OAKLAND –- This weekend is about celebration for the A’s, a chance to honor the 25th anniversary of their last World Series championship team.
But when that 1989 season first got underway, the A’s were in no mood to celebrate.
A shocking loss to the underdog Los Angeles Dodgers in the ’88 Fall Classic still hung in the air.
“I think the bitter taste of the 1988 World Series was still in our craw,” recalled Dave Henderson, the center fielder on those teams. “Nothing was going to stand in our way. It just so happens that the Giants were the team we were playing. No team would have had a chance that year because of our drive and attitude.”
The A’s wound up sweeping the Giants, of course, in a Series that was interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake that rattled Candlestick Park right before Game 3. The Series was postponed for 12 days, with the A’s heading to Phoenix for a sort of minicamp to stay sharp.
Naturally, when most people think back on the Bay Bridge Series, that natural disaster is the first thing that comes to mind. And perhaps the ’89 A’s get short-changed from a baseball history standpoint because of it.
That’s inevitable, said Dave Stewart, who won Games 1 and 3 on the mound for Oakland and was named Series MVP.
“How the World Series is remembered is how it should be remembered,” Stewart said. “It was an earthquake series. But it brought two sides of the Bay together.”
The A’s sweep also helped erase those memories of ’88. They won 104 games in the regular season and were the clear favorites to beat the Dodgers in the World Series. But Kirk Gibson hit one of the most memorable walk-off homers in history off A’s closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1, and the Dodgers rolled in five games.
“When you only win one and you went (to the Series) three times in a row, you think to yourself, ‘We should have (won more),’” Eckersley said. “But I look at it as, ‘Thank God we won one.’ … If we hadn’t gone on and won it the next year, not that (Gibson’s homer) doesn’t stay with me to this day anyway -- but that took a lot off. It really did.”
Stewart is now a player agent, so he’s very much in tune with the current state of Major League Baseball. He hesitates to compare this year’s A’s team -– the World Series favorite according to Las Vegas odds –- with that ’89 squad. But he does draw a parallel.
That team was boosted by the June addition of Rickey Henderson, who rejoined the A’s when general manager Sandy Alderson acquired him from the New York Yankees.
“We had a piece that could round it out, and Billy (Beane) just did that by picking up (Jeff) Samardzija and (Jason Hammel). For me, that’s an over-the-top move,” Stewart said. “That would be indicative of what Sandy Alderson would have done. It was a great move. I feel real confident that these kids -– they’re a young team –- that they have the essentials to get to the World Series.”
Getting to the World Series is one thing. Winning it is more difficult. The same core of A’s players advanced to the Fall Classic from 1988-90, but won just one championship. They were swept by the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, and no A’s squad has played in the World Series since.
“I still say even though we didn’t win three World Series, we should be recognized with some of the best teams that ever played,” Stewart said. “We had a good starting rotation, a Hall of Fame closer, a Hall of Fame outfielder. We were in my opinion a great team.”