Documentary offers fresh look at 1970s ‘Swingin’ A’s’

Digging deep into the dominant Oakland Athletics teams of the 1970s, MLB Network’s documentary “The Swingin’ A’s” delves into everything from the team’s kooky stylings to MC Hammer.

The film is a flash 45 years into the past, revealing a group of young stars that would leave a lasting mark on the game. A group one member, former Cy Young and MVP Award winner Vida Blue, believes is underappreciated for its position as one of the six best teams in Major League Baseball’s rich history.

“MLB Network Presents: The Swingin’ A’s,” like the dynasty on which it was based, is a home run.

At Thursday night’s Oakland premiere, Blue told SFBay:

“It was a really nice piece. I thought it was going to be a copy of the one on Comcast (Sports Net California), called ‘Legends(: Oakland A’s Dynasty),’ but there was a lot of stuff in there that I had never seen. … I think the MLB (Network) got this one right.”

Rather than focus primarily on any of the superstars that filled those rosters, produces chose instead to focus on the polarizing owner Charlie Finley. And, as in the rarest of circumstances, paint him in the light of both protagonist and antagonist.

Acknowledged for his part in the creation of the franchise’s tradition of frugality, as well as the downfall of a three-peat dynasty, Finley has long been demonized by fans of the Green and Gold.

As his niece, and author of the book “Finley Ball: How Two Baseball Outsiders Turned the Oakland A’s into a Dynasty and Changed the Game Forever,” Nancy Finley says in the film, perhaps this will give those fans a more illuminated gaze into Finley’s role in the development championship baseball in Oakland.

The film features remastered game footage, including play-by-play calls of longtime Oakland broadcasters Roy Steele and Monte Moore, including the final outs and ensuing celebrations from each of the three World Series championships.

Glimpses of the beloved colorful uniforms, white shoes and extravagant facial hair transports those 50-plus fans back to the golden age of A’s baseball. Effectively coaxing both cheers and laughter, the film, narrated by Oakland-born rapper and former A’s bat boy and Finley gofer MC Hammer, offers younger fans explanations to longstanding ponderings.

Along with interviews with Blue and Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Reggie Jackson, the film provides interviews with the much more elusive Gene Tenace, Sal Bando and Joe Rudi, feeding the depth with which Blue was so impressed.

Depth that gives even those with the most immense knowledge of the team’s history an anecdotal trip through one of baseball’s true dynasties. An improved understanding of a clubhouse that could produce fist fights within its own clubhouse mere days before a unifying celebration under the hoisted Commissioner’s Trophy.

Oakland native, self-proclaimed lifelong A’s fan, and MLB broadcaster Matt Vasgersian is among those who have been waiting patiently for such a documentary, and thrilled it has finally arrived:

“For those of you that are under the age of 49, you’re going to be seeing a lot of this stuff for the first time. For those of you that are 49 and over, it’s going to make you feel like a young kid again. … I am thrilled that (MLB Network) has finally decided to tackle mine and your favorite team, the Oakland A’s.”

The full-length documentary will be televised on MLB Network Tuesday at 6 p.m.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.