A's Top 5 center fielders: Gallegos' take

May 4th, 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 MLB.com’s ranking of the top five center fielders in A’s history, as selected by Martín Gallegos. Next week: right fielders.

1. Dwayne Murphy, 1978-87
Key fact: Six Gold Glove Awards are tied for most of any player in A’s history

If Rickey Henderson was the Batman of those early 1980s A’s clubs, Murphy was definitely his Robin. The two formed an impressive one-two punch at the top of the A’s lineup, with Henderson often crediting Murphy for helping him set the single-season stolen-base record in '82 (130) by taking so many pitches.

Murphy had a knack for getting on base, with his 694 walks tops among A’s center fielders. He was also a good situational hitter as he led the league with 22 sacrifice hits in 1980. Though his batting average was never particularly high, Murphy brought a solid combination of speed and power. His best season at the plate came in '82 when he mashed 27 home runs with 94 RBIs while also swiping 26 bags.

What separates Murphy, though, is his defense. He won six straight Gold Glove Awards from '80-85, a feat that has only been matched by one other player in club history in third baseman Eric Chavez. Murphy was known for making spectacular catches, with his hat often flying off his head as he covered a ton of ground in the outfield. His 31.7 bWAR remains the highest among A’s center fielders.

• A's All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

2. Dave Henderson, 1988-93
Key fact: A’s had a record of 23-1 in games in which Henderson homered in 1988

Arriving to the A’s as a free agent in 1988, “Hendu” quickly established himself as a fan favorite and formidable force in a lineup that had no shortage of pop with sluggers like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

Henderson was a key piece of the powerful A’s squads that captured three straight American League pennants from '88-90. His best performances often came in the postseason, most notably homering twice in Game 3 of the '89 World Series against the Giants, just missing out on a third home run as a drive in the first inning bounced off the outfield wall.

An All-Star in '91, Henderson’s first year in Oakland was his best as a .304/.363/.525 slash line with 24 home runs and 94 RBIs garnered a few AL MVP votes. His 104 home runs are third-most among A’s center fielders, and he was honored in 2017 as one of 50 players named to the Oakland A’s 50th Anniversary Team.

3. Sam Chapman, 1938-41, '45-51
Key fact: Leads all A’s center fielders with 174 home runs

A Bay Area native who attended the University of California-Berkeley, Chapman was one of the most steady power hitters to ever play for the Philadelphia incarnation of the A’s. He posted double-digit homer totals in nine of his 11 seasons with the club and probably would have been higher on this list had he not missed almost four years of his prime serving in the Navy during World War II.

Chapman was an All-Star in '46, but his top season came in '41 as he posted career highs in batting average (.322) and home runs (25) to go with 106 RBIs. He ranks first among A’s center fielders in home runs, RBIs (737) and games played (1,274). Chapman is also one of 20 players in club history to hit for the cycle, completing the feat in '39.

4. Bill North, 1973-78
Key fact: American League stolen-base leader in 1974 and '76

North was a speedster who was a major contributor to back-to-back A’s World Series-winning clubs in '73-74 as the leadoff hitter. He was on track to lead the AL in stolen bases for the '73 campaign until a sprained ankle in late September ended his season and kept him out of postseason play. He finished with 53 stolen bases, ultimately losing out on the title by one to Tommy Harper.

Defense was also a major part of North’s game as he often put that speed to good use in the outfield. Though he never won a Gold Glove Award like others on this list, he recorded more putouts than any other Major League outfielder from '73-76. North’s 232 stolen bases are the most among A’s center fielders and fourth-most among all players in club history.

5. Coco Crisp, 2010-16
Key fact: .283 hitter over 11 postseason games with the A’s

Crisp embodied the spirit of the A’s clubs that earned postseason berths over three straight seasons from 2012-14. His “Bernie Lean” dance became a huge hit with the Oakland faithful, and he set the table for those successful teams at the top of the lineup.

Leading the AL with 49 stolen bases in 2011, Crisp’s best overall year came in '13 as he earned AL MVP votes by hitting 22 home runs and 22 doubles and swiping 21 bags. He’s also responsible for one of the most electric A’s moments over the past decade, which took place in '12 after his walk-off single in Game 4 of the AL Division Series against the Tigers sent the Oakland Coliseum into a frenzy.

With at least 21 stolen bases in four of his seven seasons with the A’s, Crisp’s 169 stolen bases rank second-most among A’s center fielders.

Honorable mentions

Amos Strunk was a solid contributor on an A’s dynasty that won three World Series titles over four years from 1910-13. He batted .283 over 13 seasons with the club and ranks third among A’s center fielders in fWAR (19.8).

• Before Rick Monday heroically foiled a protestor’s plan to burn the United States flag in the middle of Dodger Stadium as a member of the Cubs, he played the first six seasons of his career with the A’s and earned an All-Star selection as a 22-year-old in 1968.