Monday, March 31, 2014
Oakland's All-Time Baseball Team
All too often, it would be a Borg Roadtrip: The Yankees would lose 7 of 9, and resistance was futile.
While the A's have been more successful than the Giants (and are thus ranked higher here), the regional team for San Francisco is much better than the one for the East Bay. But this team would cause a few problems for opponents as well.
8. Oakland’s All-Time Baseball Team
This pool of players comes from the following California Counties: Alameda, which includes Oakland itself; Contra Costa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Stanislaus and Yolo. (Yes, Yolo. It doesn't mean "You Only Live Once," it was the name of a local Indian chief.) And, of course, the players involved don't have to have grown up while the A's have been in Oakland, since 1968.
1B Willie Stargell of Alameda. Born in Earlsboro, Oklahoma, graduated from Alameda’s Encinal High School. He hit the longest home runs ever measured at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, both Jarry Park and the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, and the first 2 homers hit out of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles -- but, strangely, he did not hit the longest at either Forbes Field (Babe Ruth) or Three Rivers Stadium (Greg Luzinski, which is only fair since "Pops" hit the longest ever at the Vet).
Hall of Fame, 475 homers, 2 rings with Pittsburgh Pirates, who retired his Number 8. Pops joined Honus Wagner and his former teammates Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Clemente as being honored with a statue outside PNC Park. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 81.
2B Joe Morgan of Oakland. Born in Bonham, Texas, graduated from Oakland’s Castlemont High. The best 2nd baseman of my lifetime, and that includes Ryne Sandberg, Lou Whitaker, Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar and Jeff Kent. A 132 career OPS+, his 268 home runs made him the all-time leader among second basemen (since surpassed by Sandberg and Kent), 2,517 hits, 689 stolen bases (9 straight seasons with at least 40, including 3 of at least 60), 6 times reached the postseason including 3 Pennants and the 1975 and ’76 World Championships with the Cincinnati Reds, seasons in which he was also the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
The Reds have retired his Number 8, and he’s in the Hall of Fame. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 60. All this despite being just 5-foot-7. As for his broadcasting, well…
Honorable Mention to Steve Sax of West Sacramento. His first manager, Tommy Lasorda, said of him, "He plays like my wife shops: All day long." I think that meant he hustled all game long. He was National League Rookie of the Year in 1982, even though he'd been up with the Los Angeles Dodgers long enough to be on the postseason roster the year before, winning the World Series. He also helped them win it all in 1988, and to win the NL Western Division title in 1983 and '85. He was a 5-time All-Star, including in 1986 when he batted .332.
He came to the Yankees in 1989 and batted .315, and the stories of him "developing the yips" were in the past: While he made 30 errors in 1983, in 3 seasons in Pinstripes, he made 10, 10 and 7 errors, hardly outrageous totals for a modern 2nd baseman.
Honorable Mention to Dustin Pedroia of Woodland. He's a Red Sock, so I can't stand him. But the achievements don't lie -- at least, not without a steroid outing, which I don't think is coming. Like Cal Ripken, he was AL Rookie of the Year one season, MVP the next, 2007-08. He's been an All-Star 4 times and a Gold Glove 3. In his MVP year, he led the AL in hits and doubles (with 54). He's 30, and his "lifetime" batting average is .302, his OPS+ 117. He's helped the Red Sox reach 4 postseason berths, including the 2007 * and 2013 * World Championships.
SS Jimmy Rollins of Alameda. Like Stargell, he's a graduate of Encinal H.S. Amazingly, a lot of Phillies stars have come from the East Bay, including also Larry Bowa of Sacramento, whose 5 All-Star appearances, 2 Gold Gloves, and sparkpluggery of 6 postseason teams including the 1980 World Champions make him an Honorable Mention here.
But J-Roll has surpassed him as the greatest shortstop in the history of Philadelphia baseball. The 2007 NL MVP, 3 All-Star appearances, 4 Gold Gloves, 2,175 hits, 199 homers (already not a bad career total for a shortstop) and 425 stolen bases, and Captain of the 2008 World Champions. If the Phils don’t eventually retire his Number 11, and if he doesn’t make the Hall of Fame, I will be genuinely shocked.
Honorable Mention to Dick Bartell of Alameda. "Rowdy Richard" was born in Chicago, so I missed him the first time I made this team out. He had 6 .300+ seasons, collected 2,165 hits including 442 doubles, and made the first All-Star Game in 1933, and another in 1937. He only played 1 game for the Pirates in their 1927 Pennant season, but won Pennants with the 1936 and '37 Giants and the 1940 Detroit Tigers.
Honorable Mention to Derrel McKinley “Bud” Harrelson of Hayward, still the best shortstop the Mets have ever had (unlike Rey Ordonez and Jose Reyes, he did not get substantially worse in September or October), and who ended up traded to… the Phillies. And to Chris Speier of Alameda (another Encinal grad), a 3-time All-Star for the San Francisco Giants.
3B Harry “Cookie” Lavagetto of Oakland. He made 4 All-Star teams with the Brooklyn Dodgers, including 1941 when they broke a 21-year Pennant drought. He probably would have had a much better career if he hadn't lost the next 4 seasons to serving in World War II. Such was his popularity that a Dodger fan named Fierce Jack Pierce used to buy two tickets, one for himself and one for a helium tank that he’d put in the next seat, and he’d blow up balloons with “COOKIE” on them, chanting, “Cooooooookie! Cooooooookie!” all the way, and the balloons would be batted around Ebbets Field like beach balls.
Cookie is best known now for his last career hit, which won Game 4 of the 1947 World Series, breaking up the no-hitter of Bill Bevens of the Yankees with one out to go. In the famous photo of Ralph Branca face down on the steps after giving up Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World, Cookie is the man sitting next to him, looking forlorn with a burning cigarette in his hand. He went on to become one of the first coaches for the Mets.
Honorable Mention to Andy Carey of Alameda – but of Alameda H.S., not Encinal. Nine years with the Yankees, including leading the AL in triples in 1955, he appeared in 4 World Series. Also to John Vukovich of Sutter Creek, another Phillie – in fact, between playing, coaching and managing, Vuk and Bowa share the record for most seasons in a Phils’ uniform.
Honorable Mention to Ed Sprague of Castro Valley. The son of Ed Sprague Sr., a 1970s pitcher, Ed Jr. played on the Toronto Blue Jays’ back-to-back World Champions of 1992-93, hitting a home run in the Jays’ Game 2 victory over Atlanta in 1992 despite making only 50 plate appearances in the regular season. In 1996, he hit 36 homers with 101 RBIs, and in 1999, by then with the Pirates, he was named an All-Star (probably because every team had to have one and the Bucs were otherwise pathetic). Retiring in 2001, he went back to the East Bay as the head coach at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. He and his wife are both Olympic Gold Medalists: Ed in baseball in 1988, Kristen Babb-Sprague in synchronized swimming in 1992.
LF Rickey Henderson of Oakland. Like Dick Bartell, he was born in Chicago, so I nearly missed him when I first did this team. But he grew up in Oakland, went to Oakland Technical H.S., and had 4 separate stints with his hometown A's. He's not easy to sum up, but here goes:
He had a career OPS+ 127. He set records for stolen bases in a season, 130 in 1982, and in a career, 1,405 and no one else is even over 1,000. (But he also set the records for caught stealing, 42 in a season and 335 in his career.) He had 6 .300 seasons. He hit 297 homers, including the most leadoff homers. He was an 11-time All-Star. He won 1 Gold Glove. He was named the 1990 AL MVP.
He is the all-time leader in runs scored with 2,295. Briefly, before being surpassed by Barry Bonds, he was the all-time leader in walks with 2,190. (But he's also among the leaders in strikeouts with 1,694.) He reached postseason with the A's in 1981, '89, '90 and '92, the Toronto Blue Jays in '93, the Padres in '96 and the Mets in '99, winning rings with the '89 A's and the '93 Jays. 3,000 Hit Club.
Hall of Fame. The A's retired his Number 24.When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 51. He may have been the most egotistical ballplayer of all time, but there was plenty of reason for it: As Bill James, King of the Statheads, says, if you split Rickey Henderson in 2, you could have 2 Hall-of-Famers.
Honorable Mention to Charles “Chick” Hafey of Berkeley. A sinus condition led him to become one of the first prominent players to wear glasses on the field, and insured that his last productive season came at age 31 and that he was finished 34.
But anyone calling him “Four-Eyes” had better have also called him “Sir.” He had a lifetime batting average of .317, OPS+ of 133, collected a hit in an NL record 10 straight at-bats in 1929, was the 1931 NL batting champ at .349, in 8 full seasons never batted below .293, 3 times had at least 100 RBIs. He helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the 1926 and ’31 World Series, also winning Pennants in ’28 and ’30. He was selected for the first All-Star Game in 1933 and got the Game’s first hit. He also had one of the best outfield arms of his era.
He is rightfully in the Hall of Fame, and he did live long enough to see it happen, but the Cards have never retired a number for him – in fact, they traded him away before they ever started wearing uniform numbers.
Honorable Mention to Greg Vaughn of Sacramento. He was saddled at the start of his career with a weak Brewer team and a not-very-hitter-friendly Milwaukee County Stadium, but he moved on to the San Diego Padres and helped them win the NL West in 1996 and the Pennant in 1998. A 4-time All-Star, he finished with 355 home runs.
CF Willie McGee of Richmond, Contra Costa County. On October 21, 1981, the Yankees traded him to the Cardinals for pitcher Bob Sykes. This was a stupid thing to do: Sykes was 26, but an injury meant he would never play again; while McGee, just 22, nearly became the next year’s NL Rookie of the Year, and helped the Cards win the 1982 World Series, and the 1985 and 1987 NL Pennants, and then helped the A’s win the 1990 AL Pennant, and then nearly helped the Giants win the 1993 NL West title (and they were leading the next year when the strike hit), and returned to the Cardinals and got them to within 1 win of the 1996 NL Pennant.
He won 2 Gold Gloves and the 1985 NL MVP, and batting titles in 1985 and 1990, and made a bunch of great catches. He finished with a .295 batting average, 2,254 hits, 350 doubles, and 352 stolen bases. The Cards have not officially retired his Number 51, but neither have they handed it back out.
Honorable Mention to Dave Henderson of Dos Palos, Merced County. Considering how Red Sox fans now treat David Ortiz, Curt Schilling, and several other members of the 2004, 2007 and 2013 tainted champions, just imagine if they’d gotten that last out in 1986. Hendu, who hit the home run to put them ahead in the top of the 10th in Game 6 of the World Series, and also hit the home run that saved them from being eliminated in Game 4 of the ALCS, would be a god in New England today.
The Sox didn’t hang on to him. But he was one of these guys that “get followed around by winning teams.” He helped the Giants win the Division in 1987, then went across the Bay to Oakland, winning the AL West in 1988, ’89, ’90 and ’92; the Pennant in ’88, ’89 and ’90; and the ’89 Series. A knee injury knocked him out at 35, but had several good seasons, and was oh… so… close… to being the biggest hero in New England baseball history.
It seems weird that the Oakland area is very solid at left field, and positively loaded at right field, but McGee, a borderline case for the Hall of Fame, is the best they can do in center – mainly because the DiMaggio brothers, Joe and older brother Vince, were moved by their parents from Martinez to San Francisco at a young age, and younger brother Dom was born there and they all grew up there, thus making them ineligible for the Oakland team I’m setting up here.
RF Frank Robinson of Oakland. Although born in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson grew up in West Oakland. Think about this: McClymonds High School had, at the same time, in the early 1950s: Frank Robinson, the only baseball player to be MVP in each League, and the first black manager in each League; Bill Russell, the keystone of the Boston Celtic dynasty, and the first black head coach in modern major league sports; and Ron Dellums, who served 27 years in Congress, became Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and served a term as Mayor of Oakland. Just a little bit later, the school produced Vada Pinson, another All-Star ballplayer and Robinson’s Cincinnati Reds teammate for a few years; a few years after that, star NBA player and coach Paul Silas, and Jim Hines, the first sprinter to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters, winning the Gold Medal in the 1968 Olympics and holding the record for 15 years at 9.95.
Frank Robinson hit 586 home runs, fell just 57 hits short of 3,000, led the Reds to their first Pennant in 21 years, led the Baltimore Orioles to their first Pennant and World Championship ever (unless you count the old NL version, in which case it was their first in 70 years), and is essentially the greatest ballplayer you don’t think of right away. From his generation, 4 right fielders made the Hall of Fame. The other 3 are Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline; yet all get remembered first, and, sometimes, so do Roger Maris and Rocky Colavito, who didn’t make the Hall.
Nevertheless, both the Reds and the Orioles retired Frank’s Number 20 – in fact, he was the first Oriole to have his number retired. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, and rooting for the Reds, Mike Schmidt wore 20 in honor of Frank. Along with teammate Brooks Robinson, was part of the first induction class into the team’s Hall of Fame. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 22.
Oh, and to answer the question on that cover in the photo, Fritz Pollard had already been pro football's first black coach, in the NFL's first season, 1920, with the Akron Pros. But the NFL might not really have been a "major league" then, so the first real black head coach in the NFL would have been... Art Shell of the Oakland Raiders, in 1989.
Honorable Mention to Jackie Jensen of Oakland. With the University of California at Berkeley, he won the first College World Series in 1947. In the regional final, he outpitched future Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne of Texas. In the national final, Cal defeated a Yale team that had future President George H.W. Bush. He also played football at Cal, becoming their first 1,000-yard rusher, and saved them in a 4th-and-31 situation by rushing for 32 yards in “the Big Game” against arch-rival Stanford. They went undefeated and won the title in the league now known as the Pac-12, but lost the Rose Bowl to Northwestern.
He was signed by the Yankees, and in 1950 became the first (and still only) man to play in the Rose Bowl, the College World Series and the regular World Series. (The only other man to play in the Rose Bowl and the World Series is Chuck Essegian, for Stanford in 1952 and the Dodgers in 1959, respectively.) The Yankees had too many outfielders, so he was traded, eventually ending up on the Red Sox.
He won the AL MVP in 1958, reached 3 All-Star teams, won a Gold Glove, had 5 100-RBI seasons, led the AL in RBIs 3 times, and had 1,463 hits and 199 homers… in just 11 seasons. He retired in 1960 and again in 1962, aged just 34. Not because of injuries, but because… he was afraid to fly, and expansion had made that necessary. His wife, Zoe Ann Olsen, was a Silver Medalist in diving at the 1948 Olympics. He is in the Bay Area, Boston Red Sox and College Football Halls of Fame.
Honorable Mention to Von Hayes of Stockton, another Phillie on this list. Best known for the December 9, 1982 trade in which the Cleveland Indians sent him to Philly and got back 5 players, the best known of which were 2nd basemen Manny Trillo (a great player on the way down) and Julio Franco (a great player on the way up). That Franco was still playing in the majors 25 years later seems to have rankled Phils fans, who called Hayes “Five-for-One” and suggested his uniform number, usually 9, be “541.”
But he had a lifetime OPS+ of 113, and in 1986 led the NL in both doubles and runs scored, and 5 times he hit at least 15 home runs (peaking at 26 in 1989) despite Veterans Stadium not exactly being a hitter’s park (Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski to the contrary). He has since become a minor-league manager, winning Manager of the Year in the Class A California League with his home-region Modesto in 2004 and in the Class AA Texas League with Midland in 2005. He managed in the Philly area, having managed the Lancaster Barnstormers and now the Camden Riversharks, both of the independent Atlantic League.
Honorable Mention to Jermaine Dye of Vacaville. I don’t know why nobody picked him up for the 2010 season: In 2009, at 36, he hit 27 homers with 81 RBIs. He appears not to have been hurt, and he wasn't suspended for steroid use -- in fact, there's no record of him even been accused of it.
For his career, he hit 325 homers and 363 doubles. He had 4 100-RBI seasons, was a major force in the A’s reaching the postseason in 2001, ’02 and ’03; and was the MVP of the 2005 World Series for the White Sox, the only Series won by a Chicago team in the last 97 years. He also had one of the best outfield arms of his era, although he only got 1 Gold Glove.
DH... or is that DL? Nick Johnson of Sacramento. Has it really been so long since he was capable of batting .290 with 23 homers and 77 RBIs in 628 plate appearances? In one season, not 2 or 3? It was 2006, with the Washington Nationals. Only once after that did he appear in at least 100 games, and he retired after the 2012 season, with an OPS+ of 123, but only 95 home runs.
C Ernie Lombardi of Oakland. Another McClymonds High graduate, he was one of the guys who make people who call Mike Piazza “the best-hitting catcher ever” look incredibly stupid. He batted .300 10 times. His career OPS+ is 125. He was the NL’s MVP in 1938, a 7-time All-Star, and led the Reds to the 1939 Pennant and the 1940 World Series (although he was injured and didn’t play in the ’40 Series).
Unfortunately, he was known for some unpleasant things, including a large nose and a play in the ’39 Series where he got knocked out in a home-plate collision with Charlie Keller of the Yankees, which allowed Joe DiMaggio to, essentially, achieve an inside-the-park home run – together, these led to Lombardi being “known for his Schnozz and his Snooze.” He did not live to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he was eventually elected.
SP Dutch Ruether of Alameda. He went 137-95 for his career, including 19-6 with the 1919 World Champion Reds, 18-7 for the 1925 AL Champion Washington Senators (he was with the Dodgers during the Senators’ ’24 World Championship season), and 13-6 for the 1927 World Champion Yankees. After 1927, Ruether returned to his native Pacific Coast League, because he could make more money there, pitching until 1933.
SP Monte Pearson of Oakland. He went 18-13 for the Cleveland Indians in 1934, but just 8-13 in 1935. The Tribe then traded him and lefty pitcher Steve Sundra to the Yankees for pitcher Johnny Allen. This isn’t the best trade the Yankees have ever made, nor the worst the Indians have made, which should tell you a lot about both franchises.
In Pearson’s first 4 years with the Yankees, he went 19-7, 9-3, 16-7 and 12-5, and was the winning pitcher in a World Series game each time, with a Series ERA of 1.10 and the Yanks winning all 4. He was an All-Star twice, and on August 27, 1938, he pitched the first no-hitter in Yankee Stadium history. Guess who the opponent was. You got it, the team that traded him away, the Indians.
SP Dave Stewart of Oakland. He is one of only 2 players on this list to go from growing up in Oakland to starring for the A’s. From 1987 to 1990, he won at least 20 games 4 years in a row; for the latter 3 of those, the A’s won the Pennant. He was the MVP of the 1989 World Series, the only Oakland title since the Reggie/Catfish years. He won another ring with the Blue Jays in 1993.
Unfortunately, the A’s retired Number 34 for Catfish Hunter, so when he came back to the A’s, he had to switch to 35. Other teams have retired 1 number for 2 guys, so why not the A’s? He won 168 games, and became one of the game’s top pitching coaches. He is now a sports agent, and his clients include Dodger sensation Matt Kemp.
SP Randy Johnson of Livermore. His hometown was the site of the Altamont concert that cast a cloud over rock and roll in 1969, and the 6-foot-10 “Big Unit” sure looked like baseball’s equivalent to a Hell’s Angel. He had the worst hat-hair in the history of sports. And he was one of the meanest SOBs you’ll ever see.
But he’s (quite possibly for good) the last pitcher win 300 games (303, peaking at 24 for the 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks), the all-time strikeout leader among lefthanders (4,875), has a career WHIP of just 1.171, an ERA+ of 136, made 10 All-Star teams, won 5 Cy Young Awards (4 in a row from 1999 to 2002), led the league in strikeouts 9 times (including 372 in 2001, the most ever except for Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax) and ERA 4 times (lowest was 2.32 in 2002).
He reached the postseason with 4 teams: The Seattle Mariners (1995 and ’97), the Astros (1998), the Diamondbacks (1999, 2001 and ’02) and the Yankees (2005 and ’06). He pitched 2 no-hitters, including a perfect game for the D-backs against the Braves in 2005. He became the first lefthander to strike out 19 batters in an AL game, then did it again, then became the first lefty in either league to strike out 20 in a game.
He was one of the all-time great Yankee Killers, due to his performances in the 1995 ALDS with Seattle, the 2001 World Series with Arizona, and the 2005 and ’06 ALDS with… the Yankees: He put up 2 of the most useless 17-win seasons you’ll ever see, then, each time, choked in Game 3 of the ALDS. He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year.
SP Carsten Charles “CC” Sabathia of Vallejo. The Big Fella is 33, and he's a lefty, so his career shouldn't even be close to being over. Here’s what he’s done thus far: Won 205 games (currently tied with Tim Hudson as the active leader) against only 115 defeats, 2,389 strikeouts (also the active leader there, by over 200 more than the runner-up, ex-teammate A.J. Burnett), a career ERA+ of 121, a WHIP of 1.232, 6 All-Star appearances, the 2007 AL Cy Young Award with the Indians, postseason appearances for 3 different teams (the Indians in 2001 and ’07, the Brewers in ’08 and the Yankees in 4 times), and was the MVP of the ’09 ALCS.
In 5 seasons as a Yankee, 51 starts, he is 88-42. Not bad for a man listed at 290 pounds (and 6-foot-7). The heaviest Yankee ever, but he sure does a good job of throwing his weight around. I’m thinking something else heavy is in his future: A Monument Park Plaque.
Honorable Mention to the Forsch brothers of Sacramento. Ken won 114 games, and younger brother Bob won 168. They are the only brothers to both pitch no-hitters: Ken threw one for the Astros on April 7, 1979, the earliest in a calendar year one had ever been thrown (a record tied by Jack Morris in 1984 but broken by Hideo Nomo on April 4, 2001). Bob pitched 2, in 1978 and 1983, the only no-hitters ever thrown at Busch Stadium II (the one that stood from 1966 to 2005). Ken never appeared in a World Series, although he got into LCS with the Astros in 1980 and the California Angels in 1982 and ’86. Bob appeared in 3 with the Cardinals, winning in ’82 despite pitching poorly in that Series.
Honorable Mention also to Dick Ruthven of Fremont, yet another Phillie on this team. He went 17-10 as the Phils’ 2nd starter behind Steve Carlton in their 1980, first-ever World Championship season, and was on the mound when they clinched their first Pennant in 30 years. He later became one of several ex-Phillies, including Bowa and Ryne Sandberg, who was plucked away by his former manager, then Cubs GM, Dallas Green. He won 123 games.
RP Dennis Eckersley of Fremont. Born in Oakland, along with Stewart he went from that to the A’s. He pitched a no-hitter for the Indians in 1977, but, in another brain-surgeon Tribe trade, they sent him to the Red Sox, for whom he won 20 games in 1978. Drinking ended his effectiveness as a starter, but the A’s got him in 1987, and manager Tony LaRussa converted him into a reliever, redefining the role from one-or-more innings “fireman” to 9th-inning-only “closer.”
A 6-time All-Star, the AL’s MVP and Cy Young Award in 1992, he won 197 games and saved 390 others – a starter/reliever combination no one can beat. He reached the postseason with the Cubs in 1984, the A’s in ’88, ’89, ’90 and ’92, the Cards in ’96, and in a return to the Red Sox in ’98, but only won one ring, with the ’89 A’s, though he was on the mound for the clincher. He didn’t win with the A’s in ’88, largely because he gave up a home run to Kirk Gibson to lose Game 1. After which, Eck coined the phrase “walkoff homer.” But he has walked into the Hall of Fame, and the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, and the A’s retired his Number 43. When The Sporting News announced its 100 Greatest Baseball Players in 1999, he came in at Number 98.
Honorable Mention to Warren Brusstar of Napa, yet another member of the 1980 World Champion Phillies – and yet another that Dallas Green took from South Philly to the North Side of Chicago. He only won 28 games and saved 14 in his career, but was a key figure on 5 postseason teams, 4 with the Phils and 1 with the Cubs.
MGR Billy Martin of Berkeley. He was no slouch as a player, either. He batted .257 for his career, but that was in the regular season. In World Series play, 5 tries, he batted .333 with 5 homers and 19 RBIs, including 12 hits (tying what was then the record) in 1953, the last driving home the run that won the clinching game. That year, he hit 15 homers with 75 RBIs as a righthanded hitter in the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium. He made the All-Star Team in 1956.
In his 1st season as a manager, 1969, he led the Minnesota Twins to the first AL West title. In his 1st full season with the Tigers, 1972, he led them to the AL East title. In his 1st full season with the Texas Rangers, 1974, he led them to 2nd place, the highest finish in the history of the franchise to that point. In his 1st full season with the Yankees, 1976, he won the Pennant; in his 2nd, 1977, he won the World Series. In his 1st 2 seasons with the A's, he got them from 108 losses in 1979 to 2nd place in '80, and the AL West title in '81. And with a patchwork pitching staff, he got the Yankees to 97 wins in 1985, not getting knocked out until the next-to-last game of the season.
But there were 2 reasons he never stayed anywhere for long: He was an alcoholic, and he had a persecution complex. Put them together, and he was always fighting -- sometimes his teams' owners figuratively, sometimes his players and others literally. He was set in his ways, nearly ruining the Yankees' 1977 chances by not batting Reggie Jackson 4th because it would "mess up my running game." He had Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella and Chris Chambliss: He didn't need no stinkin' running game. George Steinbrenner told him, "Bat Reggie 4th, or you're fired." He batted Reggie 4th, and they went 40-15 the rest of the way. Then he messed things up again in '78, and resigned 1 step ahead of George's axe, while new manager Bob Lemon brought them all the way back and won the Series. So, really, his greatest achievement is not the '77 title, because it wasn't really his. His greatest achievements are the '76 Pennant, and possibly saving the A's from getting moved in '80.
Still, George kept bringing him back, partly because he did win, partly because he was so popular with Yankee Fans, partly because George genuinely liked him on a weird level, and partly because George was always a sucker for a redemption story, thinking, this time, he and Billy and the Yankees could make it better. Five times -- 1975-78, '79, '83, '85 and '88 -- Billy managed the Yankees. It's believed by many that Billy was going to be brought back again for 1990, but then he was killed in a truck crash on Christmas Day 1989.
The Yankees retired his Number 1 and gave him a Plaque in Monument Park on August 10, 1986. I was there. Billy said, "I may not have been the greatest Yankee, but I am the proudest."