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On This Date in Sports August 10, 1980: Billy Ball

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Steve McCatty goes the distance for the Oakland Athletics in a 2-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners in 14 innings at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. McCatty is the fourth Oakland hurler to pitch 14 innings, fueling criticism that manager Billy Martin was overworking them. The A’s had a significant turnaround in 1980, improving from 108 losses to an 83-79 record. However, within a few years, the Athletics pitching core would all suffer arm trouble. 

 After Billy Martin was fired a second time by the New York Yankees for a run-in with a marshmallow salesman, he ended up going home to Oakland to manage the Athletics. After starting the 1970s as a dynasty, the Athletics owned by Charles O. Finley was decimated by the start of free agency. The A’s had posted a dreadful 54-108 record in 1979 and looked for a way to bring fans back to the stadium as Finely put the team up for sale. This led to the hiring of Billy Martin and the start of the “Billy Ball” era. 

 Billy Ball had the young Athletics playing a more aggressive brand of baseball. Rickey Henderson, in his first full season in the majors, benefited from Billy Ball, stealing an American League record 96 bases. Tony Armas emerged as a new power threat for Oakland, with 35 home runs, and on the mound, the Athletics were spurred by four young hurlers Brian Kingman, Mike Norris, Steve McCatty, and Matt Keough. 

 The Athletics would have a remarkable turnaround in 1980, positing a record of 83-79 after a 54-108 record in 1979. The Athletics bullpen was often unreliable, forcing Billy Martin to lean heavily on his young starters. Mike Norris was the best of the bunch posting a record of 22-9 with a 2.53 ERA as he finished second to Steve Stone of the Baltimore Orioles in voting for the Cy Young. Brian King often pitched in hard luck, posting an ERA of 3.83 as he went 8-20. Matt Keough went 16-13 with a 2.92 ERA while Steve McCatty went 1414 with a 3.86 ERA. Also, a part of the rotation was Rick Langford, who went 19-12 with a 3.63 ERA.

 Combined, the Athletics rotation pitched 94 complete games, with each pitcher logging over 200 innings. The A’s carried the momentum into 1981, as they set a record with 11 straight wins to start the season on the way to a 17-1 start. The Athletics were in first place when the strike began and declared first-half champions. They would beat the Kansas City Royals in the Division Series but were swept in the ALCS by the New York Yankees.

 The extra mileage that Billy Martin put on his pitching staff’s arms began to show in 1982, as Oakland was beset by injuries all season, with the young pitching struggling as they posted a record of 68-94 leading to the dismissal of Billy Martin and the end of Billy Ball.