A's twinkle without one shining star

On baseball

October 16, 1990|By Jim Henneman

CINCINNATI -- The current Oakland A's may not be baseball's super team of the last two decades (subject to personal opinion), but they are clearly best of the now generation.

How good?

Good enough that they don't even have a most valuable player.

Not Rickey Henderson, the most devastating player on the most dominating team in baseball.

Not Dave Stewart, the most consistent starting pitcher in the game.

Not Dennis Eckersley, the most efficient relief pitcher of his time.

Not Bob Welch, who won more games than any pitcher in the last 12 years.

Not Jose Canseco, the most powerful force this side of Bo Jackson.

Not Mark McGwire, the most prolific home run hitter at this stage of his career.


Take any of the above mentioned players away from the A's and they would still win. That's how good they are in comparison to the rest of the competition.

The American League's MVP award has been generally conceded to Henderson, and there is no questioning his credentials. Maybe he shouldn't be penalized for playing for such a dominant team, but if you're trying to determine one player's value against another, the A's are a bad place to start.

"What a lot of people forget about the A's is that they can beat you in so many ways," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said on the eve of the World Series. "They beat Boston four straight, but except for one inning [the ninth inning of the first game] they had to scratch for everything."

The A's are so dominating because they have no glaring weaknesses. They can win without scoring a lot of runs, which they proved again against Boston. They can win by simply overpowering the opposition. They can win with speed. They can win with defense. And, most of all, they can win with pitching.

What is most impressive about this team is the way it has won without key players. This year the A's lost three quality free agents (Dave Parker, Storm Davis and Tony Phillips), but didn't miss a step.

They have gone long stretches without Canseco, Eckersley, McGwire and shortstop Walt Weiss. All of which was duly noted by Sparky Anderson, when the Detroit manager cited Henderson as his preference for the MVP award.

"They've won without all of those other guys," said Sparky, "but that little guy [Henderson] has always been in there. That's why I think he's the Most Valuable Player."

However, and it's easy to forget, the A's have won without Henderson. They won the first of their three successive pennants without him in 1988. And they were well on their way to repeating (despite losing Canseco for a half year and Eckersley for more than a month) when they got Henderson in a trade the following June.

This is not meant as a put down for Henderson, who has had a lot of MVP-type years in his career, including this one. It's just a reminder that the A's, for all of their talent, have demonstrated an ability to win without all of their key people.

Except one.

The one constant factor throughout Oakland's run, the one guy who hasn't even missed a team meeting, is Stewart. All he's done is win 20 games four years in a row -- and he's about to get shut out of the Cy Young Award for the fourth straight time.

Roger Clemens will get more MVP votes than Stewart, and deservedly so. Clemens may even finish higher than Stewart in the voting for the Cy Young Award (which figures to go to Welch).

The bottom line is that Stewart has been the most valuable performer of the "Three-Peat," but the A's domination of the American League (they have lost one of 13 playoff games) has been an exercise in group therapy.

And now they have another chance to prove their versatility, with Weiss out of the lineup because of a knee injury. Defense is NTC probably Oakland's most vulnerable area, and the A's could be shaky up the middle.

Cincinnati probably offers the best possible matchup against Oakland, and if the Reds can put a few runs on the board, their power pitching in the bullpen could make this World Series more interesting than anticipated.

The A's won't need their brooms this time. But six games should be enough to give them back-to-back world championships.

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