Throwback Thursday: The 1999 Oakland Athletics

Both the BBWAA and the IBWAA (the internet version of the BBWAA) released their Hall Of Fame selections last week. If the IBWAA had control over the choice, Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez would have been elected to the Hall in 2017. The BBWAA passed on Guerrero this time, but did agree with sending Pudge to Cooperstown, along with Jeff Bagwell and the long-overdue Tim Raines. For reference, the IBWAA had already elected Raines and Bagwell in prior years.

One thing I always find fascinating when evaluating vote totals is the votes that go to players who have no shot at ever making the Hall of Fame. This happens for many reasons – I would hypothesize that most are sentimental; for example, one BBWAA voter cast a ballot for Tim Wakefield this year. I do not think Wakefield is a Hall of Famer, but I do look back fondly on his career as I was always a big fan. Other times, people cast ballots to send a message, or because they believe the entire HOF process has been invalidated since the Steroid Era. Whatever the reason, the HOF process is subjective and is not changing any time soon, so these one-off votes will happen year after year.

This year, my interest was piqued when Matt Stairs received 6 votes in the IBWAA balloting; this led me into an uncommonly deep dive into Stairs’s career statistics. I vaguely remember his very brief stint with the Red Sox in 1995. He did not leave a lasting impression. However, Oakland signed him as a free agent in December of 1995 and he went on to have the best years of his career as an Athletic, highlighted by his 1997-1999 campaigns:

Matt Stairs AVG/OBP/SLG Notable Stats
1997 .298/.386/.582 153 OPS+, 27 HR, 50 BB, 60 K
1998 .294/.370/.511 131 OPS+, 26 HR, 106 RBI
1999 .258/.366/.533 132 OPS+, 38 HR, 102 RBI

Stairs finished tied (with Dean Palmer) for eighth in home runs in the American League in 1999, and 17th in MVP voting that year. 2016 HOF inductee Ken Griffey Jr. led the league with 48 HR, and 2017 inductee Pudge Rodriguez took home the MVP that season. But three of the 1999 Oakland A’s finished in the top 18 in MVP voting – Jason Giambi was eighth, Stairs 17th, and John Jaha was 18th.

This led me to the idea for a recurring column, in which we bring attention to a player who had a year or two that was extremely successful, but otherwise has been lost to the sands of time. For this first step in what I hope to be a weekly Throwback Thursday series, it’s a double-feature. We have already discussed Stairs, but John Jaha is who I’m really interested in.

Jaha had a decent career in the big leagues, with two very good seasons mixed in – 1996, as a Milwaukee Brewer, and that 1999 Oakland season:

John Jaha AVG/OBP/SLG Notable Statistics
1996 (MIL) .300/.398/.543 OPS+ 133, 34 HR, 118 RBI
1999 (OAK) .276/.414/.556 OPS+ 152, 35 HR, 111 RBI

Jaha was drafted by the Brewers in the 14th round of the 1984 MLB draft, and spent more than seven years in the minors before breaking through to the majors at the age of 26 in 1992. His two spectacularly aberrant years show that he may have had the potential to be a true big-league slugger, but, like many who have come and gone in baseball history, Jaha demonstrates that sustaining that torrid pace over the course of a career is much more the exception than it is the rule. To put Jaha’s 1999 in modern perspective, he put up a wRC+ of 149; that would have been good for ninth in all of baseball in 2016, tied with NL MVP Kris Bryant.

Enter the concept of Throwback Thursdays – I hope to highlight a player who had a great year or two in the major leagues, but may have fallen off your radar as a “memorable player.” Certain players are great – and they will be thusly rewarded with huge paychecks and a plaque in Cooperstown – but most are trapped by the bell curve, residing near the average while showing the occasional flash of pure brilliance.

To close the loop on that season, the 1999 A’s, anchored by Stairs, Jaha, and Giambi, also saw solid offensive performances from Ben Grieve, Miguel Tejada, and Eric Chavez on their way to a disappointing second-place finish in the AL West, a full eight games back of the 95-67 Texas Rangers. The A’s finished fourth in runs scored and third in ERA in the American League that year while only notching 87 wins – a pretty clear-cut case of underachieving.


Follow Justin on Twitter @j1gorman

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images.

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