It's that special time of year when professional baseball players flock to Arizona and Florida spring training camps in order to get ready for Opening Day. One new 2009 Oakland Athletics player – a former MVP and All-Star A's player – Jason Giambi is donning the green and gold for his second tour of duty after a seven-year absence in the city where his career began. He joins the ranks of several Hall Famers, All-Stars, Gold Glovers, Cy Young Award winners, Rookie of the Years, MVP's and championship winners, whose careers started and flourished in Oakland and would eventually end those careers in the city by the Bay.
In January, Giambi put on the green and gold jersey for the first time since October 2001. The 2009 season also marks the special return for outfielder and stolen base king, future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, as a special assistant to the Oakland A's front office. And if Rickey gets his wish, he will retire as an Oakland Athletic. If that happens, it would be his fifth tour of duty with the Oakland A's.
Three core players from Oakland's 1972-73-74 World Championship dynasty, outfielders Reggie Jackson and Joe Rudi and pitcher Vida Blue, would all return to the Oakland A's to end their storied careers. Rudi’s A's career almost ended before it began. He was acquired on waivers by the Cleveland Indians in 1965, but fortunately, he was re-acquired by the A's in a four-man deal on December 1,1965. Rudi was an integral part of the ‘72-‘73-‘74 World Series championship A's outfields. He would dazzle the sports world with his amazing play in the World Series. On June 15, 1976, he was part on an infamous plot by A's owner Charlie Finley to sell off three of his star players before the inception of free agency to the Boston Red Sox. This deal was then voided by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Rudi declared his free agency at the conclusion of 1976 season and signed on to play for the California Angels. He spent 1977-1980 with the Angels, one year with the Red Sox and returned to the A's for the 1982 and 1983 seasons. He played in 71 games in 1982 for the A's and spent the entire 1983 season on DL, before he was released by the A's on October 28, 1983.
In 1987, Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson and former Cy Young Award winner Vida Blue both reunited with the Oakland A's for a highly anticipated return. Reggie inked a deal with Oakland on Christmas Eve 1986 and Blue signed as a free agent on January 20, 1987. But in a stunning turn of events, Vida announced his retirement from professional baseball, less than a month after he signed from the A's on February 19, 1987. Unsubstantiated rumors of a failed drug test circled around in the media, but Vida said his physical condition was good and he was in good health, but decided to retire instead. Reggie would go on to play in 115 games for the A's in 1987 and hit 15 home runs with 43 RBIs. He was granted free agency on December 15, 1987 and retired shortly thereafter.
Coincidentally, two Baltimore Orioles players – outfielder Don Baylor and pitcher Mike Torrez – were traded to the A's for Reggie Jackson and pitcher Ken Holtzman on April 2, 1976. They would both end their playing careers with the A's. Baylor played for the A's in 1976 and 1988, and Torrez pitched for Oakland 1976 and 1977 and then again in 1984.
Pitcher Mike Norris, a Gold Glove winner in 1980 and an All-Star in 1981, was part of Billy Martin's four aces rotation that also consisted of pitchers Rick Langford, Steve McCatty and Matt Keough. Norris's arm was over-used by Martin, as was the whole starting rotation, and his career
was waylaid by injuries in 1983. He stayed on the disabled list through 1985, before the A's granted his release. Norris toiled in the independent leagues and re-signed with the A's organization in 1990, where he again made the bigs with Oakland after a seven-year hiatus, appearing in 14 games for the A's until he was released again, on July 15, 1990.
Two other teammates of Norris on the early ‘80s A’s squads, regular third baseman Wayne Gross and starting shortstop Rob Picciolo, also served two tour of duties with the A's. Gross, a former Al-Star in 1977, played for the A's from 1976-1983. He then played two years for the Baltimore Orioles in 1984-85 and returned to the A's organization on May 12, 1986 on a minor league deal. He was in the minor leagues before being promoted to Oakland where he played three games in latter part of the 1986 season. He was released by the A's on December 8, 1986. Picciolo played for the A's from 1977-1982 and was dealt to Milwaukee in 1983, where he played for two years. He would then go on to play for the Angels in 1984 season, but returned to the Oakland A's for the 1985 season. Picciolo appeared in 71 games for the A's, batting .275. He was declared
a free agent on November 12, 1985, and shortly thereafter, he decided to hang up his cleats.
Current A's pitching coach Curt Young and infield/base coach Mike Gallego were minor and major league teammates in the Oakland organization in the 1980s. They both had two tours of duties with the Oakland Athletics during their playing careers. Gallego played for the A's 1985-1991 and again in 1995. He didn't retire as an A's player, but as a Cardinal, playing for former A’s manager Tony LaRussa. Young pitched for the A's from 1983-1991 and again in 1993. Both Gallego and Young became minor league instructors and coaches before being promoted to the major leagues as coaches. Both reunited on the Oakland coaching staff for 2009.
Bonus baby and highly sought after amateur free agent pitcher Lew Krausse also deserves mention. Signed by Charlie Finley on June 8, 1961, Krausse was a can't miss prospect. His father, Lew Krausse, Sr., was a scout for the A's and he helped Finley sign his son. Krausse pitched for the Kansas City A's during his first year in pro ball. He was sent back to the minors, but resurfaced with the A's in 1964. He was one of the A's main starters through 1970, until he was dealt to the Brewers on January 15,1970. He pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers during the 1970-71 seasons and was dealt to the Boston Red Sox on October 10,1971. He pitched for the Red Sox in the 1972 season and was cut by Boston in March 27, 1973. He was then signed by the A's on March 31, 1973 and then sold to the Cardinals, on September 1, 1973. The St. Louis Cardinals released Krausse on October 26,1973, and he then signed with the Atlanta Braves on December 17, 1973. The Oakland A's then purchased Krausse from Atlanta on April 11,1974. The Braves then bought him back from Oakland on May 16, 1974 and then released him in December. The A's then re-signed Krausse to take Catfish Hunter's spot in the A's rotation on February 14, 1975. He competed against pitchers Roger Nelson and Skip Lockwood for the last spot, but none of those players broke camp with the Athletics. All three were sent to Triple-A. Krausse toiled in the A's Triple-A affiliate in Tucson for the remainder of the 1975 season and finally called it quits at the conclusion of the Pacific Coast League season. He served a total of four terms with the A's.
There have been many great A's players who have returned to their roots in Oakland. The 2009 season is no exception. A's player Jason Giambi, special assistant Rickey Henderson, General Manager Billy Beane, Director of Player Development Keith Lieppmann, pitching coach Curt Young and infield/base coach Mike Gallego all have ties to the A's in their past. It would be ideal if all of the great A's players would eventually return to Oakland to finish their careers, but in reality, that's impossible, but for some it was a reality. A reality that makes A's fans, who love these players, re-live their pasts and futures at the same time. It makes Oakland A's baseball that much more special.