OAKLAND -- Tears were forming in Jose Canseco's eyes.

He'd just learned that Dennis Eckersley had said some nice things about him, some supportive things, some things that might ease Canseco's anxiety about being back at the Coliseum, back among his teammates for the first time since he told the story of steroids in baseball.

"Eck," he told him later. "Thanks for what you said. You saved me."

Eckersley laughed. "That's what I do -- saves."

The vulnerability Canseco showed, the anxiety he felt about how he would be received by teammates and fans, the remorse he expressed for writing the book that changed baseball (for the better), and the booming ovation he received Saturday stand out among the exhausting swirl of events surrounding the weekend celebration of the 1989 World Series championship team.

I had covered the A's daily from 1985-88, so I knew the team well. And because I knew little else when I was promoted to the job of columnist in 1989, the A's were my fallback position, always there when I needed a column. The relationships I forged might not be possible today, given tighter restrictions on media access, and they were not all good.

But they drew me back to the Coliseum last Friday. And then they drew me back again Saturday, back to Oakland, back in time.

Not everybody made it. Eck's right-handed set-up man, Gene Nelson, could not be found. Storm Davis, a 19-game winner in '89, had a health issue. Ron Hassey, the catcher, just had a knee replaced. Walt Weiss, then the reigning rookie of the year, is now a manager. Terry Steinbach and Rick Honeycutt are major league coaches and, yes, so is Mark McGwire.


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It is with McGwire that Canseco seems to feels the greatest regret, because McGwire was the greatest casualty of Canseco's public revelations. "Mister McGwire," as Canseco deferentially referred to him once Friday, is one significant character with whom Canseco has not spoken since his book published in 2005. Canseco said he would like to change that.

But this wasn't the weekend for that. McGwire wasn't here, probably for the best, and Canseco already had enough fence-mending to do with Carney Lansford and Dave Stewart, the two greatest leaders of that team, and Tony La Russa, the ultimate leader.

By all accounts, some degree of healing occurred on all fronts.

***

Mike Moore was the first person I saw Friday, coming toward me with a big warm greeting. His sharp facial features have been rounded by age, and his warm approach was so out of character, I had no clue who it was coming toward me. I hoped to catch a glimpse at the back of his jersey. In the end, I was forced to give him an enthusiastic "Heyyyyy!"

Moore, another 19-game winner that season, wasn't a bad guy. But he was a bad quote, and he kept his distance from reporters. We kept ours too, in a way; at least one beat writer (not me) planned his days off around the A's pitching rotation, making sure to miss Moore's games because they always ran so long. The man deliberated between pitches like a judge in a death-sentence case.

***

Dave Stewart is the best guy I ever covered. The fact that we've been out of touch for 20 years is a regret of mine, and that's the first thing I said to him Friday. This is a guy who knew when a writer had taken a day off. For context, I tell this story, and it is much more representative of the athlete-writer relationship: A player once asked me where I'd been the last couple of days. At the time, I had been off the beat for a couple of years!

But Stew knew when you'd been gone a day. And you knew he knew, because the next day he'd greet you by asking what you did on your day off.

He also was the best big-game pitcher I ever saw and I don't need stats to know that, his 9-1 lifetime record against Roger Clemens notwithstanding.

If my life depended on one game, my starting pitcher would be Stew. The final score might be 1-0, or it might be 6-5. But he would win. And I would live.

***

Tony Phillips might have been the best pure athlete on that team, maybe better than Rickey, though football probably tilts the scales Rickey's way. (By the way, both of those guys look like they could play today -- football or baseball)

Phillips' play on the final out of the '89 Series was testimony to his athleticism. Ranging deep into the hole between first and second, he corralled Brett Butler's ground ball and then, throwing across his body, led Eckersley perfectly to the bag.

That was the last play Phillips made in an A's uniform until 1999 -- a fact I'd forgotten or had never known until last weekend. Following the '89 Series, Phillips left as a free agent and played for six teams before finishing an 18-year career with a homecoming season in Oakland.

He remains a live wire. We watched much of Friday night's game on TV and when a hit batsman increased the possibility of a brouhaha, Tony left the room to watch from a field location. Had a brawl broken out, it would not have surprised me in the least to see him out there, sport coat and all.

***

Dave Parker was a big man, the biggest in the Oakland clubhouse, bigger than either Big Mac or Canseco, though less sculpted. Weakened by Parkinson's, he could not walk the red carpet from center field Saturday. When his name was called, he emerged slowly from the dugout, barely able to lift his arm to wave. And then, with sadness falling over the scene, he somehow broke into a trot and joined his teammates at the pitching mound.

***

Bob Welch passed away last month from causes still unknown. Two of his children, son Riley and daughter Kelly, watched the ceremony Saturday from the dugout. His eldest, son Dylan, was not in attendance. Dylan was born in 1989, that championship season. I can still see Bobby pushing the stroller through the ruins of the Marina District in San Francisco the day after the earthquake.

At his passing, Welch was recalled as an exceptionally supportive teammate. "Bobby was a top-step guy," said Eckersley, and there is no higher praise from a baseball dugout.

I stood on the top step of that dugout Saturday while a video tribute to Welch played on the big screen. I stole a glance at Welch's two children behind me in the dugout. Kelly was gently leaning her head on Riley's shoulder. Riley was crying.

There are few things I regret more in my career than what I wrote about Welch before Game 3 of the '89 Series. Welch was scheduled to pitch that game and his legendary nervousness represented the Giants' best chance to get back into the series after losing the first two games in Oakland.

I referred to him in print as "Basket-Case Bobby -- not once, but several times. It is a regret I have carried for 25 years. I had a chance to clean it up 15 years ago when I was researching a piece for the 10th anniversary of that Series. In fact, when I phoned him, Bobby told me a story that had never been told: He wasn't going to pitch Game 3 because he'd pulled a muscle shagging fly balls in the outfield.

I, in turn, told him nothing.

I was going to make things right at this reunion.

I'm sorry, Bobby. RIP.

***

With nobody did I bend the rules of journalism more than I did with Eck. Our professional relationship became personal, and it remains so.

All I'm going to say: I would call on him to save the game Stew starts, with my life on the line.

And I would live.

***

I go back farther with Tony La Russa than with anybody on that team, almost anybody in baseball. We met in 1983 when he was a young manager for the White Sox and I was a rookie beat reporter in Milwaukee, covering the Brewers, then an American League team.

We were in regular touch till the last several years, so it wasn't until Saturday that I congratulated him on his retirement from baseball (ha! he's already working a new job) and his 2011 championship, won in such storybook fashion, comebacks from the final out and final strike.

As it unfolded, miracle after miracle, only a handful of people knew the bigger story: La Russa had informed his bosses in July that he was going to retire at the end of the season.

When he retired and the story was disclosed, I recalled one of things La Russa used to say: The game doesn't owe you anything.

I think the game was repaying La Russa that October. I have a fair sense of what he gave up to be the manager he was. I know the sacrifices he made to his health, the compromises he made to family life. On the day of his mother's funeral in Florida, he was back in time for first pitch.

So as he stood in that dugout in October 2011, watching the miracle unfold, knowing he was at the end....

"Yes, that thought crossed my mind a few times,' he said Saturday. And then he snapped back into dugout mode. "But you can't think that way."

La Russa will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. He asked if I would be there, and I detected a hint of disappointment when I told him that I would not.

"We go back a long way," he said.

He has me thinking now. Maybe I should. Maybe I will. Maybe I can't.

It's not the travel time, but the time-travel that's so exhausting.