MLB Opening Day Countdown: #75
In our run of these posts leading up to MLB Opening Day, there have been a number of players to don each of the numbers for each day of the countdown. Generally, those that wore the number did so only for a short period of time before a better number came around. Julio Urias wore the number 77 for all of one start before switching to 7. Ivan Rodriguez wore 77 as well, since the number 7 had been retired in Houston. Now, for the first time, we have a couple of players that made a career out of the number of the day–75.
In the 1970s, MLB had four teams that dominated the decade. It started with the Oakland Athletics winning back-to-back-to-back World Series titles from ’72-74, then saw the Reds and Yankees win back-to-back titles of their own. The Pirates also staked their own claim on the 70s, winning titles in ’71 and ’79, nearly bookending the decade.
Today, let’s focus on those A’s of the 70s, even though the Reds won the title in ’75. It will all become clear in time.
Those A’s had some serious talent. In each year they captured a title a new superstar would lead the way with Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter each taking their turn leading the team in bWAR. With so many all stars on their team, owner Charlie Finley, who was notoriously cheap, had a hard time paying the players what they felt they deserved. When free agency began in earnest in 1976, the A’s dynasty years were behind them.
Interesting side note: The anniversary of Curt Flood filing his civil lawsuit which challenged the reserve clause in baseball just passed yesterday.
More from Call to the Pen
If the disbandment of the A’s winning ways sounds familiar, it’s because not much has changed–which brings us back to the number 75. Barry Zito, who along with Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder helped return the A’s to relevance at the beginning of a new millennium, is the most productive player to ever don the number. His 32.6 bWAR isn’t quite Hall of Fame worthy, but for 15 seasons his 12-to-6 curve was a thing of beauty. It’s also worth noting that the one time in recent memory that the A’s have advanced past the ALDS was when Zito was the head of the rotation in 2006, after Mulder and Hudson had been traded.
Once Zito had out-dueled Johan Santana in Game 1 of the ALDS in Minnesota, the A’s were on the right path. Having Frank Thomas as the muscle in the lineup certainly didn’t hurt things either. The A’s would complete the series sweep at home, only to have the Tigers oust them from the playoffs for what would be the first of three consecutive times. Not necessarily in three consecutive years, but each time the A’s made the postseason in 2006, 2012 and 2013, it was those Tigers that took them out of playoff contention.
Riding a solid ALDS performance and an all around decent year, Zito signed across the bay with the San Francisco Giants for what would turn out to be way too much money for the production they received from the lefty with a deal worth $126M over seven years.
The other notable player to have worn the number 75 is Francisco Rodriguez, who is the all-time single season saves leader with 62 in 2008. He hit free agency after that season and was scooped up by the New York Mets on a 3 year, $37M deal. He didn’t last long in Queens as the Metropolitans traded him to Milwaukee in July of 2011 and he joined a squad with a productive Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun. K-Rod would wear the number 75 during his entire tenure with the Mets and then with the Brewers for the final few months after he was traded. He returned to his customary 57 in 2012.
That team won the NL Central that season but ultimately lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS four games to two.
In sticking with the theme of playing off of the number 75 however, it was the Reds who took him the World Series title that year, with Charlie Hustle earning MVP honors after hitting .370 with a .485 OBP.