over the next three decades. Canseco made his major league debut in 1985, but didn’t have enough plate appearances to be eligible for the award.
In his rookie campaign in ’86, Canseco hit an unprecedented 33 home runs to pair with 15 stolen bases, emerging as one of baseball’s most exciting young talents. He would later become the first player in history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases, but that feat was later tarnished after Canseco admission to the use of performance enhancing drugs. The A’s finished 76-86 in 1986 and failed to make the playoffs, although the season would set the foundation for the great A's teams of the late 1980s.
Mark McGwire, 1987 American League Rookie of the Year
A year after Canseco claimed the award, the power-hitting McGwire would break on to the scene by hitting a ridiculous 49 homers and claim rookie honors of his own. The duo in the middle of the Athletics’ lineup were coined the “Bash Brothers” and combined to hit 80 home runs in 1987. But the team failed to reach the postseason again, finishing 81-81.
The 23-year-old McGwire would lead the team in RBIs in '87 with 118. His illustrious home run-hitting career would also later become tarnished after he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, although it is believed he was "clean" during his record-setting rookie season.
McGwire became the single-season home run leader in 1998 when he hit 70 home runs for St. Louis. That year, he finished second in MVP voting to Sammy Sosa after Sosa was able to lead his team to the playoffs while the Cardinals finished in third-place in the NL Central. McGwire would never win a regular season MVP award despite hitting 583 long balls in his 16 seasons.
Walt Weiss, 1988 American League Rookie of the Year
Thanks to Weiss, the A’s laid claim to three-consecutive Rookie of the Year Awards. The exciting shortstop didn’t exactly star offensively, but dazzled with his glove, committing just 15 errors in 1,240 innings while helping the team to its first AL pennant since the glory days of the 1970s.
The A's liked Weiss enough after making his debut in 1987 to trade Alfredo Griffin, assuring the former 12th-overall selection he would be the starter going forward. Weiss would go on to play 14 seasons with four different clubs, hitting a career .258/.351/.326 with 25 home runs and 96 stolen bases.
Weiss was recently named the manager of the Colorado Rockies for 2013.
Jose Canseco, 1988 American League Most Valuable Player
The same year that Weiss became the A’s starting shortstop, Canseco had one of the best seasons in baseball history. Canseco hit 42 home runs while stealing a remarkable 40 bases, embodying the versatility scouts loved prior to his admission of steroid use. The feat came as no surprise to the outspoken right fielder, as he predicted early in the year that he would become the first 40-40 player in baseball history.
Canseco's .307/.391/.569 slash line led to a unanimous MVP decision among voters. Canseco helped lead the A’s to the World Series that year, where they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.
Bob Welch, 1990 American League Cy Young Award
Between Welch and Dave Stewart, Oakland had two of the top three starting pitchers in the American League in 1990. Stewart finished just behind Roger Clemens for second place in the Cy Young voting.
But by today’s number-crunching standards, Welch might have finished third in the voting after having a worse ERA and WHIP than both Clemens and Stewart. He also struck out just 127 compared to Clemens’ 209 and Stewart’s 166. But where Welch had the edge was record. He went 27-6, despite allowing 26 home runs and throwing just two complete games.
With the way numbers are viewed in 2012, it’s doubtful that Welch would have won the award today. He did help the A's win their third straight AL pennant that season. Oakland would lose the World Series in a stunning sweep at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds.
Ricky Henderson, 1990 American League MVP
On his way to becoming the greatest leadoff hitter of all time, Henderson’s lone MVP season came as a 31-year-old in 1990. That year, he hit .325/.439/.577 while stealing 65 stolen bases and hitting 28 home runs, including five to lead off games.
Henderson’s splits were impressive on nearly every level, but what stood out about that season was his 1101 OPS on the road. He hit less than .300 in just one month (August) and had a .375/.505/.625 slash line in high-leverage situations.
Dennis Eckersley, 1992 American League MVP and Cy Young Award
The Fremont native was a starter for three teams before joining the A’s and becoming closer in 1987. It paid off, as he became the first pitcher ever to have a 20-win season and a 50-save season (John Smoltz would later join Eckersley in the exclusive club).
But in 1992, Eckersley was the only relief pitcher on the ballot for both the Cy Young and MVP awards. He amassed 51 saves, going 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA in 80 innings. His 0.913 WHIP was the best among candidates. He was the third reliever ever to accomplish the feat, behind Rollie Fingers (1981) and Willie Hernandez (1984).
It was a relatively down year when it came to the MVP race. Kirby Pucket finished in second place, garnering just three first-place votes to Eckersley’s 15. Eckersley won the awards with just a 2.8 WAR, which was lowest of the top-three candidates for each award.
The A's won the AL West that season, but lost in the Championship Series to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Ben Grieve, 1998 American League Rookie of the Year
With his 18-home run, 89-RBI performance in 1998, the smooth-swinging Grieve looked poised for future stardom after earning a Rookie of the Year award and an All-Star nod in 1998. He would never live up to those early expectations, however.
The second-overall pick in the 1994 draft provided A’s fans hope for their next star position player after a five-season playoff drought. Grieve put up decent enough numbers in his three full seasons with the A’s, but never reached what many believed to be his true potential. He was later traded to Tampa Bay in the three-team blockbuster that landed Corey Lidle, Johnny Damon and Mark Ellis in Oakland.
Jason Giambi, 2000 American League MVP
After seven seasons of futility following the great run of the late-80s and early-90s, the A’s were back in the postseason in 2000 thanks to Giambi's MVP year in which he hit .333/.476/.647 with 43 homers and 137 driven in.
But like A’s sluggers of the past, Giambi’s accomplishments in Oakland would be later marred by steroid allegations.
Unlike the successful A’s teams that preceded and followed the 2000 team, the A’s success in 2000 hinged on its offense that ranked third in the American League in runs and second in homers, averaging just under six per-game and 1.48, respectively.
Giambi was surrounded by power. Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and Grieve combined to hit 83 home runs while the pitching staff struggled with a 4.58 ERA. That A’s team excited Oakland with a much-needed trip to the postseason, and was the first in a stretch of four-straight playoff seasons.
Miguel Tejada, 2002 American League MVP
In one of the most famous non-championship years in baseball history, the 2002 A’s struggled out of the gate after losing several free agents during the off-season, including Giambi and Damon. They would hit their stride as the season went on, however, and the A's would go on and win 20-consecutive games to break the American League record. Perhaps you’ve heard of the book and film based on the season.
Tejada was the catalyst and leader for the team that finished 96-66 after starting 25-28 in the season’s first two months. Tejada went on to hit .308/.354/.508 with 34 homers and 131 driven in. The A’s left side of the infield was perhaps the best in baseball that year as Chavez added 34 homers and 109 RBI of his own.
The highlight of Tejada’s season came when he hit a walk-off single against Royals reliever Jason Grimsley to ensure the club’s 19th-straight win after Kansas City had tied the game late.
Despite having the lowest OPS (861) of the top-5 vote-getters that year (Alex Rodriguez hit 57 home runs and drove in 142 for the Rangers), Tejada pulled out the award thanks to his club’s improbable season.
Barry Zito, 2002 American League Cy Young Award
Although the A's would ultimately lose in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, Oakland would take home two of the major post-season awards, with Tejada winning the MVP and Zito taking home the Cy Young. Like Tejada, Zito profited from the A's storybook season when it came to the voting.
The left-hander narrowly defeated Pedro Martinez in the voting despite posting an ERA+ nearly 50 points lower than Martinez. Voters were swayed by Zito's league-leading 23 wins and his team's overall success. The 2002 season is Zito's best full season in the big leagues. He had a 2.75 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. Zito would earn double-digit wins for the A's from 2003-2006 before leaving for San Francisco via free agency. Zito has earned two World Series rings with the Giants, but he has never posted an ERA under 4.00 in six seasons with SF.
Bobby Crosby, 2004 American League Rookie of the Year
After Tejada and Giambi both left the Athletics as free agents, Crosby was tabbed as the next A’s superstar. His rookie year was promising in a season that saw a number of talented young shortstops make their major league debuts.
In a relatively weak American League rookie class, Crosby received 27 of 28 first-place votes thanks to his 22 home runs. His slash line of .239/.319/.426 was improved upon the next year when he put up an 802 OPS.
But his rookie season was the only time he put up double-digit homers and he combined for just a 638 OPS over his next four seasons, as injuries ate away his effectiveness. Crosby never lived up to the potential of a cornerstone player that some believed he would become. He has been out of baseball since 2010.
Huston Street, 2005 American League Rookie of the Year
Much like the 80s, the A’s had a run of talented rookies in the 2000s Street’s 23-save performance in 2005 earned him the award thanks in part to a 1.72 ERA. The 21-year-old wasn’t the closer most were used to seeing - he didn’t have a 95-mile-per-hour fastball. Street buttered his bread with an outstanding two-seamer and a deceptive slider from his three-quarter-release point.
But Street would struggle with health in subsequent seasons, and was ultimately moved in a trade with the Colorado Rockies that netted Matt Holliday. There he signed a lucrative contract that gave him $7 million a season until 2015. He was traded to San Diego last December in an effort by the Rockies to move that contract. He’s managed to average 30 saves a season throughout his eight-year career.
Andrew Bailey, 2009 American League Rookie of the Year
Before becoming one of the better closers in the American League, Bailey started out in the A’s system as a starting pitcher. He became a reliever midway through 2008 with Double-A Midland and didn’t look back.
Bailey became the closer in May of that year, pitching his way to the All-Star game and the Rookie of the Year Award. He finished the season with 26 saves thanks to a 0.876 WHIP after allowing just 49 hits in 83.1 innings.
Bailey went on to post 25- and 24-save seasons the next two years, becoming a model of consistency out of a solid A’s bullpen. Bailey was traded last offseason to the Red Sox with Ryan Sweeney in the deal that brought Josh Reddick to Oakland.
In 2012, Bailey suffered a thumb injury in spring training, Bailey was unable to recover in time to help save Boston’s season and struggled in his 21 appearances with the Red Sox. After being acquired for Reddick, the emerging hitting prospect Miles Head and Raul Alcantara, Bailey will have to have a big, bounce back year to give the Red Sox return on their investment.