How do the Oakland A's rank in comparison to baseball' other four super teams of the past two decades?
A second straight world championship in their third consecutivWorld Series appearance would be an emphatic statement for the A's, who already can claim the stamp of greatness. The fact that their period of dominance is still intact means that manager Tony La Russa's club can strengthen its case with additional laurels in the future.
However, at the moment, there is still reason to doubt that thA's juggernaut is the strongest of the last two decades.
Beginning with the 1969-71 Orioles, there have been four teamother than the current A's who came close to creating dynasties. The Orioles (Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Dave Johnson, Don Buford, Mark Belanger) made three straight World Series appearances. The Oakland A's (Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Gene Tenace, Bill North) did a three-peat from 1972 to '74. The 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds (Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, George Foster, Dan Driessen, Ken Griffey, Dave Concepcion) and the 1976-78 New York Yankees (Jackson, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent, Chris Chambliss, Mickey Rivers, Lou Piniella, Roy White) were in three straight World Series, winning the last two.
The five teams make for an interesting comparison. So, how dthe current A's rank among the baseball titans of the last two decades? For the time being at least, right in the middle.
Here's how they rank from this observation point:
1. Oakland A's, 1972-74. Best pitching, no weaknesses for thibunch.
2. Baltimore Orioles, 1969-71. Unmatched defense, solieverywhere else.
3. Oakland A's, 1988-present. Chance to move up with continuedomination.
4. Cincinnati Reds, 1975-76. Pitching is most important part ogame, so best lineup is an also-ran in this one.
5. New York Yankees, 1976-78. Best timing in free-agent markefor three straight World Series appearances.
Three players from the Orioles' glory years (the Robinsons anJim Palmer) are already in the Hall of Fame -- and it is likely that each of the other four teams will have at least equal representation. The Reds already have Bench and Morgan enshrined, with Rose and Perez awaiting eligibility. The older A's are represented by Catfish Hunter, with Jackson and Rollie Fingers on the doorstep.
Hunter and Jackson were likewise integral parts of the Yankeeteam that also featured Sparky Lyle, Goose Gossage and Ron Guidry. And while it is too early to make career judgments on the current A's, Rickey Henderson is a Hall of Fame lock, Dennis Eckersley is making a strong late run and Jose Canseco, Dave Stewart and Mark McGwire have time to make strong cases for themselves.
There is one common denominator among all five teams thashould not surprise anyone. Defense is almost always the bond with championship teams, and there are no exceptions here. All five teams were marvelous defensively, and the Orioles lead the way with five Gold Glove performers -- Brooks, Belanger, Johnson, Paul Blair and Palmer. And it should be noted that, as competent as the current A's are, they are not as strong defensively as the other four teams under consideration.
The best overall lineup, however, has to go to the Reds, who haAll-Stars at virtually every position. There wasn't an "out" in one of the most awesome batting orders in baseball history. When it comes to pitching, though, Cincinnati is a distant last in comparison with the other four, relying on a patchwork starting rotation and relievers who failed to stand the test of time. Surprisingly, and this is bound to create howls of anguish, the current A's staff ranks ahead of only the Reds in this five-team matchup.
The Orioles had a total of nine 20-game winners in their three successive pennant-winning years (Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar three times, Palmer twice and Pat Dobson once) -- and they come out no higher than second best. The A's of 1972-74 had an awesome lineup of Hunter, Vida Blue and Ken Holtzman, plus Blue Moon Odom and a bullpen that included Fingers, maybe the best righthanded reliever of all time, and Darold Knowles, a vastly underrated and durable lefthander. The Yankees also possessed an intimidating staff that featured Hunter and Guidry, along with Mike Torrez, Ed Figueroa and Don Gullett (the Reds' best pitcher in 1975-76) and a potential Hall of Fame bullpen consisting of Lyle and Gossage (1978).
As imposing as Stewart, Eckersley and Bob Welch have beenand as effective as the A's pitching has been over three years, it does not rank ahead of those three teams.
As far as run production is concerned, the current A's team istill in the process of setting its own standards. In time this may go down as the strongest offensive team, but it's too early to concede the A's are better right now than their dynasty competition.
Another factor to be considered here is longevity. Everyonremembers that the A's won three world championships between 1972 and 1974, but it's often forgotten that the A's also won divisional titles in 1971 and 1975, giving them a five-year run as the class of their division. Likewise, the Orioles won their division in 1973 and 1974, giving them five titles in six years.