The A’s Ten Greatest Hitters
Jimmie Foxx (1925-35)
Few players struck more intimidation, fear—and home runs—upon pitchers in his day than the brawny, powerful Foxx, memorably once described in the words of New York Yankees pitching ace Lefty Gomez: “He wasn’t scouted, he was trapped.”
While A’s manager-owner Connie Mack paid extravagant fees to build up his great Philadelphia teams of the late 1920s and early 1930s, he paid peanuts for a teenage Foxx only after receiving inside info about him from former Athletic Frank “Home Run” Baker, then a minor league manager. Debuting with the A’s at a youthful 17, Foxx took some four years to work his way into the everyday lineup, in part because the A’s weren’t sure where to put him; he was brought up as a catcher and dabbled in the outfield and third base before Mack finally put him at first base, where he evolved into a solid defensive asset.
But it was at the plate where Foxx clearly earned his money. He was a monster presence in the batter’s box, and his numbers (to say nothing of his looks) soon drew parallels to Babe Ruth. He averaged 33 homers and 131 runs batted in over the A’s three consecutive pennant-winning years of 1929-31, but he was merely warming up. In 1932, Foxx came perilously close to matching Ruth’s single-season home run record, finishing with 58—a record for right-handed hitters that would hold until Mark McGwire toppled it in 1998. Foxx also led the American League that year with 151 runs scored and 169 knocked in—and under current rules would have won the triple crown, but his .364 batting average was a close second to Dale Alexander, whose .367 mark qualified simply because he played in over 100 games.
A year later, Foxx would be acknowledged—then as now—as a triple crown winner while winning his second straight AL MVP award, hitting .356 with 48 homers and 163 RBIs. Foxx further proved he was at peak performance throughout the year by clubbing three homers in one game, four in a doubleheader, hitting for the cycle in another game and once knocking in nine runs.
Because he commanded critical marquee attention for the A’s, Foxx was one of the last players from the team’s second dynasty to be traded off by Mack, who two years earlier had begun cleaning house as he couldn’t afford to retain all of his stars under the financial burden of the Great Depression. Foxx ended up alongside star pitcher and former Philly teammate Lefty Grove in Boston and continued his one-man wrecking crew act, winning one more MVP for the Red Sox in 1938.
The 1930s would belong to Foxx; he’s one of three players, along with Ruth in the 1920s and McGwire in the 1990s, to hit over 400 homers in one decade, and his 1,404 RBIs during the 1930s are the most recorded by any player in any decade.
Al Simmons (1924-32, 1940-41, 1944)
While Foxx and Grove grabbed most of the headlines during the A’s second dynasty, Simmons garnered the same level of respect from weary opponents, proving to be a tougher out than Foxx and sometimes wielding as much power with the bat. The fans certainly thought highly of Simmons’ talent; when the general public was given voting power for the first All-Star Game in 1933, he received the most votes.
The ornery, Milwaukee-born Simmons arrived in the majors under his birth name of Aloysius Szymanski, but he grew tired of the media slaughtering his name and, after spotting a ballpark billboard, shortened and simplified it. Reporters referred to him early and often as he hit .308 with eight homers and 108 RBIs in his rookie 1924 campaign—then took off a year later, hitting .387 and leading the AL with 253 hits, with 43 doubles, 12 triples and 24 homers among them. Simmons was never better than during the A’s three straight pennant-winning seasons of 1929-31, averaging 31 homers and 150 RBIs while winning two batting titles; with Foxx alongside him in the lineup, Simmons was part of an electrifying duo that was on a par with that of Ruth and Lou Gehrig—even outslugging his powerful teammate in 19 World Series games, smashing six homers with 17 RBIs while hitting .333.
Nicknamed Bucketfoot Al for his unique batting stance in which his front foot faced directly toward third base, the right-handed hitting Simmons hit a superb .356 in his nine-year tenure with the A’s, knocking in 100 runs each year and collecting 200-plus hits five times. He remains the franchise leader in total bases and RBIs, and is a close second to Bert Campaneris (yes, Bert Campaneris) as the A’s all-time hit leader.
Simmons was the first star from Mack’s second dynasty to depart when he was shipped along with Jimmy Dykes and Mule Haas to the Chicago White Sox for $100,000. His numbers mellowed throughout the remainder of the 1930s as he was constantly on the move (five teams in seven years after his trade from the A’s), but returned for two more short stints in the early 1940s, finishing his career with a lifetime .334 average and 2,927 hits.
Rickey Henderson (1979-84, 1989-95, 1998)
Baseball’s all-time speed king ran here, there and everywhere throughout his 25-year career, earning a paycheck from nine different teams. But he’s best remembered for the first two of four separate stints with the A’s—the first as a non-stop, record-breaking basestealer, the second as a more complete, power-laden leadoff man who propelled the A’s to a world title.
One of many green prospects starting out during the franchise’s dark days of the late 1970s when the Oakland Coliseum sat virtually empty, Henderson quickly established himself as the game’s preeminent stolen base artist. In 1980, his first full season, he became the first American Leaguer to steal 100 bases; two years later, he shattered Lou Brock’s single season record with 130 swipes—surpassing Brock at 119 on a pitchout. With 108 more a year later, Henderson became the first player to steal over 100 in successive seasons.
Henderson was traded to the New York Yankees after the 1984 season, but after his productive tenure there turned sour early in 1989 as he clashed with manager Dallas Green—affecting his play on the field—he was traded back to Oakland, now a powerhouse guided by loyal players’ manager Tony La Russa. Proving that he was at his best when at his most content, Henderson came to life with the A’s—hitting .294 with 70 walks and 52 steals in just 85 games, before driving postseason opponents crazy with a .441 average, three homers, ten walks and 11 steals in nine playoff games as the A’s waltzed to a World Series triumph.
Rewarded with baseball’s second $3 million-a-year contract (a week after Kirby Puckett became the first), Henderson delivered in 1990 with the only MVP performance of his career, reaching career highs with a .325 average and 28 home runs while leading the league with 119 runs and, of course, 65 steals. In a salary dump three years later, the A’s sent Henderson to Toronto for the Blue Jays’ successful stretch run toward a second straight world title that would also be Henderson’s second—and then, the A’s resigned him back for 1994. Leaving again after 1995, he returned one more time in 1998, stealing 66 more bags to lead the AL for the 12th and last time—and at age 39, becoming the oldest player ever to lead either league in thefts.
Henderson’s career totals are one of a kind. His 1,406 steals are nearly 500 ahead of second-place Brock; his 2,295 runs also rank first on the all-time list; and he’s a member of the 3,000-hit club, an achievement all the more impressive considering that he found additional time to draw 2,190 walks (second all-time) on top of that. Finally, no player has also hit as many leadoff home runs as Henderson, who has 79.
Eddie Collins (1906-14, 1927-29)
A classic deadball era star with great patience, Collins was the prime asset on Mack’s “$100,000 Infield” that helped produce the A’s first dynasty in the early 1910s.
The A’s first snuck Collins onto a major league field at age 19 under an alias to avoid being detected by officials at Columbia University—where he was still enrolled and playing baseball—but the ruse failed, costing Collins his final year of collegiate eligibility. It hardly slowed up Collins’ development toward the big leagues; by 1909, he was the A’s everyday second baseman, and a very good one at that—leading his peers numerous times in fielding percentage at the position.
But Collins’ fame came courtesy of his bat and feet. He was a career .333 hitter with 3,315 hits but, because he played in the same era as immortals such as Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson and Tris Speaker, he never won an official batting title. (Under current eligibility rules, he would have earned a batting crown over Cobb in 1914.) Collins was purely a singles hitter, seldom racking up extra-base hits; even as the deadball stars powered up in the Ruthian 1920s, Collins demurred, topping out with a mere six home runs in 1924.
On the basepaths, the agile Collins was a master at studying pitchers to gain that extra step; he stole a career-high 81 bases in the A’s first championship campaign of 1910, and finished his career with 741—good for eighth on the all-time list (sixth among modern-era players). In 1912, he stole six bases in two different games, ten days apart; only three other major leaguers have accomplished the feat even once.
Collins was said to have an uppity arrogance grown out of his Ivy League past; as a result, he was detested by teammates who came from less privileged upbringings. Many were happy to see him go when, after the 1914 season, he told Mack he would sign with the upstart Federal League; he instead accepted a trade to the White Sox where he was handsomely paid—and even more disdained by his new teammates, fanning existing flames that eventually led to the Black Sox Scandal.
Reggie Jackson (1967-75, 1987)
From the very first day he put on a big league uniform for the A’s, the flamboyant Jackson didn’t shy away from proclaiming himself as the future of the franchise. As with most of his boasts, he proved to be correct.
Jackson’s swing was a reflection of his colorful personality, a healthy, swooping cut that often corkscrewed his body and left him planting his left knee on the ground. He often missed, especially early on in his career—leading the AL in strikeouts over each of his first four full seasons. But with the bad came plenty of good; in 1969, he stormed out of the gate and lacerated 37 home runs at the All-Star break before cooling off in the season’s second half—still finishing with a career-high 47 homers and 118 RBIs. A contract squabble the following year with insufferable Oakland owner Charles Finley highly affected his play—even taking time in one of that year’s few good moments to look toward Finley after bashing a home run to mouth a F-bomb at him. After discovering he was nearsighted, Jackson regained his vision and touch in 1971, a season best remembered for his legendary blast at the All-Star Game in Detroit that cleared Tiger Stadium’s upper deck. “I didn’t travel 2,000 miles to strike out,” Jackson said afterward.
Adding more bravado in 1972, Jackson reportedly became the first major leaguer to sport a mustache in nearly 60 years—and every A’s player followed suit. As the A’s embarked on their three-year dynasty of the early 1970s, Jackson was there to lead the way—highlighted by a 1973 AL MVP effort in which he collected a league-leading 32 homers and 117 RBIs. He missed the 1972 World Series after tearing up his hamstring in the ALCS against Detroit, but hit .302 over the next two Fall Classics—taking MVP honors in the 1973 Series against the New York Mets despite performing under a “credible” death threat.
Jackson’s ego often was too much for his teammates, once engaging in a vicious clubhouse fight with Bill North that rendered his shoulder badly hurt. Others just laughed off the attitude. Reliever Darryl Knowles once remarked of Jackson, “There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover that hotdog.”
After leading the AL in homers for a second time in 1975 with 36, Jackson was dealt by the A’s to Baltimore, where he played one year before beginning his memorably turbulent tour of duty for George Steinbrenner in New York. He returned to Oakland at the end of his career in 1987 to, among other things, mentor a young Jose Canseco.
Frank “Home Run” Baker (1908-14)
Baker forever made his name—and was handed a nickname for which he’d be well remembered—when he became the home run-hitting star of the A’s victorious 1911 World Series over the New York Giants.
Six decades before Reggie Jackson, Baker was the first incarnation of Mr. October—hitting .378 with seven doubles, three homers and 18 RBIs in 20 World Series games for the A’s. The home runs really stood out for deadball era fans who witnessed round-trippers on a relatively rare basis, and were already quite aware of Baker as one of the game’s most constant deep threats as he led the AL over four straight seasons (1911-14) in homers—although he never hit more than 12 in any of those years. In fact, he hit more triples (54) over the same period, a reflection of the times as deadened baseballs and voluminous distances to outfield walls made home runs a difficult feat in comparison to post-Ruthian times.
The taciturn Baker held little swagger and lacked the look of a slugger, checking it at 5’11” and 175 pounds, but using quick wrists and a monstrous 52-ounce bat, he emerged as one of the most gifted power hitters of his time. Baker was more than just a home run hitter, knocking out doubles, triples and even sacrifice bunts with equal zeal; he was also a proficient basestealer and a defensively gifted third baseman for Mack’s “$100,000 Infield” that also featured Collins, Stuffy McInnis and Jack Barry. In seven years with the A’s, he hit a solid .321.
After 1914, Baker threatened to jump to the Federal League unless he got a raise; neither happened, and he sat out the 1915 season, keeping in shape through the semipro circuit. He agreed to a trade to the Yankees a year later, but his quality of play never reached his earlier heights.
Harry Davis (1901-11, 1913-17)
Before Baker, the local from Philadelphia was the A’s first deadball era boomer, matching Baker by leading the AL in home runs over four straight years from 1904-07—twice pacing the circuit with a mere eight for a season.
Davis began his career with the National League in 1895 but found it difficult getting everyday activity on the field. He temporarily gave up on the game in 1900 and worked in a railroad when Mack came to him offering a chance to play for the A’s in the newborn AL. The opportunity rescued Davis’ career and turned him into the A’s best hitter during their first decade of existence—peaking in 1905 when he led the AL in runs, doubles, home runs and RBIs.
Given the captainship of the A’s, Davis embraced rather than stiff-armed the hot young flow of talent that would turn the franchise into a dynasty at the end of his career. He eventually yielded his full-time first base job to McInnis and left in 1912 to take what would turn into a turbulent one-year assignment as Cleveland’s manager—returning to Philly to coach under Mack with the idea that he would succeed him down the line. That never happened; Davis died at age 74 in 1947—three years before Mack stepped down from his 50-year reign as manager.
Mark McGwire (1986-1997)
The Bunyanesque boomer arrived with the A’s from Pomona, California by way of USC, where his tape-measure shots became the stuff of collegiate legend; he immediately let major league pitchers know that no ballpark would be too big for him when he belted a 450-foot drive to the deepest part of Detroit’s Tiger Stadium for his first big league homer late in 1986. But it was 1987, McGwire’s official rookie campaign, when he set the baseball world on fire; he drilled 33 bombs over the fence before the All-Star Game, and finished with a record-shattering rookie total of 49—missing a chance at 50 when he left the team at season’s end to witness the birth of his first child.
Visions of McGwire becoming the next Babe Ruth would, over his next five seasons, give way to visions of Dave Kingman as he continued to load up on home runs but did so with poor averages and high strikeout totals. Still, he was a valuable component of the victorious A’s teams from 1988-92, branded as half of the famed “Bash Brothers” duo with teammate and slugging equal Jose Canseco.
As the A’s regressed in the standings, McGwire recovered from his mid-career recession and ramped up the power even more—with respectable batting averages to boot. The new problem became injuries; from 1993-95, he missed a total of 308 games—but in the 178 he didn’t miss, he hit .278 with 57 home runs, 139 RBIs and 146 walks. In 1996, he remained mostly pain-free—and smashed 52 homers with a .312 average in only 130 games. That season began a mind-boggling five-year run in which he would average 61 homers a season—but alas for A’s fans, only the first year-plus of that run would see McGwire wearing an Oakland uniform; with free agency looming, he was dealt to the Cardinals by new (and far more austere) A’s ownership.
Reunited in St. Louis with former Oakland manager Tony La Russa, McGwire embarked on his historic home run binge of 1998, destroying the all-time season record with 70. The feel-good memories of the time would be shattered in 2005 when a retired McGwire refused to answer to past steroid use in front of a Congressional committee investigating the splurge of PEDs in the game; after a period of seclusion, McGwire emerged in 2010 to admit that, yes, he had taken steroids during his career. As such, admittance into the Hall of Fame remains a steep climb for him.
Bob Johnson (1933-42)
An Oklahoma native given the nickname Indian Bob because he was one-quarter Cherokee, Johnson couldn’t break into the A’s roster before 1933 because of the immense talent already checked in; by the time he did secure an everyday presence in Philadelphia, he found himself with a team on a downward trend and would spend the next ten years as a consistently reliable (if not overpowering) slugger for an A’s ballclub that quickly devolved to second division status.
On a better team, Johnson could have made a bigger name for himself—but as the A’s slumbered in the standings, his sure, steady output couldn’t compete in the game’s front lines of attention reserved for the likes of DiMaggio, Foxx, Gehrig and Greenberg. Johnson is a face on the news and notes of baseball history by becoming the first player to collect at least 20 homers in each of his first nine seasons; he also knocked in 100 runs for the A’s in seven straight years, scored over 100 runs five different times, healthfully collected up to 100 walks a year and was named to seven All-Star Games. But he never led the league in a major offensive statistic and only once finished among the top ten in AL MVP voting when he placed eighth in 1939.
Jose Canseco (1985-92, 1997)
Baseball’s first synthetic superstar, Canseco was an imposing, muscular specimen who never wielded a great batting average and was often embarrassing in the outfield, but there was no denying his immense power, whether obtained licitly or not.
Canseco belted 33 homers in his first full year and won AL Rookie of the Year honors despite a .240 average and a more complete performance from Wally Joyner, second in the vote. But Canseco improved and, before the 1988 season, he publicly predicted an unprecedented 40-40 season—40 homers and 40 steals. Canseco delivered; he led the AL with 42 homers and 124 RBIs, swiped 40 bases and, answering critics who wondered aloud if he, like McGwire, was ticketed to becoming the next Dave Kingman, lifted his average to a career-high .307. The AL MVP was his, and so it seemed a world title when he blasted a grand slam in the first game of the World Series against Los Angeles—only to have the moment become a footnote by night’s end when he was trumped by Kirk Gibson’s historic limp-off homer for the Dodgers; besides the slam, Canseco was a depressing 0-for-18 in the Series, part of a career postseason resume from which he would hit just .184 in 30 games.
Throughout his Oakland tenure, Canseco stayed in the spotlight, not always for the right reasons—he once was ticketed for testing aviation fuel in his Porsche at 100 MPH, and more memorably was seen slipping into Madonna’s New York pad for a late-night visit. On the field, the immortal sheen of his 1988 effort turned to rust as he gradually became more one-dimensional; it was home run or bust. Canseco’s time in Oakland came to an irreverent end late in 1992 when he was pulled from the on-deck circle during a game and told he’d been traded to Texas; for the next nine years, he would bounce from team to team (seven in all, including a one-year return to the A’s in 1997), struggling to stay healthy or earn an everyday spot in the lineup.
With 462 career home runs to his name after his last game in 2001, Canseco in retirement became baseball’s pariah without friends by being the first player to air the majors’ dirty steroid laundry through his tell-all book Juiced; in it, he confessed to steroid use, claimed 85% of major leaguers took them (he later dropped that figure to 50%), and ratted out numerous star players—with many of his accusations proving to be true. He showed up with McGwire at the Congressional hearings on steroids in the spring of 2005, and on a separate note went bankrupt, trying to earn quick cash through sideshow stunts—such as the occasional boxing match with D-list celebrities like Danny Bonaduce.
Oakland A's Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the A's, decade by decade.
The A's Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The A's Ten Greatest Games: A list of ten memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the A's history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the A's ten greatest hitters? Find out here.
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