Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Walter Haas was a well respected businessman within his native San Francisco but few remember him as the onetime owner of the Oakland A’s. Unlike his predecessor, Charles Finley, Haas was more accustomed to the background rather than the paparazzi. But with him at the helm, the A’s delivered one last World Series championship to the city of Oakland. This is his story.
Walter Abraham Haas Jr. was born on January 24, 1916 in San Francisco, California and he grew up in a life of luxury. He was the grandson of Abraham Haas, the founder of Hellman-Haas Grocery, which later became Smart & Final. His father, Walter A. Haas Sr., was the chairman of Levi Strauss & Company, a popular clothing company based in San Francisco famous for revolutionizing the jeans industry. Walter Haas Sr. was also a prominent supporter of the University of California, Berkley and the Haas School of Business bears his name. His mother was the great niece of Levi Strauss, the founder and namesake of the company. Together, the two families would build San Francisco into a thriving metropolis.
After graduating from the University of California, Berkley and Harvard Business School in 1939, Haas went to work for Levi Strauss in one of their factories. After a four year stint in the Army during World War II, Haas returned to the company, holding a number of positions before succeeding his father as president and CEO in 1958. It was during this time that he served on the board of a number of charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the National Park Foundation. He also served on the board of some nonprofits within the Bay Area such as the Hunters Point Boys Club and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Season of Sharing Fund. Partly due to his involvement with multiple charities, he and his wife decided to establish the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund in 1953. This particular fund was designed to address inequality within society and provides opportunities for people to provide for their families with dignity. Despite his growing success in business and philanthropy, Walter Haas wanted to forge his own path away from his family’s legacy.
The A’s Years
Despite just a passing interest in the game of baseball, Haas was enticed to purchase the Oakland A’s from Charles O. Finley on August 23, 1979 for less than $13 million. His main reason for the purchase was to keep the team in Oakland. His interest in baseball may have been less than ideal for an owner, but under his dime the A’s won five division titles and went to three straight World Series to close the decade. In 1979, the A’s lost 108 games and drew just over 300,000 fans, paltry numbers for a team that had known such great success less than a decade earlier. The turnaround was swift with the team making the playoffs in 1981 and hosting the All Star Game in 1987.
The greatest years under his ownership were the end of the decade when they went to three straight World Series, winning one. In 1988, they played a Los Angeles Dodgers squad which was a heavy underdog. The Dodgers shocked the world and won the series 4-1. Their lone World Series championship during this period was 1989 which was interrupted by the Loma Prieta Earthquake. They beat the San Francisco Giants after a 10 day delay for the only all Bay Area World Series. The A’s were back in the World Series the following year where they were swept by the Cincinnati Reds.
Through the glory years and until the end of Haas’ reign as owner, the A’s drew more than two million fans per season, a complete reverse of where he found the franchise when he took over. He passed away on September 20, 1995 from prostate cancer and bequeathed the team to his son, Walter J. Haas. His son waited less than two months before selling the team to Stephen Schott and Ken Hofmann on November 1, 1995.