Retired Numbers: Oakland Athletics

(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)

The Oakland A’s have been around as a franchise (in Philadelphia and Kansas City before Oakland) just as long as the New York Yankees, but their list of retired numbers is only one-fourth the size:

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Reggie Jackson, 9

Jackson wore number 31 as a rookie in 1967 and then number 9 for the next nine years (eight in Oakland and one with the Orioles). When he went to the Yankees after the 1976 season, number 9 was already being worn by third baseman Graig Nettles. Jackson asked for number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson, but it had already been given to pitching coach Art Fowler. So Jackson settled on number 44 in honor of Hank Aaron, who had just retired as the career home run leader.

Jackson wore 44 for the rest of his career, including his final season back in Oakland in 1987, but it was the number 9 that the A’s retired in his honor in 2004. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993.

The 13 players to wear the number for the A’s after Jackson were Rich McKinney, Mike Adams, Joe Wallis, Mickey Klutts, Darryl Cias, Garry Hancock, Mark Wagner, Dan Meyer, Mike Gallego, Jamie Quirk, Junior Noboa, Ernie Young, and Olmedo Saenz. Gallego wore the number as Jackson’s teammate in 1987.

Rickey Henderson, 24

Henderson also wore multiple numbers for the A’s, although it wasn’t a clear-cut as Jackson’s situation. Henderson won five consecutive stolen base titles for the A’s while wearing number 35 in the early 1980s. When he was traded to the Yankees after the 1984 season, pitcher Phil Niekro was already wearing 35 for New York, so he switched to 24. When he came back to the A’s in 1989, pitcher Bob Welch was wearing 35 and Henderson stuck with 24.

Henderson wore number 24 for the rest of his time with the A’s, including when he broke Ty Cobb‘s record for career stolen bases and when he won the 1990 MVP Award.

Henderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009, and when the A’s decided to retire his number that year, it was number 24 that they retired. Brian Lesher and Buddy Groom wore 24 for the A’s between Henderson’s various stints with the team, and Doug Jones, Greg Myers, Jermaine Dye, Dan Haren, Shannon Stewart, and Kurt Suzuki all wore it after his last game with the team. All told, Henderson wore six different uniform numbers during his career.

Henderson had a lot of famously funny stories told about him. Here’s a video of Mike & Mike asking him to confirm or deny some of them:

Catfish Hunter, 27

Hunter spent the first ten years of his career with the Kansas City and Oakland A’s, going 161-113 with a 3.13 ERA and winning the 1974 Cy Young Award. He won 88 games in his final four seasons in Oakland before signing with the Yankees as a free agent after 1974.

Hunter was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987, but the A’s didn’t retire his number 27 until 1991, 12 years after his career ended and 17 years after his last game with the team. In the interim, it was worn by Chris Batton, Mark Williams, Matt Keough, Lary Sorensen, Don Sutton, Rick Rodriguez, Jose Rijo, Ed Jurak, and Ron Hassey.

Like Jackson and Henderson, Hunter went to the Yankees and changed his number because his old number was already taken; unlike the other two, he never came back to play for the A’s in his new number.

Rollie Fingers, 34

Fingers played his first nine seasons with the Athletics, saving 136 games with a 2.91 ERA before moving on to the Padres and Brewers. He last played for the A’s in 1976, but they didn’t retire his number 34 until 1993, after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Between 1977 and 1992, Fingers’ number was worn by Bob Lacey, Bo McLaughlin, Bill Almon, Tom Tellmann, and Dave Stewart. Stewart was a great pitcher for the A’s — in fact, he was probably better for the A’s than Fingers was — but they only retire the numbers of Hall of Famers, so they have not had to decide how to deal with the double dipping.

Dennis Eckersley, 43

A starter for the first 12 years of his career — he was 151-128 with a 3.67 ERA between the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs — Eck was traded by the Cubs to the A’s just before the start of the 1987 season. A’s manager Tony La Russa planned to use Eckersley as a setup man, long reliever, and spot starter, and when closer Jay Howell went down with an injury, Eckersley moved into the spot and saved 16 games.

He basically spent the rest of his career as a closer, saving 370 games over the next ten years for the A’s and St. Louis Cardinals. In his final season in 1998, he went back to the Red Sox as a setup man, recording only one save.

Eckersley retired after the 1998 season and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004. The A’s retired his number 43 in 2005. Eckersley’s 43 is the only number retired by the A’s with no Retired Number Bandits.

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