The Modesto A’s of Modesto, California, played an even thirty years in the California League. For that entire span, they served as a Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. The team identity began following the 1974 season, when the Modesto Reds signed on with Oakland and took on a COTOB identity–right at the height of the “Swingin’ A’s” dynasty. The team was also occasionally referred to as the Modesto Athletics, but the A’s nickname was used more regularly. One could make the case that A’s is a diminutive form (or DimDer) of the parent club, though Oakland itself is (and has been) called the A’s more commonly than the Athletics, so I consider Modesto to be a straight COTOB.
When the Modesto A’s took to the field in 1975, they did so while looking similar to the MLB club just up the road in Oakland, with green and gold uniforms. The one distinguishing characteristic was the cap logo–a cursive capital M. This is the same stock letter M that had been used by the Modesto Reds, and would later be used by the Madison Muskies and even turned upside for the W in the Wausau Timbers. It’s worth noting that one of the few color images from the early years of the Modesto A’s is a photograph of Rickey Henderson with the uniform a maroon color. However, I have strong reason to believe that the original snapshot was black and white, and that the maroon image was an inaccurate colorization of the photo. The giveaway is that the maroon color is also used for some superimposed text as well as for part of the outfield sign in the background. Furthermore, the cap in the black and white image seems to clearly have contrasting colors on crown and bill, while the colorization has the cap as solid maroon. I believe that the cap was green and gold.
Speaking of Rickey Henderson, the Hall-of-Famer tore up California League base paths in 1977, including one game where he stole a whopping seven bags. Other notables to play for the Modesto A’s in the Me Decade were Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, Dwayne Murphy, and Mike Davis.
The eighties were also a fruitful decade for the Modesto A’s, with rosters packed with future big-league standouts and contributors to Oakland’s 1989 World Series club. The 1984 Modesto team included both of the Bash Brothers–José Canseco and Mark McGwire. McGwire’s time in Modesto is memorialized by a baseball card that spelled his name wrong, as well as with a Starting Lineup figurine. Other notable players from the eighties include Mike Gallego, Mickey Tettleton, Charlie O’Brien, Walt Weiss, Lance Blankenship, Félix José, Kevin Tapani, Ron Coomer, and Mike Bordick.
In the early nineties, Modesto updated their brand a bit, swapping out the cursive M for a busy new logo featuring the word Modesto in green, superimposed over a golden A’s. The last letter in Modesto is formed by a baseball that has a motion line swooping in a graceful curve that encircles the whole works. After a few years, this look would be replaced by something more befitting the decade’s designs.
In ’97, the team switched their cap logo to an italicized block capital M, and leaning on the letter was a memorable mascot–a too-cool-for-school cartoon version of the parent club’s elephant, loitering around in a backward gold ball cap and holding a baseball in his trunk. An alternate logo had the elephant in front of the M, aggressively posed with tusks bared and a bat held aloft by his nasal appendage. The nineties also saw many future big-leaguers pay their dues at Thurman Field, including Jason Giambi, Tony Batista, Ben Grieve, Miguel Tejada, and Tim Hudson.
There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon for major league teams to have two full-season affiliates at the same level, sometimes even in the same league. This was the case with Oakland around the turn of the millennium, a time when they had two Cali League teams, with Modesto and the Visalia Oaks. This arrangement is historically notable in that it was the last of its kind, and after the 2002 season, whether voluntarily or not, all of MLB went to having one affiliate at each full-season level. Modesto got a bit lucky in the sense that the A’s chose them over the Oaks.
More brand changes came for Modesto in the aughts. They switched uniforms once again, opting for darker hues and a logo featuring a serious, more realistic-looking elephant’s head. Some of those who donned the elephant head cap include Nick Swisher, Andre Ethier, and Nelson Cruz. That cap, however, would only last for a few seasons.
Though they may have won the Oakland sweepstakes in ’02, that didn’t change the fact that John Thurman Stadium was an aging facility, and major league clubs generally prefer to have nice amenities for their young players. Stockton, California, just slightly closer to Oakland than Modesto, completed a new ballpark after the 2004 season. The Athletics seized the opportunity and inked a PDC with the Ports for the 2005 season. Modesto, meanwhile, couldn’t go on calling themselves the A’s after signing on with the Rockies, and they made the wise choice to create a new, slightly nutty identity. The Modesto Nuts play in the California League to this day.