Confession time: Your correspondent did not expect the A's to be very good this year. In those heady days of spring training, when all teams start out 0-0 and everyone is mathematically alive, I looked at the 2008 handiwork of Billy Beane and saw 95 losses, a last-place finish, and 1979-sized crowds dotting the Coliseum's many available seats.
Well, the A's went out and only lost 85 games as of this writing, securing themselves a third place finish. So I guess they showed me a thing or two. (Not that you asked, but my most prescient preseason prediction? That the White Sox would make the playoffs -- even if they fall short today and/or tomorrow, I figure that my pick is close enough for government work. And the preseason prediction you'll never hear me cop to after this paragraph? Your 2008 Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers, ladies and gentlemen.)
What does one do when one has already written off the season before a single meaningful pitch has been thrown? I confess I was uncertain -- I fully expected the A's to contend in 2007 ("They've got Milton Bradley and Rich Harden! What could possibly go wrong?"), so it wasn't like I went into last season with an impending sense of doom. You'd have to go back to the mid-to-late '90s to a time when Oakland went into a year realistically out of it, and back then, the impetuousness of youth would never have allowed me to write off a season in late March.
For spiritual guidance, I turned to my friend Curt, who, as a Royals fans, knows a thing or two about hopelessness. Curt's advice for enduring, and even enjoying, a season in which the team you pull for has no conceivable chance of finishing on the happy side of .500, let alone playing into late October? Appreciate the little things -- the development of a promising player, the rare walk-off win, the occasional hot streak.
Also, you make bets. Lots and lots of bets.
Which is how Curt and I came to make a bet to add a little something extra for what figured to be a doomed campaign for both our favorite squadronswe have a six-pack of beer riding on whether Oakland or Kansas City finishes 2008 with a better record. And not some cheap water-down-lager-in-a-can six-pack either -- we're talking beer assembled by pretentious microbrewers who prattle on and on about hops and barley and frou-frou seasonal beers until you just want to punch them in the mouth if only so that the muffled sounds of their agony will provide you with enough silence to enjoy their nice, cold beer.
Honestly, when the A's got off to their unexpectedly hot start, I kind of thought this thing was in the bag. I remember the heady days of mid-April, when the A's completed a three-game sweep of Kansas City and feeling sorry for Curt. "Maybe we should call this thing off," I thought to myself. "Out of friendship." Then I remembered that friendship offers poor relief from the heat on a blistering summer's day. The bet remained on.
Even as players like Emil Brown and Bobby Crosby looked in the mirror and remembered, "You know what? We're not very good at baseball," and the A's returned to earth, I didn't panic. Oh sure, I was a little nervous in July when the Royals returned the three-game-sweep favor. But I also took a trip to Kansas City to scout out the competition, and I realized that as bad as the A's might be, the Royals were even worse. Indeed, when Oakland was causing us to avert our eyes with a 10-20 record in August, do you know which team was busy compiling an even worse record for the month? That's rightthe spiritual heirs to Bob Hamelin, Buddy Biancalana, and Onix Concepcion.
Unfortunately, the season didn't end on Labor Day. The Royals have won 13 of their last 15 and will post a winning record for the month of Septemberonly their second in two decades, according to the Chronicle. And the A's? In spite of -- or perhaps because of -- Smilin' Bob Geren's insistence that the team wishes to finish on "a good note," the A's have lost four consecutive games, dropping series to the middling Texas Rangers and the woeful Seattle Mariners. The 101-loss Mariners, who would desperately love to pick up that 102nd loss if it means securing the top pick in next June's draft. The same Mariners who, if newspaper accounts are to be believed, dream more about thrashing Ichiro Suzuki with orange-stuffed socks than winning ballgames. And yet, Oakland can't beat them.
What note would you be finishing on there, Bob? C-flat?
Which brings us to the final day of the 2008 regular season. The A's enter today with a record of 75 and 85, the Royals with a 75-86 mark. That means if the Royals complete their improbable sweep of the Twins and the Athletics continue to roll over and play dead for Seattle, I will wind up buying my good friend Curt a six-pack of beer.
I hope you understand how completely unacceptable that would be.
So I'd like to take a moment now, if I may, to address the Oakland A's personally. I'm sure that in these waning hours before the final game of the season, some members of the team are preparing for today's contest by booking off-season vacations on Expedia or dashing off e-mails to friends and family about how they'll be home soon or perhaps even downloading porn. And if their idle surfing happens to bring them to this corner of the Internet, I hope my words -- offered in the sincerest hope of helping inspire the team to victory -- move them to give their utmost today. If nothing else, know that the words below come straight from my heart.
Listen, you jerks...
You don't like me, and at this particular point in time, I don't much care for you either.
Ours has always been a one-sided relationship. I don't recall Eric Chavez being broken up when I have a bad day at work. Huston Street doesn't spend the night pouting when I blow a deadline. And if Mark Ellis has ever had a sleepless night because he's worried that I'll sign a big contract with some New York-based publication, he does a fine job of concealing his concern.
Me, on the other hand -- I've suffered through playoff losses that have been both maddening and laughable. I've seen beloved players come and mostly go. I have put up with some bad baseball over the years in the name of loyalty. And in that time, you guys have given me heartache, agita, and robbed me of the bloom of my youth.
And now you want to take away my beer.
Well, guess again, fellas. I will endure many indignities. I will keep a stiff upper lip as 2-0 leads in playoff series are blown, and I will not get my dauber down as one player after another departs for points east, and I will even sit through an 85-loss season with nothing more than a "You'll get 'em next year, boys."
But to deprive me of a Longboard Lager or a Fat Tire Ale? That's cutting a little close to the knuckle, friend.
So I don't care what it takes today -- you will beat Seattle. If you have to tell Emil Brown that the game's been moved to Vancouver so that he shows up at the wrong ballpark and removes any temptation for Bob Geren to put him in the lineup, then do it. If you have to load up Josh Outman with so much K-Y Jelly that even Gaylord Perry shakes his head in disgust, then start slathering. If it means benching strikeout-prone Jack Cust in favor of his bobblehead, then make it so. There's less of a chance that the bobblehead will take a called third strike, at any rate.
I would like to share a story with you jerks, a story about a young man not unlike yourselves, with hopes and dreams and ambitions that got ground down by the bootheel of reality. So it turns out this young man was dying from some fatal disease... let's say it was black lung. And I when visited him on his death bed, he turned his sad eyes to me and croaked, "Some day, when the chips are down and the breaks are going against the boys, I want you to turn to them and say... I could really use a beer right now to blot out the memory of how awful they're playing."
Powerful words. So when you take the field today, I want you to go out there and win this game for that poor, dead, possibly fictional young man. Or else, he'll haunt you from beyond the grave.