Not a lot was going wrong for the Oakland A’s in 1988. The team was teetering on contention in 1987 remade themselves in the off season. Away went veterans like Reggie Jackson and Dwayne Murphy and Mike Davis.
The team had made late season deals in 1987 for Storm Davis and Rick Honeycutt and converted Dennis Eckersley to the bullpen. They traded away Alfredo Griffin and brought in Bob Welch, Dave Parker, Matt Young, Don Baylor and Ron Hassey.
The result was a team that started 6-6 and then went on an 18-1 streak in mid April and into May.
By May 9th, they were up by 8 games. By June 3, the lead was 10 games. A slight dip in July pulled the defending World Champion Twins to within 3 games. But the A’s played .700 ball the rest of the way, winning 104 games, the West and the pennant.
If you were an A’s fan, it was a good time in the East Bay. I was living in Palo Alto at the time and witnessing it. They would go on to clobber my Red Sox in the ALCS.
A bunch of my kids in my high school were basically Bay Area fans. They rooted for the Giants but wanted the A’s to do well, or vice versa. That seemed counter intuitive for this native New Englander, whose love for sports is almost exclusively based on hate.
One kid I went to school with, Joel Pomerenk, was complaining about the A’s. I believe he was complaining DURING their 18-1 streak, which goes to show you can not please everyone.
I pointed out that they had back to back Rookie of the Year winners in Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. (It is almost as if they had a hidden advantage.) Joel complained. “They would have THREE straight if they bothered playing Doug Jennings!”
This is a testament to two things: Great first impressions and assuming that minor league stats will translate to the majors.
Doug Jennings was a minor leaguer in the California Angels organization. He had a terrific 1987 at Double A Midland but was left off their 40 man roster.
The A’s took advantage of the bizarre Rule 5 Draft. This allows teams to swipe any player off of another team’s roster. But there is a catch. They HAVE to be on the Major League roster for the entire season or else they have to be returned to their original club.
Every once in a while a team will hit paydirt. Roberto Clemente was swiped from the Dodgers. George Bell was swiped from the Phillies.
With a revolving door of left fielders in Oakland, why not take a chance on a guy who batted .338, hit 30 homers and had an OPS of 1.067 in Double A?
Jennings made the team out of Spring Training. His big league debut came against his former organization, the Angels. He was inserted as a pinch runner for Mark McGwire and was picked off.
OK, not the best start.
But the next day, he came up as a pinch hitter in the 8th with the A’s down 3-1. He hit a bases clearing double to give the A’s the lead, a game they would hold on to win. That’s more like it.
After another pinch hitting appearance, he made his first ever start on April 13 in Seattle. He reached base 5 times, doubled and homered, driving in 2.
A’s fans, like my buddy Joel, were buzzing. They swiped a gem away from the Angels! Jennings was going to be the left handed line drive compliment to the right handed mashing Bash Brothers.
He made a few more starts in April, and had a bunch of 0-fors.
Jennings was a semi regular left fielder in May, but he got a single hit the entire month and it was against Baltimore, the worst team in the league.
A disabled list stint allowed the A’s to send him to Triple A for rehab and not return him to the Angels. In the end, he hit .208 for the season.
But those early 5 hits made an impression on A’s fans. That excitement that he will translate into a great big league hitter based on his minor league stats and those early games clouded the fact that he was a minor league hitter being overwhelmed by big league pitching.
The A’s would get their third straight Rookie of the Year in Walt Weiss, not Jennings.
Jennings stayed in the A’s organization, played all of 1989 in Triple A save for 4 games on the parent club. In 1990, he appeared in both the ALCS and World Series.
He bounced around between the Cubs organization (including 42 games for the Cubs), the Reds, Royals and Brewers minor leagues, three years in Japan and many years in independent ball. He played with the Long Island Ducks as recently as 2005 as a 40 year old.
So he wasn’t a Rookie of the Year. But he put in 20 years of professional ball, and that should have satisfied Joel.