The Oakland Athletics: A team of firsts

I have been reading Bash Brothers, a book about Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco and came upon an interesting passage today.  It seems the A’s were the first baseball team to have a comprehensive weightlifting program.  A trainer for the team, Ted Polakowski is quoted on page 92, describing the reaction from the baseball world:

“We were very criticized.  In those years, that was our forte; no other teams were doing it.  While a lot of those practices are accepted now, weight training wasn’t accepted back then.  It was almost a taboo.”

The Athletics’ organization has long been a forerunner for innovative ideas.  Most every sports fan has heard of Moneyball, which A’s general manager Billy Beane popularized, as ubiquitous for a time as the West Coast Offense in football or the Pyramid of Success in basketball.  Long before that, the organization pioneered a few other concepts.  The A’s may not have been the first team to dismantle a contender with a fire sale, but they’ve done it at least five notable times in their history: Twice under Connie Mack, again with Charlie Finley in the 1970s, then after the Canseco-McGwire years in the ’90s and to a lesser extent, in the last decade.  Under Finley, they were also among the first teams to use promotional gimmicks to attract fans, though in fairness, Finley was probably no greater a showman than Bill Veeck.

Small-market clubs need every trick available to remain relevant.  Now that Moneyball has faded in significance, one has to wonder what Oakland will demo next.

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