“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”
― Stephen King
From 1988 to 2001, the Oakland A’s were loaded with one of the top first-baseman in baseball, beginning with Mark McGwire and ending with Jason Giambi. The two combined for 561 homeruns while playing for the A’s over 20 seasons, 3 of which occurred together before McGwire was traded to St. Louis in 1997.
In 2002, that reign of excellence was set aside as Billy Beane and the Moneyball philosophy (combined with a strict budget) led to the introduction of mediocrity at first base, as Jason Giambi fled to the Yankees for a life-changing contract. Scott Hatteberg, Daric Barton, and Yonder Alonso are 3 players who have occupied first for the A’s since Giambi’s departure, but none of them have produced at or near the level of McGwire and Giambi. Other players to man first during the past 16 years include Dan Johnson, Nick Swisher, Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, Mark Canha, and shorter stints from Eric Karros, Nate Freiman, John Mabry, Ike Davis, and Bobby Crosby. While Nick Swisher had his best season in Oakland in 2006, he split time between first and the outfield, so he wasn’t a long-term fixture in the infield. Brandon Moss nearly took on that role in 2013-14 with 2 strong seasons, but he moved on just as Swisher, Giambi, and McGwire had before him.
Ryon Healy has the opportunity to break the mold for the Oakland A’s if he takes over at first base at some point in his career. In comparing Healy to McGwire and Giambi, there are many similarities to be found. Physically, Healy and McGwire both stand 6’5″, while Giambi is a bit of a slouch at a mere 6’3″. All 3 players hail from Southern California and were drafted in the first 3 rounds out of collegiate baseball powerhouses. Healy was drafted in the 3rd round from the University of Oregon, Giambi was selected in the 2nd round from Cal State Long Beach, and McGwire went to Oakland in the first round out of USC.
Also, all 3 players started their careers as third baseman, but McGwire and Giambi both shifted to first early on after struggling defensively at the hot corner. McGwire committed 6 errors in 16 games at 3B in 1986, which would project to a staggering 60 errors over a full season. Giambi was a bit more steady at 3B, but still accumulated 11 errors over 69 games between his first 2 seasons, so it was no surprise to see him move across the diamond once McGwire was dealt to the Cardinals. Healy played at 3B in 72 games in 2016 with a total of 9 errors and it looks like he will be given more opportunities to play at the hot corner going forward, but 1B could become a better spot for him. While Giambi had to wait for McGwire’s departure to take over at first, McGwire replaced the Yonder Alonso-esque Bruce Bochte, who hit .256 with 6 HRs and 43 RBIs in 1986. Healy could step into Alonso’s spot easily as Alonso’s contract is up this year and his production belies the typical expectation for a first baseman. While a player’s offense and the position he plays shouldn’t really matter, first baseman are traditionally strong run producers who bat in the heart of the lineup. If 2016 is any indication, 2017 has the potential to be the return of great first baseman in Oakland with the arrival of the Ryon Healy era. Healy is wearing McGwire’s number 25, so maybe he feels that he’s the new version of Big Mac.