Greatest Teams Never to Win a World Series in the Past 30 Years-01 Athletics
Perhaps no team I've done before or will do down the road was ever more forgotten in the sands of time than this team: the 2001 Oakland Athletics.
The days of McGwire, Canseco, and Henderson were long gone obviously. And Oakland did it with a great young farm system of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito for the arms while you had Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez, and Miguel Tejada leading away with the bats. And there was something brewing in Oaktown when the Athletics put these guys out on the field. In 2000 Oakland won the AL West, but fell short to their East Coast Enemy Yankees in 5 and in a fight. But people were encouraged by the prospects of what was about to come. Giambi won MVP, Tejada and Chavez were both up-and-coming stars, Hudson, Mulder, and Zito were Cy Young candidates year in and year out while having many believe it was Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz 2.0. With Seattle losing Alex Rodriguez to free agency, many had the A's penned to win the AL West with ease.
And then the season started. The Rodriguez-less Mariners stormed out of the gate early and never looked back to their 116-win season. The A's? By the beginning of May the A's were 8-18 and pretty much were written off. The rumblings got louder about trading the franchise face Jason Giambi, who was to be a free agent after the season. Adding on, the talk of trading newly acquired Johnny Damon was also in the cards as well as closer Jason Isringhausen as they were all free agents. It didn't help when the Athletics were pretty much out of any divisional race to the Mariners as they were 12 back after April. However, things started to click as Oakland went on an 11-2 run in mid-May to push themselves back to .500 (despite the rumors of Giambi continuing to grow). However, Oakland couldn't get over the hump and at times would fall back more and more being 35-40 near the end of June and 21 games back of the Mariners.
Oddly, it may have been the Mariners who spiked Oakland's run. The A's took two straight from their AL West foes in Seattle, and starting a 9-3 run before the All-Star break to finish 44-43.
But then after the All-Star Break, the Athletics took off. Though, save for Zito's jolt in the second half, the major stars still hit the ball well including the three main stalwarts of Giambi, Tejada, and Chavez. Oakland went an incredible 58-17 record and annihilating all in its path. Great pitching, even stronger hitting, and instead of selling the pieces, the A's netted Jermaine Dye at the deadline, hoping he would be the guy to put them over the Yankees and Mariners in the AL. In September, the A's went 23-4 including taking 4 of 6 from the Mariners, who were vying for history. Some regarded the A's as the favorites in the AL despite finishing 14 games back of the Mariners. Hard to think a team that won 102 games finished 14 back.
WHAT MADE THEM SO GOOD: It was just a great balance of everything, somewhat resembling the Bash Brothers Athletics. You had Giambi as the menacing power hitting first baseman while you had two complete all-around players on the left side of the infield of Chavez and Tejada. Combined they hit 101 HR, and 347 RBI while the 3 hit nearly .300 in the process. However, you had others who knew their role such as Ramon Hernandez, who added 15 HR, but calling games for the Hudson-Mulder-Zito crew was his goal and he did great. And you had the likes of Terrence Long, Frank Menechino, and Jeremy Giambi who all contributed, having double digits in HR, and finding ways to get on base for the sluggers. The guy who had a down year surprisingly was Johnny Damon who stole 27 bases, but had some difficulties of getting on base.
As for the pitching, Hudson, Mulder, and Zito pitched well for that time period of unchecked offensive power. They were all over 3 but under 3.50, so they were at the very worst, solid. They ate innings and gave the Athletics hitters chances to win games. Adding on, the unsung hero was Cory Lidle, who went 13-6 with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP so the Athletics were a force to be reckoned with. The bullpen was solid too with Isringhausen closing games (2.65 ERA, 34 saves, and 1.08 WHIP). The relievers were solid as well with a reliable corps of Jeff Tam (3.01 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), Jim Mecir (3.43 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), and Mike Magnante (2.77 ERA, 1.14 WHIP).
The Athletics faced off against their nemesis in the AL East of the Yankees, again. Oakland went into the Bronx, taking the first two games with good starting pitching from Mulder and Hudson, as well as a big first game by Long (2 HR's) and a HR by Giambi. In the second game, Hudson's gem carried the A's with long time October resident Ron Gant took Andy Pettitte deep for a 2-0 win and a 2-0 series lead.
One game left to win and back to Oakland, where they went 53-28 at the Coliseum.
WHAT WENT WRONG: The 2001 Athletics will be remembered by one play. And in my eyes, while it goes down as a legendary play for a future Hall of Famer, some, including myself, believed if a small thing changed on the play, well, there may be a World Championship banner in Oakland in 2001.
Bottom of the 7th, 2 out. Jeremy Giambi on first base and Long at the plate. Long screams a shot down the right field line. Giambi, slow as molasses, pushing for the plate. Ball is flung but was bouncing and Derek Jeter flips the ball to Jorge Posada for the tag out as Giambi tries to jump over the tag. The A's would have tied the game with that run. Instead, Oakland loses 1-0. Many to this day screamed if Giambi slid, he would have beaten the tag. I inclined to agree. But my take was always, with the game on the line late, why have one of your slowest runners out there still? But that play changed the entire complexion of the series.
The Yankees thumped the A's in Game 4 and the A's lost Dye to a broken leg on a foul ball. Game 5 saw the A's take an early 2-0 lead and had Giambi have a big game, but Oakland imploded with a key error on the ever reliable Chavez and then an error on Jason Giambi costed them another run and the A's couldn't overtake the Yankees, ending their season.
And somewhere Brad Pitt-er, I mean Billy Beane was sitting out in an empty Coliseum in Oakland, turning the game on and off on his transistor radio.
AFTERMATH: You saw Moneyball and remember while there were a lot of "truths" in the movie, there were some inaccurate bits, because well, Hollywood likes to change things. But what was true was that Damon (Boston), Isringhausen (St. Louis), and Jason Giambi (Yankees) left on massive contracts. So Oakland had to use the new "Sabermetric/Moneyball" approach and find guys who could get on base and such despite having a low payroll (i.e. "you have your rich teams, your poor teams, then there's 50 feet of crap, and then there's us"-Pitt in Moneyball). But Oakland with this approach held their own in the AL, being a front-runner despite the losses of Giambi and Isringhausen.
But that said, this team is normally forgotten in this time period and they were shadowed by the revolutionary 2002 Oakland Athletics squad and thanks in part because of what the Mariners did that made people forget about what Oakland did that year. And it is a shame because they had one great team in 2001.
OTHER GREAT TEAMS TO NEVER WIN A TITLE:
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat