OAKLAND -- The rise of the Oakland Athletics perhaps can be traced best by the evolution of the reactions they have elicited in recent years from baseball's front-office fraternity.

The chuckles and scorns of the early 1980s have become resigned shakes of the head and scorns of a different kind. The ways of the A's are not embraced, but they are revered. Surprisingly few major league executives are trying earnestly to emulate the Athletics' methods, but even the most begrudging of opponents cannot help but admire the results.

It has become fashionable of late to bemoan the good fortune of the A's. Even as his team was being swept out of the American League Championship Series last week, Boston Red Sox Manager Joe Morgan made ceaseless references to "that old Oakland luck."

The pact-with-the-devil theorists look at Dave Stewart and see a journeyman pitcher who couldn't beg his way onto a big-league roster when he joined the A's in 1986. They remember Dennis Eckersley as the washed-up starter who was beginning to surrender to the whispers that he should retire before deciding to give his career one final shot as a reliever three years ago.

They view Jose Canseco as the comparatively scrawny outfielder who was an unimposing, 15th-round selection in the '82 amateur draft and the producer of but 31 home runs in his first 761 minor-league at-bats. They see Rickey Henderson as the notorious malcontent who never lived up to his immense abilities during his New York Yankees tenure, and Bob Welch as the 13- to 16-win pitcher with the Los Angeles Dodgers whose tightly wound temperament blocked his path to greatness.

"Let's face it, we've been very fortunate in many regards," A's General Manager Sandy Alderson said. "We've had people turn their careers around for us, and otherwise we wouldn't be where we are today. Don't think I don't sense the resentment of our so-called luck around the league. I hear people say, 'Well, if our career minor-league guys would suddenly become stars, then we'd be pretty good too.'

"It doesn't bother me. Luck is part of the formula of success, a very integral part. . . . But preparation paves the way for luck. I think we do a good job of tilting the scales of chance in our favor on a regular basis."

Indeed, the foundation for success laid by Alderson and his cohorts among the A's brain trust is one as solid as virtually any of the renowned sports dynasties in past decades. The Oakland approach is innovative, yet at its core is a sense of loyalty and unity that binds the entire structure.

The A's are baseball's most committed technocrats, but they have remained more heart than microchip. Manager Tony La Russa likes to compare the Oakland way with that of the Boston Celtics dynasties crafted by Red Auerbach.

That is the level of dominance Oakland now is chasing. The A's are the game's acknowledged front-runners, but their eyes are set upon cementing their place in history. They're on the precipice of all-time greatness -- and they know it.

"We want everyone to remember this team forever," Canseco said. The Athletics' third straight World Series will open Tuesday in Cincinnati, where they will begin pursuit of a second straight championship.

They would be the first team since the 1977-78 Yankees to repeat as World Series winners, and they want to do so with an 8-0 postseason. Already, they have a 10-game postseason winning streak that is the second-best such string of all time, two games short of the record posted by the Yankees of 1927-31. They are the 21st team to win three consecutive pennants.

"We try to do things that other people aren't doing, stay a step of cleverness ahead if we can," La Russa said. "But when you get right down to it, it's the people who get the job done or don't get the job done. And, top to bottom, I believe this is the best organization in baseball. . . . I'd have to try pretty hard to screw things up in the position I'm in."

He has established the computer as one of the modern manager's most useful tools, but the building of the A's came through human ingenuity. Oakland has been the bravest of franchises in the past decade, and A's maneuvers often have been subjected to ridicule.

The reign of former owner Charlie Finley brought the A's a 1970s dynasty of three straight world championships -- but also left the club near financial ruin by the time the Haas family (also the owners of Levi Strauss and Co.) purchased it in 1980. The Haases inherited an organization that had lost 187 games over the previous two years and possessed but six front-office employees.

"Charlie Finley thought he could run things all by himself," said New York Mets General Manager Frank Cashen, a Baltimore Orioles executive during the heyday of Finley's A's. "He didn't need anyone else; he thought help was nothing but a needless expense.

"But that wasn't the way of the baseball world by the time the '80s rolled around. . . . To appreciate where the A's are now, you have to appreciate where they were when {managing general partner} Walter Haas and Sandy Alderson took over. Everyone else has had to go from pitying them to admiring them to hoping they too get old soon."

The hiring of Alderson in 1983 was the first major gamble of the Haas regime. He was a Harvard-trained lawyer and respected by baseball executives as a legal counsel -- but his only experience in the personnel of the game was as a fan. He never had been anything but an attorney. Across the league, eyebrows were raised in unison.

"I remember when they hired that guy," Detroit Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson said earlier this season. "I remember thinking, 'What are they doing, giving up?' I was ready to go get my grocer to be my third-base coach."

La Russa was hired in 1986 -- the last of five straight losing seasons -- and improvements came in significant leaps thereafter. La Russa is widely considered the game's best manager, but he also may be its most impatient field leader. "Tony's not really willing to lose in the name of rebuilding," Alderson said.

So, even as their farm system began showing the benefits of Alderson's revamping, the A's began to seek stabilizing veteran forces. Canseco began a string of three straight AL rookie-of-the-year choices for Oakland in '86; Mark McGwire came the year after, and Walt Weiss in 1988.

Meanwhile, Alderson was beginning his remarkable succession of big scores. Stewart was signed in May 1986 after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies and passed over by several other teams as he lobbied to remain in the majors. Four 20-victory seasons later, he is baseball's most dependable big-game pitcher.

Eckersley -- along with Dan Rohn -- came in an '87 swap with the Chicago Cubs for Dave Wilder, Brian Guinn and Mark Leonette. "That's how far I had fallen, to be included in a trade like that," Eckersley said. "I was starting to feel it was time to pursue alternative careers."

By the following season, however, he had nullified La Russa's plans to groom Eric Plunk as his bullpen stopper and was a record-breaking closer.