1981 Oakland Athletics season

1981 Oakland Athletics
1981 AL West Champions
Major League affiliations
Record 64–45 (.587)
Other information
Owner(s) Walter A. Haas, Jr.
General manager(s) Billy Martin
Manager(s) Billy Martin
Local television KPIX-TV
(Bill King, Harmon Killebrew)
Local radio KSFO
(Bill King, Lon Simmons, Wayne Hagin)
(Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, Julio Gonzalez)
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The Oakland Athletics' 1981 season saw the A's finish with an overall record of 64 wins and 45 losses. They finished the season with the best record in the American League (and second best in all of baseball). Due to the infamous 1981 players strike, the league resorted to a split-season format; this new format saw the winners of both halves of the season playing in the first divisional playoff in MLB history. The A's qualified by posting the AL West's best record in the first half of the season. While they swept the Kansas City Royals in the AL West playoff, they were themselves swept by the New York Yankees in the 1981 American League Championship Series.

The Athletics' 1981 season ranks among the organization's most interesting. The A's, only two years removed from a disastrous 54-108 finish, won their first AL West crown since 1975 under second-year manager Billy Martin. The "Billyball" A's began the season with a then-AL record 11 consecutive wins (this record was later broken by the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, who raced out to a 13-0 start). The squad followed its first loss of the season, a tough 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners, with six more victories. Their 17-1 start (through 18 games) remains unmatched. The A's starting rotation (consisting of Rick Langford, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris, and Brian Kingman) received national attention during the torrid start; the unit was collectively featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's April 27, 1981, edition. The periodic heroics of Tony Armas and Rickey Henderson also drew notice.

The Athletics, however, slumped badly following the 17-1 start. While they regained some of their swagger during the season's second half, they ultimately played .500 baseball for the rest of the season. Even still, the A's won the AL West's first half with a 37-23 mark; they also led the division in total wins despite losing the second half to the Royals. The A's swept these 50-53 Royals in the ALDS. The A's themselves were humbled in the ALCS, as the Yankees outscored Oakland 20-4 in a humiliating three-game rout. The 1981 ALCS is perhaps best remembered as the purported birthplace of "the wave"; while the phenomenon's origin is disputed, it is most commonly attributed to Krazy George Henderson, who introduced it to the Athletics' crowd during the series' final game.

Despite high expectations, the A's collapsed in 1982. A rash of injuries, among other factors, saw the team plummet to an abysmal 68-94 record. The firing of Billy Martin at seasons' end brought a swift and unceremonious end to the "Billyball" era. All told, the A's would have to wait until 1988 for their next postseason appearance. Only one member of the 1981 team (Rich Bordi) also played on the 1988 team.



Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley's wife sought a divorce and would not accept part of a baseball team in a property settlement. With most of his money tied up in the A's or his insurance empire, Finley had to sell the team. Though Finley found a buyer in businessman Marvin Davis, who would have moved the Athletics to Denver, the tentative deal hit a snag when the Raiders announced their move to Los Angeles. Oakland and Alameda County officials, not wanting to be held responsible for losing Oakland's status as a big-league city in its own right, refused to let Finley break the lease with the Coliseum. Finley then looked to local buyers, selling the A's to San Francisco clothing manufacturer Walter A. Haas, Jr., president of Levi Strauss & Co. prior to the 1981 season.

Haas restored the official name of the club to "Athletics" in 1981, but retained the nickname "A's" for marketing purposes. At first, the word "Athletics" was restored only to the club's logo, underneath the much larger stylized-"A" that had come to represent the team since the early days. Former owner Charlie Finley banned the word "Athletics" from the club's name because he felt that name was too closely associated with former Philadelphia Athletics owner Connie Mack.

During the Finley era, average home attendance from 19681980 was 777,000 per season, with 1,075,518 in 1975 being the highest attendance for a Finley-owned team. In marked contrast, during the first year of Haas' ownership, the Athletics drew 1,304,052in a season shortened by a player strike. Were it not for the strike, the A's were on a pace to draw over 2.2 million in 1981. The A's finished with the second-best overall record in baseball, and the best record in the American League.

Spring training

The Oakland Athletics held spring training at Rendezvous Park in Mesa, Arizona.

Regular season

  • April 19, 1981: In the first game of a doubleheader with the Seattle Mariners, the A's won 6-1 to win their then-record 11th consecutive game to start a season.
  • April 25, 1981: Prior to a game against the Seattle Mariners, Seattle manager Maury Wills advised the Kingdome groundskeepers to enlarge the batter's box by a foot.[9] A's manager Billy Martin noticed. Martin showed umpire Bill Kunkel that the batter's box was seven feet long instead of six feet. Martin felt that batters being able to move up a foot in the box could cut at pitches before a curveball broke. Wills was suspended for two games and fined $500.[9]

Game Log

First Half

1981 Regular Season Game Log First Half (3723) (Home: 2211; Road: 1512)

Second Half

1981 Regular Season Game Log Second Half (2722) (Home: 1211; Road: 1512)
Athletics win Athletics loss All-Star Game Game postponed

Season standings

AL West W L Pct. GB Home Road
Oakland Athletics 6445 0.587 35–21 29–24
Texas Rangers 5748 0.543 5 32–24 25–24
Chicago White Sox 5452 0.509 25–24 29–28
Kansas City Royals 5053 0.485 11 19–28 31–25
California Angels 5159 0.464 13½ 26–28 25–31
Seattle Mariners 4465 0.404 20 20–37 24–28
Minnesota Twins 4168 0.376 23 24–36 17–32
AL West
First Half Standings
W L Pct.
Oakland Athletics3723.617
Texas Rangers3322.600
Chicago White Sox3122.585
California Angels3129.517
Kansas City Royals2030.400
Seattle Mariners2136.368
Minnesota Twins1739.304
AL West
Second Half Standings
W L Pct.
Kansas City Royals3023.566
Oakland Athletics2722.551
Texas Rangers2426.480
Minnesota Twins2429.453
Seattle Mariners2329.442
Chicago White Sox2330.434
California Angels2030.400

Record vs. opponents

1981 American League Records

Baltimore 2–26–63–64–26–75–32–46–07–67–54–22–15–2
Boston 2–22–45–47–66–13–36–72–53–37–59–33–64–0
California 6–64–26–77–53–30–64–33–32–22–86–42–46–6
Chicago 6–34–57–62–53–32–04–12–45–77–63–32–47–5
Cleveland 2–46–75–75–21–54–43–62–17–53–28–42–24–2
Detroit 7–61–63–33–35–13–25–89–33–71–25–19–36–4
Kansas City 3–53–36–00–24–42–34–59–42–103–36–73–45–3
Milwaukee 4–27–63–41–46–38–55–49–33–34–22–24–56–4
Minnesota 0–65–23–34–21–23–94–93–93–32–83–6–15–85–1
New York 6–73–32–27–55–77–310–23–33–34–32–35–42–3
Oakland 5–75–78–26–72–32–13–32–48–23–46–14–210–2
Seattle 2–43–94–63–34–81–57–62–26–3–13–21–65–83–3
Texas 1–26–34–24–22–23–94–35–48–54–52–48–56–2
Toronto 2–50–46–65–72–44–63–54–61–53–22–103–32–6

Notable transactions

Draft Picks

Billyball, year two

Following the team's surprising success in 1980, manager Billy Martin was given the additional title of general manager in 1981. The team won the division title for the first time since 1975, winning the first half of the split season, then defeating the Royals in the divisional playoffs before losing to the Yankees in the ALCS.

While the team was successful, it came at a high price, both for the team and for the pitching staff. Following a season in which the team led the league in complete games with 94—an astonishing number for the time—the Athletics again led the league with 60 complete games out of 109 total games in the strike-shortened season. For the second time, the pitching staff completed more than half their total number of games and more than double the number of the team with the second-highest total (The Indians and Tigers each had 33). The workload of the pitchers over the two seasons was blamed by the team's ownership for the team's fall to fifth place in 1982, which led to Martin's firing from both positions. Many of the pitchers suffered injuries, and none of the four main starting pitchers (Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris, Matt Keough) ever duplicated their success of 1980–81.


1981 Oakland Athletics
Pitchers Catchers



Other batters



Player stats


= Indicates team leader

Starters by position

Note: Pos = position; G = Games played; AB = At bats; H = Hits; Avg. = Batting average; HR = Home runs; RBI = Runs batted in

Pos. Player G AB R H Avg. HR RBI SB
CMike Heath843012671.2368303
1BJim Spencer541711435.205291
2BShooty Babitt541561040.2560145
3BWayne Gross822432950.20610312
SSRob Picciolo821792348.2684130
LFRickey Henderson10842389135.31963556
CFDwayne Murphy1073905898.251156010
RFTony Armas10944051115.26122765
DHCliff Johnson842734071.26017595


Other batters

Player G AB H Avg. HR RBI
Dave McKay7922459.263421
Jeff Newman6821650.231315
Fred Stanley6614528.19307
Mitchell Page349213.141413
Dave Revering318720.230210
Keith Drumright318625.291011
Kelvin Moore144712.25513
Mickey Klutts154617.370511
Brian Doyle17405.12503
Mark Budaska9325.15602
Mike Patterson12238.34801
Tim Hosley18212.09515
Mike Davis17201.05000
Rick Bosetti9192.10501
Jimmy Sexton730.00000
Jeff Cox200.---00
Bob Kearney100.---00
Jim Nettles100.---00


Starting pitchers

Note: G = Games played; IP = Innings Pitched; W = Wins; L = Losses; ERA = Earned Run Average; SO = Strikeouts; BB = Bases on Balls

Player G IP W L ERA SO
Rick Langford24195.112102.9984
Mike Norris23172.21293.7578
Steve McCatty22185.21472.3391
Matt Keough19140.11063.4060
Brian Kingman18100.1363.9552

Other pitchers

Player G IP W L ERA SO
Tom Underwood1651323.1846
Ed Figueroa28.1005.401

Relief pitchers

Player G W L SV ERA SO
Jeff Jones334133.3943
Bob Owchinko294323.2026
Bo McLaughlin1100111.573
Dave Beard81132.7715
Craig Minetto80002.704
Dave Heaverlo61001.592
Rich Bordi20000.000



Oakland wins series, 3-0.

1Oakland 4, Kansas City 0October 6Royals Stadium40,592
2Oakland 2, Kansas City 1October 7Royals Stadium40,274
3Oakland 4, Kansas City 1October 9Oakland Coliseum40,002


Yankees win the Series, 3-0

1Oakland – 1, New York – 3October 13Yankee Stadium55,740
2Oakland – 3, New York – 13October 14Yankee Stadium48,497
3New York – 4, Oakland – 0October 15Oakland Coliseum47,302

Game Log

1981 Playoff Game Log
Athletics win Athletics loss

Awards and honors

  • Rickey Henderson, American League leader, Hits[22]
  • Billy Martin, Associated Press AL Manager of the Year

Farm system

Level Team League Manager
AAA Tacoma Tigers Pacific Coast League Ed Nottle
AA West Haven A's Eastern League Bob Didier
A Modesto A's California League Keith Lieppman
A-Short Season Medford A's Northwest League Brad Fischer



  1. Randy Elliott at Baseball Reference
  2. Brian Doyle at Baseball Reference
  3. "DeWayne Buice Stats - Baseball-Reference.com". Baseball-Reference.com.
  4. Keith Drumright at Baseball Reference
  5. Steve Kiefer at Baseball Reference
  6. Rick Lysander at Baseball Reference
  7. Tony Phillips at Baseball Reference
  8. Alan Wirth at Baseball Reference
  9. 1 2 "ESPN.com - Page2 - Biggest cheaters in baseball". espn.go.com.
  10. Ernie Camacho at Baseball Reference
  11. Dave Heaverlo at Baseball Reference
  12. Gorman Heimueller at Baseball Reference
  13. Chris Codiroli at Baseball Reference
  14. "Chuck Hensley Stats - Baseball-Reference.com". Baseball-Reference.com.
  15. Dave Revering at Baseball Reference
  16. Rick Bosetti at Baseball Reference
  17. Tim Hosley at Baseball Reference
  18. Mike Gallego at Baseball Reference
  19. Rick Rodriguez at Baseball Reference
  20. Mickey Tettleton at Baseball Reference
  21. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-24.
  22. Baseball's Top 100: The Game's Greatest Records, p. 52, Kerry Banks, 2010, Greystone Books, Vancouver, BC, ISBN 978-1-55365-507-7
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