Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

.500 Can Mean Many Things In The Eye Of The Beholder

Okay, A’s fans, your team continues to toy with you.  One day, they’re a game below the .500 mark, two days later they’re a game above .500. The rhetorical question is this: is that a  good or bad thing?  Well perched around .500 can have different connotations to different people.  For those who think our 18-17 record is merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe the .500 mark is a negative.  And with our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”
However, my view is a bit more encouraging.  First, last year the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our fans, was we pretty much maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish.  This year, the vibe is much different. This team expects to win and is clearly not satisfied with being only one game north of the .500 mark at this juncture of the early season.  I think these guys know they’re a better club this year.  In fact, they knew it in spring training.  And when you think about it, the vital signs are more postive then you might think for an 18-17 team.  First, we sport a .526 record (10-9) on the road, playing top-rate competition.  The axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road–as evidenced by yesterday’s series-clinching 5-2 win at Kansas City.  Then consider some other good omens.  We’re in AL West contention even though we’re missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales).  And, with our two wins in KC coming on the heels of  a solid 4-3 homestand against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team this year, the Cleveland Indians.  That homestand featured some stirring wins triggered by the clutch hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run last Monday) and Josh Willingham (game-tying homer and double last Monday). Then add slump-busting efforts by Daric Barton, Mark Ellis and Kevin Kouzmanoff yesterday, plus the apparent return of Michael Wuertz‘s devastating slider out of the pen and recent dominating performances by new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving in the right direction, .500 mark or not.
I had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key is to stick around .500.  If you can hang around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your move.  It’s the teams that dig a hole early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t despair.  My friend Dusty would say, “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon.”  So, we jet to Texas with much hope and promise. Keep the faith, A’s Nation.  I think this group knows it can hit better than it has.  And they also know it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it.  Time, as it always does, will tell.

.500 Can Mean Many Things In Eye Of Beholder

Okay,
A’s fans, your team is currently resting uncomfortably at the .500 mark after
32 games.  The rhetorical question is
this:  is that a good or bad thing?  Well perched at
.500 can have different connotations to different people.  For those who think our 16-16 record is
merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe
the .500 mark is a negative.  And with
our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no
wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”

 

However,
my view is a bit more encouraging. 
First, the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our
fans,  was that last year we pretty much
maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish.  This year, the vibe is much different. This
team expects to win and is clearly frustrated with a .500 mark at
this juncture of the early season.  I
think these guys know they’re a better club this season.  In fact, they knew it in spring
training.  And when you think about it,
the vital signs are more postive then you might think for a 16-16 team.  First, we sport a .500 record (8-8) on the
road, playing top-rate competition.  The
axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even
though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the
fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road.  Then consider some other other omens.  We’re in AL West contention even though we’re
missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas
Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales).  And, we’re coming off a solid 4-3 homestand
against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team
this year, the Cleveland Indians, with recent wins triggered by the clutch
hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two
homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run Monday) and Josh Willingham
(game-tying homer and double Monday). Then add the apparent return of Michael
Wuertz’s devastating slider out of the pen and the recent dominating
performance of new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving
in the right direction, .500 mark or not.

 

I
had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he
managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key
is to stick around .500.  If you can hang
around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your
move.  It’s the teams that dig a hole
early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t
despair.  I know yesterday’s 12-inning heart-breaker
wears on all of us.  A win would have
clinched another series win and a 5-2 homestand.  But as my friend Dusty would also say, it’s
not a race, it’s a marathon.  So, we jet
to Kansas City, where I plan to grab some big league barbeque–some place called
LC’s, located in a former gas filing station (ambience, yes!)–and also expect
our boys to grab two or three wins (sauce optional).  Keep the faith, A’s Nation.  I think this group knows it can hit
better than it has.  And they also know
it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it. 
Time, as it always does, will tell. 

 

The 2011 A’s Are A Study Of Good Chemistry

Back in the early 70’s, the
Oakland A’s were notorious for their disharmony
in the clubhouse.  When the media
referred to them as the “Swingin’ A’s,” they weren’t kidding. 
Reggie Jackson,
Gene
Tenace
or Rollie Fingers may have been World Series heroes, but that didn’t
necessarily make them like each
other. However, I think it’s fair to say that this year’s Athletics are polar
opposites.  In all my years in sports, I
cannot recall a better team chemistry than the one I’m seeing down here in
Phoenix.

 

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It’s just a happy
clubhouse.  At one end of the room,
there’s
Brian Fuentes with a remote
control, directing a miniature helicopter that’s hovering over a table of
pitchers playing cards.  At another
corner, you’ve got
Kurt Suzuki applying a bear hug
on one of the clubbies.  On St. Patrick’s
Day, it’s the colorful
Dallas Braden,
sporting an oversized green golf hat, ala Bill Murray at Pebble Beach,
entertaining MLB Radio Network broadcasters Kevin Kennedy and Jim Duquette on
the field before the game.  Or it’s
legendary Japanese slugger
Hideki Matsui,
despite nursing a heavy heart two days after the earthquake and tsunami hit his
homeland, feeling compelled to answer the “Matsui, Matsui!” shrieks of
youngsters at Phoenix Muni and returning to the ballpark railing to sign
autographs.

 

And there are the even more
subtle signs that this is a team where players genuinely care about each
other.  Off days are usually considered
almost religious holidays for big league players, as they are so rare and much
needed after several consecutive days of games or workouts.  Yet, last week on our only off day of spring
training, there was Braden–sporting a knit stocking cap despite 80 degree
weather–and fellow starter
Trevor Cahill,
making an appearance at our Papago Park minor league complex at 9:30 in the
morning.  Why?  To show support for their two teammates,
Craig Breslow and Tyson Ross,
who were both pitching to minor leaguers that day.  I was there to report their performances to
our beat writers, yet I could recognize it was a poignant scene.  “This is what good teammates do,” I thought.

 

And I saw the same common
thread when
Jim Leahey, our VP of Marketing,
unveiled the A’s new advertising campaign last weekend.  While the finished TV commercials were
hysterical, what really struck me was watching the “out-takes” at the end of
the video presentation.  It was the way
Gio Gonzalez, despite the 38-degree weather he encountered during
dunk tank scenes in February filming sessions, was so playful with the other
players on set.  Same for Suzuki and
Cahill, and especially Ryan Sweeney. 
These guys didn’t just look like ballplayers.  They looked like dear friends.  To see the commercials and outtakes click
here: www.oaklandathletics.com/commercials

 

I guess the question is will
this translate into a playoff team this season? 
Obviously, time will tell.  But if
you believe in the intangibles–camaraderie, trust in each other, and a positive
atmosphere–that make a team a team,
then I think you can start believing in the 2011 A’s.  This could be a very special group.

Random Thoughts In The Desert

Ladies and gentlemen, you
are part of history today.  Oh, you
didn’t hear? This is my 50th edition since I started Clubhouse Confidential
last season.  That, and $2, will get you
a Venti Pike’s Roast at Starbucks. 

Some random observations and
thoughts about the past week of Spring Training in this, the 50th anniversary
issue of my blog:

Bob Geren, now in his fifth year
as manager, has really grown into his role with the media.  Ironically, it may be the additional 50 or so
Japanese media that has served as a catalyst. 
It seems as though the A’s manager loves a crowd.  He seems to actually be feeding off the
energy of a larger media corps.  Not only
has he provided solid baseball information every day during our pre-game session
in the dugout, but he’s brought downright humor on occasion. His best comedic
source are stories about
Frank Howard,
the gargantuan (6-7, 250 pounds) former Washington Senator and Los Angeles
Dodger outfielder who later coached for many major league teams.  It seems Geren has a new “Hondo” story daily,
and every one is hilarious.

042410MZ_117.JPGHow great was it for Adam Rosales yesterday morning? 
The A’s super sub continues to rehab from offseason foot surgery which
will most likely sideline him until about May 1, yet the irrepressible utility
man can be seen early and late in the clubhouse daily.  Talk about a lifer, this guy lives, breathes
and eats baseball.  So, there he was
around 10 a.m. yesterday on the Phoenix Muni turf, playing catch with Hall of
Famer
Rickey
Henderson
, probably one of his childhood
idols.

I have the rare privilege of
spending hours in the A’s clubhouse, so let me share with you a couple of
poignant scenes I observed in the past couple of days.  The first involved
Mark Ellis, and it spoke volumes of his character as a team
leader.  We had two split squad games last
Sunday, one played in Phoenix and the other in Peoria against the
Padres.  Players from our minor league
camp, usually donning such exotic numbers as 92 or 95, are sent to Phoenix Muni
those mornings to help fill out our team rosters at both games.  This past Sunday, a rather non-descript–and
definitely unrecognized–minor leaguer entered our clubhouse.  Who was there to greet him but nine-year
veteran Mark Ellis.  “Welcome!  Hi, I’m Mark. 
Have you seen Vuc (equipment manager
Steve Vucinich) to get your gear for today?”  Ellis went out of his way to be a good teammate.  He shook the minor leaguer’s hand, then
personally escorted him to Vuc’s office. 
That young kid will never forget what Mark did for him, and I would
suspect a number of major leaguers in the clubhouse also took notice of Mark’s
kind gesture.  Pure class. 

I had another rather private
moment involving reliever
Joe Bateman,
a non-roster invitee who’s racked up eye-popping numbers in nine minor league
seasons but knows his time is dwindling to land a major league job.  That urgency was never more apparent than
when he pitched in Oakland’s
game in Maryvale against the hard-hitting Brewers last week.  In relief, he served up back-to-back home
runs to
Ryan Braun and Casey McGehee to his first two batters, and allowed three runs on three
hits in one-third inning.  Later, he left
the field and returned to the visitor’s clubhouse.  I was there and decided to offer some kind
words to the slender right-hander.  I
told him that Braun and the Milwaukee
bombers do that to a lot of
people.  Knowing this is a game of
results, Joe would have no part of it.  “I
don’t need no (sic) pep talk!  I’m a
grown man,” he snapped.  I totally understood
what he was saying, so there was no need for me to say another word.  There was a neat postscript to this story,
however, as the next time Bateman pitched two days later against the Padres in
Peoria, he was summoned with the bases loaded and pitched out of the jammed
unscathed.  In fact, he proceeded to reel
off a 1-2-3 shutout inning the following frame as well.  He followed that with a scoreless ninth
yesterday at Phoenix Muni, slamming the lid on a 6-2 win over that same Padres
team.  Ah, the life of a relief
pitcher.  No wonder they have short
memories.

109403645.jpgAnd then there’s Gio Gonzalez.  Beyond being
an ultra gifted pitcher with a golden arm, Gio also has a personality that can
light up a room.  Or in this case, an
entire press box.  Our Sunday home game
vs. the Brewers was broadcast on XTRA Sports 860 and
Ken Korach asked whether we might deliver Gio to the booth
following his outing.  The Cuban
lefthander made short work of Milwaukee,
striking out five in three hitless innings. 
I told my assistants to kill two birds with one pitcher by staging his
postgame writers’ session in the back of the press box just before he joined
Korach in the booth.  Just as my young assistant
Adam
Loberstein
was about to make the
announcement in the box that Gio was available for questions, his microphone
was commandeered by none other than Gonzalez, who asked the Bay Area and
Japanese media that “Anyone have any questions for me?  Speak now or forever hold your peace!”  The place erupted.  Then Gio dazzled the scribes in much the same
fashion his curveball did to the Brewers a few minutes earlier.  And from all reports from Korach afterwards,
he made it an impressive Trifecta with another sterling performance on the
airwaves.  Every club needs someone like
Gio, who makes baseball fun.  Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be?

85268693.jpgAnd finally, I share with
you a glimpse of the “Z Man.”  We speak
of Michael
Zagaris,
one of the smartest, most
talented–and yes, zaniest–people I
know.  In case you don’t know, Michael
offers us more than three decades of sports photography experience.  He’s been both the A’s and Forty-Niners’ team
photographer since the early 80’s.  Yet,
what may be even more interesting is his past history as a touring music photographer
for such legendary acts as the
Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton.  So, I couldn’t help myself but invite the Z
Man to join me in attending a rare
Savoy Brown
concert at the Rhythm Room, a well-worn roadhouse in central Phoenix. 
The band, part of  British rock
and blues explosion of the 60’s that also produced such groups as
Foghat and Humble Pie,
almost tore the roof off that night.  Original
Savoy Brown member
Kim Simmonds celebrated his 45th consecutive year with the band by
unleashing one of the greatest guitar live performances I have ever seen.  And the Z Man was clearly in his element. There
were multiple standing ovations, while Zagaris harkened back to his early rock days
across the pond, comparing Simmonds to
Jeff Beck
and Clapton and other great guitarists of yore. 
It was a great diversion for both of us during these dog days of
spring.  Okay, I guess they’re not dog days.  Maybe prairie dog days?  On that note, my 50th blog is officially
done.  And with that prairie dog comment,
my writing career might be done as well.

Coco Sets The Tone In Camp This Week

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The more we see Coco Crisp–and we hope to see him at the top of the lineup with
great regularity in 2011–the more we realize this is a player destined to be in
the center of everything this year.  The
man has serious flair.  It starts in the
parking lot, where his black Rolls Royce convertible is well, noticeable, among
a sea of SUVs. 
And this week on the beautifully manicured diamonds of Papago Park
and Phoenix Muni, the A’s center fielder seemed to be in The Man in the Middle
everywhere you turned. 

 

On Wednesday, he welcomed
the first female to ever throw batting practice to an Oakland team. 
You may have read about 36-year-old Cleveland native
Justine Siegal, a long-time player and coach who founded the
non-profit organization Baseball for All, an equal-opportunity advocacy group.  She made baseball history this week by
pitching BP to two major league teams–her hometown Indians and our Oakland A’s.  She was a little nervous at first, throwing
four straight balls to Crisp.  But leave
it to Coco, the Class Clown, to help loosen
things up.  He kidded back and forth with
Justine, feigning bunts, mock anger and idle threats.  It seemed to relax Justine, who proceeded to hurl
a very respectable round of BP.  In a
way, it was a metaphor for what Crisp does for his own team.   He never lets his teammates forget that
baseball is a game and having fun is mandatory. 

 

But more Coco
in a minute.  Let me get back to
Justine.  The genesis of this lady facing
our players was this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, where she approached
Billy Beane about gaining the opportunity.  Billy said he was happy to give her an
opportunity and that he would have his PR man–that would be me–call her to make
arrangements for Spring Training.  I spoke
with Justine a couple of times during the offseason, as we confirmed the date
she would throw and the logistics for her to get outfitted in an A’s uniform
and when we would meet in Arizona.  It was such a pleasure to finally meet her
and learn more about her foundation and why she so badly wanted to pitch to
Major Leaguers.  Her sole purpose was to
break down any barriers or prejudices towards girls or women reaching their
dreams and potential in the game of baseball. 
For so many years, 13-year-old girls have been told it, “hey you were a
great Little Leaguer playing with the boys but it’s time to switch over to
softball.  You might as well because
there no next level for you in baseball.” 
Justine’s message–her life’s work, really–is to tell America and the
world that there should be no limits placed on who plays baseball or at what
age or level.  She points out that nearly
half of all Major League Baseball fans are women, a sector of the population
which loves the game every bit as much as men do.  So why can’t they play hardball as long as
they wish?  I think what struck me most
about Justine was simply her fearless mindset that day.  A solitary, almost lonely figure, she showed
tremendous courage.  While some in the
audience may have thought she had very little in common with the A’s players
she faced–Crisp,
David DeJesus, Daric Barton and Landon Powell–I thought just the opposite.  All athletes must show courage in laying it
all on the line, and on that day, I could see that our players understood and
respected what Justine was doing.  They
knew it took real guts. 
Fear and intimidation could have crept into your mind at any given
moment (“What if I can’t throw any strikes and ruin their batting
practice?  What if Landon crushes me with
a come-backer?”).  I don’t want to overstate
what she achieved that day, but in many ways, it may very well be the first
step towards a future
Jackie Robinson moment in
breaking another barrier.  I can remember
speaking with African American and Latin players who played in the majors in
the 60’s.  They said it would not have
been possible if they had not earlier dreamt of becoming big league ballplayers. 
But before Jackie broke that barrier, young Black and Latino players
never even dreamt of the possibility.  So, as our new Aussie addition
Grant Balfour might say, “Good on ya, Justine!”

 

As for Coco,
his week had just begun.  Thursday was
Photo Day for the media at Phoenix Muni, with team photographer
Michael Zagaris, AP Photo, Comcast Sports Net, MLB Photos and
several newspaper and trading card companies on hand, as well as about 25 or 30
photographers and TV camera people representing Japanese media outlets.  The charismatic Crisp, in rather dramatic
fashion, made the group wait as team stretch neared.  Starting at 7 o’clock that morning, every A’s
coach and player had already gone through the gauntlet.  We all were waiting for Crisp before we could
call it quits.  Seemingly out of the
morning mist, No. 4 appeared at the final minute, all smiles and giggles.  I could not imagine a better closer for Photo
Day.

 

Then yesterday, it was Coco who set the tone at A’s camp yet again.  As the team’s second intrasquad game of camp
was about to commence,
Dallas Braden
peered from the mound as he awaited Crisp’s arrival into the batter’s box.  When Crisp strode into the box, we noticed
something slightly different about his well-tailored uniform.  He had stuck a piece of tape on the back of
his jersey above his number.  It seemed
to be a hyphenated word.  As we looked
closer, we could read it:  “A-Rod.”  Braden, not to be outdone, decided to have a
little fun of his own.  He wound up and
then uncorked one of the of most unlikely first pitches of any scrimmage in memory.  It looped high above–and behind–Coco.  The sorriest knock down pitch I have ever
seen.  Needless to say, Coco
had no problem whatsoever digging in for the next pitch.  Ah, there’s nothing quite like a cup of Coco in the morning. 
As the old postcard used to say, “Wish you were here.”

Matsui Mania Officially Begins In A’s Land

For a guy who
hasn’t even picked up a bat or thrown a ball yet,
Hideki
Matsui
is already
creating quite a stir in the desert. 
This morning, the A’s new slugger arrived at the team’s Papago Park
minor league complex to shoot a commercial for Japanese television.  The commercial is for Komatsu, a
Japanese-based construction company which used to employ Hideki’s father,
Masao
Matsui
, for 23
years. 
Ted Polakowski, our director of minor league
operations, and I looked on with amazement as a small village of people and
vehicles descended on the Papago complex this morning.  Equipment and food trucks, Winnebagos–even an
industrial forklift–and catering tents served as a backdrop to dozens of local
Little Leaguers who joined Matsui-san on one of the baseball fields for
filming.  However, by early afternoon,
the rains and winds came, and the shoot was cut short. 

 

Matsui.JPG

But Hideki’s
day was far from over.  With the help of
his long-time PR aide, former Japanese sportswriter
Isao
Hirooka
, we then made
Matsui available for his Spring Training debut to both the Bay Area and
Japanese media.  First, there were rows
and rows of Japanese photographers, lined neatly in a small space on the patio
outside the Papago administrative building. 
Clearly, Matsui is a real pro who has posed for these “photo ops”
countless times.  Under bright lighting
and in full Oakland uniform, he waggled his bat, smiled for the cameras and
took a few swings.  Then he switched to
his glove, pounding the pocket and striking a different pose.  I kept thinking, “man, this guy is a real pro.”  Then once the photographers were satisfied,
Matsui seamlessly moved over to one of the picnic tables on the patio.  He sat down and spoke to the Bay Area media
through an interpreter.  He could not
have been more accommodating for the Chronicle’s
Susan Slusser, Bay Area News Group’s Joe
Stiglich
and the other
media.  Then when that session ended, Matsui
moved over to another area on the patio, where he addressed a much larger Japanese
media contingent.  Talk about stamina!

 

Of course, I
would be remiss not to share one other Matsui-related story that came from
today.  While he was entertaining media
at our Papago complex, three of Hideki’s new teammates were entertaining themselves back at the team clubhouse at
Phoenix Municipal Stadium this afternoon. 
Like a kid on Christmas morning, the irrepressible
Dallas
Braden
could hardly
contain himself as he awaited the delivery of a special gift he had ordered for
Matsui–a six-foot high inflatable Godzilla
replica.   As scheduled, it arrived
around 1 o’clock this afternoon.  Some of
the team clubbies inflated the plastic creature, then Braden and fellow
conspirators
Andrew Bailey
and
Craig Breslow
began their handiwork.  First, Dallas tossed
on the A’s alternative gold jersey–a tight fit, I must say–complete with the
word Matsui and No. 55 displayed on the back. 
Then Breslow suggested baseball cleats. 
Braden was delighted that he had one pair of Japanse-made spikes, which
he proudly fitted onto Godzilla’s feet. 
Then came the wrist bands, an A’s cap, and the
Pièce de résistance, a jock strap!  
Tomorrow morning, we expect Godzilla to meet Godzilla.  The world awaits.

A Final Around-The-Horn Before Spring Training

Well, the countdown to
cactus continues.  In about another week,
the annual rituals will begin.  We’ll be
checking into the team hotel in Phoenix
and voila, Spring Training will commence
in earnest.  In case you hadn’t noticed I’ve put my blog on ice for a couple of
months since the Winter Meetings.  But
now I think it’s time to offer up a few notes and anecdotes I’ve been storing
up lately.  Hopefully you’ll find some of
interest.

107596670.jpg 

If there was any doubt that
baseball’s popularity is truly international, just add a slugging designated
hitter from Japan
and an Australian set-up man to your roster during the offseason.  In the world where we live–media
relations–the free agent signing of
Hideki Matsui
brings a lot more than home runs and RBI to the A’s.  It also brings about 50 additional Japanese
media to the scene.  Writers and
photographers from wire services like Kyodo
News
and Jiji Press or daily
newspapers such as the Yomiuri Shimbun,
Nikkan Sports
and Chunichi Shimnbun,
will join us in Spring Training and stay with us throughout the season.  So will broadcasters from the Toyko Broadcasting System, Fuji TV and NHK, with NHK also
televising about 40 of our games live during the 2011 season.  It will totally change the dynamics in the
clubhouse and pre-game on the field, as Bob Geren, the players and our Bay Area
media will have a lot of company this year. 
For Spring Training, we’ve already made plans to add additional seating
and risers in the press box at Phoenix Muni. 
My prediction:  it’s going to be a
tight fit. 

 

85405654.jpgThen you add veteran
reliever Grant Balfour, who hails from Sydney, and Australian
journalists have also jumped on board.  I
just spoke with a U.S.
correspondent from Channel Nine, one
of Australia’s
leading TV networks, who plans to cover camp later this month.  I anticipate many other media from “down
under” will be calling soon.  As far as
we’re concerned, the more the merrier!

 

Did you notice the mention
of
Dallas
Braden
in the most recent edition of Sports Illustrated?  It appeared in a feature story about Giants’
closer
Brian
Wilson
. 
It’s been well documented that Braden and Wilson are good friends and
off-season travel mates.  Two years ago,
it was Europe. 
This past offseason, the eccentric duo decided to explore Thailand.  There was mention that they were regularly
found jogging in the jungle, which of course, made me wonder what local Thai
residents–not to mention the wildlife–thought about those peculiar numbers tattooed
on Braden’s torso….2 0 9, indeed!

 

I’m really fortunate to have
two remarkable researchers and number crunchers on my media relations
staff. 
Mike Selleck has been our long-time baseball information person and
he’s respected throughout baseball for his game notes, especially his obscure
or unknown nuggets.  One fact he
unearthed that very few Bay Area fans were aware of is this:  not only did the 2010 Oakland starting
rotation post the best ERA (3.47) in the majors, but that figure represented
the best turned in by a rotation in the American League in 20 years (Boston,
3.32 in 1990)!  And it was accomplished
with a rotation that averaged only 23 years of age for much of the season. 

 

Another crack PR staffer is
our newly-hired
Adam Loberstein, who did some
rather interesting research of his own recently.  He decided to add the 2010 statistics of our
new offseason additions, then subtract the stats of last year’s A’s who are no
longer on the roster, and see where we would place in the league rankings.  What he found with the additions and
subtractions was the Oakland bullpen improved
its Opponents Batting Average figure from .248 to .217, which would have elevated
them from fourth best in the AL
to first in all the majors.  What’s more, last  year’s 3.75 ERA would improve to 2.94, moving
the A’s relievers from a No. 6 ranking in the American League to first in the AL and second in the majors. Offensively, our new additions (most notably Matsui,
Josh
Willingham
and David DeJesus) would have improved our 2010 on-base percentage
from .324 to .339, a swing from being ranked ninth to tied for third best in
the AL.  So, clearly we’re better on paper than last
year.  Now the trick is transferring it
from paper to the playing field.

 

 

A'sbilly1.jpgThis year marks the 30th
anniversary of the zenith of Billyball, as it was Billy Martin’s 1981 A’s club that shocked the baseball world by
winning the American League West with a 64-45 record during a strike-shortened
season.  That ’81 club of misfits started
the season by posting an 18-3 record in April, still the best April in Oakland franchise
history.  They opened the season with a
Major League-record 11 straight victories, including eight on the road.  And in that 11-game period, A’s pitchers
threw 10 complete games and compiled an overall 1.27 team ERA.  Martin’s no names roared into the playoffs,
where they swept Kansas City
in three games, outscoring the Royals, 10-2, in the AL Divisional Series.  But Cinderella’s run ended soon thereafter
when Martin’s old team, the Yankees, returned the favor by sweeping the A’s in
the AL Championship Series in three games.

 

 

This year’s Cactus League
schedule will start with a bang for A’s fans, as Oakland hosts 2010 NL Central
champion Cincinnati (March 1) and last year’s World Series participants Texas
(March 4) and San Francisco (March 5) during the first week at Phoenix
Municipal Stadium.

 

Word has it that Scott Hatteberg, the man whose walk-off home run clinched the
Athletics’ American League-setting 20th straight victory in 2002, will be
spending some time in A’s Spring Training as a special instructor this
year.  He’ll join Hall of Famer
Rickey Henderson in that capacity.

 

The 2011 A’s Media Guide is
due off the presses by the end of this month.  
On the cover?   The Big Four: 
Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden.

 

There’s been much
commotion–understandably so–about the Giants taking their 2010 World Series
trophy on tour in Northern California this offseason, giving their fans an
opportunity to pose with the cherished piece of hardware.  Recently, 
a Bay Area sportswriter called me about a column he was writing which
would cite how local pro sports franchises have chosen to display any past
World Championship trophies.  He wanted
to confirm that we still keep our 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1989 trophies in our
office reception area, available to the general public.  I confirmed that we did.  And I also could not restrain myself from
adding one final comment:  “There is one
difference for our fans compared to Giants fans.  When our fans pose for their photo, it’s a horizontal shot.”

 

 

Postcard #4 from the GM Winter Meetings

I think it’s time for me to
return home.

 

The only event today worthy
of mentioning was the Annual Manager’s Luncheon for the media.  It’s kind of cool to see
Dusty Baker, Bud
Black, Terry Francona, Joe Girardi
and Bob Geren all chatting it up in the same room during the
pre-lunch cocktail reception.  Sports
Illustrated’s
Tom Verducci was there, as was
FOX’s
Ken
Rosenthal
and AP’s Ron Blum. 

 

Once the reception was over,
everyone was seated in a separate dining room. 
Each team was assigned to a round table with eight seats.  Geren and I hosted our beat writers
Susan Slusser and Jane Lee,
while USA Today baseball writer and
Bay Area resident
Jorge Ortiz joined us, as did
some members of the Japanese media who had interest about gauging our interest in signing
Hideki Matsui. 

 

As by now you know, it’s our
team policy not to comment on any speculation or characterization of available
free agents.  So, our conversations,
though friendly, were very generic with our friends from the Pacific
Rim.  However, I always look
at these instances as great opportunities to establish closer relations with
international media, since there will come a day when we will feature a
Japanese player that will require their coverage on a daily basis.  I enjoyed sitting next to
Takashi Yamakawa of Kyodo News,
and also meeting a reporter from the Hochi
Shimbun. 
Geren was very gracious to
everyone on the table, and I think enjoyed the small talk that’s rarely part of
his daily routine during the season.  It’s
a time when we can all just be people, people on both sides of the fence who
should appreciate what a great profession we’re all part of.  


Of course, it won’t be long before we turn
our attention to another season and the tension returns.  Pitchers and catchers report in 70 days.  

Postcard #3 from the GM Winter Meetings

For many of you following
the A’s negotiations with agent
Don Nomura,
who represented Japanese All-Star pitcher
Hisashi Iwakuma, our announcement released late last night should not have come as much
of a surprise.  As our local media–as
well as dozens of reporters for national and Tokyo outlets in his homeland–had
chronicled during the exclusive 30-day negotiating period, prospects for
signing the Rakuten right-hander were in doubt from the early going.  


That said, I do believe both Mr. Nomura and
the A’s brain trust headed by
Billy Beane and David Forst,
made every effort to close the gap and reach an agreement.  I know this does not appease
many of you fans who are hoping Oakland becomes a player on the free agent or
trade market this winter.  My response to
you is this:  First, don’t forget we have
already upgraded ourselves with the acquisition of outfielder
David DeJesus, someone who was heavily pursued by several teams last
year prior to the trading deadline until a thumb injury ended his season.  Second, the A’s still have currency to invest
in new players, whether they come via the free agent market or trades.  Certainly, the mega deals struck by
Jason Werth and Adrian Gonzalez, both way north of $100
million, does not help the A’s or any small market team’s cause, but that’s not
to say there are not deals out there to be made for legitimate
middle-of-the-order hitters.  Third, let
me remind all of us that it is only Dec. 8. 
There’s a lot of territory to cover between now and the season, so let’s
try to be patient and see what develops in the coming months.  Clearly, Billy and David have identified
their needs, and I can attest from first-hand knowledge that they are burning
the midnight oil in attempts to add critical pieces to our 2011 team.

 

One of the warmer moments of
this year’s Winter Meetings happened this morning, when Commissioner
Bud Selig paid tribute to four legendary managers, who retired
after this past season. 
Joe Torre, Lou
Pinella
and Cito Gaston were present at the media conference here, but
Braves’ executive
John Schuerholz had to pinch-hit
for
Bobby
Cox
, who missed the festivities due to a
family medical emergency.  I was in the
audience, along with many other baseball people who wanted to pay their
respects to four men who have meant so much to this game.  It was truly a unique press conference,
really more of a coronation than an interrogation by the media corps.  I give credit to the Commissioner and League
PR man Pat Courtney for providing this platform for a newsworthy event.  


From my past years in the NFL, I always
marveled at how the late, great
Pete Rozelle
would always have news in his back pocket whenever needed at these annual media
events.  A former PR director himself,
Rozelle knew full well that you needed to “feed the beast” because if
journalists spend the money to cover the meetings, their bosses expect
news.  By adding these staged events, it
just helps media justify the expense whether there a many signings or trades
that happen to hit during the meetings or not. 
In listening to the three managers in attendance, it struck me how much
they had in common beyond career victories and championships.  


One of the common threads was their love for
the game.  Torre shared how to him,
“baseball is always brand new.  I still
get goose bumps when a game is played.” 
After spending some years in the sport, I think I understand what he’s
saying.  And of the great ones I’ve known
or observed, they all brought energy, passion and yes, love, for the game every
day of their lives. 
Rickey Henderson,
Willie Mays, Dennis Eckersley
, Reggie Jackson all had that same trait.

 

One of the trademark scenes
in our league PR Meetings each year is when you notice certain team’s PR staffs
absent during presentations.  Normally, I
can tell you which clubs are about to make news announcements based on who’s
missing at their seats.  This morning,
Jay Alves of the Colorado Rockies was absent.  I thought maybe he had just had a long night
celebrating after being named this year’s recipient of the Robert Fishel Award,
which honors a member of the MLB public relations fraternity for a lifetime of
exemplary service.  Jay once sat in my
seat with the Athletics during the Haas Family Era, and it was great to see him
get the award and even more impressive to see how humble Jay was and how he
thanked so many people in his life.  Some
had Oakland A’s connections, including current A’s Director of Team Travel
Mickey Morabito and former club mainstays, Hall of Fame broadcaster Lon Simmons and marketing executive Andy Dolich.  


Jay opened
his acceptance speech at the PR reception last night by illustrating the wide
range of experiences and responsibilities that go with his job as a baseball PR
man.  First, he comically recalled the
time when the team brought a real elephant
on the Coliseum field as a pre-game promotion. 
“Before long, I noticed that the elephant was taking his trunk and
sucking up huge grass divots.  The media
wanted to know why there were so many extra ‘on-deck circles’ near the A’s
dugout!”  Then Jay, on a more somber
note, told us how the family of
Keli McGregor
asked him to write his eulogy when the Rockies’ president suddenly died in a Salt Lake City hotel room
last April.  The obvious disparity between
these light and heavy moments did demonstrate, however, just how wide
the scope of our jobs is.  


So, when I saw
Jay absent this morning, I thought either he was out late last night, or like
many PR people, he was back in his hotel room preparing a press release to
announce a trade or free agent signing. 
Then when I went on line during our meeting break, I read on MLB.com
that Alves’ manager
Jim Tracy had collapsed near
hotel elevators around 1 a.m. this morning, and was now resting comfortable at
a nearby Orlando
hospital.  Jay, along with former A’s
star infielder (and now Rockies’ coach)
Carney Lansford, had been with Tracy
when it occurred.  And it was Jay who
would serve the normal PR function hours later when he served as a spokesperson
about the incident.  Thankfully, it
appears Tracy
will be okay.  And for Alves, he can mark
it up as yet another unique experience in this crazy profession.  

Postcard #2 from the GM Winter Meetings

The
first official day of the Winter Meetings has come and gone with little fanfare
on the A’s front.  I was tempted to start
this blog out by stealing a classic opening line from
Mark Hyman, a long-time friend from Maryland who used to be a
baseball writer for the Baltimore Sun
and now reports for Business Week    Sizing up a similar situation years ago,
the wry Mr. Hyman once opened a story in the Sun this way:  “On a day that
nothing happened, nothing happened.”  
While apropos, my day here was far from uneventful.  As previously stated in my last entry, the
morning was filled with MLB Public Relations Meetings.

 

It
was reported that 565 national and international media have converged in Dumbo Land
to cover the Winter Meetings.  That
represents a rather sharp increase from last year, when less than 400
journalists attended.  One of my fellow
PR colleagues suggested the warmer environs of Florida
may have been a factor, compared to last year’s meetings in Indianapolis. 
My preferred reason, however, is that the popularity of our sport has
experienced an upsurge this season, when perhaps there are more compelling
stories.  One story I heard this morning,
however, was delivered by a former baseball legend when the Baseball Assistance
Team (B.A.T.) address the League’s PR specialists.  


Sudden Sam McDowell, the ex-flame throwing left-handed pitcher who regularly led the
American League in strikeouts back in 60’s and early 70’s for the Cleveland
Indians, explained how he became involved in B.A.T. many years ago.  He matter-of-factly said he had been “kicked
out of baseball because I was an alcoholic.” 
He also said how proud he was that baseball is the only professional
sport that has an organization like B.A.T., which assists anyone in the
“baseball family,” past or present, who has fallen on hard times and needs a
helping hand.  


This past year, the
organization awarded $2.2 million in donations to 90 grant recipients.  “The NFL doesn’t have something like this,
nor does the NBA or NHL.  Hell, B.A.T.
even helps umpires!  Can you believe
that?”   For me personally, it was a
thrill to see Sudden Sam.  He was a
bigger-than-life character for me growing up in Northern
California.  He was 6-5, 200
pounds with a nasty high-rising fastball that would eventually strike out 2,453
batters in his 15-year big league career–a figure that still ranks 34th on the
all-time list.  As a teenager growing up
in Auburn, Calif.,
I can still remember an early-season Sunday doubleheader at the Oakland-Alameda
County Coliseum featuring Cleveland and Oakland.  I can’t recall the exact year, but it was
probably 1970 or 1971.  Before leaving Auburn for the game, I
remember reading a banner story in the Sacramento
Bee
about A’s owner Charlie Finley offering some collection of five A’s
players to the Indians in a trade for Sudden Sam.  And who should be the Indians’ starting
pitcher in the twinbill opener?  Sam McDowell.   


Well,
as you can imagine, there were a few A’s players who were less than thrilled
with Finley’s offer, and I believe it was
Reggie Jackson
who launched a three-run homer into “Reggie’s Regiment” in the right field
bleachers to open the festivities and McDowell was knocked out of the game in
the first inning.  The A’s went on to win
the opener, and then you saw something that would never happen today.  Sudden Sam decided to start the nightcap.  He ended
up pitching brilliantly and earned a victory! 
One of the few times in history that not only a team split a
doubleheader but so did their starting pitcher.

 

By
late afternoon, my world was nothing but coordinating media interviews.  I ran
Billy Beane through the gauntlet, cramming in sit-downs with MLB
Productions (for a documentary film), MLB Network TV’s Hot Stove League live
show, Comcast Sports Net Bay Area’s Chronicle Live program and finally, a
one-on-one with long-time friend and ESPN correspondent
Pedro Gomez, all over a time period of 50 minutes!  Now while Billy was media hopping, I also coordinated a schedule for Manager Bob Geren,
which included a 30-minute press conference with national media in the MLB
Media Interview Room, followed by an interview with Comcast Sports Net Bay
Area’s
Mychael
Urban
for CSNBA’s website, a quick
appearance on XM Radio’s MLB Network and another taped interview with
MLB.com.  


I returned to Billy’s
hotel suite, where Bay Area scribes
Susan Slusser
(San
Francisco

Chronicle)
,
Jane Lee (MLB.com), Carl Steward (Bay Area News Group) and Urban (CSNBA) peppered him with questions
pertaining to possible free agent signings, trades or when we expect to comment
on the
Hisashi
Iwakuma
negotiations.  Billy was his usually articulate and
thoughtful self, although the writers were disappointed to learn we most likely
will not comment on Iwakuma until the negotiating period is over or we sign
him. (Editors note: The A’s and Iwakuma were unable to come to terms and Iwakuma will return to Japan for the 2011 season).  With a midnight deadline to the
30-day exclusive negotiating window, it might be a late night for yours
truly.  In the meantime, I about to head down
to the lobby bar for some good old-fashion PR work.  And a beer. 
Ah, the life of a Major League PR man. 
Hey, somebody’s got to do it!  I’ll
be back with installment #3 tomorrow.

 

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