Page 178 Oakland A's, most sacrifice hits, single season, Dwayne Murphy, 22, 1980
The random world leads me to steal a page from the world of Catfish Stew, although it seems that the gang over there all finds 1980 to be a time before their memories. So I will try to evoke memories of the arrival of "Billyball" in Oakland and how it brought a brief, almost mirage-like resurgence, to a franchise that appeared to be dead.
The 1979 A's were, to put it bluntly, bad. They went 54-108 under manager Jim Marshall. The A's drew just 306,763 paying spectators to the Oakland Coliseum. Their lone All-Star game representative was Jeff Newman. Matt Keough went 2-17. Keough was the team's All-Star in 1978.
Charlie Finley still owned the A's, still wasn't going to sign free agents, still wasn't going to participate in centralized scouting. He was going to do it his way. So who best to replace Marshall at the helm of his team? The ultimate company man, Billy Martin. For two years it worked, which was the usual amount of time Martin would last as a manager before everyone hated him and he hated everyone else.
Although the 1979 A's were bad, they had some good prospects. In particular, Rickey Henderson got his start halfway through the 1979 season. And in center field, Dwayne Murphy took over ending the Oakland plan of rotating a series of mediocrities at that position (Joe Wallis, Glenn Burke, and Miguel Dilone were among the luminaries playing center.)
Once Martin arrived in 1980, he decided to let Henderson roam free at the top of the order and he was an instant success. Henderson stole 100 bases in 126 attempts, batted .303 and had an OBP of .420, thanks to 117 walks.
Murphy batted second in 154 of the 159 games he played. Murphy was an early example of a "Three True Outcomes" player. He drew 102 walks, struck out 96 times, and still managed to hit 13 home runs. He had have more of the third outcome later. Murphy's strikeout totals weren't helped by the fact that he often had to take a strike in order to let Henderson steal. It took Martin until 1982 to realize that Murphy should probably bat lower in the lineup.
Martin, despite the fact that his leadoff hitter was frequently already at second base because of a stolen base, liked to move Henderson up a base anyway. Of Murphy's 21 sacrifices, 17 of them advanced Henderson to second or third, one advanced Mickey Klutts to second (Henderson was not in the lineup for that game), and there were three squeeze plays, one of which scored Rob Picciolo and the other two brought home Henderson. Martin must not have had a lot of faith in his usual #3 hitter, Mitchell Page. And since Page batted .244 in 1980, Martin may have been on to something.
On one of Murphy's sacrifices, Henderson went from first to third. The next time Henderson tried that gambit, he was thrown out at third which meant that Murphy sacrificed into a double play, which is a rare play. The play was scored 5-3-2 SAC DP. Murphy was still given credit for a sacrifice because Henderson made it to second safely and only was thrown out at third because of his own risk-taking.
The record-breaking sacrifice came on September 20, 1980 in the first inning of a 9-0 Oakland win over Kansas City at Royals Stadium. Murphy sacrificed in the first inning off of Mike Jones to move Henderson from second to third. The old record of 21, set by Phil Garner in 1975, had been erased.
Murphy would crack double figures in sacrifices just one more in his career, when he recorded 12 in 1982. By this time, Murphy had started hitting more home runs and Martin was also on his way out after that year. Murphy was best known for his glove though, winning six straight Gold Gloves from 1980-85.
The A's improved by 29 games in 1980 to 83-79 and then won the AL West in the 1981 strike-induced split season with a 64-45 record. But the Yankees swept Oakland 3-0. The next year, the A's crashed to a 68-94 record as the pitching staff, which threw 94 complete games in 1980 and 60 in 1981, broke down. Steve Boros came in to manage the next year and created a stir when he started to use a computer (an Apple II) that most of us would consider primitive today to help with defensive positioning. Boros lasted one full season and then was fired about a month and a half into the 1984 season and replaced by Jackie Moore, who specialized in yelling at people. Midway through the 1986 season, Moore was replaced by Tony La Russa.
And now Oakland is the franchise that is most closely identified as being opposed to the sacrifice, so Murphy's mark should hold up. Donnie Hill's 16 sacrifices in 1985 are the most any Oakland player has had since Murphy's Year of Sacrifice. In 2006, Jason Kendall, Mark Kotsay, and Mark Ellis lead Oakland in sacrifices with 4. The team had just 25 overall in 2006 and only 19 in 2005.
The Sporting News Record Book breaks down team records by city, so Murphy's 22 sacrifices are not the franchise record. In 1917, the not quite immortal (he died in 1978) Roy Grover sacrificed 43 times for a Philadelphia A's team that finished dead last at 55-98. Future A's manager Dick Williams had the most of any Kansas City player, but it was just 11 in 1959. Ill-fated Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman holds the all-time single season record for sacrifices with 67 in 1917. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins is the career leader with 512.