MLB Top 5: Oakland Athletics Pitchers

This is the fifth and final article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Oakland Athletics. In this installment are right- and left-handed starters, as well as relief pitchers.

The list of best pitchers in Athletics franchise history includes a pair of Hall of Fame right-handed starters and two of the most iconic closers in the history of the game. However, the most talent is stockpiled with the left-handed starters, with the A’s boasting enough firepower to rival the Yankees in terms of star southpaws.

The Best Pitchers in Oakland Athletics History

Right-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – George Earnshaw started in the major leagues at age 28 after spending several years with the minor league Baltimore Orioles. He became one of the top pitchers on a staff that won three straight pennants. Earnshaw’s best year was 1929, when he led the league with a 24-8 record and posted a career-best 3.29 earned run average. He won 20 or more games three straight years, but he struggled with control, leading the league in walks twice. Earnshaw was dominant in the 1930 World Series, striking out 19 batters in 25 innings, and posting a 0.72 ERA in three starts while winning twice, including the title-clinching Game 6. In six seasons with the Athletics (1928-33), he went 98-58 (12th in franchise history) with a 4.18 ERA in 219 appearances, 175 of which were starts. With Philadelphia trying to cut salaries and Earnshaw having alcohol issues, he was sent to Chicago in 1934. He played for the White Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals before retiring. Earnshaw earned a Bronze Star as a gunnery officer during World War II before rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He also ran an insurance business and was a scout for the Phillies before passing away in 1976 at age 76.

Johnny “Blue Moon” Odom faced racism during his stint in the minor leagues but overcame his treatment to earn two All-Star selections and win 15 or more games three times in 12 seasons with the Athletics (1964-75). He had control issues that at times had him sent to the minors or moved to the bullpen, but he used a sinking fastball to stymie opposing hitters. Odom was a member of three A’s championships, going 3-1 with a 1.13 earned run average in 10 postseason appearances. He finished his time with the tumultuous Oakland club with an 80-76 record and a 3.53 ERA in 269 games, with 214 starts. Odom was traded to the Indians and later, the Braves, in 1975 and finished his career with the White Sox the following year. His final career victory was as the starter in a combined no-hitter against his former team. He walked eight batters in five innings before Francisco Barrios closed the A’s down the rest of the way. Odom worked at Xerox after his retirement, but he had drug and alcohol issues, including multiple arrests for selling cocaine and an incident in which he was holding his wife hostage and didn’t surrender until a SWAT team got involved. He also was shot twice while trying to confront three youths who were breaking into a house in their neighborhood. Odom turned his life around after rehab and rain a house-painting business.

Bob Welch had two memorable moments in his baseball career, striking out Reggie Jackson to end Game 2 of the 1978 World Series as a rookie with the Dodgers and his 1990 season as a member of the Athletics. He was a solid pitcher with Los Angeles, even making the All-Star team in 1980. However, his drinking, which began in high school, was getting out of control. Welch went to rehab and got back on track on the field, posting double-digit wins six times with the Dodgers. He joined the Athletics in 1988, just in time to be a part of their rise to the top. His new team faced his old team in the World Series, and Welch earned Oakland’s victory. Welch won 17 games for a second straight year and was scheduled to start Game 3 against the Giants when an earthquake struck the Bay Area. The series was delayed 10 days and Welch didn’t make an appearance during Oakland’s sweep. Welch had a stellar season in 1990, winning the Cy Young Award. Armed was a forkball in addition to his fastball, he went a league-best 27-6, with his wins tying for the most in a single season over the past 55 years. Welch’s numbers fell off considerable over his final four seasons, with a sore shoulder playing a part. When Oakland wanted him to move to the bullpen on a full-time basis, he retired instead, ending his A’s career with a 96-60 record and a 3.94 earned run average in 214 games, with 195 starts. Welch held various coaching roles after his playing career ended, including with the Diamondbacks, when he served as pitching coach during their championship season in 2001. He died in 2014 at 57 when he fell in his bathroom and broke his neck.

Tim Hudson was among a trio of young arms who brought Oakland back to the playoffs in the early years of the 21st century. Following an 11-2 rookie season, he made the All-Star team and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting after leading the league with a 20-6 record, his first of four straight years with at least 15 wins. Hudson won 18 games and struck out a career-bests 181 batters the following season, and he went 15-9 and won four times during the Athletics’ 20-game win streak in 2002. He suffered an oblique injury two years later and, despite earning an All-Star selection, he was traded to the Braves after the season. Hudson finished his six-year stint in Oakland (1999-2004) with a 92-39 record, a 3.39 earned run average and 899 strikeouts (tenth in franchise history) in 1,240 2/3 innings over 183 starts. He also went 1-2 in seven playoff appearances. Hudson’s tenure in Atlanta included four seasons with 15 or more wins and missing most of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He spent his final two seasons with the Giants, earning his fourth All-Star selection and winning his only championship in 2014. Following his retirement, Hudson was a pitching coach for his alma mater, Auburn and runs a charity with his wife.

5. Jack Coombs – He put together three straight fantastic seasons, but he was something else in 1910. That year, he used a solid fastball and devastating curve to lead the league with a 31-9 record (tied for the most wins in team history) and 13 shutouts (a team record), had an impressive 1.30 earned run average (also a team record) and struck out a career-best 224 batters in 353 innings. He won 18 of 19 starts over the season’s final three months, completed 35 of 38 starts and set a record by throwing 53 straight scoreless innings. Coombs finished off his season with three complete game victories in the World Series to help the Athletics beat the Cubs. Although he again led the league with 28 wins the following year, his other stats regressed, with his ERA increasing by more than two runs per game. Coombs was stellar again in the World Series against the Giants, winning a classic extra-inning pitcher’s duel against future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson in Game 3.

A strained groin suffered during that game affected Coombs the following year, but he still won 21 games. He missed almost the entirety of the next two seasons after a bout with typhoid fever that nearly killed him. “Colby Jack” finished his nine-year run in Philadelphia (1906-14) is tied for fifth in franchise history in shutouts (29), sixth in complete games (135), seventh in ERA (2.60) and tenth in wins (115-67), and he had 606 strikeouts in 1,629 2/3 innings. He was released after the 1914 season, spent four years with the Brooklyn Robins (now Dodgers), had an unsuccessful managerial stint with the Phillies in 1919 and finished his career by pitching two games with the Tigers the next year. Following his time as a player, Coombs was a coach in college at Williams and Princeton, then spent 24 years leading Duke. Even after his forced retirement due to age in 1952, he conducted a free baseball clinic in Texas. Coombs suffered a heart attack in his sleep after running errands and passed away in 1957 at age 74.

4. Eddie Rommel – He was one of the first pitchers to employ the knuckleball and one of the best to do so in the game’s history. Rommel had the misfortune of playing on some of the worst teams in franchise history when he began his career, and he led the league in losses twice in his first three full seasons. However, sandwiched in between was 1922, when he finished second in the MVP voting after leading the league with a 27-13 record, posting a 3.28 earned run average on a team that won just 65 games. After two seasons with 18 wins, Rommel led the league with 21 victories, helping the Athletics finish in second place in the standings in 1925. With the emergence of other talented starters later in the decade, he moved to the bullpen, making two appearances during his team’s run of three straight World Series, going 1-0. The final victory of his career came when he threw 17 innings in relief against Cleveland.

Rommel spent his entire 13-year career (1920-32) with Philadelphia. He ranks third in franchise history in innings (2,557) fourth in wins (171-119) and games pitched (501), fifth in complete games (145), seventh in games started (249) and eighth in shutouts (18) to go with a 3.54 ERA. His 156 wins during the 1920s are the seventh-most in the decade, and he also won a fielding title in 1928. Rommel was a coach and minor league manager for the Athletics before spending 22 years as an umpire in the American League. He also owned a bowling alley and worked as a clerk in the office of the governor of Maryland. Rommel passed away in 1970 at age 72.

3. Dave Stewart – He was a former teammate of Rickey Henderson as a youth, and it was on these teams where the young catcher would get the nickname “Smoke” for his ability to throw to second base from his knees. The Dodgers converted him to a pitcher after drafting him in 1975, but he bounced around to four teams in the early part of his career thanks to off-field issues. Stewart admitted to knowing and lying about teammate Steve Howe‘s cocaine use and later was arrested after being caught soliciting a prostitute by police. He tried out for the A’s on a “last chance” basis and soon found himself with his hometown team in Oakland. He started to use a stellar forkball and soon would blossom into one of the game’s best pitchers.

Stewart led the league with 20 wins and set a career-high with 205 strikeouts in 1987, his first of four straight seasons topping that victory total. He also finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting and threw at least 250 innings in each of those seasons and led the league in innings and complete games twice in that span. In 1989, “Smoke” earned the only All-Star selection of his career and finished second in the Cy Young race after going 21-9 with a 3,32 ERA. In addition to the forkball, Stewart boasted a devastating fastball and one of the most intense and intimidating mound presences in baseball. He used all of this to go 8-3 in 14 playoff starts with the Athletics, helping them to win three straight pennants. Stewart was the MVP of the 1989 World Series victory over the Giants after winning two games, including a shutout in the opening contest.

“Smoke” threw a no-hitter against the Blue Jays in late June 1990, and he finished the season with a 22-11 record and a career-best 2.56 ERA. He went on to win two more games in the ALCS against Boston to earn MVP honors. Following two down seasons that included rib and elbow injuries and surgery on his knee, Stewart signed with the Blue Jays and helped them win a second straight title in 1993, winning yet another ALCS MVP Award following a two-victory performance against the White Sox. He returned to the Athletics for his final season in 1995 and finished his eight-year run in Oakland (1986-92 and ’95) ranked seventh in franchise history in strikeouts (1,152), eighth in games started (245), ninth in wins (119-78) and tenth in innings (1,717 1/3) to go with a 3.73 ERA. Stewart spent his retirement in various on-field and front-office roles, most notably as a pitching coach with the Padres and analyst with the A’s, and he maintains a philanthropy and community service presence in Oakland.

2. Jim “Catfish” Hunter – He survived a hunting accident in which his brother accidentally shot him in the foot to have a 15-year career, 10 of which were spent with the Athletics (1965-74). Despite losing a toe and having more than 30 pellets remaining in his foot, the strength, work ethic and discipline he got from working on his family’s farm helped him to develop a fastball and a stellar curve ball using a sidearm delivery. He signed with the A’s, then in Kansas City, and was given the “Catfish” nickname and backstory by owner Charlie Finley. He made his debut as a 19-year-old in 1965, made his first All-Star team the following year and set a career high with 196 strikeouts in 1967.

After the Athletics moved to Oakland, both Hunter and the team began to improve. The 22-year-old threw a perfect game against the Twins in early April while striking out 11 and driving in three runs at the plate. In 1970, he began a string of seven straight seasons with at least 15 wins, the first five with Oakland. Hunter was the ace of the team in 1972, when he had his first of four straight seasons with a top five finish in the Cy Young voting after going 21-7 with a career-best 2.04 earned run average. He was just as stellar during the postseason, going 7-2 in 14 appearances and helping his team win the World Series three straight years, especially the series against the Reds in which he won two games, including Game 7 in relief. The following year, he outdueled Tom Seaver in Game 6 and the A’s won the title the next night.

Hunter had his best season in 1974, winning the Cy Young Award and finishing sixth in the MVP voting after leading the league with a 25-12 record and a 2.49 ERA. After the season, he was also involved in a labor dispute that began baseball’s move toward free agency. The contract Hunter signed had deferred compensation that was supposed to be paid later in the season, which owner Charlie Finley had not done. The case went to arbitration and the panel sided with the pitcher, voiding the rest of the deal and making him a free agent. Hunter signed with the Yankees for five years and $3.2 million overall, the richest deal in baseball at the time. His first two seasons were fantastic: a 2.58 ERA and league-best totals of a 23-14 record, 30 complete games and 328 innings in 1975 and 17 wins and a 3.53 ERA the following year. Hunter’s time with the clubs was similar. Both the Athletics and the Yankees were run by vocal owners, had plenty of dissension and rivalry among their players and reached three straight World Series during the 1970s. Hunter went 2-3 in eight appearances and won two titles with New York.

“Catfish” suffered from fatigue and diabetes over his final three seasons, and his final year was interrupted as well, with both his father and teammate, Thurman Munson, passing away during the season. The six-time All-Star with the A’s ranks second in franchise history in games started (340), fourth in innings (2,456 1/3) and shutouts (31), fifth in wins (161-113) and strikeouts (1,520), eighth in complete games (116) and tenth in games pitched (363) to go with a 3.13 ERA. His 225 career victories were enough to get him inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987, his third year of eligibility. Hunter spent time with his family, worked on his farm and was an outdoorsman. He was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1998 and died from the condition one year later at age 53.

1. Charles “Chief” Bender – He was part Native American (hence his nickname), who was discovered while playing baseball at a boarding school in Pennsylvania. Bender won 17 games as a rookie with the Athletics in 1903 and got better over time, posting 15 or more wins nine times in 12 seasons with the club (1903-14). He improved to 18 wins on the 1905 pennant-winning squad and pitched a shutout against the Giants for the Athletics’ only win in the World Series. The intelligent, competitive Bender had his best season in 1910, when he went 23-5 with a 1.58 earned run average (his third straight year under 2.00) and 25 complete games. He also threw a no-hitter in May against the Indians and helped the Athletics win their first championships, beating the Cubs in Game 1.

Bender went 17-5 the following year and went 2-1 with a 1.04 ERA against the Giants to help his team win a second straight World Series. He faced injury and a suspension for alcohol use in 1912 but recovered to go 21-10 and lead the league with 13 saves. Philadelphia beat New York again for the title with Bender winning both of his starts. After another phenomenal season (17-3, 2.26 ERA) and leading his team to a fourth pennant in five years, he crashed in the playoffs, losing Game 1 as the Athletics fell to the “Miracle Braves.” Bender ended his tenure in Philadelphia ranked second in franchise history in innings (2,602) and complete games (228), third in wins (193-102), ERA (2.32), games started (288), strikeouts (1,536) and shutouts (36) and ninth in games pitched (385). He went 6-4 with a 2.44 ERA in 10 World Series starts.

Bender jumped ship to the new Federal League in 1915 but went just 4-16. He came back to Philadelphia for two seasons with the Phillies, then worked in the shipyards during World War I. Bender spent several years as a player manager in the minor leagues. While coaching with the White Sox, he threw one inning in 1925 before officially retiring. He continued to coach in the minors and majors, with his last position working with pitchers with the Athletics during the franchise’s final years in Philadelphia. In 1953, Bender became the first player from Minnesota inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when he was voted in by the Veterans Committee. He never got to attend the ceremony, and he passed away due to prostate cancer at age 70.

Left-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – Alex Kellner is a member of a strange and exclusive club in baseball. He is one of only 15 players (only four who played after 1900) that won at least 20 games as a rookie and lost 20 in his second season. However, this was less about the pitcher and more about the anemic Athletics, which were competitive in 1949, when the southpaw made his only All-Star team and not so much throughout the rest of their time in Philadelphia. Kellner led the league in losses two straight seasons and lost 17 games in 1954, the team’s last in their original home. Overall, he went 92-108 and posted a double-digit win total five times in 11 seasons (1948-58), including an 11-8 mark in the first season in Kansas City. Kellner ranks ninth in franchise history in games started (239) and innings (1,730 1/3) and is tenth in complete games (95). He spent time with the Reds and Cardinals before retiring in 1959, worked in construction before arthritis forced him to stop and passed away in 1996 at age 71.

Bobby Shantz used his stellar curveball to help him overcome his short stature (5-foot-6). He began his career coming out of the bullpen in 1949 and had a memorable game in May when he came out of the bullpen to hold the Tigers hitless for nine innings before allowing a run in the 13th but getting his first major league win. Two years later, Shantz won 18 games and the following year, he had by far his best season, winning the Cy Young Award after leading the league with a 24-7 record, posting a 2.48 earned run average and setting career highs with 27 complete games, 279 2/3 innings and 152 strikeouts. The next three years were spent healing a shoulder injury in which a tendon separated from the bone, and the two-time All-Star finished his career with the A’s in 1956 with a 69-65 record, a 3.80 ERA and 1,166 2/3 innings. He was sent to the Yankees as part of a 13-player trade and pitched in three World Series. Shantz was in line to win Game 7 against the Pirates in 1960, but a bad hop on a ground ball in the eighth inning cost the Yankees a sure double play. The teams went into the ninth tied before Bill Mazeroski won it with his memorable home run. Shantz played for five other teams, ending his career with the Phillies and their 10-game collapse in 1964. He managed a bowling alley and a restaurant following his baseball career.

Originally a member of the Cubs, Ken Holtzman was envisioned to be the next Sandy Koufax (lefty, hard-throwing, Jewish). He was traded to the Athletics for outfielder Rick Monday following the 1971 season and became one of the best pitchers in baseball for a team that won four straight division titles. Holtzman won at least 18 games in all four of his seasons in Oakland (1972-75) and earned All-Star selections in the first two years. His best season was 1973, in which he posted a career-best 21-13 record and 16 complete games, then went 3-1 in the playoffs, including a win in Game 7 of the World Series against the Mets. Overall, he went 6-4 with a 2.30 earned run average in 13 postseason appearances. Holtzman and other A’s players finally tired of owner Charlie Finley‘s contract negotiating tactics and demanded traded. The starter was moved along with star outfielder Reggie Jackson to Baltimore in 1976, and the left was traded once again to the Yankees in June. Holtzman finished his time in Oakland with a 77-55 record and a 2.92 ERA in 153 starts. He had issues in New York thanks the tumultuous nature of the team’s clubhouse (mostly due to owner George Steinbrenner and manager Billy Martin), as well as his work with the fledgling player’s union. Holtzman was traded back to the Cubs, ending his career in 1979. The four-time champion and author of two no-hitters worked as a stockbroker and an insurance agent and passed away in April 2024 at age 78.

Mark Mulder joined Hudson and was the next player on this list to form one of the great young pitching trios of the modern era. He was taken by Oakland with the second pick in the 1998 draft and was in the majors less than two years later. After a tough first season, Mulder became an ace, leading the league with a 21-8 record and four shutouts in 2001 while finishing as the runner-up in the Cy Young voting. He followed that with a 19-7 mark and a career-high 159 strikeouts and made the All-Star team in each of the two subsequent seasons, starting the game in 2004. He also went 2-2 in four postseason starts with the Athletics. However, Oakland (as they typically do) started breaking the team apart and Mulder was sent to St. Louis, where he had a good first season followed by three injury-plagued campaigns. He finished his A’s career with an 81-42 record and a 3.92 earned run average in 150 starts over five seasons (2000-04). Mulder retired in 2010 and a comeback attempt four years later was halted when he tore his Achilles tendon. Following his baseball career, he worked as a studio analyst and focused on golf.

Barry Zito was born into a family of musicians (his father was an arranger for Nat King Cole and his mother was one of Cole’s backup singers) but instead chose baseball and was selected by the Athletics with the ninth pick in the 1999 draft. He joined Hudson and Mulder to create a formidable threesome atop the Oakland rotation and posted double-digit wins in six of his eight seasons in the green and gold (2000-06 and ’15). Zito went 17-8 with a career-high 205 strikeouts in 2001 and followed that by winning the Cy Young Award after going a league-best 23-5 with a 2.75 earned run average and 182 strikeouts. The lefty used a dominating curveball to rank eighth in franchise history in strikeouts (1,098), tenth in games started (224) and 11th in wins (102-63) to go with a 3.58 ERA in 1,437 1/3 innings. Zito signed what was then the largest contract by a pitcher in 2007 (seven years, $126 million) with the Giants, but changed his pitching motion and went a disappointing 63-80 during the length of the deal. He went 4-3 in seven postseason starts with the Athletics and won a title with the Giants, as well as the Hutch and Lou Gehrig awards, in 2012. After a year off, Zito returned for one final season with the A’s in 2015, which included a start against Hudson, who was now with the Giants. The man known for outside interests that included playing guitar, surfing, yoga and ballet works as a songwriter and was in the Fox music show, The Masked Singer, in a rhinoceros costume.

5. George “Rube” Walberg – He was in the Coast Guard during World War I and worked in a coal yard to help support his family after his father died. Walberg was picked up by the Athletics on waivers after pitching just two games for the Giants and spending parts of the next two seasons in the minors. He was solid whether starting or coming out of the bullpen, and he had seven straight seasons with double-digit win totals. Walberg spent 11 seasons with Philadelphia (1923-33) and was a big part of three straight pennant-winners and two championship teams. He used a plus fastball, an excellent curve and a changeup to go 12-10 with a career-best 2.80 earned run average in 1926. In the last of the team’s pennant years in 1931, he posted a personal-best 20-12 record and led the league with 291 innings.

Walberg ranks fifth in franchise history in games started (266), sixth in wins (134-114), games pitched (412) and innings (2,186 2/3), seventh in compete games (125), ninth in strikeouts (907) and tied for tenth in shutouts (15). He also went 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA in five World Series appearances. Walberg, like many other players on those stellar A’s teams, was traded to try and recoup financial losses after the Great Depression. He was sent to Boston, where he spent the final four years of his career. Walberg was a scout and bar owner following his playing days and passed away in 1978 at age 82.

4. Vida Blue – He was a fireballing lefty and one of several standout starters on Oakland’s dynast in the early 1970s. Blue had brief callups during his first two seasons but made the most of his stint in September 1970, throwing a no-hitter against the Twins and outduel Jim Perry, who would win 24 games and the Cy Young Award that year. Blue would do one better the following year. Although his 24-8 record would not lead the league, nor would his 301 strikeouts (third in team history), 24 complete games and 312 innings, he did lead the league with a 1.82 earned run average and eight shutouts en route to an MVP and Cy Young winning performance and his first of three All-Star selections with the Athletics.

Blue won 20 or more games two other times with Oakland and was an ace on a staff that went to the playoffs five straight seasons. Although he had mixed postseason results (1-5 with a 4.31 ERA in 17 games), he was a star during the regular season, winning 17 or more games in four straight seasons from 1973-76. Blue’s biggest issue was his feud with Charlie Finley, which included a very publicized holdout and the owner trying to get him to change his middle name to “True” to increase marketing possibilities. Finley went as far as having the scoreboard display that as his name and telling announcers to use the name on the air despite the pitcher’s objections. Blue was sent to the Yankees late in 1976, but the trade was voided by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. He lasted another season in Oakland and was finally moved across the Bay to San Francisco in 1978. Blue ranked tied for fifth in franchise history in shutouts (28), sixth in games started (262) and strikeouts (1,315), seventh in innings (1,945 2/3) eighth in wins (124-86) and ninth in complete games (105). He added a second no-hitter to his resume in 1975, this one combined with three relievers.

Blue was solid with the Giants, earning three All-Star selections in four seasons before he was traded to the Royals. Despite being released, he was implicated in a cocaine bust, spent nearly three months in prison and was suspended for the entire 1984 season. Blue went back to the Giants and had two respectable seasons but retired during spring training after signing with the A’s, with rumors swirling that he failed a drug test. After his playing career ended, he spoke to others about the dangers of drug addiction and was a television analyst for the Giants. Blue passed away due to complications from cancer in 2023 at age 73.

3. George “Rube” Waddell – He played for three National League teams, showing promise before putting together all his talents after joining the Athletics in 1902. Waddell led the league in strikeouts in each of his six seasons in Philadelphia (1902-07). Despite only half the games remaining when he signed in 1902, Waddell went 24-7 with 210 strikeouts and helped his team with the pennant. The following season, he posted a 21-16 record and struck out a league-record 302 batters but was suspended twice, once for going into the stands and fighting a fan and another time when he failed to show up for a start. Waddell’s 1904 season was arguably the most legendary in Athletics history. He went 25-19 with a 1.62 earned run average and eight shutouts and also set team records with 46 starts, 39 complete games, 383 innings and 349 strikeouts, which also was a major league record for more than 60 years.

The following was nearly as good, with Waddell leading the league with a 27-10 record, 46 games, 287 strikeouts and a 1.48 ERA that was also a team record. While Philadelphia won the pennant, their star pitcher missed the final month of the season after hurting his shoulder in a friendly scuffle with teammates while changing trains on the way back from an away series in Boston. Despite two more stellar seasons, Waddell was sold to the Browns in 1908. He had a solid first season, including setting a record by striking out 16 against his former team, but his performance slipped his final two seasons, and he was released in 1910. Waddell is the Athletics’ all-time leader with a 1.97 ERA and ranks second in strikeouts (1,576) and shutouts (37), fourth in complete games (168), seventh in wins (131-82) and eighth in innings (1,869 1/3).

Despite all his talent, Waddell also had an issue with maturity. Adding to his fan-fighting suspension, his litany of transgressions was missing starts for various reasons, including fishing, three contentious marriages, getting fired from a theater company over a pay dispute, drinking problems, assault and battery charges on his in-laws from his second marriage and alleged gambling issues. However, he had a softer side, flagging down a car to take an injured teammate to the hospital and stacking sandbags in icy water to help save his manager’s farm when he was a player with the minor league Minneapolis Millers after his major league career ended. This last act led to him contracting tuberculosis, and he passed away in 1914, a few months before his 38th birthday. Waddell was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee in 1946.

2. Robert “Lefty” Grove – He was known for a great fastball, fantastic control and wild tantrums during a 17-year career in which he won 300 games but could have been even better. Grove held a variety of jobs in his younger years, with companies such as coal mines, glass factories and railroads hiring him not just for the labor, but to put him on their baseball teams. He eventually reached Baltimore and spent five years with the minor league Orioles, winning 111 games. Grove was sold to the Athletics as a 25-year-old in 1925 and went 10-12 despite leading the league in strikeouts for the first of seven straight times. Although he went 13-13 the following year, his earned run average dropped more than two full runs per game to a league-best 2.51.

Beginning in 1927, Grove won at least 20 games for seven straight seasons, leading the league four times. He also won four more ERA crowns, topped the A. L. in complete games three times and even led the Junior Circuit in saves once. Grove went 20-6 with league-best totals of 170 strikeouts and a 2.81 ERA in 1929, helping his team reach the World Series. He came out of the bullpen for two scoreless outings in a victory against the Cubs. The following year, Grove topped the A. L. with a 28-5 record, a 2.54 ERA, nine saves and a career-best 209 strikeouts to win the Pitching Triple Crown, then went 2-1 in a title victory over the Cardinals. Grove matched his World Series record in 1931, but St. Louis won, spoiling his best regular season. That year, he added an MVP Award to his second straight Triple Crown, striking out 175 batters and notching personal bests with a 31-4 mark (which tied for the team record) and a 2.06 ERA. However, the season was not without fireworks, with an August loss to the hapless Browns leading to a tirade in which he tore apart the entire Athletics clubhouse.

Although Grove was financially stable after the Great Depression, his team was not, and he was sent to the Red Sox before the 1931 season. He finished his tenure in Philadelphia ranked second in franchise history in wins (195-79), third in complete games (179), fourth in games started (267) and strikeouts (1,523), fifth in innings (2,401), seventh in games pitched (402) and shutouts (20) and tenth in ERA (2.88). Grove went 105-62 and won four more ERA titles in eight seasons with Boston and retired in 1941 as a six-time All-Star with a 300-141 record, his .680 winning percentage being the best among pitchers in that exclusive club. In his retirement years, he coached and helped youth baseball teams in his native Maryland. Grove was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1947. He passed away in 1975 at age 75.

1. Eddie Plank – For proponents of the pitch clock in the modern game, he would have been a nightmare. While more recent players such as Mike Hargrove and Derek Jeter get flack for taking their time in between pitches, Plank set the bar that even they couldn’t reach. He adjusted his entire uniform in between pitches, asked for a new ball, stared down baserunners and signs from his catcher and even talked to himself. For a pitcher to get away with doing all of this, he must have been good, and Plank certainly was. He won 326 games over a 17-year career, the first 14 of which were spent with the Athletics (1901-14). The victory total was a major league record for a lefty that stood for nearly half a century.

Plank was consistently in the conversation for the best pitcher in the American League, winning at least 14 games every year with Philadelphia and topping 20 on seven occasions. Using an unorthodox delivery in which he threw across his body (giving him a pitch he called a “slant ball”), he won 20 games for the pennant-winning A’s in 1902, his first of four straight years reaching that mark. Two years later, he struck out 201 batters, handed a 2.17 earned run average and set career highs with a 26-17 record, 37 complete games and 357 1/3 innings, with the final two stats ranking second in team history. Plank went 24-12 with a 2.26 ERA and a career-best 210 strikeouts but lost both his World Series starts as the Athletics fell to the Giants.

The veteran lefty continued his sold career over the next several years, winning 24 games and leading the league with eight shutouts in 1907, and posting a 2.17 ERA despite dropping to 14-16 when his team tumbled in the standings. After going 19-10 and posting a career-best 1.76 ERA in 1909, he became an integral part of a team that won four pennants and three championships in a five-year span from 1910-14. Plank finished with a 2-5 record in seven World Series games. He had a sore arm and did not pitch against the Cubs in 1910 but got the win in the title-clinching game against the Giants three years later. Plank is the all-time franchise leader in wins (284-162), games started (458), complete games (362), shutouts (59), innings (3,860, including 300 or more five times) and strikeouts (1,985), and he ranks second in games pitched (524) and fourth in ERA (2.39).

When Athletics owner and manager Connie Mack began to sell off his assets following a loss to the Braves in 1914, Plank was placed on waivers and signed with the Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers, going 21-11 in one season before the league folded. He won 16 games with the Browns in 1916 but retired late the following season with 326 wins and stayed out of baseball despite the Yankees making a trade to acquire his rights. Plank played one season in an industrial league in Pennsylvania and also ran a farm, operated a Buick shop and gave tours of the battlefield in Gettysburg. He suffered a stroke in February 1926 and passed away two days later at age 50. Plank was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Old Timers Committee in 1946.

Relief Pitchers

Honorable Mentions – Blake Treinen was originally drafted by the A’s in 2011 but was sent to the Nationals the following year. He was traded back to Oakland in 2017 and took over as closer. Treinen was stellar the following season, earning his only All-Star selection and got Cy Young and MVP consideration after going 9-2 with a near-unhittable 0.78 earned run average, a career-best 38 saves and 100 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. Thanks to a shoulder issue and regressing stats, he lost the closer role in 2019 and signed with the Dodgers. Treinen went 18-11 with a 2.44 ERA, 67 saves (eighth in franchise history) and 201 strikeouts in 177 innings. He gave up three runs in his only playoff outing with the A’s, a Wild Card loss to the Yankees in 2018. Treinen is in his fourth season with Los Angeles and was a member of the title team during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He missed 2023 after undergoing labrum and rotator cuff surgery.

Jason Isringhausen – He began his career as part of a highly publicized trio of Mets starting pitching prospects known as “Generation K.” However, a bout of tuberculosis, as well as wrist and arm injuries derailed his promising career as a starter. Isringhausen struggled as a reliever in New York but thrived once he was traded to Oakland (for another player on this list) and was given the closer role. He had 30 saves in back-to-back years and earned his first All-Star selection in 2000. “Izzy” went 10-8 with a 3.04 earned run average and 75 saves (tied for fifth in franchise history), and he added three saves in four chances during two straight Division Series losses to the Yankees. He became an even more dominant reliever during his seven-year run in St. Louis, saving 217 games, including a league-high 47 in 2004. Isringhausen played with the Rays and Angels and had a second sting with the Mets before retiring after the 2012 season with 300 saves. He spent time as a volunteer coach with the Southern Illinois at Edwardsville baseball team.

5. Billy Taylor – He toiled for 14 years in the minor leagues, mostly in the Rangers’ organization, before finally latching on with the Athletics as a 32-year-old in 1994. He missed the following year thanks to shoulder surgery but took over the closer role upon his return. Over the next four years, he established himself as one of the league’s better back-end pitchers, posting four straight seasons with at least 20 saves, including a career-best 33 in 1998. Taylor was traded to the Mets for Isringhausen the following year, and he spent time with the Devil Rays and Pirates before retiring in 2001. Taylor finished his five-year tenure in Oakland (1994 and 96-99) with a 15-24 record, a 3.84 ERA, 100 saves (third in franchise history) and 277 strikeouts in 295 2/3 innings.

4. Andrew Bailey – He was selected in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, and he rewarded the Athletics by earning two straight All-Star selections at the start of his career and winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 2009. That season, he set a franchise record for first-year players with 26 saves and posted a 1.84 earned run average. Bailey followed that with an even better season, 25 saves and a 1.47 ERA. He was hit by a line drive in batting practice in 2011 and missed a few days, but he finished the season with 24 saves.

Bailey was sent to Boston in the Josh Reddick trade after the season and after time with the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies and Angels, he retired in 2017. He also missed the 2014 season recovering from surgery to fix a torn capsule and a damaged labrum in his right shoulder. Bailey finished his A’s tenure with a 7-10 record, a 2.07 ERA and 75 saves, which is tied for fifth in franchise history. He has focused on coaching recently and is currently the pitching coach with the Red Sox.

3. Huston Street – He was taken late in the first round of the 2004 draft and wasted no time in making an impact. Street joined the big-league club the following year and became the third straight Athletics player to win the Rookie of the Year Award after going 5-1 with a 1.72 earned run average, 72 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and 23 saves. While his ERA jumped, he saved 37 saves in 2006, but two injury-plagued seasons followed, and he shared closing duties.

Street finished his four-year run in Oakland (2005-08) with a 21-22 record, a 2.88 ERA, 271 strikeouts in 269 innings and 94 saves, which ranks fourth in team history. He had two saves against the Twins in the 2006 Division Series but gave up the series-ending home run against the Tigers in the ALCS. The two-time All-Star was traded to the Rockies in the Carlos Gonzalez-for-Matt Holliday deal, and he also spent time with the Padres and Angels, retiring in early 2018 with 324 career saves after battling knee injuries the previous two years.

2. Rollie Fingers – He went to Cooperstown after his team won the 1964 American Legion championship and he was named player of the year, and it would not be the last time he was at a ceremony in the quiet, baseball-obsessed town in upstate New York. Fingers began his career with Oakland split between the bullpen and spot starting before converting to the closer role in 1971. He developed into one of the best players in that role in the American League, earning four straight All-Star selections for an Athletics team that won their division five years in a row. His best season with Oakland was 1975, when he went 10-6 with a 2.98 earned run average, 24 saves, 115 strikeouts in 126 2/3 innings and a league-best 75 games, allowing him to finish third in the Cy Young and fourth in the MVP voting.

Fingers was part of a group of homegrown players who helped the franchise get to the postseason for the first time in 40 years when the team played in Philadelphia. While he was solid in the regular season, he took things to another level in the playoffs, going 3-4 with eight saves in 30 appearances with the Athletics. Fingers earned the World Series MVP Award in 1974, going 1-0 with two saves against the Dodgers. Like most of the other members of the Oakland club, he had a mostly cold relationship with Charlie Finley. Fingers was upset about getting an offer for only a $1,000 raise before the 1973 season and never spoke to the owner again. However, the one good thing about that came out of his interactions with Finley was his iconic look. Reggie Jackson had decided to show up to spring training in 1972 with a mustache and the other players wanted to grow their own in protest. Instead, the owner turned it into a contest, which Fingers won with his now-iconic handlebar mustache, which he has kept ever since.

Finley tried to sell off Fingers and several other top players following the 1976 season before losing them to free age, with commissioner Bowie Kuhn voiding the closer’s move to the Red Sox. Instead, Fingers (along with catcher Gene Tenace) signed with the Padres, and he responded by leading his new league in saves twice in four years. The pair was traded together to the Cardinals, and Fingers was flipped as part of a memorable trade with the Brewers before the 1981 season. In his first year, he had a nearly flawless 1.04 ERA and a league-leading 28 saves, winning both the Cy Young Award and MVP in the strike-shortened season, and he is one of just 10 pitchers to accomplish this feat. Fingers was his usual consistent self in 1982 but suffered a torn muscle in his right forearm that cost him not just the rest of that season, but all the next as well. He came back for one more stellar season before falling off and retiring in 1985 with 341 career saves. An offer to join the Reds was turned down due to their “no facial hair” policy.

In his nine years with Oakland (1968-76), Fingers went 67-61 with a 2.91 ERA and 784 strikeouts in 1,016 innings. He ranks second in franchise history in saves (136) and third in games pitched (502). Fingers worked for a communications company in the San Diego area following his retirement. The four-time Rolaids Relief Award winner was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, his second year of eligibility.

1. Dennis Eckersley – His 24-year major league career can be split in two parts, one as a solid starter who showed flashes of brilliance and the other as an elite closer who set records and won championships. Eckersley began his career with the Indians in 1975 and two years later, he threatened his first record. Using his signature sidearm delivery, he made the All-Star team while throwing 22 1/3 straight no-hit innings. In the first of those starts, he pitched all 12 innings in a win over Seattle, the last 7 2/3 without allowing a hit. Next came a no-hitter against the Angels on Memorial Day, followed by an early June rematch against the Mariners in while he got into the sixth before giving up a home run. Eckersley was traded to the Red Sox after the season and responded with a career-best 20-8, although Boston fell to the hated Yankees in a one-game playoff for the A. L. East title. He won 17 games in 1979, but arm, shoulder and back injuries limited his effectiveness over the next five years.

Eckersley was traded to the Cubs for Bill Buckner in 1984 but lost his only start in the NLCS and the Padres went to their first World Series. He developed tendonitis in his shoulder and was traded to the Athletics after a subpar 1986 season. In order to minimize his arm issues, the A’s used him as a one-inning closer, a role he relished. Eckersley led the league with 45 saves in 1988, finished second in the Cy Young voting and was named the MVP of the ALCS after saving all four of his team’s victories over the Red Sox. However, he was on the wrong end of one of the most memorable moments in baseball history in Game 1 of the World Series. Eckersley came into the ninth inning of a 4-3 lead against the Dodgers and got the first two batters out before issuing a walk. Up stepped Kirk Gibson, the National League MVP who was hobbled by a leg injury. After a battle that lasted several minutes, Gibson blasted an Eckersley slider over the right field wall for a game-winning home run in what turned out to be his only at-bat of the series, which Los Angeles won in five games.

“Eck” saved at least 30 games in each of the next five seasons and exorcised his playoff demon with three saves in an ALCS win over the Blue Jays and one more in the win over the Giants in the 1989 World Series. He posted 48 saves and a near-unhittable 0.61 earned run average the following year but was ineffective against the Reds, with the A’s being turned aside for their second straight title. In 1992, Eckersley earned his fourth All-Star selection in five years and had his best season in 1992. He went 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA, 93 strikeouts in 80 innings and a league-leading and team record 51 saves, joining Fingers in the group of 10 players to win the MVP and Cy Young Awards in the same season. Manager Tony La Russa went from Oakland to St. Louis and Eckersley joined him after a trade. He finished his nine-year run with the Athletics as the all-time franchise leader with 320 saves and 525 games pitched. Eckersley also went 41-31 with a 2.74 ERA (ninth in team history) and 658 strikeouts in 637 innings. He went 0-2 in the playoffs but had 11 saves in 20 games with Oakland.

Eckersley spent two seasons with the Cardinals and one back with the Red Sox before retiring in 1998. At the time of his retirement, his 1,071 games pitched was a major league record (broken by Jesse Orosco the following year) and his 390 saves ranked second overall (he is now ninth). Eckersley was an analyst with TBS and NESN until his retirement in 2022. The two-time Rolaids Relief Award winner was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2004.

The next team to be featured will be the Philadelphia Phillies.

Upcoming Stories

Oakland Athletics Catchers and Managers
Oakland Athletics First and Third Basemen
Oakland Athletics Second Basemen and Shortstops
Oakland Athletics Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Oakland Athletics Pitchers

Previous Series

A look back at the New York Yankees

New York Yankees Catchers and Managers
New York Yankees First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
New York Yankees Second Basemen and Shortstops
New York Yankees Outfielders
New York Yankees Pitchers

A look back at the New York Mets

New York Mets Catchers and Managers
New York Mets First and Third Basemen
New York Mets Second Basemen and Shortstops
New York Mets Outfielders
New York Mets Pitchers

A look back at the Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins Catchers and Managers
Minnesota Twins First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Minnesota Twins Second Basemen and Shortstops
Minnesota Twins Outfielders
Minnesota Twins Pitchers

A look back at the Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers Catchers and Managers
Milwaukee Brewers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Milwaukee Brewers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Milwaukee Brewers Outfielders
Milwaukee Brewers Pitchers

A look back at the Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins Catchers and Managers
Miami Marlins First and Third Basemen
Miami Marlins Second Basemen and Shortstops
Miami Marlins Outfielders
Miami Marlins Pitchers

A look back at the Los Angeles Dodgers

A look back at the Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels Catchers and Managers
Los Angeles Angels First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Los Angeles Angels Second Basemen and Shortstops
Los Angeles Angels Outfielders
Los Angeles Angels Pitchers

A look back at the Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers
Kansas City Royals First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Kansas City Royals Second Basemen and Shortstops
Kansas City Royals Outfielders
Kansas City Royals Pitchers

A look back at the Houston Astros

Houston Astros Catchers and Managers
Houston Astros First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Houston Astros Second Basemen and Shortstops
Houston Astros Outfielders
Houston Astros Pitchers

A look back at the Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Detroit Tigers Outfielders
Detroit Tigers Pitchers

A look back at the Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies Catchers and Managers
Colorado Rockies First and Third Basemen
Colorado Rockies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Colorado Rockies Outfielders
Colorado Rockies Pitchers

A look back at the Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers

A look back at the Cincinnati Reds

A look back at the Chicago White Sox

Chicago Cubs Catchers and Managers
Chicago Cubs First and Third Basemen
Chicago Cubs Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago Cubs Outfielders
Chicago Cubs Pitchers

A look back at the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Catchers and Managers
Boston Red Sox First and Third Basemen
Boston Red Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Boston Red Sox Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Boston Red Sox Pitchers

A look back at the Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers

A look back at the Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves Catchers and Managers
Atlanta Braves First and Third Basemen
Atlanta Braves Second Basemen and Shortstops
Atlanta Braves Outfielders
Atlanta Braves Pitchers

A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers

0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x