The Oakland A’s had been the gold standard of major league baseball in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They won four AL West titles, three American League pennants and the World Series in 1989 under the leadership of Tony LaRussa. But the costs of being a small market team forced a rebuild and LaRussa left in 1995. Art Howe took over as manager. In 1998, Billy Beane became the general manager. By 1999, the franchise returned to contention. And the 2000 Oakland A’s took the next step and started a four-year run of playoff appearances.
Jason Giambi led the way. In an era when offensive numbers were fueled by PED use, Giambi’s were the best of all in 2000. His stat line was .476 on-base percentage/.647 slugging percentage. He hit 43 home runs and drove in 137 runs on his way to the MVP award.
Miguel Tejada would win an MVP of his own two years later and the shortstop was awfully good in 2000. His OBP was .349, he hit 30 homers and finished with 115 RBI. Veteran second baseman Randy Velarde, a 37-year-old on a team of mostly young players, posted an OBP of .354.
Eric Chavez had a terrific year at third base, with a .355/.495 stat line and centerfielder Terrence Long had a line of .336/.452. Left fielder Ben Grieve popped 27 homers and drove in 104 runs.
The A’s offense, under the direction of Beane, was built on drawing walks and hitting home runs. Batting average was de-emphasized and Oakland only finished 10th in the American League in BA. But they were second in walks and second in homers and that was enough to be third in the AL in the bottom line of runs scored.
Tim Hudson won 20 games with a 4.14 ERA. In this offense-driven era, that ERA was just fine—in fact, Hudson finished second in the Cy Young voting. Gil Heredia and Kevin Appier were 15-game winners with ERAs in the 4s. Even though Barry Zito and Mark Mulder would eventually join Hudson in giving the A’s a dynamic rotation, they were still going through growing pains. But Jason Isringhausen led up a good bullpen with 33 saves and was supported by excellent work from Jeff Tam and reliable 43-year-old veteran Doug Jones. All that was enough for the Oakland staff to also rank third in the American League.
The A’s started slowly, losing 13 of their first 22 games. But they went to Minnesota and swept a bad Twins team, then won six of ten against AL West rivals. By Memorial Day, Oakland was 25-25. In an AL West where all four teams (all of the current members except the Houston Astros) were on top of each other, that was enough to be within a game and a half of the lead and only four back in the race for what was then a single wild-card berth.
The early part of the summer went well for the A’s. They took two of three on the road from the two-time defending World Series champion New York Yankees. Oakland played well during a stretch of interleague games, going 7-2 and winning a rivalry series from the San Francisco Giants—who ultimately won the NL West.
Oakland nudged out to a two-game lead in the AL West before losing seven of nine against the Rangers and Angels. By the All-Star break, the A’s were 48-38, three back of the Seattle Mariners in the division and leading the wild-card pack by a game and a half.
Late summer was up and down. Oakland lost two of three to San Francisco immediately out of the break. They lost two series to the White Sox, who were on their way to the American League’s best regular season record. The A’s lost a couple series to the Yankees. But in games against fellow wild-card contenders from Toronto, Boston and Cleveland, Oakland went 8-2. When the season hit the Labor Day stretch drive, the A’s were 71-64. They were 2 ½ back of Seattle in the West and two back of Cleveland for the wild-card.
Oakland picked up steam for the next two weeks. The Red Sox and Blue Jays started to drift off the wild-card pace. We had a game of musical chairs going on between the Mariners, A’s and Indians to see which team would be left without a seat when the music stopped. Coming into final week, Oakland was one game back of Seattle and one game ahead of Cleveland.
Oakland’s excellent offense met the moment against the Angels, scoring 29 runs in a four-game series and winning three times. When Friday’s final weekend series began, the A’s were plus-two on the Indians to get in the playoffs and a half-game back of the Mariners for the division.
On Friday night, Velarde stepped up with three hits. Giambi also homered and Oakland beat Texas 7-5. While Cleveland also won, good news came elsewhere—Seattle had lost and the A’s were in first place.
On Saturday afternoon, the Indians won their game so the A’s needed to answer in order to at least wrap up the wild-card. How did Oakland respond? With nine runs in the first inning, five in the fifth and eight more in the seventh. A 23-2 win seems like a pretty decisive way to lock up a playoff spot.
Seattle also won, so the division was still up for grabs. The A’s and Mariners had played an unequal number of games—Oakland was 90-70, while Seattle was 90-71. But prior to the 2012 playoff expansion, the difference between the division title and wild-card was accurately seen as less than substantial, so no makeup games or one-game playoff would apply. The only thing up in the air for the A’s was their seeding.
All of that makes the decision to pitch Hudson in the season finale a curious one. The ace was brilliant—eight shutout innings, a 3-0 win that sealed the AL West and his 20th win. But the reward for winning the division and the 2-seed was a Division Series date with New York. A September slump from the Yankees dropped them to the 3-seed, but this was still a team that was in the midst of a dynasty run.
Being the wild-card would have meant a trip to Chicago. The White Sox might have won 95 games, but had nowhere near the playoff experience of the Yankees. Going on the road to play the less-experienced team with your ace ready for Game 1 would have seemed like the better play.
The results in the Division Series played out like you might expect. Seattle went to Chicago and swept the White Sox out of the playoffs. The A’s played a tough five-game series against the Yanks, but came up short.
Debate over end-of-season management aside, this was an unequivocally outstanding season. The A’s were back and for the next four years they would be a fixture of the Division Series. Unfortunately they would lose all four in a decisive fifth game, but they were on the national radar. The run that made Billy Beane famous started in 2000.