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How Green Were My '83 Athletics?
2008-09-01 17:24
by Philip Michaels

When your team is in the process of completing a 10-20 August run, you look for entertainment wherever you can find it, since it's certainly not located on the field of play. So it was with some relief that I spotted the following in the Chronicle's write-up of the A's 10th and final win in the month of August over the weekend:

The A's extended their Oakland record for most DL uses in one season to 24, two more than the previous mark. They have used 18 rookies, their most since using 19 in 1983.

The DL thing isn't all that surprising or interesting. You bring in both Mike Sweeney and Frank Thomas, and your team is going to wind up in the Under the Knife column more often than not.

No, it's the rookie thing that caught my eye. I would have pegged some of the mid-to-late '90s teams as relying on more than their fair share of rookies -- installing your Chavezes and your Tejadas and your Grieves as Oakland kicked its rebuilding drive into high-gear. Those early-to-mid '80s teams, in contrast, always struck me as having a surplus of old guys -- a veteran of the Bruce Bochte or Joe Morgan or Dave Kingman variety that the A's grabbed in order to patch over an obvious hole. Indeed, that '83 team featured 38-year-old Davey Lopes manning second base, 34-year-old Jeff Burroughs getting most of the starts at DH, and the Wayne Gross Era coming to its logical conclusion.

And yet, there they are -- 18 rookies spending some amount of time on the roster in 1983. Many seem like September call-ups while a handful earned starting roles. But no matter how you slice it, the '83 Athletics were lousy with rookies. And all this time, I had just thought of them as lousy.

And that got me thinking: How many of those rookies wound up panning out for Oakland? Did the triumphs later in the decade have their roots from those humble seeds planted in 1983? And if so, can we find any solace, 25 years later, for the rookie-infested squad that's finding itself on the wrong end of so many scores in this, the Two Thousand and Eighth Year of Our Lord?

Let's take a look at the 18 members of Oakland's Class of '83 after the jump.

* Keith Atherton: Here's a little fun-fact: Keith Atherton actually recorded an at-bat in a game in 1983, which seems like an unusual occurrence for an American League pitcher in the pre-interleague play era. But the game against Minnesota went 13 innings, and Oakland gave up the DH slot when Dwayne Murphy moved to center field in the 11th, so Atherton got to strike out looking. At least, that's how I assume it went down -- for all I know Steve Boros' Apple II commanded him to bat Keith Atherton.

As an 11-year-old, I thought it was cool that Keith Atherton would have the name of a town within a 35-mile radius of the ballpark he pitched at. I mean, think about it -- wouldn't you feel more a kinship with the current crop of A's relievers if they had names like Alan Moraga, Santiago San Leandro, and Union City Street? No? Just me?

When Atherton was traded to Minnesota in 1986, I sort of think he should have been forced to change his name to Keith Brooklyn Park or something.

* Donnie Hill: In my mind, Donnie Hill was on the A's for, like, the entirety of the 1980s. And in a way, he was -- four seasons and 557 games for Oakland. But he was gone by 1987, before A's players and fans got to cash in on the forgettable post-Billy Ball era with some much appreciated championships. Maybe I've conflated Hill with Gene Nelson -- Hill departed for the South Side of Chicago at the same time Nelson arrived.

* Darryl Cias: Played in 19 games for the A's, going 6-for-18. Then, Cias left behind the world of catching for the thrill-a-minute world of international pharmaceuticals, inventing the erectile dysfunction drug that still bears his name.

It is possible that second sentence is a lie. You try coming up with something to say about Darryl Cias.

* Dave Hudgens: 1B/DH played the only six games of his Major League career for the A's that season, going 1-for-7. Hudgens would spend 16 years in the A's organization, highlighted by four as hitting coach; he was let go after the 2005 season when it was discovered that the A's really couldn't hit. In light of the past few seasons, turns out that really wasn't his fault.

* Luis Quinones: Don't call me Rey.

* Rusty McNealy: Batted four times without recording a hit or a walk and yet he scored five runs, suggesting that his 15-game stint in green-and-gold was largely spent pinch-running. McNealy was traded to the Expos in the off-season for Ray Burris, who led Oakland in wins in an otherwise desultory 1984 campaign. So he has that going for him.

* Chris Codiroli: Pitched in all of three games in 1982, so I'm guessing he was still a rookie in 1983 when he went 12-12 and threw seven complete games. I seem to recall him getting injured a lot from that point forward. I'm sure those two sentences are entirely unrelated.

Chris Codiroli also was a guest speaker at John F. Baldwin Elementary School Father-Son Dinner in either 1983 or 1984. I don't recall the topic of his address that evening, but I believe it had something to do with baseball.

* Bill Krueger: One of four rookies to make at least 14 starts this year. That fourth place finish in the AL West no longer seems so mysterious, huh?

* Gorman Heimueller: Pitched in 22 games for the A's in 1983 and '84, starting 14 of them. And until I began this project, I had no idea he even existed. I mean, no offense to Mr. Heimueller, on the off-chance that he does vanity searches of the Internet and comes across this post, but his name sounds less like that of a pitcher and more like that of an East German spy in some Cold War-era drama. "Heimueller!" Capt. Dawson shouted, as the lean, gaunt spy strode into the interrogation room, the light glinting off his monocle. "So, Dawson," Heimueller sneered. "You vill not talk, eh? We have ways of changing that attitude." Then, Heimueller walked Dawson on four pitches, triggering a three-run rally.

* Mike Warren: Threw a no-hitter against the White Sox in September; more than made up the difference in giving up hits in his other starts.

* Mark Smith: Pitched in eight games, and ran up a 6.75 ERA in his only year in the bigs, yet he has a lifetime record of 1-0 in the Majors, and I most certainly do not.

* Ben Callahan: Four appearances on the mound for the A's, two of them starting assignments. Along with infielder Marshall Brant, he was Oakland's bounty in the trade that sent Matt Keough to the Yankees. Look for this trade in an upcoming episode of Yankee-o-graphy on YES.

* Curt Young: Hey, everyone knows this guy. 1983 was the first of 10 seasons with the A's, including a stint in the backend of the rotation for the '88, '89, and '90 pennant winners. His best season was probably 1986, though I would entertain arguments for 1988. He's now the pitching coach for the A's, where he's won praise from color commentator Ray Fosse for not being Rick Peterson.

* Bert Bradley: Or possibly Brad Bertley. I'm not sure which.

Now by my count, that's 14 players who made their debut in 1983. That leaves us with four other rookies to account for -- players who made their debuts in earlier seasons but didn't get enough playing time to shed their rookie status.

My best guess as to the other rookies, then:

  • The aforementioned Marshall Brant: Played three games with the Yankees in 1980, followed by five with the A's in '83.
  • Tony Phillips: After 40 games with the big club in 1982, Phillips returned for good in 1983 and would stick around for another six seasons after that. Finished out his career with the A's in 1999, as well.
  • Mike Davis: With the caveat that I'm not up to date on my service time rules, I'm pretty sure that 1983 was Davis' official rookie season, even though he had stints with the team in '80 (51 games), '81 (17 games), and '82 (23 games). When he came to the plate, my dad used to shout "Tacoma!" at him, as that was Oakland's Triple-A affiliate at the time and presumably, Davis had become familiar with the trek between Oakland the Pacific Northwest. It is worth noting that my father is a cruel man. Davis' most significant role in A's history comes, appropriately enough as a member of the opposition; he coaxed a walk out of Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the '88 World Series, allowing the Dodgers to pinch hit for Alejandro Pena with some gimp from Michigan.
  • Tim Conroy: Another service-time situation, with Conroy pitching in two games in 1978 (went from the draft straight to the Majors), five more in '82, and finally, sticking with the club in 1983. I remember him being injured a lot, though that could be the mind playing tricks on me. Still, an enterprising TV producer in the 1980s should have pitched a show called Codiroli & Conrad, about a pair of Major League pitchers who also solve crimes during their many stints on the disabled list. Conroy was packaged with Mike Heath in the deal that brought Joaquin Andujar to Oakland. So... yay?


So what have we learned from this exercise? Besides the fact that what sounds like a really good idea for a blog post when you're thinking about it in the shower is not such a good idea when it comes time to think up something clever to say about Darryl Cias?

Well, we learned that on the surface at least, the good to great times that the A's would enjoy by the end of the decade had very little to do with those 18 rookies who took the field in 1983. Curt Young and Tony Phillips would still be around, but their contributions to those great Oakland teams were largely of a supporting nature. Most of the principles who would usher in a mini-dynasty in 1988 were occupied elsewhere five years earlier: Jose Canseco had been drafted a year earlier, Mark McGwire was still playing for USC, Dave Stewart was traded from the Dodgers to the Rangers, Eck was pitching his way out of Boston, and Tony LaRussa was busy winning a division title for the South Siders.

What struck me was how few of those rookies were traded away for players who would eventually bolster Oakland's championship runs. What few trades there were netted the likes of Burris and Andujar -- players who were just passing through. As for the rest, well, they had their proverbial cup of coffee with the A's and moved on to other things.

So what does this foray into the past tell us about 2008? Precious little, I think. For one thing, we lack context -- there's no raft of archived articles from 1983 lauding the A's incoming rookies as the start of something big. Which is not to say that they aren't out there -- I'm sure that Davis and Conroy and Codiroli were hyped in their own way -- but that I just don't care to look for them. For all I know, the influx of rookies was seen then as it appears looking back -- a not-so hotso team trying to fill roster spots with any warm bodies available to avoid the embarrassment of having to forfeit to the Mariners. Just because Bill Krueger and Dave Hudgens didn't work out then doesn't mean that Sean Gallagher and Daric Barton won't pan out now.

But there is a reminder in this exercise, I think. Don't confuse quantity with quality. Eighteen rookies appeared on Oakland's roster 25 years ago, and only a handful enjoyed careers of much substance -- not one made an All Star or ever developed into a star player. Past performance is no indication of future results in these kinds of things, but it does serve as a remind that the future has a funny way of panning out.

2008-09-01 18:40:08
1.   sly jones
It's Gorman Heimueller, not Gordon, but you know that.

Here's my something to say about Darryl Cias:
He impressed somebody enough in 1983 to make it onto a 1984 Topps card.
I pulled at least eight Darryl Cias cards in 1984 (and still have them, because who would take Darryl Cias in a trade?)

2008-09-01 18:43:56
2.   Philip Michaels
1 Yes, I did. My fingers did not.
2008-09-02 09:39:30
3.   Bob Timmermann
Darryl Cias and I attended the same high school, L.A. baseball power Kennedy High.

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