Monthly archives: September 2008
Win One for the Sipper
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.
Please Fill In This Joke
There's something funny about these two consecutive pictures I took today, one minute apart. There's a setup and a punchline, but I can't figure out the middle.
... (insert body of joke here) ...
In Which Phil Once Again Says Mean Things About K-Rod
Your single-season saves record-holder Francisco Rodriguez -- and hey, that distinction worked out well for Bobby Thigpen, didn't it? -- likes to celebrate each of his saves with an elaborate dance as if he's never closed out a game before. I may have mentioned my dislike of this practice once or twice or possibly every time he does it, which would be roughly a jillion times. I am not alone in my disdain. This item from the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that the Athletics, while respectful of K-Rod's accomplishments, find his theatrical prancing to be... let us say "distasteful." I would not go so far as to suggest that they wouldn't be the least bit sad to see Francisco Rodriguez get run over by a stray AC Transit bus mid-celebration. That is my wish, not theirs.
Anyhow, I have a modest proposal for K-Rod. Instead of jumping and hollering every time he saves a ballgame -- which, really, appears to not be that difficult a task for Mr. Rodriguez -- how's about only dancing about in that "Hooray For Me!" fashion when you successfully complete a throw to first base? Judging by your form and results in Tuesday night's game, a simple 1-3 putout is a much more remarkable achievement for you.
One other note about the single-season record that formerly belonged to Bobby Thigpen: More than a decade ago, your faithful correspondent found himself without access to a TV and, therefore, had to listen to ESPN Radio to get his national baseball fix. The color man on those ESPN radio games in the mid-'90s was Jeff Torborg, the same man who called upon Bobby Thigpen every day until his arm fell off.
One time Thigpen's name came up in the radio broadcast, which caused Jeff Torborg to ruminate about that 1990 season in which the Sox reliever saved a then-record 57 games. "You know," Torborg said in the tone of voice meant to invite his play-by-play partner to immediately leap in to his defense, "a lot of people think I ruined Bobby Thigpen's career by having him save that many games."
The 15 seconds of dead air that followed spoke volumes.
The Vacuous Season
All the players I like are now gone. Rich Harden was traded. Justin Duchscherer is probably lost for the year. Eric Chavez is out for the season, and may never grace the hot corner again. Frank Thomas is out for the season, and may never play again. Mark Ellis is out for the season, and may never return to Oakland.
Who is left to watch? The Oakland A's have been drained from my soul. I feel empty.
What is left to say? Meaningless talking points, nothing more.
I never presume to know what Billy Beane's will is, and I would never presume to know Billy Beane's will or to speak Billy Beane's words.
But let us not pray that Billy Beane is on our side in a pennant race or any other time, but let us pray that we are on Billy Beane's side.
And I do believe, though, that this rebuilding in the face of wealthier AL opponents is the right thing. It's an unfortunate thing, because rebuilding is hell and I hate rebuilding, and, this Sunday is the day that I send my wife and three children in our Honda Odyssey minivan to the Coliseum one last time to root for our team, for the East Bay, and for statistical methods of evaluation.
Those are evaluations that too many of us just take for granted. I hate rebuilding and I want to see rebuilding ended. We end rebuilding when we see victory, and we will see victory in sight in the AL West.
I believe that there is a plan for this team and that plan for this team is for good. I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every prospect to be able to play and be developed with inalienable talents that I believe are God-given, and I believe that those are the talents for hitting for average, hitting for power, running speed, arm strength and fielding ability. That, in my world view, is a grand -- the grand plan.
How Green Were My '83 Athletics?
When your team is in the process of completing a 10-20 August run, you look for entertainment wherever you can find it, since it's certainly not located on the field of play. So it was with some relief that I spotted the following in the Chronicle's write-up of the A's 10th and final win in the month of August over the weekend:
The A's extended their Oakland record for most DL uses in one season to 24, two more than the previous mark. They have used 18 rookies, their most since using 19 in 1983.
The DL thing isn't all that surprising or interesting. You bring in both Mike Sweeney and Frank Thomas, and your team is going to wind up in the Under the Knife column more often than not.
No, it's the rookie thing that caught my eye. I would have pegged some of the mid-to-late '90s teams as relying on more than their fair share of rookies -- installing your Chavezes and your Tejadas and your Grieves as Oakland kicked its rebuilding drive into high-gear. Those early-to-mid '80s teams, in contrast, always struck me as having a surplus of old guys -- a veteran of the Bruce Bochte or Joe Morgan or Dave Kingman variety that the A's grabbed in order to patch over an obvious hole. Indeed, that '83 team featured 38-year-old Davey Lopes manning second base, 34-year-old Jeff Burroughs getting most of the starts at DH, and the Wayne Gross Era coming to its logical conclusion.
And yet, there they are -- 18 rookies spending some amount of time on the roster in 1983. Many seem like September call-ups while a handful earned starting roles. But no matter how you slice it, the '83 Athletics were lousy with rookies. And all this time, I had just thought of them as lousy.
And that got me thinking: How many of those rookies wound up panning out for Oakland? Did the triumphs later in the decade have their roots from those humble seeds planted in 1983? And if so, can we find any solace, 25 years later, for the rookie-infested squad that's finding itself on the wrong end of so many scores in this, the Two Thousand and Eighth Year of Our Lord?
Let's take a look at the 18 members of Oakland's Class of '83 after the jump.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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