Sunday, January 19, 2020

I Love the 80s : 1981 Oakland Athletics

This is a series of posts on a 1980's Frankenset. Each page features a different team, with 9 of my personal favorite cards from that year's team. You might find players repeated, you'll definitely see brands repeated, but hopefully you'll agree that there are some interesting selections from the 1980s!

This week we return Sunny California, and check out the Swingin' A's of Oakland. Here are the cards of the 1981 Oakland A's. The A's finished 2nd in the AL West in 1980, and built on that record to win the Division in 1981. They surged in the first half with a pre-strike record fourteen games above .500, only to slump after the break with a 27 - 2 record to close the season. They were in 1st place for the 1st half, then 2nd place for the 2nd half. They would face the Kansas City Royals in the Divisional playoffs, sweeping KC to play against the Yankees in the ALCS.

Similar to the White Sox, which were covered last week, the A's were a team going through new ownership in 1981. Long-time A's owner Charlie Finley, who moved the team to Oakland from Kansas City, sold his ownership stake to Walter A. Haas, Jr. The 1981 season was also known for the style of play that their manager demanded. It was the short-lived but very exciting era known as "Billyball."

The Cards:
Fleer #351 Rickey Henderson - Henderson was at the peak of his "Man of Steal" powers in 1980 and 81. In 1980 he scored 111 runs and stole 100 bases. In a strike shortened 1981, he managed "just" 56 steals, but in both seasons eclipsed .300 batting and .400 OBP. 

Granny Goose #21 Dwayne Murphy -  The A's had one of the few 1981 team issue sets outside of the big 3 of Topps, Donruss, and Fleer. Granny Goose had potato chips and Oakland A's baseball cards. Dwayne Murphy finished second on the team to Rickey for stolen bases and runs scored. Murphy would also take home the first of six consecutive gold gloves in 1980. 

Fleer #580 Mitchell Page - Born in Los Angeles, attending Compton Community College and Cal Poly university, Mitchell Page also spent all but 16 of his career MLB games in Oakland. Page was used primarily as a DH by the A's, and by 1980 this was his exclusive role as injuries had limited his mobility in the field. He would slump in the first half of 1981, and by the time games resumed, Page's role was handed over to Cliff Johnson. Page would spend the next couple years in AAA Tacoma. After his playing career, he would coach in Tacoma and elsewhere.

Topps #35 Mitchell Page - Page was 2nd in 1977's AL Rookie of the Year voting, and was also one of the California Angels players in the 1994 film "Angels in the Outfield." Sadly, Page passed away suddenly in 2011 at the age of 59. 

Fleer #581 Billy Martin - I just love a good manager card. Billy Martin was only the A's manager from 1980-1983, a gig between stints as the Yankees' on-again, off-again skipper. But 1981 was a magical year for the A's, who had been bitten by free agency in the late 70s, but still could boast a talented corps of young players. It would be Billy Martin's aggressive style was well-matched for Rickey Henderson and the rest of the A's.

Topps #629 Tony Armas - We've now looked at the entire starting outfield for Oakland in 1980 and '81. Tony Armas flourished in 1980, hitting 35 homers and driving in 109 runs. He'd follow it up by finishing 4th in the MVP vote in 1981 -leading the AL in home runs as the middle of the order thump for the division winning A's. He also led the AL in RF outfield assists in 1980 and topped the league in Range Factor both seasons. He was the big name going to Boston in return for Carney Lansford - a deal that would bear fruit for both franchises. 

Kellogg's 3-D Super Stars #33 Rickey Henderson - This was just a cool card. Henderson was just 21 in 1980, but may have been the best player in baseball. He didn't hit for power (yet), but he completely upended the game plan of the opposition. 

Topps #55 Mike Norris - Norris was a 20 game winner in 1980, going 22-9 overall with a 2.53 ERA. The 25 year old pitched 24 complete games in 1980, finished 2nd in Cy Young voting, won a Gold Glove, and led the AL in lowest H/9. In 1981, he tossed a pair of shutouts, but led the AL in wild pitches, and generally had a tougher time against the league than his superlative 1980 season. He did toss a shutout in the 1981 ALDS against the Royals. He struggled with addiction and was out of baseball by 1986, but made a comeback for the 1990 A's at the age of 35, tossing 27 innings in relief.

Fleer #588 Matt Keough - Keough was very stingy with allowing homers early in his career, and in fact led the AL with the lowest HR/9 in 1978. He allowed just 9 homers in 197 innings, and made his lone All-Star team. The opposite would be true in 1982, when he allowed a league high 133 runs scored, and 38 homers. 1980 was probably his best MLB season, going 16-13 with a 2.92 ERA. He would pitch for three different teams from 83-86, pitching for the Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, and Astros. He was a tough luck loser in the 1981 ALCS to the Yankees, giving up 2 runs (just 1 earned) over 8.1 Innings. The A's were shutout 4-0 which completed the sweep by New York. 


  1. This Kellogg set has been one of my favorites. Vibrant! Not sure how I've missed this particular Billy card though. I may have to track it down. But...the Granny Goose? Tremendous! Nicely designed - a happy, happy card! (Though Dwayne may not agree...)

  2. This page has two of my favorite '80s cards: the Kellogg's Henderson and the '81 Norris. I remember watching a short piece on Norris a long, long time ago (think it might've been featured on ESPN) that documented his post-career troubles & recovery -- I specifically recall one part where they mentioned how Norris kept a copy of that '81 Topps card in his wallet to remind himself of how spry and flexible he once was.

  3. The norris is a great card (still don't understand how he did not win the cy young in 1980) but the martin with the white hat takes the cake. Big fan of all the a's unis from this era, and was a fan of billy ball back then, too.

  4. Awesome. These were the A's I fell in love with when I was a kid. Rickey, Murphy, and Armas patrolling the outfield. Norris and Keough in the starting rotation. You just need a Rick Langford or Steve McCatty card to round things out.

    P.S. Love the Billy Martin too.