OAKLAND — A grounder to the right side of the infield. Second baseman Tony Phillips feeding Dennis Eckersley covering first. A signature fist pump. The final out of the 1989 World Series against the San Francisco Giants remains the Oakland Athletics’ signature playoff moment of the last four decades.
On Sunday, 30 years after that moment, and with the Giants in town for their annual interleague series, the A’s held a pre-game reunion to honor that championship squad.
In attendance were former players and coaches including Hall of Famers Eckersley, Rickey Henderson and Tony La Russa, as well as A’s legend Dave Stewart. During the ceremony, current team president Dave Kaval announced that Stewart’s No. 34 jersey will be retired by the club next season.
“For my community and where I come from and the things that I’ve experienced growing up as a kid here in the Bay Area, it’s huge for me. It’s just huge,” said Stewart, an Oakland native who grew up attending A’s games.
The number 34 is already retired by the A’s in honor of Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers, who won three championships with the team in the 1970s, but it will now be shared by a second all-time great Oakland pitcher.
“Stew, for what you’ve done for our organization, our community — Oakland’s own — God bless you, thank you, congratulations,” said Kaval in front of a crowd of over 47,000 fans at the Coliseum.
This is the second time in as many years that the A’s have recognized the legacy of Stewart, who now covers the team as a pre-game and post-game TV analyst for NBC Sports. Last summer, the four-time 20-game winner was part of the inaugural class inducted into the A’s Hall of Fame, along with Fingers, Henderson and Eckersley, among others. He’ll be joined there in September by a 2019 class that includes La Russa, 1989 teammate Mark McGwire and former team owner Walter A. Haas, Jr.
“I appreciate what management and this ownership group is doing to recognize the great success of all of the teams that came to Oakland the last 50-plus years,” said Haas’ son Wally, who was on hand to represent his late father.
Stewart’s role in the 1989 championship earned him the World Series MVP award, during a series that was infamously interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake before resuming 10 days later.
“The fans on this side of the Bay cherish that moment,” said Stewart of the A’s winning the title. “There was a lot of back and forth between the two cities. The earthquake obviously put us all in one place.”
Of course, the fans aren’t the only ones who cherish their memories of 1989. Eckersley, who is also a Bay Area native, spoke highly of his time as the A’s closer.
“I spent the greatest years of my life here, man,” Eckersley said. “I came [back home to the A’s] after I’d been in the game for about 10-12 years, so I could appreciate it more than if I had started here as a kid,” said Eckersley. “I think the longer you play, the more you appreciate something. If it happens right away, you wouldn’t. I played a long time and only have one world championship. One, out of 24 years, but it happened to be where I come from.”
Eckersley is now a broadcaster for the Red Sox, who visit the Coliseum for one series per season.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Eckerseley of his annual return trip. “Sometimes it feels like it never happened. And the older you get, time goes fast, so you come back and it didn’t seem like that much time passed, meanwhile it’s 30 years. And there’s urgency to enjoy your life, and enjoy the moments, and this is a moment.”
La Russa spoke during the pre-game ceremony, deferring the credit for the team’s greatness to the players.
“It was really difficult to manage this team,” said La Russa. “I had two very important responsibilities, and if I handled that we could win it all. As I was instructed in spring training, the players said tell us who we’re playing, and what time the game starts, and then get out of the way.”
Henderson spoke highly of his former teammates as well, and he doesn’t believe there’s been a better team in the majors since.
“We were more family-oriented,” Henderson said. “I think that’s what made it so special and made us win because we were all connected to each other. We were so into one another and making sure everybody was fine. … We always seemed to go out on the town together. We were like a unit.”
After celebrating one trophy before the game, the A’s lost another one by the end of the day. The Giants’ 5-4 win marked their third in the four-game season series, earning them The Bridge trophy for the first time since its introduction last summer. San Francisco honored their own 1989 NL champion team earlier in August, at which time they announced that they would retire Will Clark’s No. 22 jersey.
However, the A’s disappointing result in the present day doesn’t change the history that was on display on Sunday.
“It gives us bragging rights for a very very long time,” said Stewart of Oakland’s 1989 triumph over San Francisco. “Until [that matchup] happens again, which who knows when that’ll be, but if it never happens again, guess who won?”