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Former A's take part in 50th Anniversary Gala

Special to MLB.com

OAKLAND -- There was Jose Canseco, standing off to one side of the room at Jack London Square, looking like he hadn't aged at all.

Old friends Terry Steinbach and Carney Lansford were holding a conversation with Gene Tenace. And everyone recognized Rollie Fingers, with his familiar handlebar mustache and green sport coat. Then, all eyes turned when Rickey Henderson, one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all time, walked in.

OAKLAND -- There was Jose Canseco, standing off to one side of the room at Jack London Square, looking like he hadn't aged at all.

Old friends Terry Steinbach and Carney Lansford were holding a conversation with Gene Tenace. And everyone recognized Rollie Fingers, with his familiar handlebar mustache and green sport coat. Then, all eyes turned when Rickey Henderson, one of the greatest leadoff hitters of all time, walked in.

It was a perfect day for baseball in the East Bay on Wednesday, and on the eve of the start of their 51st season in Oakland, the A's held their 50th Anniversary Gala at Jack London Square. It was part of a day-long celebration that also included team president Dave Kaval and Stomper, the A's mascot, joining Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf to raise the A's flag at City Hall.

On Tuesday, A's players Matt Olson and Chad Pinder took part in recess at Lincoln Elementary. Stomper joined them to play baseball and other games with the students. Lincoln is one of two schools adopted by the A's through the Oakland Public Ed Fund's Adopt-A-School program.

Video: Olson and Pinder enjoy recess at Lincoln Elementary

The A's open the new season Thursday afternoon against the Angels at the Coliseum, but there have been plenty of celebrations leading up to the first pitch.

The highlight was Wednesday evening's gala. Numerous players from the A's three-time World Series-champion teams from 1972-74 were in attendance. They included Fingers, Tenace, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, John "Blue Moon" Odom, Bert Campaneris and Billy North, who was on the 1973-74 teams. Also present was Helen Hunter, the wife of Catfish Hunter.

There was also a good turnout from the A's team that swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series, which included Henderson, Canseco, Lansford and Steinbach.

Around the edges of the rooms were 50 elephants, each representing one season of the A's half-century in Oakland. They will be displayed around Oakland and throughout the East Bay all year.

Tweet from @Athletics: The Oakland A���s 50th Anniversary Gala is just about to get started. This fundraiser benefitting the A���s Community Fund will include the auctioning of our Stomper in the Town statues! #StomperInTheTown pic.twitter.com/A8Z82guyu3

Much of the conversation was about expectations this season, the A's stadium situation and, of course, old stories about the good times previous A's teams have had in Oakland.

Fingers, a Hall of Fame reliever, now works for the club as a special assistant to Kaval. He will make about seven or eight appearances per year on the A's behalf. But a perfect question for Fingers was about the attempt to speed up the pace of play.

"You want to speed up the game, eliminate some of the warmup pitches between innings," Fingers said. "Pitchers know when they're going to come in. Warmup pitches add 10-15 minutes to the game."

Unsurprisingly, Fingers isn't a big proponent of simply waving the batter to first base on an intentional walk. He was involved in one of the most memorable intentional walks, throwing strike three past Reds catcher Johnny Bench during Game 3 of the 1972 World Series when it appeared the A's were going to throw ball four.

"There are a lot of goofy things that can happen on an intentional base on balls," Fingers said. "It's not a given that a pitcher is going to throw four balls."

Henderson, who will be 60 on Christmas, still looks as if he could walk out on a Major League field and help out.

"If I could go out there, I would," Henderson said.

Tweet from @Athletics: The guests are rolling in! #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/4mDNgLP9bf

Henderson also discussed the A's future in Oakland. He is hopeful the team eventually gets a new stadium in his hometown.

"They're really trying to stay in Oakland," said Henderson, who grew up in the city and graduated from Oakland Technical High School. "We need something. We're losing a basketball team [Golden State Warriors], and we're losing a football team [Raiders]."

Lansford said he wonders if the pitching will hold up, but Fingers and Campaneris said they saw a few games during Spring Training and were impressed with the young talent.

"The few games I saw, they looked good," Campaneris said.

But mainly, this was a night for seeing old friends. At one point, most of the players from the 1972-74 teams gathered for a photo. It produced one of the cooler moments. Standing off to the side was Helen Hunter.

Odom and Fingers prodded her to join them. A ton of cameras and phones went off at once.

Mike Lefkow is a contributor to MLB.com.

Oakland Athletics