On September 1, 1991, I had tickets to an A's game. I gave them away, and got married instead. It was the best decision I ever made. I got a lovely wife of 14 years, instead of a wasted afternoon watching the A's lose 5-2 to the Detroit Tigers.
The A's finished that day 71-61, in second place, 8 games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL West. Coming off three straight World Series appearances, Dave Stewart and Bob Welch had suddenly gotten old, and the A's started scrounging around the scrap heap looking for a few more arms to give them one last shot at glory before the whole thing fell apart. The rotation started getting some very un-A's-like names inserted into it, such as Andy Hawkins, Ron Darling, Joe Slusarski, and Eric Show.
There were days when the old magic seemed to return, and other days when the old bones seemed to creak. The next year, the A's captured the old magic just enough to win one last division title before the generation had run its course. But while the '91-'92 A's were still good teams, they no longer intimidated anyone.
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Tonight, the A's enter a series against the New York Yankees, where they will face Al Leiter, Aaron Small, and Shawn Chacon. They're all decent pitchers, I suppose, but those aren't quite the names you associate with The Yankees(™).
Perhaps there are some parallels to be drawn. The '91 A's weren't done as contenders, and neither are the '05 Yanks. This generation of Yankees may win another title or two, as those A's did. Those '91 A's still had McGwire, Canseco, and Rickey to damage opponents, just as the '05 Yankees still have ARod, Jeter and Sheffield. The A's still had Dennis Eckersley to close games, and the Yankees still have Mariano Rivera.
But like Stewart and Welch in '91, Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina are aging, and you can sense that they only have a year or two of glory left in them before they're done. And the supporting cast around the star pitchers has started to become a desperate revolving door.
At this point, they're still a good team, but they're a good team amongst many, not the intimidating presence they had been in the recent past. The Yankees may come into Oakland and sweep the A's this weekend, but the converse, once seemingly impossible, now seems almost as likely.
Billy Beane learned a lesson from the mistakes made by the early 90's A's, and rebuilt the A's in 2005 without letting the team get too old. The question is this: have the Yankees learned from those mistakes, too, or are they doomed to repeat them?