Programming note: Giants-A’s coverage starts tonight at 6:30 p.m. with A’s Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
Sometimes despite the advances of technology and mathematical analysis, baseball really does boil down to a matter of atmospherics.
And this, especially in the Bay Area, is one such moment.
Put simply and unscientifically, the Oakland Athletics are now the cool kids’ party, with the baddest dudes doing the goofiest stuff in front of the most receptive audience. They are the best team in baseball, they just made the big deal that makes everyone sit up and whistle, and they just finished putting nearly 30 percent of their roster on BOTH All-Star teams. Beat that with a stick, Charlie.
[RATTO: Jeff Samardzija, Secret Agent Man]
In other words, as the next Bay Bridge Series opens tonight in Oaktown, the A’s rather than the Giants are the lure. They are breaking big and bold, perhaps as big and bold as they have been since the ’88-’89-’90 team that went to three consecutive World Series. And we say perhaps because as of this day, the A’s haven’t been to one since.
And the Giants just sweated out a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.
These two things are not directly related, but they are proximal. You can still drive 20 minutes to get from the one park to where the fun is happening, but for the first time in nearly a decade, you have to drive east to do it.
And this is a truly remarkable feat because the A’s have done this with baseball as its only selling point. Despite years of upper management slagging its ballpark, the city in which it sits and most assuredly the people who run the city and the ballpark – hell, despite making every known effort to leave the city forever and throwing the empties out the sun roof on the way down the road – the A’s are STILL what’s happening. No longer quaint, no longer charming underdogs, no longer just a general manager trying to row against the tide.
The A’s are now the hot item on the menu, and that is something that can only be discerned with feel.
Indeed, there is a magnificent metaphor to be molded here. In the same week that the City of Oakland tried to no-show a meeting to vote on a toothless 10-year stadium lease, in the same week the team trotted out an empty threat from a lame-duck commissioner about letting the A’s leave (without having any idea where the hell they would go), in the dame week that the Oakland pols folded like origami placemats to agree to the toothless lease – in the same week that all that degradation happened, the A’s traded their best prospect for Jeff Samardzija.
There were other components in the trade, to be sure, and it actually isn’t Billy Beane’s boldest recent move; that would be outbidding the universe for Yoenis Cespedes.
But the Samardzija trade is the classic big-muscle general manager move, which Beane doesn’t normally do. It happened 27 days before the trade deadline, thus beating the field to the first big deal of the year. It happened while the A’s had the best record in baseball, a fact that too few people have noticed.
And it happened while the Giants and their shiny new ballpark had given away an entire June to go from having the best record in baseball to reliving the dead ball era of 2011.
This last one matters because the A’s have to do a lot to break the Giants’ marketing, PR and media tyranny, and far too often the A’s have chosen whiny surrender as a response. The endless mopes of “our park is too old” and “we’re a small-market team” and “nobody pays attention to us” got old a long time ago, because their owners have money just like everybody else. They simply chose not to put it into the business, and blamed the city and the insufficient number of fans for that strategy.
In that way, they deserve all the crap years and the anonymity. They chose it as a strategy, and they’ve earned the scorn they receive as a result.
No, the A’s at their best are like those teams of the late ‘80s, and before that the ’72-’73-’74 teams. Big, bold and brash, taking the lemons they are given and turning them into a killer IPA, and all based on the central truth that the baseball is the selling point, and therefore the most important thing they produce.
That it took three years for the break to happen speaks to a lot of things – the Giants’ hegemony, the A’s reluctance to embrace its audience, baseball mistakes, and ballpark imbalances – but it finally has.
The A’s are the hot item now, and while the proof is always in the Octobering, where the A’s are 21-30 since their last parade, this A’s team has stopped playing the plucky underdog role. It is acting like it is the best and the biggest thing going, embracing the one strategy that can make their perpetual fight for notice an even-odds proposition.
And there’s no algorithm for that. You just have to be there. Sure beats watching your team sweat out a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.