September 2010

SCENES FROM A FINAL DAY AT THE YARD

During the course of a long season,
sometimes games or innings become almost indistinguishable.  One game can evolve into the next one, as the
continual grind of daily baseball becomes our lifestyle.  The remarkable aspect of this sport–like no
other sport–is that you will play nearly 200
games a year (including Spring Training) even if you don’t advance to the playoffs.  

However, there’s something
special about the last home game of a season. 
In the backdrop of our Indian Summer, shirt-sleeved A’s fans can savor
the endearing sights of that one last performance at the Coliseum.   All of your sensory powers are heightened; the
grass looks a richer green as the fall shadows begin to creep onto the playing
field (except, of course, for center field) and 
the smell of brats and BBQ seems a bit more pronounced.  Inside the Oakland clubhouse before the game, an age-old
ritual begins. 

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It starts with boxes.  Everywhere. 
It seems that veteran Equipment Manager
Steve Vucinich is pulling them out of thin air.  Even though the team will embark on a final
seven-game road trip, most players are packing their belongings during the last
weekend and shipping them to their offseason homes.  There’s also hand shakes, hugs and long
goodbyes traded between players, coaches and the people they have spent a
season with–the clubhouse assistants, batboys, A’s front office staff and even
some media.  For the clubbies and
batboys, there also is the customary signed check in each handshake, which
serves as a well-deserved tip for their services during the season. 

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I am not accompanying the
team on this final road trip, so Sunday gave me the opportunity to stop by
players’ and coaches’ lockers to express my appreciation and well wishes, both
for their cooperation during the season and also for a restful offseason.  There was 30-year-old rookie
Bobby Cramer, who could not contain his excitement about starting
Wednesday’s game in his hometown Anaheim Stadium, where only last year he sat
as a spectator with his playing career all but over.

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I also had a chance to
congratulate
Cliff Pennington for a tremendous
year of personal growth, telling him how impressed I was watching him play down
the stretch despite some physical ailments. 
He was the definition of mental toughness and being a pro. 

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I also approached the
soft-spoken
Henry Rodriguez, who usually does
his talking with that electric 100 MPH fastball of his.  He shared how he wants to continue to improve
and is again planning to play winter ball.


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And there’s one of the team
leaders,
Kurt Suzuki, sitting in his
customary chair in Vuc’s office.  He’s
been one of our real go-to guys for community and PR requests, and I wanted to wish
him a great offseason and thank him on behalf of the organization, and really,
just myself.  He said “thanks,” then
added, “don’t call me.”  I think he was
somewhat joking, but I suspect not entirely. 
I think Kurt has a brilliant offseason strategy, though.  He splits time between his Southern
California home and his parent’s home in Hawaii.  He makes it kind of tough to find him, which
considering his need for some R&R each offseason, isn’t such a bad
thing. 

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I also sought out Craig Breslow, perhaps one of the most unsung heroes on the team
this year.  No matter how he felt, he always
took the ball.  I told him how much we
admired all his work in successfully launching his Strike 3 Foundation that
aids pediatric cancer.  And jokingly, I
also told him to rest his arm because we might need it again next season.  As I surveyed the room, so many other 2010
stories unfolded. 

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Besides Cramer, there was Justin James, another Independent League refugee who beat the
odds to make the majors with the A’s this year. 
Unlike some of the other players, Justin actually approached me, offering a warm handshake and
thanking me for all I did for
him.  Which, by the way, wasn’t
much.  His story would have been covered
by the media with or without a PR guy. 
He sounded genuinely excited about pitching next month in the Arizona
Fall League, and “working on some new things” with his pitching
repertoire. 

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Probably the best story
to emerge this season came on one May afternoon, when
Dallas Braden tossed that improbable perfect game against the
Tampa Bay Rays (on Mother’s Day no less!). 
As guys were packing, you could see some players, as well as other
people associated with the team, hitting up Dallas one last time for an autographed
baseball or perfect game poster to commemorate one of the franchise’s most
historic performances.

Yet perhaps the most
poignant scene from Sunday’s home finale came in the eighth inning.  Our boys trail the Rangers, 9-1, in a game
that seemingly had gotten away from the A’s. 
By this time,
Bob Geren had substituted
liberally to give his starters some rest and the September call-ups a
late-season opportunity.  It would have
been understandable if many of our fans had already left the Coliseum for an
early family barbecue.  Yet, despite the
odds, a strong corps of A’s faithful not only stayed seated, but they started
chanting in unison, “Let’s Go Oakland” in the shadows of the Coliseum.  It was this kind of loyal, supportive gesture
that seemed to cut to the heart of our players in uniform. 

Unexpectedly, inexplicably, the Green and Gold roared off the deck to score six
runs that inning and shave the newly-crowned Rangers’ lead to 9-7.  We all know that the ninth inning didn’t have
a storybook ending for our team, but the mere fact that this show of support
could emanate in such a seemingly hopeless juncture of the game is the
definition of what a true fan is. 

So for all of you out
there–and you know who you are–thank
you for your unswerving support and love for the Oakland A’s. 
We may not have drawn the types of crowds some major league teams did
this season, but I cannot imagine better fans than those who were chanting in
the eighth inning on Sunday.  As we start
to lower the curtain on 2010, it’s time for us to applaud you!   Here’s hoping next season will be the year
we return to the playoffs, and you can experience those long shadows and
magnificent late summer nights well into October.  Go A’s!

Middle-of-the-Order Hitters Will Be the A’s First Order of Business

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No matter what your
preseason expectations were, I suppose our 72-73 A’s could be viewed as either
a glass half empty or one half full. 
Certainly, the 2010 edition represents a measurable upgrade from the
past three Oakland
teams that could only squeeze out 76, 75 and 75 wins.  While I cannot speak for Billy or his inner
baseball circle, I can say this.  Entering
this offseason, it should be easy to crystallize on our burning need:  middle-of-the-order hitters.  As I was remarking to no one in particular in
the press box last homestand, lineup sheet in hand:  “We’ve got one thing over everyone in
baseball. Name me another team whose corner outfielders and corner infielders in
the starting lineup today have combined for
only 15 home runs.  And that doesn’t even
count our fifth-place hitter (
Mark Ellis)
who has only three homers this season!”

Okay, okay, the point has
been made.  But I think a more
significant point to make is the A’s head into the offseason with only one
glaring weakness–power.  In my many years
in baseball, I have been involved with sorry teams that needed major
reconstruction from one season to the next. 
There were so many holes, you didn’t know where to start.  When a GM faces that kind of task, often
times you will see them trade their star player (or players) to get perhaps
three or four serviceable major leaguers who can plug gaps at multiple
positions.

That is not the daunting
challenge for Mr. Beane and Mr. Forst. 
Their task is to find a way to acquire legitimate RBI bats via trades or
free agency. Even though we apparently will have significant money coming off
the payroll due to expired contracts, it is no guarantee that we can out-bid
larger market teams which will pursue the top free agents available this
winter.  It would seem more likely that
we might secure some big thumpers through trades, which of course, means we
might have to part with one or two of our young pitchers. 

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While that is not a pleasurable
thought, it does seem doable with our current depth of arms and also seems
practical considering it takes two to tango. Other teams are certain to ask
about our promising young pitchers.  And,
of course, we’re all hopeful that
Chris Carter
can make the transition from Triple-A to the bigs next season as well, as he
has exceptional power to add to the mix (Note to fans–and maybe even
Chris: don’t lose too much sleep about his current 0 for 24 tailspin.  There was this young, powerful hitter with
great promise who broke into baseball in 1951. He started out hitless in his
first 12 at-bats and opened his career going 1 for 25.  So if Carter can get a hit tomorrow night in Minnesota, he can tie the great
Willie Mays for a less-than-memorable career start).

Of course, if we can fortify
our lineup with some RBI men in the middle, it has so many positive residual
effects.  When
Coco Crisp or Daric Barton
get on base, the odds of them scoring become better.  And to place bona fide hitters like
Kurt Suzuki, Mark
Ellis
or Kevin Kouzmanoff down lower in the order would return them to their
proper–and more comfortable–place. 
They’re more apt to see better pitches to hit in the six, seven or
eighth holes.  Just stands to
reason.  And, of course, if the A’s begin
to plate more runs on a consistent basis, and you combine that with one of the
American League’s best pitching staffs and defense, you may not see me writing
a blog in the middle of September next year. 
I’ll be too busy getting ready for us to host the playoffs.  So, stay glued to
oaklandathletics.com and our Facebook page this offseason.  Hopefully, we’ll have some good news to share
from time to time.

Let’s Deliver the King to His Proper Throne!

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Bill King was a bigger-than-life
character who defied description. 
However, his description of a
sporting event was as unique and brilliant as the man himself.  Many of my friends can still recount, word
for word, where they were the first time they heard that crackling voice on the
air.  Whether it was the Warriors,
Raiders or A’s, games tended to come to life
when “The King” was at the mic. 


Bill was a voracious student–name me another sports broadcaster fully
versed in Russian literature?–and someone who prepared meticulously for each
game.  His knowledge, his mastery of the
language, his voice inflection and articulation, and his ability to capture the
big moment was unparalled in the history of Bay Area sportscasting.  So was his passion, his quick wit and
perhaps most of all, his humanity.  Then
add his eccentricity, not to mention his long hair, goatee and mustache, and
this was a man ideally suited for the eclectic and creative tastes of Northern Californians.

 

I can remember listening to Gary Radnich, himself a local icon for nearly three decades at
KRON-TV (Ch. 4) and KNBR Radio, at some time this past year on his morning
radio show, claiming that Bill King might very well be the greatest and most
influential person in Bay Area broadcasting history.  Not just sport broadcasting, but all categories of broadcasting in this
large and sophisticated market.  Now
think about that for a minute.  That
covers everyone from news anchors, to FM disc jockeys, to such Hall of Fame
sports announcers as
Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons and Jon Miller. 


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In his
quarter century as the voice of Oakland A’s baseball (1981-2005), Bill became
synonymous with baseball history, whether it be
Rickey Henderson’s stolen base exploits, the Bash Brothers Era that
included three straight World Series appearances, or the
Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada
MVP seasons and Big Three pitchers of the last decade.  And if you were an A’s fan–or even just a Bay
Area sports fan–you lived for that
moment when something in a game required King’s most cherished trademark:  “Hoooooly Toleeeedo!”

 

With all this being said, my
primary reason to take you down memory lane is because each of us has the rare
opportunity to pay tribute to the great Bill King this month.  Beginning today and continuing through the
end of September, on-line balloting begins on the National Baseball Hall of
Fame and Museum’s Facebook site for the 2011 Ford C. Frick Award.  You can vote for King today and every day
through September 30 on the site (www.facebook.com/baseballhall)
and the top three fan selections from votes tallied will appear on the final
10-name ballot for the award.  The 2010
Frick Award winner will be selected by a 20-member electorate, with the winner
to be announced at baseball’s Winter Meetings in December. 


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When Bill passed away suddenly in 2005, the
groundswell of fan support for voting him into the Hall of Fame was remarkable.  He won the online voting portion of the
process by a landslide in both 2005 and 2006. 
While I’m sure the Committee took notice, they chose other worthy
candidates for the award those years. 
Interest understandably waned as time passed, but now we want to
rekindle that enthusiasm and finally elevate The King to his rightful place in
the Baseball Hall of Fame.  So, it’s on
you and me.  Let’s do it, and let’s do it
starting today!  Vote early and vote often.

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