Giving the A’s some due

As you know, I was very critical of the A’s a couple of weeks back for their negligence to this point in retiring Rickey Henderson’s number. No need to rehash that entire issue, other than to say that one of my points was that the A’s have done a lousy job of honoring their past.

In the interest of fairness, however (gee, what a novel concept), they deserve credit for honoring Dave Stewart, Vida Blue and Mike Norris this morning. Those three played a huge part in the A’s history — Stewart by winning 20 games four straight years and being the horse of the rotation for three straight World Series teams; Blue with his 24-win, Cy Young-MVP season in 1971 (not to mention his stellar pitching through 1977), and Norris for helping revive ball in Oakland with a 22-win campaign in the inaugural Billy Ball year of 1980.

And yes, I’m aware that Jim “Mudcat” Grant is a part of this , but it’s mostly ceremonial because Grant’s book, “The Black Aces,” is the reason this event is taking place. Grant pitched 87 games, all in relief for the A’s in his career, and he won his 20 with the Twins in 1965. It did strike me as odd that the A’s didn’t invite Al Downing, who also was a 20-game winner and pitched briefly for the A’s, but I guess Downing has to write a book first.

Anyway, the A’s deserve a bit of credit, although not as much as I’m sure they think they deserve. Stewart’s name should be printed under that of Rollie Fingers on Mt. Davis, because he also wore Fingers’ No. 34. I know he’s not in the Hall of Fame, but I’d argue that Stewart is second only to Catfish Hunter in the team’s Oakland pantheon of starting pitchers. Blue’s should be retired, too, because he started more games and pitched more innings than anyone in Oakland history and is second on the Oakland list with 124 wins (a total that puts him eight in franchise history).

In the spirit of the occasion, however, here are some further quotes from Blue and Norris regarding the honor. Here’s a link to the column that was published Tuesday.

(On the stigma that black pitchers couldn’t succeed, because it was considered a position that required intelligence). “I don’t know that people thought that (black) pitchers could perform at a high level or if that intelligence wasn’t there. There was a stigma. … It’s sad to think that’s where we were one time at society. I look back and am sometimes embarrassed that my profession had such blinders on.”

(On today’s starting pitchers)
It bothers me that I don’t see pitchers, period. I know clubs have a big-time investment in starting pitchers, and they’re protective of their investments. But I came up in a day in which there wasn’t specialized pitching, and that’s what I know. … But did we really have it any better back then. Maybe we didn’t.”

(On the honor): “It’s a privilege and an honor to be one of the honorees. For this to be acknowledged is a privilege. … As pitchers, we were all different animals and from different decades, and the way starting pitching is now, this probably won’t happen again. So this is history.”

(On the impact he had on the A’s franchise): Rickey Henderson and myself probably had a lot to do with putting people back in the seats in Oakland. I think people knew when I was on the mound, we were going to win most of the time. And you put a guy like Rickey Henderson in the mix, and you added that excitement.”

(On his involvement with baseball’s RBI program, whch is trying to spur African-American participation in baseball in the inner cities): “There are two major things I’m going to achieve. One is to get black kids playing baseball again, and we’re going to provide that. Two is to educate these kids, because most of them are not going to be major-league baseball players. But there’s no reason they can’t be well-educated.”