Growing up on the east coast in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Oakland A’s of my youth appeared to be a strange bunch of fellows.
As a Mets fan, I watched only WOR-Channel 9. The hated Yankees were on WPIX-Channel 11. Since I was a Mets fan, I grew quite familiar with the rhythms of their N.L. only schedule. And since I only started watching baseball in 1974, I missed by one year watching the improbable Mets take on the A’s in the ’73 Series.
As there was no inter-league baseball in those days other than the World Series, the only limited exposure I had to the players on the Oakland A’s was through their baseball cards. And what a group they were. The A’s struck me as a team composed of long-haul truck drivers, urban speedsters, and western gunslingers.
Charlie O. Finley‘s club was both literally and figuratively a colorful bunch. Their garish green and gold uniforms offended the eye. The handle-bar mustaches several of their players sported were anachronistically 19th century.
Nevertheless, two players on the A’s struck me as working class types that I might be able to relate to. While Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter were the stars on that team, I could identify with 3rd baseman Sal Bando and left-fielder Joe Rudi.
Bando and Rudi struck me as regular guys that might work with my dad at Remington Arms if they hadn’t been lucky enough to play professional baseball. They probably lived in modest, middle class homes similar to mine, changed their own oil, and enjoyed a beer after work.
The statistics on the backs of their baseball cards seemed solid, too. No flashy 200 hit seasons. No stolen base crowns. No batting titles. Just annual, workmanlike production. A couple of regular lunch-pail guys.
So it wasn’t until nearly forty years later that I finally realized, while researching this blog-post, just how good these two players actually were.
During the A’s run of three consecutive World Championships from ’72-’74, it is inconceivable that they could have won any of those titles without the accomplishments of Bando and Rudi. In fact, each of them finished strongly in A.L. MVP voting during those years. Bando placed 4th in 1973 and 3rd in 1974. Rudi placed 2nd in both ’72 and ’74.
But their Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons were, respectively, ’73 for Bando and ’72 for Rudi.
Let’s start with Sal Bando. In ’73, the 29-year old 3rd baseman led the entire A.L. in Total Bases with 295. He also led the league in games played at 162, one of four times in his career he would lead the league in that category. His 32 doubles were also a league high. Among position players, his 7.3 WAR was second best in the league, behind only teammate Reggie Jackson’s 8.1.
Bando also finished 1st in the A.L. in Runs Created with 113, 1st in Extra Base Hits with 64, as well as 4th in both home runs (29) and RBI’s (98). His Adjusted OPS+ (150) was second best in the league.
Bando also made one of his four trips to the All-Star game in 1973.
Although Bando also had a great year in 1969, my focus here is the three-year period from ’72-’74 when his A’s dominated the Major Leagues.
Over a six-year period, from 1969-’74, Bando’s average OPS+ was an extremely strong 137. Bando’s career WAR was 60.6, compared to other players of his era like Steve Garvey (35.9), Tony Perez (50.5), and Graig Nettles (61.6).
After spending eleven seasons with the A’s, Bando finished out his career playing five more seasons with the Brewers, retiring after the 1981 season with 242 home runs, 1039 RBI’s, and more walks than strikeouts.
Sal Bando enjoyed a long and productive career, but 1973 was his Best Forgotten Season.
Joe Rudi, meanwhile, actually had two excellent seasons during that three-year run of championships for the A’s. One could choose either 1972 or 1974, since he finished in second place in A.L. MVP voting in each of those seasons.
But I will choose 1972 as Joe Rudi’s Best Forgotten Season.
In ’72, Rudi posted career highs in hits (a league-leading 181), triples (an A.L. best 9), runs scored (2nd in the league with 94), Adjusted OPS (151), and WAR (5.9). Rudi also notched a career high 288 Total Bases, 3rd best in the league.
Rudi finished the ’72 season with a .305 batting average and 60 Extra Base Hits (3rd best in the A.L.)
In 1974, Rudi’s last excellent year, Rudi led the A.L. in doubles (39) and in Total Bases (287.) He also enjoyed career highs in both home runs (22) and RBI’s (99.) He also led the A.L. in Extra Base Hits with 65.
Rudi also won a Gold Glove playing left field for the A’s in ’74.
Overall, Rudi, like Bando, played 16 seasons in the Major Leagues. Over a six-year period, from ’72-’77, Rudi’s average OPS+ was an impressive 131.
I have chosen 1972 as Joe Rudi’s Best Forgotten Season, but if you choose 1974, you won’t get an argument from me.
Neither Bando nor Rudi posted careers quite worthy of the Hall of Fame. Yet without solid, above average players like these, teams like the A’s would not have likely enjoyed three straight World Series titles.
But above average, solid players were something this kid from Bridgeport could relate to back in the mid-1970′s.