Each year, the Oakland Athletics participate in the ever popular “Turn Back the Clock Day”. Fans come out in droves to hear authentic organ music, watch Monte Moore ring a cow bell, and gawk at the players in their classic duds. For the most part, many of the A’s players look awkward and out of place wearing the uniforms of the forgotten era during the team’s tenure in Philadelphia or that of the Oakland Oaks minor league club. With their sweatbands, knee and forearm braces, Phiten necklaces, and Oakley shades they don’t always sell the part of the classic ballplayer. That is with the exception, of former Athletic Mark Ellis who in my humble opinion was the greatest second baseman in Oakland history.
To me, Ellis is the very ethos of a ballplayer. With average offensive skills across the board, but an unmeasurable amount of heart and intelligence. He captained the A’s infield for the better part of 8 1/2 seasons or as I like to see it, the majority of my adult life thus far. While his departure was bittersweet, it paved the way for the exciting Jemile Weeks to takeover and provided Ellis with the chance to further his career as a starter in the National League. While his departure pained many A’s fans, it didn’t feel like the same old story of an Athletic being forced to leave in his prime due to an escalating salary and the allure of bright lights elsewhere. It was an amicable split, one that was beneficial but heartbreaking for both parties. When Mark returned to town this past week as a member of the Dodgers, he was saluted by his former team with a tribute video of his finest moments as an Athletic. Here are some of my favorite Mark Ellis memories.
October 6th 2002
Game 5 of the ALDS was the final hurrah for the 2002 Oakland Athletics. In the playoff series against the underdog Minnesota Twins, they were pushed to the limit and overcome by a young, talented Twins team who capitalized on every Oakland mistake. In the last inning of the final game, a 2-1 deficit quickly snowballed to a 5-1 game when closer Billy Koch internally combusted in the top the 9th. Shell shocked and in utter dismay I sat silently in cold silence in my room, and prepared to say goodbye to the 2002 A’s. Refusing to go down without a fight, the A’s rallied in the 9th to put 2 on with 1 out for Ellis who was then in his rookie season. Ellis, who didn’t even start the season on the big league club took over at second base after both veteran Randy Velarde and fellow rookie Esteban German failed to impress during their opportunities. Starring defensively, he also hit well putting up a very respectable .272/.359/.394 split in 98 games. With the trade deadline acquisition of former all-star second baseman Ray Durham, Ellis remained at second while Durham shifted to the DH role. Despite having pinch hitting options on the bench, such as Olmedo Saenz and John Mabry, Macha allowed Ellis to hit against Twins closer “Everyday” Eddie Guardado. What followed was Guardado trying to sneak a 2-1 fastball by the rookie and Ellis crushing a 3-run homer to deep left field. For a second, the momentum was back. The score was now 5-4 and with only 1 out recorded it looked like he had given the A’s new life with one mighty blast. Unfortunately the A’s were unable to rally to tie the game, and making the final out of the game was Durham with a popup to second base.
June 8th, 2008
After losing two close games in a three game series in Oakland against division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the A’s entered this particular Sunday in dire need of a win to salvage the series. Locked in a 3-3 tie in extra innings, the A’s loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the 12th. Up came Mark Ellis, to face off against Angels reliever Chris Bootcheck. A former heralded prospect, Bootcheck was effectively wild, armed with a mid 90′s fastball and a sharp biting slider. As if to say enough is enough, Ellis jumped on a first pitch fastball and deposited it deep into the left field seats for a game winning grand slam. The Coliseum broke out into pure bedlam and Ellis was mobbed by his teammates as he approached home plate. The beautiful thing about this game? It was turn back the clock day.
April 6th, 2010
Each year, It always seems like the first victory of the season is the hardest for the Athletics to attain. After a restless off-season, and an endless spring training, A’s fans have grown accustomed to the obligatory opening day loss and the feeling of desperation as the team suits up for game 2. In the year 2010, it was no different. Preceded by a bullpen failure and a defensive meltdown in the late innings of game 1 against Seattle, Dallas Braden took to the mound the next night determined to put Oakland in the win column for the first time in 2010. Showcasing the pinpoint control, and Bugs Bunny change up that would grant him perfection nearly a month later. Braden dominated Seattle through 7 innings, allowing a single run on 4 hits while striking out 10 Mariners. Unfortunately, as strong as the A’s pitching was this season, their hitting was equally as weak. Unable to do much against Seattle starter Ian Snell, the game went into extra innings at a 1-1 stalemate.
As the crowd grew restless, following multiple innings of routine ground outs and pop-ups and a failed opportunity for the A’s to win in the 9th it seemed the game would never end. With two on and two out, the now salty veteran Mark Ellis came to the plate and sent the Oakland faithful home happy with a game winning single in the gap. As he was mobbed by his teammates, a look of pure joy spread across his face as high fives and hugs were exchanged. There he was in the center of an Oakland A’s victory, with “Celebration” blaring from the speakers. This is how I choose to remember Mark Ellis and his career in Oakland.