My favorite A’s team in franchise history was the one in 1988. I'm biased, of course. But what made that season special for me was that it marked the A's first postseason appearance since 1981. From 1982-86, the A’s, stocking the farm system, had five consecutive losing seasons. But in 1986, despite another losing season, prospects like Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach, Jose Canseco and Stan Javier started showing up. That season, after a dismal start, the A’s fired manager Jackie Moore and hired Tony La Russa to replace him in July. Under La Russa, the club was 45-34 the rest of the way. By 1987, the A’s, powered by AL Rookie of the Year Mark McGwire and 20-game winner Dave Stewart, finished the season at 81-81.  The club was starting to turn a corner.

A’s GM Sandy Alderson went to work that offseason and acquired a bundle of talent and experience. In December, he acquired starting pitcher Bob Welch from the Dodgers as part of a 3-team trade with the Mets. He also landed outfielders Dave Parker and Dave Henderson, designated hitter Don Baylor, second baseman Glenn Hubbard and catcher Ron Hassey.  The veteran presence and talent complemented the A’s rising stars. The team developed a swagger and confidence. During spring training, Canseco predicted that he would become the first player to hit forty homers and steal 40 bases. He was right and eventually won the AL MVP that season.

La Russa had his generals in place: Henderson ran the outfield, Carney Lansford manned the infield and Dave Stewart was the ace of the starting pitching staff. Closer Dennis Eckersley, meanwhile, anchored the bullpen. Thanks to a 14-game winning streak that started on April 23, the A’s caught fire. By May 9, by virtue of a record of 24-7, the team surged to the top of the AL West and eight games ahead of second place Chicago. The media soon started noting something different about the A’s: Highlighted by Canseco and McGwire, the imposing lineup was built like offensive linemen. The A’s size, swagger, tape-measure homers and dominance began capturing national attention.


The team’s newfound swagger rubbed off on McGwire, who was earning a reputation around the league as being soft. Starting in his rookie season, pitchers routinely drilled him and he politely dropped his bat and headed to first base. So Parker and Baylor pulled him aside and insisted that he needed to send a message to pitchers around the league or they’ll keep disrespecting him. So on April 8, after McGwire hit a homer in his first at-bat in the second, Angels’ pitcher Kirk McCaskill drilled him on the helmet in the fourth. A seething McGwire threw up both arms and headed toward the mound. Benches cleared and prevented him from getting a piece of McCaskill, but pitchers around the league took note.

Another story developed during the early part of the season. Terry Steinbach and a few of his teammates began comparing their muscular forearms in the dugout. That led to the idea of abandoning the traditional high five and replacing it with smashing their forearms together at home plate after a home run. The forearm bash celebration was an instant hit and the talk around baseball. Twenty-five years later, some players still include it as a part of their post-homer celebration.

By the All-Star Break, the A’s boasted a record of 54-34, maintaining a 5.5 game lead over second place Minnesota. Capping off a great first half was the selection of five A’s players to the All-Star Game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium: Jose Canseco, Dennis Eckersley, Carney Lansford, Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach. That was the most A’s players selected for the Midsummer Classic since 1975. There was controversy, however, surrounding the fans' selection of Steinbach, who only batted .217 with five homers and 17 runs batted in during the first half. He silenced critics during the game, though, when he drove a solo homer off Dwight Gooden over the right field wall and hit a sacrifice fly the following inning. That was enough to earn him MVP honors of the game.


The club stormed through the league in the second half and clinched their first AL West title in seven years on September 19. A’s players weren’t done writing history, however. On September 23, while the club opened up a three-game series in Milwaukee, Canseco backed up his preseason prediction and swiped second base in the fifth, becoming baseball’s first 40-40 man. Demonstrating sheer dominance, the A’s finished the season with a record of 104-58. On the mound, Stewart (21-12) was a 20-game winner for the second consecutive season and Eckersley earned 45 saves. The season propelled the A’s to three consecutive Word Series appearances.

The A’s swept the Red Sox in four games in the American League Championship Series, but lost the World Series to the Dodgers in five games.  Stewart later admitted that he’s not sure if the club ever recovered from Kirk Gibson’s dramatic, game-winning homer to end Game 1.

Record: 104-58, First in AL West, AL Champions

Ballpark: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

Attendance: 2,287,335


Jose Canseco, AL MVP

Walt Weiss, AL Rookie of the Year

Dennis Eckersley, AL Rolaids Relief, ALCS MVP

Tony La Russa, AL Manager of the Year

Terry Steinbach, All-Star Game MVP

Regular Season Roster:                                                                               





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