Wednesday, January 14


Rickey Henderson was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday on his first-try and here is his first Major League at-bat vs. the Texas Rangers (pictured) on June 24, 1979, televised shortly after my twelfth birthday. The A's were wretched and only 4,752 fans saw Rickey's debut, according to a 1980 media guide - the year when attendance was 306,763 setting a Major League record for the pits (photo BTW from ManOfSteel). 

The decade's end team was a far cry from from the beginning: after another second-place finish in 1970, the A’s won the American League West title in '71 for their first postseason appearance of any kind since 1931. In 1972, the A's won their first league pennant since 1931 and faced the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series (dubbed “The Hairs vs. the Big Squares” as A's owner Charles Finley paid his players $500 each to grow a moustache while the Reds were tradtional clean cuts). 

The A's seven-game victory over the favored Cincinnati gave the team its first World Series Championship since 1930. They defended their title in '73 and '74 before Finley disbanded the team. In my opinion and the opinion of others like Guy who owns the A's, this was the best baseball team assembled ever with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Bert Campaneris, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue. Wow. 

By Henderson, the team had suffered three dismal seasons and in desperation and a masterstoke, Finley hired Billy Martin to manage a young team who, with Henderson, included stars Mike Norris, Tony Armas and Dwayne Murphy. Martin made believers of his young charges, “Billyball” was used to market the team, and the Athletics finished second in 1980. 

This moment specific to my awareness of baseball - the '70s was all about the Oakland Raiders while my baseball interest a distant second and anyway, the A's glory years seemed like an eternity ago - lumped in my 12-year old's conscience with Viet Nam and Watergate which at then had made no impact. Sort of like the 1950s in proximity - I knew it was there but so what? Now the A's were all that and it was exciting to root for the East Bay team. Life was that simple.

As for Rickey's debut 29 years ago: he went 2-4 with a double, single and a stolen base - the first of 1,406 and a MLB record.