Saying goodbye is always the hardest part. Especially if you’re an Oakland A’s fan. Season after season, A’s fans are forced to bid adieu to their personal favorites who depart via free agency or trades like clockwork. Whether they be plucky little role players who win a place in your heart or superstar MVP candidates who leave for greener pastures, the feeling is all the same. The excitement of adding a talented player such as outfielder Chris Young last week, meant that the likelihood of retaining fan favorite Jonny Gomes has dropped considerably. Due to a logjam of outfielders, there may be no room for the Petaluma power hitter in 2013. The clubhouse leader, and wholesale provider of the official Oakland Athletics decorative robe had excelled in his role in 2012, platooning against left handed pitchers and providing punch of the bench. In my eyes, as impressive as his play was the fact that he genuinely wanted to be an Oakland Athletic. Always respectful of the team’s history, he spoke highly of players past and present and was a living, breathing, representation of the underdog identity that the 2012 team embraced. Always the first to congratulate a teammate and rally the troops to another walk-off, Gomes was in many respects the Anti-Matt Holliday. If he does indeed depart, he will be greatly missed. Yet, he won’t be the first. Let’s take a look at few from my perspective, that truly stung.
Mike Bordick played baseball how it was meant to be played. He also seemingly never made an error as an Oakland Athletic. I mean, I’m know he did and the baseball encyclopedia will confirm as much. Yet, whenever I watched him play during his long tenure in Oakland, I cannot recall him ever flubbing a grounder, or throwing a ball away. Every routine ground ball hit his way became an automatic 6-3. Every ball in the hole, every spin and throw was done so seamlessly that it looked like he invented the move. While his best offensive seasons would come later in his career, Bordick was a steady and productive hitter batting at the bottom of the order. During his first season of regular play in 1992, he helped the A’s win the division by hitting at a .300/.358/.371 clip while providing a modicum of speed. Over the next five seasons, Bordick became one of the few mainstays from the La Russa era to stay in the organization upon the hiring of Art Howe, and the subsequent youth movement. While the whispers of a young, flashy Dominican shortstop named Miguel Tejada began to surface in 1996, it was still difficult to fathom an A’s team without the sterling glove and professionalism of Bordick at short. With the A’s unwilling to negotiate with the Maine native, Bordick tested the free agent waters after the season and latched on with Baltimore…to replace the iconic Cal Ripken Jr., whose declining range was forcing a move to third base. Not bad for a player who wasn’t even drafted out of college.
The bulldog. The Stinger. The pint sized pitcher with the heart of gold was just what the doctor ordered when he was called up for the first time in 1999. You see, although the A’s were in the process of constructing an excellent team they were missing a key ingredient during the inception of the stellar run of winning ball clubs they put together from 1999-2006. Before the “big three” was ready to assemble, Billy Beane and his staff relied upon the likes of a motley array of hurlers such as Gil Heredia, Kevin Appier, and Omar Olivares to spearhead a rotation in dire need of an ace. From his very first game, Hudson established himself as a man on a mission striking out 11 San Diego Padres hitters in a mere 5 innings of work. Equipped with an overpowering splitter and a devastating sinker ball, Hudson primed himself to attack each and every hitter with a tenacious mentality that hadn’t been seen in Oakland since the days of Dave Stewart. As the years progressed, I considered him to be the ace and the leader of the big three. Sure, Zito had his 12-6 curveball, and Mulder was genetically manufactured in a laboratory to pitch at the big league level, but they never had the presence of Tim Hudson. In a big game, I trusted no one else but him to have the ball. When the 2004 season concluded, and the A’s failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 4 seasons, it became clear that the escalating salaries of Zito, Mulder, and Hudson would force the A’s to make a move. I prayed that Hudson would stay. Unfortuately on December 16th 2004, the Georgia native returned home as the newest member of the Atlanta Braves. I was instantly heartbroken. How could the A’s trade their ace? Sadly this would be a question, I would repeat in the future regarding the similar departures of Dan Haren and Gio Gonzalez. In a way, the Hudson trade prepared me for the future. It taught me that no Athletic was untouchable.
Nick Swisher was destined to be an Oakland A. Further inspection confirms he certainly fit the criteria. From the Giambi-like long hair and scruffiness, to the high OBP and power potential, “Swish” fit the mold and showed why Billy Beane so desperately coveted him during the 2002 Moneyball draft. Rocketing through the minor leagues, he made his debut during the late stages of the pennant chase of 2004. Unfazed by the majors, he impressed Oakland with his attitude and energy and soon was thrust into a starting role. Over the next three seasons, he matured into a valuable and versatile player splitting time between first base and the outfield. In 2006, he helped the A’s win the west by having his best season yet hitting .254/.372/.493, while clubbing 35 home runs and 94 RBI’s. As the A’s suffered a down year in 2007, it became evident that another rebuild was in order. I had hoped that Beane would center a young team around Swisher, who had by this time emerged as a team leader. To my dismay, Swisher was dealt to the Chicago White Sox just after New Years in 2008. While the trade would eventually reap benefits with the addition of Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney, whom in turn would yield integral parts in separate deals that would help the A’s return to prominence in 2012. One still couldn’t help but feel remorse over the loss of a quality player who thoroughly enjoyed being an Oakland Athletic as much as Nick Swisher.