1981 Oakland Athletics season

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1981 Oakland Athletics
1981 AL West Champions
Major League affiliations
Location
Other information
Owner(s) Walter A. Haas, Jr.
Manager(s) Billy Martin
Local television KPIX-TV
(Bill King, Harmon Killebrew)
Local radio KSFO
(Bill King, Lon Simmons, Wayne Hagin)
KIQI
(Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, Julio Gonzalez)
Previous season     Next season
The Oakland Athletics playing host to the Texas Rangers at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum during a 1981 home game.

The Oakland Athletics' 1981 season saw the A's finish with an overall record of 64 wins and 45 losses. They finished the season with the best record in the American League (and second best in all of baseball). Due to the infamous 1981 players strike, the league resorted to a split-season format; this new format saw the winners of both halves of the season playing in the first divisional playoff in MLB history. The A's qualified by posting the AL West's best record in the first half of the season. While they swept the Kansas City Royals in the AL West playoff, they were themselves swept by the New York Yankees in the 1981 American League Championship Series.

The Athletics' 1981 season ranks among the organization's most interesting. The A's, only two years removed from a disastrous 54-108 finish, won their first AL West crown since 1975 under second-year manager Billy Martin. The "Billyball" A's began the season with a then-record 11 consecutive wins (this record was later broken by the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, who raced out to a 13-0 start). The squad followed its first loss of the season, a tough 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners, with six more victories. Their 17-1 start (through 18 games) remains unmatched. The A's starting rotation (consisting of Rick Langford, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris, and Brian Kingman) received national attention during the torrid start; the unit was collectively featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's April 27, 1981 edition. The periodic heroics of Tony Armas and Rickey Henderson also drew notice.

The Athletics, however, slumped badly following the 17-1 start. While they regained some of their swagger during the season's second half, they ultimately played .500 baseball for the rest of the season. Even still, the A's won the AL West's first half with a 37-23 mark; they also led the division in total wins despite losing the second half to the Royals. The A's swept these 50-53 Royals in the ALDS. The A's themselves were humbled in the ALCS, as the Yankees outscored Oakland 20-4 in a humiliating three-game rout. The 1981 ALCS is perhaps best remembered as the purported birthplace of "the wave"; while the phenomenon's origin is disputed, it is most commonly attributed to Krazy George Henderson, who introduced it to the Athletics' crowd during the series' final game.

Despite high expectations, the A's collapsed in 1982. A rash of injuries, among other factors, saw the team plummet to an abysmal 68-94 record. The firing of Billy Martin at seasons' end brought a swift and unceremonious end to the "Billyball" era. All told, the A's would have to wait until 1988 for their next postseason appearance. No members of the 1981 team remained with the Athletics in 1988.

Offseason[edit]

Ownership[edit]

Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley's wife sought a divorce and would not accept part of a baseball team in a property settlement. With most of his money tied up in the A's or his insurance empire, Finley had to sell the team. Though Finley found a buyer in businessman Marvin Davis, who would have moved the Athletics to Denver, the tentative deal hit a snag when the Raiders announced their move to Los Angeles. Oakland and Alameda County officials, not wanting to be held responsible for losing Oakland's status as a big-league city in its own right, refused to let Finley break the lease with the Coliseum. Finley then looked to local buyers, selling the A's to San Francisco clothing manufacturer Walter A. Haas, Jr., president of Levi Strauss & Co. prior to the 1981 season.

Haas restored the official name of the club to "Athletics" in 1981, but retained the nickname "A's" for marketing purposes. At first, the word "Athletics" was restored only to the club's logo, underneath the much larger stylized-"A" that had come to represent the team since the early days. Former owner Charlie Finley banned the word "Athletics" from the club's name because he felt that name was too closely associated with former Philadelphia Athletics owner Connie Mack.

During the Finley era, average home attendance from 1968–1980 was 777,000 per season, with 1,075,518 in 1975 being the highest attendance for a Finley-owned team. In marked contrast, during the first year of Haas' ownership, the Athletics drew 1,304,052—in a season shortened by a player strike. Were it not for the strike, the A's were on a pace to draw over 2.2 million in 1981. The A’s finished with the second-best overall record in baseball, and the best record in the American League.

Regular season[edit]

  • April 19, 1981: In the first game of a doubleheader with the Seattle Mariners, the A's won 6-1 to win their then-record 11th consecutive game to start a season.
  • April 25, 1981: Prior to a game against the Seattle Mariners, Seattle manager Maury Wills advised the Kingdome groundskeepers to enlarge the batter's box by a foot.[9] A's manager Billy Martin noticed. Martin showed umpire Bill Kunkel that the batter's box was seven feet long instead of six feet. Martin felt that batters being able to move up a foot in the box could cut at pitches before a curveball broke. Wills was suspended for two games and fined $500.[9]

Season standings[edit]

AL West
First Half Standings
W L Pct.
Oakland Athletics 37 23 .617
Texas Rangers 33 22 .600
Chicago White Sox 31 22 .585
California Angels 31 29 .517
Kansas City Royals 20 30 .400
Seattle Mariners 21 36 .368
Minnesota Twins 17 39 .304
AL West
Second Half Standings
W L Pct.
Kansas City Royals 30 23 .566
Oakland Athletics 27 22 .551
Texas Rangers 24 26 .480
Minnesota Twins 24 29 .453
Seattle Mariners 23 29 .442
Chicago White Sox 23 30 .434
California Angels 20 30 .400

Notable transactions[edit]

Draft Picks[edit]

Billyball, year two[edit]

Following the team's surprising success in 1980, manager Billy Martin was given the additional title of general manager in 1981. The team won the division title for the first time since 1975, winning the first half of the split season, then defeating the Royals in the divisional playoffs before losing to the Yankees in the ALCS.

While the team was successful, it came at a high price, both for the team and for the pitching staff. Following a season in which the team led the league in complete games with 94—an astonishing number for the time—the Athletics again led the league with 60 complete games out of 109 total games in the strike-shortened season. For the second time, the pitching staff completed more than half their total number of games and more than double the number of the team with the second-highest total (The Indians and Tigers each had 33). The workload of the pitchers over the two seasons was blamed by the team's ownership for the team's fall to fifth place in 1982, which led to Martin's firing from both positions. Many of the pitchers suffered injuries, and none of the four main starting pitchers (Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris, Matt Keough) ever duplicated their success of 1980-81.

Roster[edit]

1981 Oakland Athletics
Roster
Pitchers Catchers

Infielders

Outfielders

Other batters

Manager

Coaches

Player stats[edit]

Batting[edit]

= Indicates team leader

Starters by position[edit]

Note: Pos = position; G = Games played; AB = At Bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting Average; HR = Home Runs; RBI = Runs Batted In

Pos. Player G AB R H Avg. HR RBI SB
C Mike Heath 84 301 26 71 .236 8 30 3
1B Jim Spencer 54 171 14 35 .205 2 9 1
2B Shooty Babitt 54 156 10 40 .256 0 14 5
3B Wayne Gross 82 243 29 50 .206 10 31 2
SS Rob Picciolo 82 179 23 48 .268 4 13 0
LF Rickey Henderson 108 423 89 135 .319 6 35 56
CF Dwayne Murphy 107 390 58 98 .251 15 60 10
RF Tony Armas 109 440 51 115 .261 22 76 5
DH Cliff Johnson 84 273 40 71 .260 17 59 5

[21]

Other batters[edit]

Player G AB H Avg. HR RBI
Dave McKay 79 224 59 .263 4 21
Jeff Newman 68 216 50 .231 3 15
Fred Stanley 66 145 28 .193 0 7
Mitchell Page 34 92 13 .141 4 13
Dave Revering 31 87 20 .230 2 10
Keith Drumright 31 86 25 .291 0 11
Kelvin Moore 14 47 12 .255 1 3
Mickey Klutts 15 46 17 .370 5 11
Brian Doyle 17 40 5 .125 0 3
Mark Budaska 9 32 5 .156 0 2
Mike Patterson 12 23 8 .348 0 1
Tim Hosley 18 21 2 .095 1 5
Mike Davis 17 20 1 .050 0 0
Rick Bosetti 9 19 2 .105 0 1
Jimmy Sexton 7 3 0 .000 0 0
Jeff Cox 2 0 0 .--- 0 0
Bob Kearney 1 0 0 .--- 0 0
Jim Nettles 1 0 0 .--- 0 0

Pitching[edit]

Starting pitchers[edit]

Note: G = Games played; IP = Innings Pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; ERA = Earned Run Average; SO = Strikeouts; BB = Bases on Balls

Player G IP W L ERA SO
Rick Langford 24 195.1 12 10 2.99 84
Mike Norris 23 172.2 12 9 3.75 78
Steve McCatty 22 185.2 14 7 2.33 91
Matt Keough 19 140.1 10 6 3.40 60
Brian Kingman 18 100.1 3 6 3.95 52

Other pitchers[edit]

Player G IP W L ERA SO
Tom Underwood 16 51 3 2 3.18 46
Ed Figueroa 2 8.1 0 0 5.40 1

Relief pitchers[edit]

Player G W L SV ERA SO
Jeff Jones 33 4 1 3 3.39 43
Bob Owchinko 29 4 3 2 3.20 26
Bo McLaughlin 11 0 0 1 11.57 3
Dave Beard 8 1 1 3 2.77 15
Craig Minetto 8 0 0 0 2.70 4
Dave Heaverlo 6 1 0 0 1.59 2
Rich Bordi 2 0 0 0 0.00 0

Postseason[edit]

ALDS[edit]

Oakland wins series, 3-0.

Game Score Date Location Attendance
1 Oakland 4, Kansas City 0 October 6 Royals Stadium 40,592
2 Oakland 2, Kansas City 1 October 7 Royals Stadium 40,274
3 Oakland 4, Kansas City 1 October 9 Oakland Coliseum 40,002

ALCS[edit]

Yankees win the Series, 3-0

Game Score Date Location Attendance
1 Oakland - 1, New York - 3 October 13 Yankee Stadium 55,740
2 Oakland - 3, New York - 13 October 14 Yankee Stadium 48,497
3 New York - 4, Oakland - 0 October 15 Oakland Coliseum 47,302

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Rickey Henderson, American League leader, Hits[22]
  • Billy Martin, Associated Press AL Manager of the Year

Farm system[edit]

Level Team League Manager
AAA Tacoma Tigers Pacific Coast League Ed Nottle
AA West Haven A's Eastern League Bob Didier
A Modesto A's California League Keith Lieppman
Short-Season A Medford A's Northwest League Brad Fischer

LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: Medford

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Kansas City Royals
1980
AL West Championship Season
1981
Succeeded by
California Angels
1982