The "Human Rain Delay" tried out for Oakland.
Over the past week, the Oakland A's have sent numerous players back to minor league camp. For some of those players, that demotion will be only a speed bump in their eventual careers with the A's. For others, their careers will continue with other teams. Each will have a unique story. Inside, our resident A’s historian Donald Moore has the story of six players who were cut from past A's camps.
There have been countless players who have tried out for the Oakland Athletics throughout the team’s tenure in Oakland. Literally hundreds of players have flocked to the annual A's Spring Training camps in the hope of making the team. Their backgrounds and circumstances may have varied, but they were united by one goal: to play for the Oakland A’s.
This is a story about six of those players – a highly touted A's pitching prospect; an Oakland native and outfielder who holds a record rookie batting feat; a former American League Rookie of the Year and All-Star player; a National League All-Star shortstop; a Cuban National Team defector; and a former Japanese League All-Star – all of whom tried out for the Oakland A’s during Spring Training and all of whom failed to make the team.
William "Sugar Bear" Daniels, was a first-round draft pick (17th overall) by the Oakland A’s, selected from Mackenzie High School in Detroit,
Michigan, in 1971. Daniels was a strong-armed, muscular, right-handed power pitcher, who the A's front office had high hopes for. He was supposed to be the
next Vida Blue and incidentally got his nickname, Sugar Bear, from A's owner Charlie Finley.
Daniels was invited to the A’s Spring Training camp in 1972 and he pitched so well for the A's during Spring Training in 1972 that A's manager Dick Williams stated that Daniels was a strong candidate to make the Opening Day roster. Daniels not only faced stiff competition from the returning A's 1971 starting pitching staff, but also from A's pitching prospects Dennis Myers and Chris Flothe. Unfortunately for Daniels, he was one of the last cuts made by Oakland and was promptly shipped back to minors, where he toiled for the remainder of his professional career. He never did get another invite to Oakland and unfortunately never lived up to his hype. He finally retired after the 1974 season.
Oakland native Alvis Woods was a former left fielder who played in the major leagues between 1977 and 1986. In his rookie season for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1977, he became the sixth player in American League history to hit a home run on the first pitch he ever saw in the major leagues. He was the regular Blue Jays left fielder until he was acquired by the Oakland A's on November 5th, 1982 in exchange for C/DH Cliff Johnson.
The A's fully expected Woods to be part of their outfield corps of Rickey Henderson, Mike Davis and Dwayne Murphy for the 1983 season, but it wasn’t to be. Woods was released by the A's on March 28th, 1983. He eventually re-signed with Toronto and then went on to play for the Twins, retiring after the 1986 season.
First baseman Mike Hargrove was an American League Rookie of the Year in 1974 and an American League All-Star in 1975. He was a career .290 hitter and he was an extremely tough out. He also had a distinct nickname, "The Human Rain Delay.” Hargrove was known to drive opposing pitchers crazy with his at-bats antics, which included stepping out of the batters’ box for every
pitch, thus throwing off the pitchers’ timing.
Hargrove played for the Texas Rangers (1974-1978), the San Diego Padres (1979) and the Cleveland Indians (1979-1985). He attended the 1996 Oakland A's Spring Training camp, as a non-roster player and without a major league contract, after he declared free agency from the Indians. He was released by the A's after a lackluster spring performance on March 26, 1986, after manager Jackie Moore told him that he didn't fit in the A's plans. After his playing days were over, Hargrove went on to manage the Indians, Orioles and Mariners.
Another teammate of Hargrove’s on the 1986 Oakland A's Spring Training squad was Cuban defector, utilityman Barabo Garbey. He was acquired by the Oakland A's from the Detroit Tigers on November 13th, 1985, in exchange for outfielder Dave Collins. Many people didn't realize that Garbey was one of 125,000 Mariel Boat lift refugees who escaped from Fidel Castro's Cuba in 1980, and that he was the first member of the Cuban National baseball team to leave the island and defect to America.
Garbey was signed by the Detroit Tigers and eventually appeared on their World Series team in 1984 as a 27-year-old rookie. The A's acquired Garbey with the hopes that he could solidify the team’s bench, but he was abruptly released by Oakland on March 21, 1986. He eventually would sign on with the Texas Rangers and appear in 30 games with them in 1988 before he retired
for good from professional baseball.
Shortstop Dickie Thon was an All-Star shortstop who played for 14 years in the major leagues. Thon spent two years on the California Angels (1979-1980), seven seasons with the Houston Astros (1981-1987), one season with the San
Diego Padres (1988), three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies (1989-1991), one season with Texas Rangers (1992) and one season with Milwaukee Brewers (1993), before he signed a minor-league contract with the Oakland A's, as a non-roster player in the spring of 1994.
At the start of his career, Thon was touted by many to be a future Hall of Famer, but Thon's career took a drastic turn for the worst on April 8th, 1984, when he was hit in the face by a fastball thrown by former A's pitcher Mike Torrez. That pitch broke the orbital bone around Thon’s left eye and it ended his season. He
returned for 1985 season, but he suffered from problems with depth perception that permanently effected his eyesight, and, thus, had a detrimental effect on the rest of his career.
Thon was invited to the A’s Spring Training camp in 1994. He was having a good camp with the A's and Oakland manager Tony LaRussa was very excited to have him on the team. To the A's dismay, on March 3rd, 1994, Thon – through his player agent – sent a letter to the A's officials stating that he was having problems seeing batted balls when playing the field and he announced his retirement.
In 1998, the A's had another player with an interesting background appear in their camp. Thirty-seven-year-old third baseman Hiromi Matsunaga was a standout Japanese League baseball player who played 17 years for the Hankyu-Onix, Hanshin and Daiei Japanese baseball teams. He had a career .293 batting average and was a perennial Japanese League All-Star. Matsunaga was so dedicated to his attempt to make the team that he paid his own way to try out.
A's GM Billy Beane was quoted as saying that he didn't think Matsunaga had shot, but "the fact he has competed at a high level, you never know." Matsunaga batted .091 in 11 at bats in nine spring games for the A's, and shortly thereafter announced his retirement from baseball.
Over the years, the A's have had many players full of potential fill their ranks. Some with great backgrounds and others with different degree of success. Many answer the call, but only a few are chosen. These players gave all they had, but for one reason or another, their final goal was unfulfilled.
To read more about the history of the Athletics franchise, please click here.