Saturday, August 9, 2014

A's stage manager/catcher reunion in wake of 25th anniversary of world championship

OAKLAND – Two weeks after the Oakland A’s celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1989 World Series championship season with much pomp and circumstance, the A’s staged another 25th anniversary reunion of sorts in the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday night.
It happened during the ceremonial first pitch when two grown men hugged.
Newly inducted Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, skipper of the A’s world champions in 1989, was selected to throw out the first pitch on Tony La Russa Bobblehead Night. But the guy who was chosen to catch it, wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform, was Terry Steinbach, La Russa’s All-Star catcher who was more a mastermind than bobblehead on that glorious A’s team 25 years ago.
Steinbach, now in his second season as the bench coach for the Twins, is trying to follow La Russa’s footsteps into the managerial world. That’s like Jimmy Fallon following Jay Leno’s footsteps into late night.
“There is a lot to learn,” Steinbach said.
Not only can Steinbach get on the job training with respected Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, but he can draw on his nine full years of experience playing in Oakland for La Russa and managing one of the best pitching staffs of all-time. During his stint with the A’s, Steinbach learned how to win and how to play together as a team on the field and hang together off it.
“We used to call ourselves the Alameda Barbecue Club,” Steinbach said.
Of course, one of his former teammates, Jose Canseco, wound up grilling some of the A’s – most notably former “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire -- in a tell-all book years later. Canseco recently returned to the Oakland Coliseum for the 25th anniversary celebration, but Steinbach was unable to attend because the Twins were home in Minnesota playing the Chicago White Sox and he didn’t feel comfortable asking to leave the team again for a couple of games. In May, Steinbach had left the team to attend his youngest son’s college graduation in Duluth.
So Steinbach didn’t get a chance to see La Russa or Canseco. In fact the last time Steinbach saw Canseco was when the Twins bench coach checked into a team hotel room late at night one night on the road and saw Canseco among exercise freaks and weight loss gurus acknowledging he had low testosterone in a TV commercial for a high testosterone supplement. In Steinbach’s eyes, Canseco admitting to low testosterone is the equivalent of Pete Rose admitting to a slight gambling problem.
“He used to hit 500-foot home runs here and now he is in an infomercial for testosterone?” Steinbach said, shaking his head and smiling.
Steinbach has fonder memories of his other Oakland teammates and of the team owner, the late Walter A. Haas Jr. The unassuming and humble team owner was the foundation for the A’s success in the late 80s and early 90s when the team acquired talent from all over unlike the current Oakland team which gets a great deal of its talent by way of Boston.
“I can remember Mr. Haas would actually ask Tony if he could visit the clubhouse and say hi to us,” Steinbach said. “Tony would say, `Walter, you own the team. You can do what you’d like.”
On rare occasions when Mr. Haas would venture into the clubhouse, the admiration and respect the team had for the team owner was evident. He would make his way from locker to locker and each player would turn and shake his hand as if it was the pope coming down a receiving line.
It was a veteran clubhouse filled with superstars – MVPs, Rookies of the Years and Cy Young Award winners. It was easy to overlook Steinbach’s contribution because on a team with larger than life personalities he was a mainstay behind a mask. He was the unheralded, productive starting catcher calling the pitches for a staff that went to three consecutive World Series.
A’s fans from that era haven’t forgotten. The ovation Steinbach received from the near sellout crowd (that included New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) on Saturday night when he was announced for the ceremonial first pitch matched the adulation A’s fans voiced for La Russa when a Hall of Fame banner  honoring him was unfurled in leftfield.
From a team that yielded the Bash Brothers, three Hall of Famers and a starting four rotation that averaged 19 wins that season that’s saying something for Steinbach.


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