Publish date:


New A's owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann have reaped their
fortunes by running California development companies that,
between them, have built some 80,000 homes over the past four
decades. So forgive them if they aren't worried about
reconstructing one baseball team.

Since buying the club from the Haas family on Nov. 1, Schott and
Hofmann have taken a wrecking ball to the franchise. The
Athletics have hired a new manager and coaching staff, added 18
new faces in the front office and slashed the player payroll by
37%. And, oh, yes, they've replaced last season's starting
outfield and almost the entire pitching rotation.

The renovation was long overdue. After winning the AL West in
1992, Oakland quickly went from the A's to the Z's; since then
the team has gone a dreary 186-234 with an old and often injured
cast. Wisely, Schott (no relation to Marge) and Hofmann have
entrusted the future to Sandy Alderson, one of baseball's master
builders. He was the architect of the A's teams that dominated
the league in the late 1980s and early '90s, and after three
years of having his attention diverted by administrative duties,
he is again concentrating on baseball. "It's exciting," says
Alderson. "We've needed to create a young nucleus for a while."

Jettisoning the old nucleus was Alderson's first step. He showed
the door to free agents Rickey Henderson, Stan Javier and Steve
Ontiveros; sent Todd Stottlemyre to St. Louis for three pitching
prospects and highly regarded outfielder Allen Battle; dealt
Dennis Eckersley and his $2.25 million salary to the Cardinals
for minor league reliever Steve Montgomery; and unloaded Danny
Tartabull to the White Sox for 23-year-old Andrew Lorraine, who
will compete for a spot in the A's rotation.

Of all the off-season changes, none may prove more profound than
the hiring of Art Howe to replace manager Tony La Russa (page
10), who went to St. Louis after 10 years in Oakland. Howe isn't
as dynamic as La Russa, but he calls himself "a patient man,"
and he spent 1989 to '93 as manager of another rebuilding team,
the Astros. "He's a perfect fit for the younger guys," says A's
reliever Jim Corsi, who pitched for Howe in '91. "I remember
speeches he gave when things were going bad. He never snapped at

Howe's gentle manner will be complemented by leadership from two
veterans of Oakland's championship days: first baseman Mark
McGwire and catcher Terry Steinbach. Because of assorted
injuries, McGwire has played only 178 games the past three
seasons, but in just 317 at bats last year he hit an astonishing
39 home runs. He's the one player who can carry the team. "Kids
today don't listen like they did when I broke in," says the
32-year-old McGwire. "I have a lot to offer, but I won't waste
it on someone who lets it go in one ear and out the other. They
have no idea how mental the game is."

This season may provide a mental test for Steinbach, a former
All-Star who is being asked to nurture a rotation that has a
total of 25 major league wins. The "ace" is the highly confident
but as yet ineffective Todd Van Poppel, 24, who is 17-24 with a
5.34 ERA over 2 1/2 major league seasons. None of the other
possible starters has more than nine big league starts, and none
has a career ERA below 4.60. In the bullpen, the A's are hoping
righthander Mark Acre can fill Eckersley's cleats and develop
into an intimidating closer.

With McGwire at first and Jason Giambi at third, the infield is
the club's strong suit. Shortstop Mike Bordick is an underrated
fielder and a competent hitter, and second baseman Brent
Gates--whom McGwire once pegged as a future batting champ--could
be ready to break out after a strong finish in '95 that included
a 17-game hitting streak.

By contrast, the outfield is unsettled. Ernie Young, 26, an
accomplished minor leaguer who hasn't hit in two brief big
league stints, will probably start in left. Scott Brosius, 29,
and former Twin Pedro Munoz will serve as stopgaps while Oakland
awaits the development of its novices: Battle, 27, who is speedy
and hits for average, and Jose Herrera, 23, who is also fast and
has a rifle arm.

The A's won't win much in '96, but even some sign of progress
will satisfy the new owners. Schott and Hofmann know that giving
Alderson time to build is the only way to get the franchise back
on the beam.


COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON The rebuilding A's value McGwire as much for his leadership as for his hot bat. [Mark McGwire]


1995 Team Statistics (AL rank in parentheses)

Batting Average .264 (10)
Home Runs 169 (6)
ERA 4.97 (12)
Fielding Pct. .981 (10)

Prolific Power Pace

Mark McGwire hit 39 home runs in 317 at bats in 1995--that's one
home run every 8.1 at bats, the best single-season home run rate
by any player in major league history (minimum 15 homers). At
that pace, McGwire would have hit 72 homers over the course of
590 at bats (Roger Maris's at bat total in 1961).

Highest Single-Season Home Run Rates


1995 Mark McGwire, Athletics 317 39 8.1
1920 Babe Ruth, Yankees 458 54 8.5
1927 Babe Ruth, Yankees 540 60 9.0
1921 Babe Ruth, Yankees 540 59 9.2
1961 Mickey Mantle, Yankees 514 54 9.5
1938 Hank Greenberg, Tigers 556 58 9.6
1961 Roger Maris, Yankees 590 61 9.7
1973 Hank Aaron, Braves 392 40 9.8
1928 Babe Ruth, Yankees 536 54 9.9
1932 Jimmie Foxx, Athletics 585 58 10.1


Jason Giambi is one of those liner-lashing lefties with a swing
so smooth it almost looks lazy. Don't be deceived. "He buries
his nose in there and goes to war," says former A's batting
instructor Jim Lefebvre. "He's not intimidated by anything."
Giambi, the A's 25-year-old third baseman, certainly hasn't been
intimidated by The Show. As a rookie last year, he batted 11
times with a runner on third and fewer than two outs; ten times
he drove the runner home. But Giambi hasn't been intimidated at
any level. His .397 average over four seasons at Long Beach
State earned him a spot on the '92 U.S. Olympic team, and his
.342 average in 55 games at Triple A Edmonton last season
brought him up to the majors. With his sweet swing, Giambi
should be intimidating pitchers for years to come.


Batting Order BA, HRs, RBIs, SBs

CF Scott Brosius .262, 17, 46, 4
2B Brent Gates .254, 5, 56, 3
DH Geronimo Berroa .278, 22, 88, 7
1B Mark McGwire .274, 39, 90, 1
RF Pedro Munoz[*] .301, 18, 58, 0
3B Jason Giambi .256, 6, 25, 2
C Terry Steinbach .278, 15, 65, 1
LF Ernie Young (R) 15 HR in AAA
SS Mike Bordick .264, 8, 44, 11


OF Jose Herrera (R) .282 BA in AA
IF Fausto Cruz (R) .281 BA in AAA


RH Todd Van Poppel 4-8, 4.88
RH Ariel Prieto 2-6, 4.97
LH Doug Johns 5-3, 4.61
RH John Wasdin (R) 12-8 in AAA
LH Andrew Lorraine (R)[*] 10-7 in AAA


RH Mark Acre 0, 5.71
RH Jim Corsi 2, 2.20
RH Carlos Reyes 0, 5.09
LH Mike Mohler 1, 3.04

[*]New acquisition (R) Rookie