Monday, July 18, 2016

BASEBALL'S DYNASTIES AND THE PLAYERS WHO BUILT THEM Omitted Bios (Chapter 19 Oakland A's 1988-1990)

The A's of the late-'80s/early-'90s are one of those teams on the cusp of being a dynasty. I included them in my book because they met each of the criterion I had established: Multiple postseason appearances in a short span with something to show for it, a relatively stable lineup during the period of dominance, and the presence of multiple Hall of Fame caliber players. Two of the most iconic players on this club, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, will likely never make the Hall of Fame on account of their steroid use. Though the A's were the reigning AL champs for three straight years, they won just one World Series. Unfortunately, it came during a postseason that is remembered more for the massive earthquake that forced the postponement of Game 3 in San Francisco. There were so many key players on these Oakland squads, I was forced to drop quite a few thumbnail bios, all of which are included below.

BEST RECORD: (104-58/ 1988)


Terry Steinbach
            Steinbach was born in New Ulm, Minnesota. A multi-sport star in high school, he was considering a college career in both baseball and hockey before the Indians drafted him in 1980. Though he didn’t sign with Cleveland, he began to focus solely on baseball. He attended the University of Minnesota—the same school that had sent Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield to the majors. The A’s came calling in 1983, drafting Steinbach in the ninth round. 
            Steinbach topped the .300 mark at the plate twice in four minor league seasons. He began as a third baseman and was eventually converted to a catcher. The A’s liked what they saw, calling him up in September of ‘86. He would spend ten full seasons with the club.
            Steinbach was often overshadowed by the larger personalities around him. In 1988, some critics claimed that he was a poor choice for the All-Star team. He was so underappreciated that his name was actually misspelled (“Steinbech”) on his personalized All-Star bat. He silenced his detractors by homering and getting named All-Star MVP. “You get to thinking about it yourself,” the modest backstop told reporters after the game. “I was standing in the on-deck circle thinking ‘Should I be here?’ And then I hit that home run…” Two more All-Star selections would follow.
            Steinbach was known for his ability to work with pitchers. According to one source, opposing moundsmen sometimes watched videos of Steinbach’s games to develop strategies against certain hitters. Steinbach had a strong, accurate arm, finishing among the top five in assists seven times and runners caught stealing on six occasions. He never won a Gold Glove, but gained a reputation among peers as one of the best receivers in the American League.
            A clutch postseason performer, Steinbach hit .281 in seven series with the A’s. His finest performance came in the ‘89 Fall Classic against the Giants, when he collected 7 RBIs in four games. In all, he drove-in 14 runs in the postseason. During the regular season, he maintained steady batting averages ranging from .242 to .285. His power numbers increased as his career progressed. Between ‘92 and ‘98, he finished with double digit home run totals every year. In ’96, he enjoyed his finest offensive campaign, slamming 35 homers while driving-in 100 runs. Before then, his highest long ball total had been 16.
            Granted free agency in ‘96, he spent his last three seasons with the Twins. He turned down more lucrative offers from several clubs. After suffering through a series of persistent injuries, he retired after the ‘99 slate. He worked as a spring training catching instructor for thirteen years. In 2013, he took his first major league coaching job with the Twins.

Rick Honeycutt
            After spending the better part of eleven seasons as a starter, Honeycutt accepted one of the most thankless jobs in baseball—the role of a set-up man. During Oakland’s three-year World Series run, he got to watch Dennis Eckersley soak up most of the acclaim while he toiled in relative anonymity.
            Honeycutt attended the University of Tennessee and was the Pirates’ seventeenth round pick in the ‘76 amateur draft. In August of ‘77, The Pirates sent him to the Mariners to complete an earlier deal. He spent portions of four seasons in Seattle, posting earned run averages above the 4.00 mark three times.
            During the 1980 campaign, he taped a thumb tack to the finger of his glove and got caught scuffing balls with it. He was fined and suspended for ten games. “It was something that came off the top of my head,” he told reporters guiltily. “A little devil sort of popped up and said ‘why don’t you try this tonight?’” Honeycutt’s mother was disappointed when she heard the news and the twenty-six year old left-hander reportedly promised her he would never do it again.
            The Mariners gave up on him after the 1980 slate, trading him to Texas. He pitched well in ‘81, going 11-6 with a 3.31 ERA, but his follow-up season left something to be desired (5-17/ 5.27). In ‘83, he was off to a 14-8 start when he was traded to L.A. His twenty-five starts qualified him for the AL ERA title, which he claimed with a mark of 2.42.
            Honeycutt continued his erratic pitching with another dreadful season in ‘87. He notched a 2-12 record that year before getting shipped to Oakland. Manager Tony LaRussa helped prolong the left-hander's career by moving him to the bullpen. Honeycutt enjoyed his most successful run between 1988 and 1990, appearing in 182 games—fifty-four as a closer. He won 7 decisions and picked up 26 saves. Most of the time, he worked the middle to late innings before Eckersley was summoned to the mound.
            Honeycutt appeared in eighteen postseason contests for the A’s, gathering 5 holds, a pair of wins and a save. He yielded no runs in five of seven series. He ended up with an inflated ERA due mainly to a succession of unsuccessful outings against the Blue Jays in the ‘89 ALCS. The ‘Jays pounded him for 6 runs in 1.2 innings of work.
            In September of ‘95, Honeycutt signed with the Yankees. They opted not to renew his contract the following year and he ended up with the Cardinals. He was the oldest player in the league during his last season at forty-three years of age. He might have pitched even longer had his elbow not required surgery in ‘97. He retired after the season was over.
            Honeycutt’s 797 appearances currently rank among the top fifty totals of all time. In the late-‘80s, he returned to his home town of Chattanooga and opened a large sporting goods store. He never forgot his roots, making donations and raising money for various local youth organizations. In 1995, the youth baseball field he played on as a teenager was named after him. For more than two decades, a youth benefit golf tournament bearing his name has been held. He was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

Walt Weiss
            Born in Tuxedo, New York—a small town in Orange County—Weiss attended Suffern High School and later the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The college has sent dozens of players to the majors, most notably B.J. Surhoff and Brian Roberts in recent years. Weiss was the A’s first round pick in 1985. He worked his way up quickly through the minor league ranks, making his Oakland debut in July of ‘87. By ‘88, he was the club’s full time shortstop.
            Weiss made a big splash in his first full season, hitting .250 out of the ninth spot in the order. What impressed sports writers most was his stellar glove work. At one point in the season, he assembled a fifty-eight game errorless streak. He received a stirring round of applause when it was finally broken against the Twins. “That’s the first time I ever got a standing ovation for an error,” he joked. “I couldn’t tip my hat after making an error.” Weiss was an overwhelming choice for Rookie of the Year.
            During his fourteen seasons in the majors, Weiss demonstrated little power, going deep just 25 times. More than half of those long balls came while playing for the Rockies in homer friendly Coors Field. He became known as a good contact hitter and a skilled bunter. He was never a reliable batsman in the postseason, managing a cumulative .190 average in forty-six games.  
            Even when he wasn’t hitting, Weiss chipped in with his glove. He finished among the top five in fielding percentage six times and can be seen in numerous news photos soaring high in the air to elude sliding runners while making off-balance throws. He covered a lot of ground at short, compiling a lifetime range factor of 4.57, which places him among the top one hundred of all time at his position.
            When Weiss slumped to .212 at the plate in ‘92, the A’s traded him to the Marlins and replaced him with Mike Bordick. Weiss enjoyed several of his finest offensive seasons outside of Oakland. He became a more patient hitter, compiling an on-base percentage of .362 from 1995 through 1998. He spent his last three seasons with the Braves, retiring after the 2000 campaign. In all, eight of the squads he played on went to the postseason.
            Finished as a player, Weiss served as special assistant to Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd. He later coached at the high school level in Denver. Before the 2013 campaign, the Rockies offered him the manager’s job. He led the club to a 74-88 record, which wasn’t bad considering that the team was in a rebuilding phase. As of 2016, he was still at the helm in Colorado.   

Mike Moore
            Moore was born and raised in Oklahoma farm country. To date, he is the only alumnus from Eakly High School in Carnegie to ascend to the majors. He attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa and ended up being the Mariners first round pick in 1981. No one was more surprised than Moore himself. “It’s kind of overwhelming because I come from a small farm community of about two hundred and fifty people,” he told reporters. “It’s kind of hard to imagine that out of all the baseball players in America, I’m the top one picked this year.” The Mariners’ decision had a lot to do with his lively fastball, which had been clocked at ninety-seven miles per hour. He had an above average sinker in his arsenal as well.
            Moore didn’t get much minor league conditioning. He appeared in a total of just twenty-five games in the lower ranks between ‘81 and ‘83. He spent a large chunk of time with the Mariners in that span, accruing an underwhelming 13-22 record with an ERA above 5.00. He began to show improvement in ‘85, but his pitching went south again in ‘87 as he led the league in losses and earned runs. By the end of the ‘88 campaign, the Mariners lost hope in the twenty-eight year old hurler and cast him adrift.
            The old adage ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ ended up being applicable as Moore found instant success in Oakland. The A’s weren’t putting too much pressure on him. “We look at Mike as someone who can take the ball every five of six days and pitch seven or eight strong innings,” said GM Sandy Alderson. “With a good offense and defense behind him, we think he can be a big winner.” Those words proved to be prophetic as Moore had his best season ever in ’89. He finished among the top ten in strikeouts, starts and shutouts while posting career-best numbers in wins (19) and ERA (2.61). He finished third in Cy Young voting that year.
            Moore would win 13 games the following year and, though his won/loss record was below .500, he was frequently a victim of poor run support. Despite his penchant for wildness and vulnerability to the long ball during his career, the flame-throwing country boy proved he was a big game pitcher during the postseason. In ‘89 and ‘90, he compiled a 4-1 record in four October series with a cumulative ERA of 1.88. Moore broke a ten-year hitless streak by American League pitchers when he doubled in Game 4 of the ‘89 World Series against the Giants. He had two good starts in that Series, allowing just 3 runs in 13 innings pitched.
            In ‘91 and ‘92, Oakland failed to return to the Fall Classic. Moore kept plugging away with a 34-20 regular season record. A free agent after the ‘92 slate, he signed with the Tigers. His numbers declined every year. In 1995, he had the worst season of his career, leading the league with 15 losses and posting an unwieldy 7.58 ERA. The Tigers released him and he retired.  

Todd Burns
            Burns never led the league in any statistical category. He never captured any awards or gained wide acclaim while playing in the majors. Few people have even heard of him. From 1988 through 1990, he was a nameless, faceless hero for the Athletics.
            Burns was a member of Team USA in ’83 when the squad won a silver medal in the Intercontinental Cup. He earned first-team All-American honors at Oral Roberts University, capturing the attention of A’s scouts. A seventh round selection in the ’84 amateur draft, Burns toiled in the minors until Steve Ontiveros went down with an elbow injury in May of ‘88. Inserted into the starting rotation, he won eight of ten decisions. When Oakland clinched the pennant that year, manager Tony LaRussa made it clear that Burns would only be used as a fill-in or emergency starter. “I know that and it’s okay,” said the good-natured hurler. “Anything it takes to win…” Impressed with the rookie’s attitude, LaRussa commented: “I think we’re seeing the beginning of a good career for that young man.” LaRussa let Burns face one batter in the ’88 World Series against the Dodgers. The right-hander was summoned in the top of the ninth with two out and the A’s trailing, 5-2, in Game 5. He induced a ground out off the bat of Alfredo Griffin, ending the inning.
            Moved to the bullpen in ‘89, Burns was among the A’s most frequently used pitchers in a two-year span. He appeared in ninety-three games—two as a starter and thirty-one as a closer. He notched a 9-8 record with 11 saves and a highly efficient 2.57 ERA. Along the way, he earned the nickname “The Mad Hatter” for his habit of tugging on the bill of his cap and readjusting it before every pitch.
            As LaRussa gained confidence in his young hurler, he began handing Burns the ball more often during the postseason. Burns made four World Series appearances in ‘89 and ‘90. He was charged with no runs in three of those outings. Against the Reds in Game 1 of the ‘90 showcase, he had a shaky fifth inning, yielding 3 of Cincinnati’s 7 runs. He bounced back in Game 3 with a scoreless effort.
            Burns tested the free agent market after the ‘91 slate and signed a contract with the Rangers worth $345,000. His career went downhill fast as he compiled a 3-13 record outside of Oakland. Traded to the Cardinals midway through the ‘93 slate, he accrued an unsightly ERA of 6.16 in twenty-four appearances. The following year, he signed with the Mariners, but never made it out of their farm system. After his retirement, he established his own baseball school in Huntsville Alabama.


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