The Athletics continued their recently embraced tradition of celebrating their own rich history Wednesday officially unveiling the inaugural class of the A’s Hall of Fame.
Before embarking on the latest installment of the franchise’s battles with the New York Yankees, team president Dave Kaval and radio voice and emcee Ken Korach introduced the seven members that make up the hall’s first class. A hall that will be added to yearly, as Korach said in his opening address:
“We are proud to have them represent the first class, the first class of many, that will be annually immortalized.”
Five of the seven members Korach referred to as the “cornerstones of the A’s history of success” have long since been enshrined in baseball lore with plaques in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. But one of those five is perhaps more recognizable as the face of the A’s franchise than any other.
Rickey Henderson, baseball’s all-time stolen base king and an Athletic four separate times, was the last to be introduced with his banner nestled neatly at the center, flanked by three on each side. Henderson, who, as he has said, grew up in the shadow of the Oakland Coliseum, perhaps the most poignant and well-received statement of the night:
“The Oakland A’s have been in my blood, my heart and soul. I’m always gonna be an Oakland A.”
Perhaps he was intending to challenge his idol Reggie Jackson, whose statement directed at the city of Oakland and the franchise received a raucous ovation:
“The most special thing to me would be to see a new ballpark here and have the city do (its) best to retain the team.”
Henderson was far from the only Bay Area native to be inducted Wednesday night. Dave Stewart, a guy Henderson said he was proud to join in the inaugural class after growing up with him and playing against him from childhood through the big leagues, was the first he greeted with a hug after completing his address. And Stewart, now a member of the A’s pre- and post-game broadcasts on TV, said he was, for once, at a loss for words:
“This is one day that I absolutely am speechless. For a kid that grew up literally blocks away from this ballpark … I never thought I’d be able to stand in front of you being inducted (into the Hall of Fame). It’s an honor to say that I am from Oakland.”
Dennis Eckersley, another East Bay kid, evoked the memories of his glory years as an Athletic, when he finished off Oakland’s sweep of the cross-Bay Giants in the 1989 World Series, adding his hopes that the current club can bring that type glory back to “The Town:”
“It’s an honor to go into the Oakland A’s Hall of Fame; I’m proud to be an Oakland A. … I was a kid from Fremont … to help the Oakland A’s beat the San Francisco Giants. Those years were magic and I want to wish the 2018 Oakland A’s that magic.”
Eckersley was the second A’s Hall-Fame closer to harken back to the glory days, though, admittedly, it takes some doing. Rollie Fingers said, standing just off the front of the mound:
“Some of my greatest thrills were right here on this field, the only problem is, I’ve got to think back 45 years to remember them. … In 1974, I remember fielding a groundball right where I’m standing and throwing it to Gene Tenace in Game 5 to beat the Dodgers. These are things I’ll never forget.”
“The Man of Steal,” “Mr. October,” “Stew,” “Eck” and “Rollie” were joined by the widow of Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter, Helen, and Paul Finley, the son of former owner and architect of the three-peat champion A’s of the early-70s Charlie Finley.
Combined, the seven men represent all four World Series’ won by the Athletics in Oakland, as well as a total of 25 All-Star Game selections, three MVPs and two Cy Youngs. There is zero argument that any did not belong in the inaugural class, though there have been some eyebrows to be raised at the omissions.
Those omissions, as alluded to by Korach, will be remedied in the coming years. The only player included in the inaugural class not to have a bust hanging in Cooperstown is Stewart, an Oakland product that has remained involved with the organization.
As Korach said, this celebration of excellence is the culmination of a season-long celebration of the A’s and Oakland, and the celebration will continue each year as the hall grows larger.
Kaval said in a press release put out previously by the A’s:
“Our franchise is built on the history of legends. The Athletics Hall of Fame allows us to recognize the individuals who have shared our identity and brought us success.”