Monday, September 30
Updated: October 1, 2:38 PM ET
Ten reasons to root for the A's
By Eric Neel
If you have a rooting interest in the playoffs, godspeed and good luck to you. If you have a rooting interest, you're good to go -- you've no doubt been sleeping in your "authentic" replica team jersey for several nights now, your lucky cards are surely out of storage, and that pennant, the one your mom wanted to throw away years ago because it looked ratty and threadbare, must be hanging on the wall above the television by now. Bring on the playoffs.
But if your rooting interest has packed up and gone home, if you're sort of drifting out there, wondering where your boys went wrong and wishing there was some small way you could be a part of the playoff magic, if you're thinking about adopting another team for October, you might want to consider the Oakland A's.
Yeah, I know, your home team might feel a little slighted, and sure, there might be some karmic hell to pay down the line, but wouldn't it feel good to have some reason to keep your head in the game in these next few weeks? Don't you deserve that much after slogging through another disappointing season? Of course you do. You love your team, but you love the game, too, and you just want to stay connected to it all the way through the World Series.
There's no harm in that, is there? Nobody's saying you should abandon your boys in the long run -- just kind of lean in the A's direction for a few weeks, just take the A-train for a while and see where it takes you. And when your friends and neighbors, folks who know the history of your allegiances, call you out and say "since when?" and accuse you of being a frontrunner, you tell them there's a lot to like about the A's, you give 'em 10 good reasons to root for the A's, stuff like this:
1. Money, money, money, as in not much of it. The A's are a bargain. They have the 12th-highest payroll in the American League at around $40 million and they've won 100+ games two seasons in a row. Meanwhile, the commish has spent the better part of those same two seasons telling everyone who would listen that small-market teams couldn't really compete. It's not that the A's are over-achieving underdogs; it's better than that: they've figured out how to do more with less.
2. Zito, Mulder and Hudson are on par with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz on their way up -- maybe better. Plus they have Cory Lidle who, by the way, pitched 32 consecutive scoreless innings at one point this year. You know how you feel on one of those nights when your ace isn't throwing, and you're hoping your team will somehow find enough offense and pitching to survive? A's fans never feel like that.
3. They're young. The pitchers are young, the best position players, like Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada, are young, and the general manager is young, too. The A's are going to be around for a while -- most of their key players are signed through 2004. Get on board now and you'll be able to tell your johnny-come-lately friends, "Yeah, I was down with the A's back in the day ... "
4. Billy Beane. The team's GM thinks sabermetrically, which makes him almost entirely unique in his class. He makes scary-good, how-did-he-know-that-would-work trades. He has an organizational plan, from the draft to the minors to the big league-level. He's smart, he's different, he's got a beat and you can dance to him, he's kind of hip, kind of now, kind of cool, kind of now -- you should hang with him.
5. Drama. In 2001, the A's were looking like the Devil Rays in April and May -- their fans were moping, trudging through the streets kicking bottle caps along the gutter and cursing the baseball gods. Then the team goes on the greatest second-half run in the history of baseball (58-17 after the All-Star break) and suddenly folks are throwing open their windows and letting loose screams of joy and ecstasy. This year, they did it again. April was cruel, the spring record looked ugly, doubt and despair filled the air. Then comes another exciting, A's-on-white-horses second half, complete with a 20-game win-streak and the AL West title. The low lows to the high highs -- that's drama, baby.
Dramatic microcosms: 1) Game 18 of the streak, they give up three home runs in the top of the ninth to Minnesota and go into the bottom of the inning down two runs. They're dead, the streak is dead, the lead over the Angels in the division is about to shrink a game. What happens? A couple of guys get on and Tejada cracks a three-run jack to win it. 2) Game 20 of the streak, they blow an 11-0 lead over the Royals only to have Scott Hatteburg rip a ball down the line and over the fence in the bottom of the ninth for a one-run win. Drama, baby, drama -- root for the A's and feel the adrenaline rush.
6. They deserve the big prize. Oakland is no one-hit wonder, they've strung together four very good seasons going back to 1999, each one better than the last (87, 91, 102 and 103 wins). They're building something. It's true, they don't hand out league championships and World Series titles just because a team is deserving, but when and if the A's do win, if you're rooting for them, you can feel good about their very righteous claim to the throne.
7. Miggie. A-Rod should win the AL MVP, but Tejada has rightly won the hearts and minds of the people. He seems to have been at the center of every exciting, pivotal A's moment this year, and he came through in most of them. He played every day, rapped out 204 hits, drove in a bunch of runs, made plays, smiled a lot, jumped and pumped his fist a lot, ran all over the joint spreading love and good feeling. He was fun to watch. What's more, his nickname is Miggie, which has that perfect ladies-love-him-and-guys-like-to-hang-out-with-him ring to it. Oh Miggie, you're so fine and Yo, Miggie, hit one outta here -- it works both ways.
8. History. This is the third great wave of Oakland baseball. If you're a part of this team's run, you're connected to the teams in the late-'80s and mid-'70s, you're tapping into Catfish and Stew energy, you're feeling Reggie and McGwire, Joe Rudi and Carney Lansford. It's great to be a part of something young and miraculous like the Diamondbacks' win last year, but there is something anxious and ephemeral about such a win, too, some rootlessness that gives you the feeling it could all disappear tomorrow and no one would ever remember or ever care that it happened. If you pull for the A's, though, you're part of a tradition and you can lean on the pillars of history, stomp the floor of the past, feel secure and enduring.
9. They genuinely seem to like each other. Chemistry is overrated and impossible to accurately gauge, sure, but odds are it ain't a bad thing, and it's easy to have a good feeling about a team full of guys who seem to have a good feeling about each other.
10. The little things. Barry Zito's impossible curve. Tim Hudson's stare. David Justice's sweet swing. Billy Koch's goatee. Terrence Long's stirrups. Ray Durham's I-can't-believe-my-good-luck smile. The crush of dirt beneath Eric Chavez's feet every time he takes a swing. They know the strike zone. They don't play small ball. Good unis. Bill King on the radio. Art Howe's quietly amused and seriously impressed approach to his guys. Jermaine Dye's shoulders. Rabid, loyal fans who paint signs, paint faces, bang drums and in every other way give the lie to the myth of West Coast, laid back cool.
10A. With all due respect to our friends in NYC ... they're not the Yankees.
Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column on Page 2. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.