Athletics' Top 5 left fielders: Gallegos' take

April 27th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on each player’s career while with that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, vote in the Twitter poll for your favorite at this position.

Here is’s ranking of the top five left fielders in A’s history, as selected by Martín Gallegos. Next week: center fielders.

• Athletics' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS

1. , 1979-84, '89-93, '94-95, '98
Key fact: 72.7 bWAR is highest of any position player in A’s history

There won’t be an easier position to crown than this one. Henderson, Oakland’s favorite son, earned his “Man of Steal” nickname by carving out a legacy as the most prolific base stealer the game has ever seen.

Henderson spent parts of 14 seasons of his 25-year Hall of Fame career with the A’s. Of the 12 seasons he led the American League in stolen bases, nine came playing for Oakland, including an astonishing 130 swiped bags in 1982, which remains the Major League single-season record. In order to steal that many bases, you have to get on base at a high rate. Henderson also did that well, leading the league in walks four times.

After four years with the Yankees, Henderson made his return to Oakland midway through the 1989 season via trade and electrified from the leadoff spot to lead the A’s to a World Series championship. He captured the AL MVP Award in '90 and earned six of his 10 All-Star nods as a member of the A’s.

In all, Henderson played for nine clubs. But there’s no connection quite like the one he developed playing for his hometown team. Now a special assistant to team president Dave Kaval, Henderson remains a mainstay in the A’s clubhouse, often suiting up in full uniform to take part in pregame drills with the team. The A’s honored their organization’s greatest player by naming the Oakland Coliseum playing surface as “Rickey Henderson Field” in 2017.

A 2009 first-ballot inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Henderson holds the MLB record for stolen bases (1,406), runs (2,295) and leadoff home runs (81). He remains the A’s all-time leader in position player bWAR, runs (1,270), walks (1,227) and stolen bases (867).

A’s executive vice president Billy Beane, who was also a teammate of Henderson’s in 1989, is one of many figures around baseball who have declared Henderson to be the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time, adding, “I’m not sure there’s a close second.”

2. , 1924-32, '40-41, '44
Key fact: Hall of Famer won two batting titles with the A’s

Henderson may have been the greatest in A’s history, but Simmons isn’t too far behind.

One of the most elite hitters the game has ever seen, Simmons batted .308 or better in 10 of his 12 seasons with the A’s, hitting .356/.398/.584 with 209 home runs, 348 doubles, 98 triples and 1,179 RBIs over 1,290 games for the organization’s Philadelphia incarnation.

His best season came in the 1930 campaign that brought him the first of his two batting titles. The A’s won a second consecutive World Series title that year, and Simmons was at the forefront of that success with a .381/.423/.708 slash line to go with 36 home runs, 165 RBIs and an AL-leading 152 runs scored over 138 games.

Simmons remains the A’s all-time leader in batting average (.356), RBIs (1,179), total bases (2,998) and extra-base hits (655). His 253 hits with the A’s in 1925 remains the single-season Major League record for a right-handed batter. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in ‘53.

3. Bob Johnson, 1933-42
Key fact: His 997 runs scored was the A’s record until Henderson surpassed him in 1993

Johnson was a consistent power threat. He put up 20-plus home run campaigns in the first nine seasons with the A’s, becoming just the fifth player in Major League history with at least nine consecutive seasons of 20 homers or more. After Jimmie Foxx’s departure following the 1935 season, Johnson established himself as the club’s main run producer with six straight seasons of at least 103 RBIs.

A five-time All-Star with the A’s, Johnson ranks first among franchise left fielders in home runs (252), second in batting average (.298), slugging percentage (.520), runs (997) and RBIs (1,040), and third in hits (1,617).

4. , 1967-76, '82
Key fact: Finished runner-up in AL MVP Award voting in 1972 and '74

A native of Modesto who played college ball at nearby Chabot College, Rudi remains one of the most popular players in club history. He was a core member of an A’s dynasty that won three straight World Series titles from 1972-74.

While Rudi never put up eye-popping statistics, he was a consistent contributor to those strong A’s teams in the 1970s. His finest season came in '74, as he led the league with 39 doubles and slashed .293/.334/.484 with 22 home runs and 99 RBIs. His ‘72 campaign wasn’t too shabby either as he led the league in hits (181) and triples (9).

Rudi was a three-time All-Star who also won three Gold Glove Awards, with perhaps his greatest defensive moment coming in the 1972 World Series, when he leaped at the wall in left for a game-saving catch in the ninth inning of Game 2. Whether it was on offense or defense, he came up big when the lights shined bright, batting .300 with two homers and nine RBIs over 19 career World Series games.

5. , 2012-14
Key fact: One of two players in Major League history to win back-to-back Home Run Derbys

The Céspedes Era was short in Oakland, but it sure was memorable.

Hyped as a generational talent upon his arrival from Cuba in 2012, Céspedes burst onto the scene with a strong rookie campaign that saw him finish top-ten in AL MVP Award voting as he slashed .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs, 25 doubles, 82 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. In any other year, those numbers likely win him Rookie of the Year, but he lost out as the runner-up to some guy named Mike Trout.

Whether it was showing off his cannon of an arm, like his mind-blowing throw from Angel Stadium’s left-field corner in 2014 to nab Howie Kendrick trying to score from first, or his unreal power that led to majestic bombs in both regular games and Home Run Derbys, Céspedes was one of the most electric players to ever don the green and gold. That’s why his trade to the Red Sox in ‘14 was met with much backlash from A’s fans even though the club acquired a No. 1 starter in Jon Lester.

Céspedes was a strong performer in the playoffs for the A’s, batting .350 in 10 postseason games. Representing the club as an All-Star in 2014 just before his trade to the Red Sox, it would be hard to find another player in A's history who developed such a special relationship with Oakland fans in such a short amount of time.

Honorable mentions
was primarily a left fielder early on with the A’s but ended up playing right field for the majority of his time with the club, so expect to see him on that list.

Topsy Hartsel played 10 seasons for the A’s and served as the club’s leadoff hitter for much of his time, winning a World Series in 1910. Hartsel led the AL in walks five times and stolen bases (47) in ‘02.

Elmer Valo spent 15 seasons with the A’s and hit .300 or better in five of those years. He ranks third among A’s left fielders in walks (820) as well as fourth in hits (1,229) and runs (691).