The A's in the '80s: From BillyBall to the Bay Bridge Seriesby GoRickey
By 1980, the Oakland A's had become a shell of their former championship selves. The past glory of the World Series championship years, 1972-74, felt like a century ago. There were whispers of the team being sold to Marvin Davis, an oil tycoon looking to move the team to Denver. However, the city of Oakland had an ironclad lease that bound the A's to the Coliseum. So, owner Charlie Finley instead sold the team to the San Francisco-based Haas family. Walter J. Haas, who controlled the Levi-Strauss empire, was dedicated to running the A's the way he ran Levi's Ð making it the best while also serving the community.
During the early 1980's, the A's front office Ð led by Haas family members, Wally Haas and Roy Eisenhardt -- worked hard to provide the best possible experience for Oakland fans. Since 1963, Carl Finley (ex-owner Charlie Finley's cousin) had done the work of several employees for years while running the A's. Haas retained Carl Finley, who mentored front office staff such as A's general manager Sandy Alderson. On the field, the A's managed to make the playoffs in the strike-shortened season in 1981. They were led by their brilliant, but temperamental, manager Billy Martin. Oakland Tribune sportswriter Ralph Wiley famously dubbed Martin's exciting style of play, "BillyBall." Success had its benefits. The A's five starting pitchers, led by 20-game winner Mike Norris, made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Oakland also had a young hometown superstar in the making, Rickey Henderson, who would become the greatest leadoff hitter of all time.
By the mid-1980's, the Haas family had turned Oakland Coliseum into one of the best ballparks in baseball. The place routinely was packed with A's fans enjoying the fan-friendly game experience. The on-field action also was getting better. The A's hired the best manager in baseball, Tony La Russa, and his respected pitching coach, Dave Duncan. With La Russa as the skipper, combined with the marketing magic of Andy Dolich and Alderson's smart baseball personnel deals, Oakland enjoyed a baseball renaissance. The A's were winning on the field again, and as the team drew more than 2 million fans for six consecutive years, its revenue increased, as well. From 1986 to 1988, the A's would produce a trio of "Rookie of the Year" winners: Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Walt Weiss. The team was a good mix of this homegrown youth and savvy, colorful veterans, such as Dave "Hendu" Henderson, Dave "Cobra" Parker and Oakland-native, Dennis Eckersley. They also picked up ex-Dodger pitchers, Bob Welch and Oakland's own Dave Stewart, a 20-game winner in four straight seasons and team leader whose on-mound glare made him an intimidating presence. The A's made three consecutive World Series appearances, and became World Champs in 1989 by sweeping the Giants in what was called the "Bay Bridge Series." In 1990, Oakland set a Bay Area baseball attendance record when the A's drew 2.9 million fans to the Coliseum. By comparison, the New York Yankees never reached that 2.9 million attendance figure until 1998. The San Francisco Giants didn't reach 2.9 million fans until 2000, the inaugural year of AT&T Park.
Sadly, Walter J. Haas became gravely ill in the mid-1990s. The team was sold in 1995 to local interests, Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman. The Haas family patriarch was always loyal to the Oakland A's and to the University of California, Berkeley. Haas' funeral featured the colors of blue and gold to represent Cal, and green and gold to honor the Haas' Oakland Athletics.