Retired numbers: Oakland Athletics

The A's have ignored a slew of Hall of Famers so far, and they're unlikely to change

Precisely half of Major League Baseball’s franchises — 15 of 30 — trace their origins to the dawn of the 20th century, if not before. These stalwarts are at least 120 years old.

Many of these old-line clubs have enjoyed smooth sailing. The Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, Pirates, and Reds, for example, still play today in the cities where they were founded in the late 1800s.

But the Athletics have endured a much bumpier ride, as the only franchise to travel from an Eastern launch pad (Philadelphia, 1901-1954) to a Midwestern layover (Kansas City, 1955-1967) to a Western landing spot (Oakland, 1968-2020).

This transcontinental journey included periods of unbounded success (nine World Series titles) and stretches of utter futility (28 seasons with winning percentages below .400). Yet the team’s history has been spiced by colorful players, no matter its fortunes, with no fewer than 40 Hall of Famers taking the diamond in Athletics uniforms.

You might expect, as a result, to see dozens of retired jerseys on the wall at Oakland-Alameda County Stadium (or whatever they’re calling it this week). But you would be wrong.

The Athletics have retired only five numbers, plus a symbolic jersey for a past owner. Their total of six puts them in a tie with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles (previously the St. Louis Browns) for the fewest retirement ceremonies by any franchise born in 1901 or earlier. The A’s even trail a pair of clubs that have yet to celebrate their 60th anniversaries, the Astros (nine retired jerseys) and the Padres (seven).

Athletics’ numbers already retired

All six of the team’s current retirees were affiliated with the Oakland version of the franchise, though two actually launched their careers in Kansas City.

No. 9 Reggie Jackson ranks third with 269 home runs for the Athletics. (He hit another 294 for the Yankees, Angels, and Orioles.) The right fielder reached the big leagues in K.C. in 1967, went to Oakland from 1968 to 1975, and returned for a curtain call in 1987. Jackson also sits eighth for the A’s in RBIs (776), but is primarily remembered as the dominant personality — once proclaiming himself the “straw that stirs the drink” — on Oakland clubs that won successive world titles from 1972 to 1974.

No. 24 Rickey Henderson roamed the outfield for the Athletics for 14 seasons over four spans: 1979-1984, 1989-1993, 1994-1995, and 1998. No member of the A’s has ever scored more runs (1,270), drawn more walks (1,227), or stolen more bases (867).

Three renowned Oakland pitchers have had their numbers retired: No. 27 Catfish Hunter (whose first three seasons were in Kansas City), No. 34 Rollie Fingers, and No. 43 Dennis Eckersley. Hunter won 161 games for the Athletics, putting him fifth all-time in club history, but first for the post-Philadelphia era. Eckersley (320 saves) and Fingers (136 saves) were the franchise’s greatest relievers.

The five men above have all been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, though the same cannot be said of the franchise’s final honoree. Walter Haas never took the field, but a blank jersey was retired in recognition of his ownership of the club from 1980 until 1995.

One more note: The A’s are poised for a seventh retirement ceremony whenever fans are readmitted to the ballpark. Pitcher Dave Stewart will be cited for his 119 regular-season wins and eight postseason victories for Oakland from 1986 to 1992 and again in 1995. Stewart, by coincidence, wore No. 34 before that uniform was pulled from circulation to honor Fingers.

Athletics’ candidates for retired numbers

Where to start? It’s obvious that the Athletics have no desire to harken back to their distant past in Philadelphia and Kansas City. If they did, they would have no shortage of candidates. Consider the following possibilities, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

Most of these men played before numerals were sewn onto jerseys, though a few had numbers that are noted below. (There’s no reason, of course, why the others couldn’t be honored through the retirement of numberless uniforms, as Haas was, or by the arbitrary selection of numerals.)

  • Connie Mack founded the Athletics in 1901 and managed them until 1950. Mack always wore a three-piece suit in the dugout, never a uniform. His unbelievable longevity made him the winningest manager in major-league history (3,731), as well as the losingest (3,948).

  • Third baseman Home Run Baker (1908-1914 with the A’s) didn’t live up to his nickname in the modern sense. He never hit more than 12 in a season, though he did lead the American League in homers for three straight seasons during the dead-ball era.

  • Chief Bender (1903-1914) won 193 games for the Athletics, still the third-highest total for any pitcher in franchise history.

  • No. 2 Mickey Cochrane (1925-1933), a catcher, was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1928 and again in 1934, attaining the latter honor with the Tigers.

  • Second baseman Eddie Collins (1906-1914, 1927-1930) won MVP honors in 1914. He ranks 11th all-time among major leaguers with 3,315 hits (though a majority came for the White Sox).

  • No. 3 Jimmie Foxx (1925-1935), who primarily played first base, was MVP three times and led the major leagues in home runs in four seasons. He ranks second in franchise history with 302 homers. (He blasted another 232 for the Red Sox, Cubs, and Phillies.)

  • No. 10 Lefty Grove (1925-1933) is considered by some experts to have been the greatest pitcher of all time. He won at least 20 games in each of his final seven seasons with the Athletics, then moved on to the Red Sox. He recorded precisely 300 wins during his career.

  • Another pitcher, Eddie Plank (1901-1914), finished with 326 career victories, 284 for Philadelphia. The latter remains the franchise standard.

  • No. 7 Al Simmons (1924-1932, 1940-1941, 1944) posted a gaudy .356 batting average while patrolling the outfield for 12 seasons for the Athletics. (Simmons, by the way, wore No. 7 in his prime, but switched to 6, 28, and 32 in his final years.)

  • Rube Waddell (1902-1907) led the American League in strikeouts in each of the six seasons he spent in Philadelphia. His 1.97 career ERA for the Athletics is the club’s best ever.

It’s more likely that the Athletics will confine future retirement ceremonies to heroes from their Oakland years, some of whom got their starts in Kansas City. Four names pop to the top of the list.

No. 6 Sal Bando, who was with the A’s from 1966 through 1976, was a mainstay at third base during the franchise’s glory years in the early 1970s. He made four All-Star teams. Bando never earned an MVP award, but he finished among the American League’s top four votegetters three times.

No. 19 Bert Campaneris (1964-1976) generally played alongside Bando at shortstop, though he once handled all nine positions during a single game in 1965. Campaneris remains the franchise’s all-time leader in several categories, including games played in an A’s uniform (1,795), plate appearances (7,895), and hits (1,882).

No. 25 Mark McGwire powered his way past Foxx with 363 homers for the Athletics between 1986 and 1997, which is still the highest total in franchise history. He left Oakland in a midseason trade with St. Louis, where he would attain greater fame and, eventually, infamy.

The Oakland pitcher who can make the strongest claim for a retirement ceremony would be No. 35 Vida Blue (1969-1977), who won both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards as a 21-year-old in 1971, when he went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA. Blue was never able to match the promise of that magical year, though he did win a total of 124 games for Oakland.

The outlook

The best case can be made for Mack and his bevy of Philadelphia stars, though it seems unlikely they will ever be honored in a city 2,500 miles west of the one in which they achieved stardom.

That leaves the Oakland quartet.

McGwire remains too hot to handle, a decade after finally admitting his use of steroids. Campaneris has the numbers, yet was never in the forefront of the spunky Athletics who won World Series titles in 1972, 1973, and 1974. That leaves Bando, the captain of those heralded teams, and Blue, one of the top starters for those clubs, as the best possibilities to one day have their numbers retired.

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