He Said: By Jeff Gibson / Staff Writer
Every diehard Oakland Athletics fan nowadays can remember the good old days of the Haas family ownership. Where the green and gold could gaze at the rolling Oakland Hills peeking above the outfield bleachers instead of being bombarded by the Mount Davis monstrosity. Where Moneyball meant molding ‘roided-out farm prospects like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire into back-to-back bash brother AL Rookies of the Year. And where the Loma Prieta quake finally showcased the Bay Area’s better baseball team before a national audience. But with the death of Walter Haas, Jr. in 1995, the team was scrapped for spare parts and sold to the quickest bidders, business men Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann, before Lew Wolff took the elephant’s reins in 2005.
Since the 1996 season, the A’s have consistently managed to float under the national sports media’s radar as one of baseball’s most underrated ball clubs. And I always root for the underdog, unless the A’s, by some miracle, are favored in the match up. Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t root for the New York Yankees if you threatened to castrate me.
The reasons behind Oakland’s hush-hush success seem as abundant as stitches on a baseball.
Low payroll: As opposed to the ridiculous amount of money the media-whore George Steinbrenner pays his aging super stars, Schott and Hofmann focused on maintaining a prolific minor league system while opting to get rid of star major-leaguers who requested, and most likely deserved, more money. But despite the incredibly cheap approach to fielding a professional baseball team, the A’s still managed to reach the playoffs five out of the last nine years. The reason, you ask?
General Manager Billy Beane: As described by Michael Lewis in his book Moneyball, since 1997, Beane has managed the A’s to five playoff appearances, most likely because of his mathematical approach to scouting, cost-effective business dealings and savvy trading skills. He’s even trying his hand at soccer now.
Oakland: My place of birth, but probably the worst city in terms of supporting any kind of franchise, unless you include the Hell’s Angels. Oakland couldn’t even keep the Raiders in town for long. While the move to Fremont may help persuade some San Jose orange and black to the cause, the A’s might have an identity crisis on their hands.
But the A’s have been through all that before.
Ya’ll thought the dismantling of the “Big Three” would blow the club out of contention; the A’s went further in the playoffs without them. Many of you criticized the A’s for picking up the geezer Frank Thomas in 2006; that year he belted 39 home runs, drove in 114 runners and pounded out a .381 OBP, helping the A’s reach the AL Championship Series for the first time since 1990. Others chastised the move not to resign shortstop and AL MVP Miguel Tejada; Crosby may be the Ben Grieve of this club, but at least he’s not in the Mitchell Report.
So what if the A’s haven’t reached the World Series since 1990, we’ve still got four world titles hanging up in Oaktown. The only thing I can’t stand is not being able to invest money in my favorite player’s jersey. But besides, isn’t baseball a team sport anyway?
He Said: By Chris Hoffman / Staff Writer
Despite being an Angel loyalist, I respect our division rivals from the north as much as I hate their disgusting color scheme. What the Athletics have done over the past decade has only made the American League West that much more entertaining, and I thank the A’s and Billy Beane for constantly fielding a team that is good enough to push the Angels to the limit, but not able to do much else.
Honestly, if the A’s sucked as much as the Mariners and Rangers have of late, the Angels would be lost when October baseball began. Oakland has consistently strewn together one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, and that is even after the departure of the “Big Three.” At least Los Angeles can face some quality opposition 19 times a year to prepare it for playoff ball. Oh, wait. It doesn’t matter; we always get embarrassed in the postseason anyway.
The thing that I love most about the A’s is that they always come from nowhere. Especially now, when their best pitcher, Rich Harden, spends more time getting cut than Baron Davis, no one thinks Oakland can sustain a run due to their anonymous roster. But that lineup full of no-names is precisely why having the A’s in our division is the best thing since Disney bought the team. Well, that is except for the stupid waterfall in center field. Seriously, that makes me cringe to be an Angel fan. And don’t even get me started on the name change.
But how far can these unknown prospects carry Oakland? Yes, the A’s went to the ALCS in 2006, but we all know it’s World Series or bust. By the time any Athletic player is on a first-name basis with casual baseball fans, they are immediately shipped off for the future. I’d imagine this would drive me crazy if I were an A’s fan, and I’m sure the two dudes next to me agree with that, but as a division rival it’s freaking epic. What the constant selling of players when they are at their peak results in is a team that is good but not great. A good year for the Angels means the playoffs after coasting to a division title. A good year for the A’s means squeaking into October thanks to the Wild Card.
Having lived in California my entire life, I’ve always been somewhat jealous of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry. The A’s and Angels are the same distance away and have been better teams than their National League counterparts for the majority of the last decade, yet the rivalry never seems to captivate fans the same way. Rivalries only increase the interest in the game and make it that much more enjoyable for the diehards. I only wish the A’s and Angels would meet in the playoffs soon so some serious trash-talking can begin and take this feud to the next level. I’m dreaming Yankees-Red Sox, but that is probably years and years away. The A’s will be in Fremont by then and my SoCal geography skills prevent me from having any clue where that place is.
The way this season has started has been an absolute blessing. I was never worried about the Mariners as a serious threat, and now that they are holding down the fort in the cellar, I’m already digging through the couch to scrounge some money for the playoffs. Yes, the A’s are a great story in the early going. Too bad they don’t have the talent to keep it up and make the Angels try on a regular basis.
He Said: By Alex Pavlovic / Staff Writer
October 6, 2003: I’m an innocent little freshman, sitting in my dorm room with my A’s blanket wrapped around an upper body that would soon be a few pounds heavier thanks to daily cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches at Carrillo. My beloved A’s trail the Red Sox 4-3 heading into the ninth inning of game five of the American League Championship Series, but I have faith. There’s no way they can lose a game five for a fourth straight year right? Not again. Not to the cursed Red Sox. But as I watch in shock, Terrence Long takes a called strike three on the inside corner to end yet another A’s season, as bandwagon Red Sox fans scream for joy in the surrounding dorms. I sat there for hours, still in shock and still cuddled in my A’s blanket. I’ll never forget it.
In the past decade, I’ve watched the A’s go through three separate eras, with that disappointing night all but signaling the end of the amazing “Big Three” run. With Hudson, Mulder and Tejada all long gone, the A’s would move on with a younger nucleus. Zito, Haren, Harden, Chavez and Swisher were supposed to get them over the hump, and they did in a way, with a trip to the ALCS in 2006. But once again, Billy Beane has decided to retool, and once again I find myself at a crossroads as a fan. They say it’s always better to get rid of a player a year early than a year late, and Beane is as good as anyone at making those decisions. From a financial standpoint, he is absolutely making the right moves, but as a fan, I can’t help but feel like a part of me dies every time another one of my favorites is jettisoned for younger, cheaper parts. I’ll never stop bleeding green and yellow, but I can’t help but cry green and yellow every time I see Eric Byrnes and Dan Haren suit up as Diamondbacks or when I catch a glimpse of my now-retro Nick Swisher jersey hanging in my closet.
The current crop of Athletics is once again on the rise and, led by a pitching staff that has the lowest ERA in baseball, Oakland is firmly in the hunt for a playoff spot. But still, I can’t help but worry. What if the Mets start asking about Joe Blanton? What if the Red Sox need another reliever and decide that Huston Street is their guy? What if Rich Harden stays healthy for more than two weeks at a time, setting up a trade deadline bidding war for his services? History tells us that Beane will pull the trigger, sending the established players to another city in return for more tantalizing prospects. I realize that the A’s are a small-market club, but at some point I’d like to see them shove all their chips to the center of the table and go all-in. Beane has once again built a solid nucleus, so let’s see what they can do for four or five years, maybe adding a free-agent or two along the way. With MLB’s revenue-sharing and a new ballpark on the way, there’s no better time to find out if this is the era that finally brings a title back to the Bay Area. The next generation of A’s might be busts or they might finally be World Series champs. Either way, it’s time for them to have an identity again – one that I can embrace for more than a couple of years at a time.