04 January 2008

You gotta know when to hold em...

...Like the man said.

I don't usually get into moves on the baseball side. I feel compelled to do this now because there's a bit of fervor and backlash about first the Haren trade and now the Swisher trade (guess Swish isn't getting that ballpark-facing condo now, eh?).

I harken back to a game at the Coliseum in 1998. The A's were predictably mediocre, fighting to stay out of the cellar. I sat out in left field for a Wednesday "businessperson's special." The announced crowd may have been 10,000 but I could have sworn only half that many were there.

Late in the game a journeyman utility player named Jack Voigt played mop-up duty for Rickey Henderson in left. A couple of bleacher creatures played a little game with Voigt. They repeatedly begged him for some kind of souvenir paraphrenalia. The exchange went something like this, in rapid fire like an well-practiced vaudeville routine:

Fan 1: Voigt, give me your batting glove!
Fan 2: How about your hat?
Fan 1: Sunglasses!
Fan 2: Jersey!
Fan 1: Socks!
Fan 2: Jock!
Fan 1: Underwear!

Amused, Voigt turned around quickly and saluted the two fans. The fans yelled in delight.

Voigt didn't give the two fans any souvenirs AFAIK. The game would be one of Voigt's last as 1998 was his last season in the majors. He's now a realtor in his hometown of Sarasota, FL.

Throughout the A's eight year run of winning baseball (only surpassed in Oakland by the nine year run from '68 to '76), I've mentally gone back to those games when I was younger. I didn't have a mortgage, much disposable income, or many responsibilities. The team was horrible and somewhat depressing at times, yet I enjoyed going to the ballpark just the same. In fact, in some ways I enjoyed the game just as much then as I relished being present when the A's went up 2-0 on both the Yankees (road) and Red Sox (home) in the ALDS. No matter where the A's play, regardless of record, I'll still love the game and the team the same way. No labor stoppages, drug scandals, or other ills can take that away.

So I look at the two recent trades as the end of an era. I come not to bury, but to praise the first Beaneball/Moneyball tenure. It's given me and many others immeasurable amounts of joy, fulfillment, and sadness. I'm proud to be an Oakland Athetics fan. I'm proud of my team.

That said, Billy sure knows how to rip a fan's heart out, doesn't he? He does it with surgical precision, and who's to argue with the results? Depending on how long you've been a fan, you've seen this tearing down and rebuilding happen already once, twice, maybe three times. Chances are you're used to it. You may have even steeled yourself somewhat as I have. The A's aren't the Yanks or Red Sox, who never really have to go through such a difficult process.

It's for that reason, that sense of history, that I don't understand the conspiracy theory going around. The idea is that the fire sale is being done to help grease the skids to Fremont by alienating additional older fans. I can understand this if you've only been a fan since 2000 and you don't have that appreciation for the A's tenure in Oakland. But if you have been a fan for 20, 30, 40 years, you know this is inevitable. Sure, it would be advantageous for ticket sales and marketing if the A's put together a highly competitive team by the time the ballpark opens, but we don't even know when the ballpark will open. 2010? 2011 or later? We all know how injury-prone this team has been. A couple of injuries can mean the difference between winning the division and packing it in in late August. Should Billy also shift his scouting/drafting plans to move towards less risky players who have lower ceilings?

What we are witnessing is the product of the MLB economic system. Since most teams aren't the big money teams, their windows of opportunity have to precisely defined. Good draft yields and healthy players that proceed through the system in a timely manner are paramount. As a team gets better, it gets worse picks and has to take more chances to replenish the farm system. Over the last couple of years this strategy has not paid off for the A's. Plus the A's aren't in the position to pay exhorbitant fees for international players. They can't make frequent dips into the free agent market for big ticket players. We've had eight years of mostly wonderful, at times heartbreaking, always entertaining baseball. Billy and his current/former assistants have defied the odds repeatedly. Let's take a moment to appreciate this, then move on to the next era. As Billy folds this hand, we know that the next hand's just around the corner.


Georob said...

Ironically. it's those "older" fans who are likely to be the ones that remain loyal throughout this transition. I remember very well the Finley years when you had even winning teams drawing only 5,000 per game. From that perspective, what we're going through now is nothing.

Younger fans are a double-edged sword. They bring unbridled enthusiasm and loyalty to the fan base and many will "eat, breath, and s____" A's baseball once hooked. The problem is that once they lose interest, they're gone; much like how teenage girls change preferences on rock and TV stars.

But this is not a problem unique to the A's, except possibly for the devotion to Billy Beane. I've often wondered if Athletics Nation would shut down if Billy was no longer around.

It cannot be forgotten that much the A's current problems as well as strategies are tied to the Giants, much as people want to deny it. The fact that the Giants have such a dominant hold on the Bay Area is a major reason for the A's marketing woes. But most important NOW is the reality that the Giants are going through the same rebuilding process and are likely going to be as bad(if not worse) than the A's for the forseeable future.

Sure, it would be nice to take advantage of the situation and have a strong team while the Giants have a bad one. But it would be exponentially worse to have a weak team while SF was playing well. In a way, this is what happened during the late 90's when the Giants already had Barry Bonds and were prepping for Pac Bell's opening while the A's were playing poorly.

Problem is that a young fan doesn't have that perspective, and casual fans will always be interested in today only. This is a big reason why I don't post much anymore to places like Athletics Nation or even here, as I waste so much time arguing with people who are just looking at the here and now.

Jeff said...

Corpus Christi Rob? Fresno just wasn't hot enough for you in July?

As much as I hate to admit it, perhaps Selig is correct in positing that the A's should have never been allowed in the Bay in the first place. If so, it's a problem that he seems determined to correct. Fremont appears to be the best in compromise as far as marketing goes. I still think that the city of SJ could have disposed of the TR's issue with little difficulty, especially if they would have taken a lead role in challenging MLB. Still, Fremont is close enough for marketing purposes. They will eventually be viewed as the San Jose A's despite McGowan's territorial rights claim. I wonder what sort of problem this issue is going to be for MLB in twenty years or so? It's going to be irony in the highest when a team that carries a particular cities name if prohibited from playing in their namesake city.

Why the move if you don't mind me asking?

Georob said...

Thank you, Jeff!

My wife is a department chair at one of the hospitals in town. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. We've lived on the Gulf Coast before and will reluctantly accept the humidity. Funny though that nobody complains about it in the Carribean or Hawaii, maybe it's just perspective.

Of course with all the storms in No Cal, we're looking pretty smart right now :)

Back to business. "Silicon Valley A's" is as close as this team will get to a San Jose identity, in my opinion. As I've said ad nauseum, the A's biggest problem is that the Giants are seen as the Bay Area's primary team because of the "SF" identity. Say what you want about San Francisco's diminishing size and importance, the fact remains that the bay is still named for that city, and until that changes "SF" will be a label that too many identify with.

Tony and others try to rebut this by saying that once you put "San Jose" on team, that the South Bay fan base will change their allegiances on a significant scale.
I seriously doubt that will ever happen and even it did, it would likely be over a period of at least 25 years or more. By then, Peter Magowan will either be dead or at least no longer Giants owner, so why should he care?

The A's need a stronger regional identity NOW, and if they don't go with "Silicon Valley", then I'm think we may see "Golden State", "East Bay", or something else along those lines. I've even advocated calling them "San Francisco", just as the Angels are now "Los Angeles". That I'm sure would not go over very well, but you have to admit that would be the ultimate way to "stick it" to our cross-bay rivals not to mention level the playing field marketing-wise.

Yeah, yeah, Lew Wolff has San Jose friends and contacts coming out of his ear, but that's because he has investments there. But isn't his real home base Southern California? Haven't you noticed that any official press releases about stadium news has an LA address on the letterhead? So much for giving "aid and comfort" to the tenth largest city in the United States.

Yes Tony, you are to be commended for your civic pride and "eternal optimism". But at some point that optimism should have been converted to actual deeds and pro-active measures. Did you ever lobby any city officials? Did you try to resurrect "Baseball San Jose"? Did you try to get the chamber of commerce and any business consortiums on board?

Like I said, San Jose could have had the A's, but it would have taken a lot of work and money. Same with Oakland. But it's much easier to sit back, whine, bitch, and cry "conspiracy".


Jonclaude4 said...

Couldn't resist the "older" fan post... don't count, but '75 was my first year (damn Bosox)

While I hate to see players leave (loved watching Swisher), the minor leagues now remind me of about 1985-86 when we seemed to have young energetic rookies that were not only fun to watch (ie, they ran to first base), but it led to 3 ROY's (Canseco, Mcguire & Weiss), and with a few choice additions through trade and free agency, 3 trips to the world series.

My guess is that these young kids will do better than expected. And if like '87, they don't know any better, they'll end up winning more than last year too.

Happy New Year everybody!

Marine Layer said...

I liked '87 a lot. I was a teenager and wasn't so world-wise. Ah, to be so naive again.

Rob - Turn the AC up and good luck in Corpus. And while you're there check out a game in town when the Midland Rockhounds (A's AA team) visit. They'll have a lot of prospects...

anon-a-mouse said...

My complaint with these moves is that both Swisher and Haren are young, very good and under team control for several years. They are the types of guys a team like the A's should build around. I see no point in moving two young guys who have proven they are high-quality major leaguers for a handful of slightly younger guys who may or may not turn out to be even adequate major leaguers someday.

For the record, I was OK with the Mulder and Hudson trades (despite how sad I still am that Hudson had to go) at the time, and obviously in hindsight the Mulder trade was a steal. But those guys were at the very end of team control and there was no way the A's could afford them. Swisher/Haren is a completely different situation.

FC said...

I'm probably one of the few A's fans that is in favor of both trades. One thing which I don't understand. How would the A's have rebuilt a team around Haren and Swisher? The farm system was bare, and I doubt Beane would have been a big spender in the free agent market.