The Giants and A’s, who start an interleague series at AT&T Park tonight, are just across the Bay from each other, but they might as well be a continent apart in judging their organizational approach.
Though they operate with a much smaller budget, the A’s have a superior baseball operation. Nothing showed that better than last offseason. Knowing his organization needed some help, general manager Billy Beane traded his best pitcher, Dan Haren, and one of his best players, Nick Swisher, for a group of impressive prospects.
Two of the pitchers from that haul will be pitching in this series, Greg Smith tonight and Dana Eveland on Sunday. Center fielder Ryan Sweeney was playing well until he was injured. So the A’s brought up Carlos Gonzalez, who has had an impressive start.
The A’s are in the AL wild-card race — and they’re well-positioned for success in the future with several good prospects in the minors.
The Giants, meanwhile, are in an awkward position, trying to stay competitive by playing veterans Rich Aurilia and Ray Durham, while working in some young players. They’ve looked respectable because they’re in a pathetically weak division, but 12 NL teams had better records entering Thursday’s games.
The Giants have revamped their organization in the last couple of years, putting more emphasis on the minor-league system, which may be their eventual savior. They’re not going to be able to pursue expensive free agents because they’re weighted down by the Barry Zito contract.
As good as the A’s are with their baseball operations, they’re equally bad in selling their team.
When the Haas family bought the A’s before the 1981 season, the first thing club president Roy Eisenhardt did was to hire Bay Area icons Lon Simmons and Bill King as radio announcers, correctly believing that radio broadcasts are the support system for the team.
The current ownership inherited King, but it has gone cheap everywhere else. The A’s got lucky with Ken Korach, now the lead announcer. Korach is the best announcer in the area, a no-nonsense guy who gives listeners the total picture, but he’s surrounded by men who range from mediocre (Vince Cotroneo) to inane (Robert Buan on the postgame show). The only other good part of the A’s broadcasts is Marty Lurie with his "Right Off the Bat" and "Memories of the Game" shows. But Lurie is not an A’s employee. He is a freelancer who gets his own sponsors.
The Giants, meanwhile, have an all-star group of announcers, including the overly dramatic Jon Miller and the Mike Krukow-Duane Kuiper duo, which offers very entertaining banter. The postgame shows are very good, too.
The Giants benefit from a beautiful park and powerful radio station KNBR, but they also have a skillful touch with their promotions.
The A’s, meanwhile, have done just about everything wrong. They closed off the upper deck, with its cheap prices and great views. They’ve talked incessantly about the proposed Fremont stadium, which will be inaccessible to many oftheir current fans.
Is it any wonder that now they can’t even sell out a series against the New York Yankees?
So, you have two totally different organizations. The question will be whether the Giants can adjust their baseball operations to current reality and whether the A’s realize that cheaper is not better when you’re trying to sell yourself.