The 2002 Oakland Athletics firmly etched their name in baseball lore, immortalized by the award-winning film and book “Moneyball.”
With the team’s 20-game winning streak, 103 total wins and miniscule $388,000 per victory, the 2002 A’s forced baseball to change its century-old way of thinking. It proved having the right players was more important than the most expensive ones.
When one looks back on the season — one of the franchise’s most successful — many names come up: AL MVP shortstop Miguel Tejada, Scott Hatteberg (and his historic walk-off homer), and then-manager Art Howe.
Fans would be remiss to disregard the oversized contribution of 24-year-old left-handed ace starter Barry Zito. With a 23-5 won-loss record and 2.75 ERA, Zito brought home the AL CY Young award – just the fifth in the franchise’s Oakland history.
On Wednesday, Zito had his contract with the Nashville Sounds purchased by the A’s, and will get a chance to finish his career on the major league roster of the team that drafted him.
Upon receiving the news, Zito spoke with ESPN:
“This is where I started. That mound in Oakland is where I threw my first major league pitch… I’m going to throw one of my last major league pitches probably on that mound. That’s like storybook. It’s amazing.”
Drafted ninth overall in 1999 out of the University of Southern California, Zito spent the first seven years of his 15-year big league career in “The Town.” Along with the 2002 CY Young, Zito also garnered three All-Star appearances and twice finished in the top 25 of the AL MVP race.
In 2007, the man with one of Major League Baseball’s most baffling curves was rewarded for his work in the green and yellow, as he signed a huge contract to cross the Bay.
Over the next seven years, Zito would see little success with the San Francisco Giants. Until 2010.
With the 2010 Giants, Zito reached the pinnacle of professional sports when he was part of a world championship. He would reach even higher two years later, when he would not just win another World Series title, he would be a massive contributor to the championship run.
October baseball is when Zito elevated his game throughout his illustrious career; his career 6-3 postseason record is bolstered by his 19 earned runs allowed in 60.1 innings pitched (a 2.83 ERA).
After spending the majority of the 2015 season in Triple-A and posting a 8-7 record with a 3.46 ERA, Zito will be able to once again doff his cap to a fan base that once held him so dear.
A’s manager Bob Melvin told ESPN:
“It’s going to be great to bring (Zito) home and get him in games in our place in front of our crowd. They love him there. Particularly when we play the Giants, it’s going to be a really exciting weekend. It’s really going to add to that having him there.”
As of right now, Melvin’s expectations for the lefty are to join an exceedingly depleted bullpen.
General Manager Billy Beane, however, isn’t ruling out a start, telling Bay Area News Group’s John Hickey about a matchup of Zito versus 2002 Athletics starter Tim Hudson:
“That might be a nice reunion.”
Hudson (7-8, 4.42 ERA), who signed with San Francisco after receiving an exemplary endorsement from Zito regarding the franchise, shared his thoughts with ESPN:
“I’m really happy for him. I’m sure he appreciates it and I think he deserves it. I’m sure the fans in Oakland will ultimately appreciate it as well.”
Given the A’s pitching struggles all season, many fans have been begging for Zito’s recall for months.
Now, not only have they gotten their wish, there is a definite possibility that two key starters from the magical 2002 A’s season will face each other at O.Co Coliseum on Saturday.