Monday, September 2, 2013

July 11- Oakland Athletics

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written an Oakland Athletics post; May 30th to be exact. Somewhere in my constant hat shuffling and not wanting to over-saturate my posts with just my team I became a bit too wayward. Time to remedy that lapse of judgment.

Up until today this cap was just chillin’ in my closet with all of the stickers still on it. I scooped it up a few days after this last Christmas along with about 10 other caps on the last day of my holiday run while working at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX). For some strange reason this cap was never really been much of a priority for me to add to my collection even though it’s one of the harder ones to pick up in the correct color scheme and without the MLB and New Era Cap logos on the panels. Luckily there was still one cap left in my size… which I hid in the backstock room until I was finally ready to buy it.

The Athletics first wore this cap at the start of the 1970 season under then-manager John McNamara, who was replaced that the end of the season despite the fact that it was his first full season in which he led the team to a record of 89-73. To add insult to injury, McNamara managed the last 13 games of the 1969 season in which the team went 8-5 under his leadership. Just to do the math for you that’s a record of 97-78. For those of you who aren’t too familiar with McNamara he was actually a coach for the A’s for the previous two seasons, which also happened to be the first two seasons in Oakland. Prior to that McNamara was a manager in the AA system for the Athletics and won back-to-back Southern League championships with the Mobile Athletics (1966) and Birmingham A’s (1967). Oh, and before that McNamara had been playing in the Athletics farm system from 1960-1967 during their days in Kansas City. And before that he was just some kid growing up in Sacramento, California with dreams of making it big in the Majors. So basically what you have here is a kid who grew up in the Bay Area, became a man in the farm system for the A’s before they moved to the Bay, became a leader and won championships for the A’s before they moved to the Bay, then became “The Man” not too long after they moved to the Bay, had a pretty successful first season which ended with a second place finish in the American League Western Division, only to be canned and replaced with Dick Williams. Oh wait… Dick Williams? Weeeeellllll… I guess I don’t feel so sentimental toward McNamara anymore. Williams was “The Man.” No, I don’t really feel that way. I do believe that McNamara got a bit of a raw deal by the A’s, but the move to bring in Williams as manager proved to be one of the boldest, most successful moves in franchise history. But I’ll discuss all of that in a not-too-distant post.

From 1970 through the end of the 1982 season the A’s rocked this cap with a flurry of uniform combinations that inadvertently inspired my alma mater, the University of Oregon Ducks’ dozens of football uniform combinations. Or so I’d like to think. I mean, green and gold… AND AWESOME!!! Sometimes stealing from others is flattering, and the A’s teams of the 1970s and early 1980s were definitely worth stealing from. One of the key components of this cap was the ushering in of the new “A” logo which inevitably and perfectly morphed into the “A’s.” Prior to 1970 the Athletics caps were either blank, had a “KC” or feature only the “A” as shown here in my post from January 1st during the Philly days. Oh and trust, I have many more Athletics caps to come to break down and discuss all of these little variances. One thing to keep an eye on that has a tendency to change over the years in the bottom-left leg of the “A.” In some years and locations the extension at the bottom is small, sometime it’s long. Sometimes it has a sharper curve going off to the left; or in this case, sometimes the right extension is sharper. For some reason that has primarily been the only real difference in the logo throughout the 112-year history of the team; well, besides width, but I don’t consider that to be a dramatic difference. Also, the particular shade of Kelly green used for the hats changed to the most current, darker style that we're all used to today. The old shad of green had been used since the old Kansas City days dating back to 1963.

#35- Despite the fact that my father is an ardent San Francisco Giants fan, his favorite player growing up in San Leandro was Vida Blue. As a kid he used to tell me stories of all the games he caught at the Coliseum when he was a youngling, watching Blue and the Mustache Gang dominate in the 1972, 1973 and 1974 World Series. Actually, everyone except Blue was dominant. In the four games he pitched in at the Coliseum during all three World Series Blue went 0-3 with a 4.05 ERA and a blown save. I’m not sure if my father neglected that information on purpose or if he just blocked it out over the years. Kind of like how I’ve always elected to not care about the six years that Blue played for the Giants.

Blue wore many numbers on the back of his jersey, but it was when he wore the #35 that he had the most success from 1970-1973. In 1969 he wore #21 and #28. In the early bit of 1970 he wore #17. And from 1974-1977 he wore #14. Unlike most southpaws, Blue was a power pitcher who worked fast and blasted the strike zone. He possessed a stunning curveball and an above average change-up, but his signature pitch was a blazing fastball that could dial up to 100 miles per hour. For that time period it was unheard of for a lefty to clock that fast. In The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, all-time hits leader Pete Rose stated that Blue "threw as hard as anyone" he had ever faced, and baseball historian Bill James cited Blue as the hardest-throwing lefty, and the second hardest thrower of his era, behind only Nolan Ryan. At the same time Bill James is also a tool and completely forgot about JR Richard when making that comment. Sorry, I’m not a fan of James.

In 1969 Blue made his Major League debut, going 1-1 with a 6.64 ERA in 12 games. Needing more help with his control, Blue started out the 1970 season in the minor leagues with the Iowa Oaks of the American Association. Blue was then called up in September, making two starts that provided a glimpse of what was to come. On September 11, he shut out the Kansas City Royals 3–0, giving up only one hit, to Pat Kelly in the eighth inning. Ten days later he no-hit the Minnesota Twins 6–0 at the Coliseum with the lone baserunner being Harmon Killebrew, who walked in the fourth inning. Not bad for the first month of his career.

In 1971 Blue dominated the American League with a force that no one could have ever predicted including his teammates. He posted a 24-8 record with a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts. Detroit Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich had 25 wins and 308 strikeouts and pitched in six more games than Blue, and proved to be the only factor in preventing the Triple Crown for Blue. Nonetheless, due to the fact that Blue was so dominant and because the Athletics won the AL West title for the franchise's first postseason berth since the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1931 World Series, Blue was awarded with the AL Cy Young and the AL MVP award, becoming the third player in MLB history to win both awards in the same season and the second person in the AL to do so. That season he also became the only player ever to be a starting pitcher in the league opener (against the Washington Senators), the All-Star Game and the playoff opener (against the Baltimore Orioles) in the same season.

After Blue's breakthrough season in 1971, he and Athletics owner Charlie Finley clashed over his salary. Blue held out, missing much of the year, and ended up with a 6–10 record. He didn't make the Athletics' post-season starting rotation, instead pitching mainly in relief. Against the Cincinnati Reds in the 1972 World Series he made four appearances, including a save in Game 1, a blown save in Game 4, and a loss in a spot-starting role in Game 6.

Blue returned to form to win 20 games in 1973, 17 games in 1974, and 22 games in 1975, as an integral member of the Oakland Athletics' five straight American League Western Division pennants from 1971 to 1975, and three consecutive World Championships in 1972, 1973, and 1974. In the cases of 1973 and 1975, as well as in 1976, he only managed to crack the top-seven for AL Cy Young voting and the top-29 for the AL MVP. Perhaps his finest postseason performances were four innings of shutout relief work against the Tigers to save Game 5 of the 1972 American League Championship Series and a complete-game 1-0 shutout against the Orioles in Game 3 of the 1974 ALCS.

On September 28, 1975, Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers combined to no-hit the California Angels 5-0. The no-hitter is, as of 2012, one of only two to be pitched on the final day of a regular season, the other being Mike Witt's perfect game in 1984. Blue also became the first no-hit pitcher to also pitch in a combined no-hitter; he has since been joined by Witt, Kent Mercker and Kevin Millwood.

In 1976, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed an attempt by  Charlie Finley to sell Blue to the New York Yankees, and in 1977, Kuhn cancelled a proposed trade of Blue to the Reds. In both instances, Kuhn said the trades would be bad for baseball because they would benefit already powerful teams without making them give up any significant talent in return. At the end of the 1976 season, nearly the entire A's roster of star players from Oakland's championship teams left with baseball's new free agency, or were traded off by Finley, leaving Blue, who was still under contract with Oakland, to mentor a new team of primarily rookies and other young players. In 1978, Blue was traded to the San Francisco Giants. Overall he finished his A’s career with a record of 124-86, an ERA of 2.95 and threw 1315 strikeouts.

Even though he is arguably one of the most accomplished pitchers of all-time, even by Bill James’s standards, Blue only managed to get 8.7% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1993 for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Blue was never eligible for a vote from the Veteran’s Committee due to the fact that he only made it four years in the voting process. Pretty God damn ridiculous if you ask me.

.118- One of my favorite MLB trivia questions I was asked as a kid and I now ask to anyone who challenges me at overall knowledge has to be, “ Who was the last switch-hitter to win the AL MVP award?” Two names will generally ring out in even the most casual of baseball fan’s heads: Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, but both answers are wrong. Murray is wrong for the sake that he never won an MVP award in his career, but he did finish in second place twice in 1982 and 1983 while with the Orioles. Mantle would technically be correct if it wasn’t for another player winning the MVP after he last did in 1962. So? Who is it?

The only thing you really need to know in this case to help you remember is that up until 1973 the designated hitter rule didn’t exist. Therefore, any pitcher who won the MVP award before then gets to be thrown into the mix. It just so happens that Blue is a switch-hitter and batted a legit .118 on the season in 1971 with one double and two RBI to his credit. Pretty crazy eh?

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