If we may enter the brainstream of the never-mainstream Billy Beane, he surely is beginning to formulate the two words more painful for A’s fans than even Mount Davis. Those would be Fire and Sale, the customary white-flag impulse by the original Moneyballer when his team, at June’s end, manages seven weekend runs and loses three ballgames in 42 hours. This wasn’t any series at O.co Coliseum: It was the biggest of 2015, against the ballot-stuffed and loathed Royals, and after a 20-11 stretch, here was a litmus test against elite competition to determine the A’s place in American League life.
Right now, it’s still last place.
But this time, we’re not going to let Beane crawl into his bunker across the plaza at Oracle Arena — and, yes, it’s unfathomable that a Hall of Fame executive played by Brad Pitt keeps an office in a basketball arena — and just start firing up that phone to deal away Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard and anybody else who isn’t named Sonny Gray or Stephen Vogt, though sometimes we wonder if Billy actually would dangle the league’s best starting pitcher and fifth-leading OPS producer. This time, we’re going to remind Beane and co-owner Lew Wolff of some truths harsher and more relevant to their Bay Area consumer base than, say, which prospects they can land for Kazmir from the many contenders who need pitching.
First, the A’s are trying to get a ballpark built, as they have for eons. And while the politics surrounding this pursuit are more headache-inducing than ever, the momentum is tilted more favorably now for Wolff in Oakland than at any previous point in the A’s-Raiders divorce proceedings. Weeks after Raiders owner Mark Davis pleaded outside the NFL owners’ meetings for financial help in keeping his franchise in the East Bay, only crickets have emerged. With each failed bluff by San Diego financier Floyd Kephart, who let a deadline pass last week without a plan to keep the Raiders and A’s in dual stadiums within the Coliseum complex, it’s even more obvious Davis has no choice but to take his silver-and-black pack on the same moving-van path his father once took: back to Los Angeles, where a $1.7-billion bailout deal awaits in a shared facility with the Chargers near some fast-food joints by the 405 freeway.
“We’ve put $500 million on the table and we believe that we could build the stadium in Oakland that would be suitable for the Raiders and our fans for about $900 million,” Davis said. “We would need the land and the infrastructure to be taken care of somehow.”
No one has stepped forward. And no one will be stepping forward by the Raiders’ final 2015 home game — Christmas Eve night against the Chargers, curiously — with Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf too preoccupied with crime and economic issues to save an NFL team that plays eight regular-season home games a year. But a baseball team that plays 81 regular-season home dates a year? If Oakland has to choose, this is a financial no-brainer, as baseball commissioner Rob Manfred noted the other day.
“I don’t see the process as one whereby football gets to pick and baseball should be Plan B,” Manfred said. “I think there are lots of really good economic reasons why politicians in Oakland should make baseball their priority, including the 81 home games that we bring to a new facility.”
Disgusted by the legal entanglements of moving the A’s to San Jose — why is Major League Baseball still allowed an anti-trust exemption when it’s such a crooked industry? — Wolff now has made it clear he wants to be in Oakland. And why not? He has a BART stop, which means everything in the Bay. His new park presumably will recapture the eye-pleasing, pre-Mount Davis view of the Oakland hills. The various tech headquarters may be in Silicon Valley, but many of their young, monies employees live in the East Bay or in San Francisco, where it’s tough getting good Giants seats.
So why, when local influence and karma finally are going their way, would Wolff and fellow owner John Fisher pull the plug on a season now? Before the sweep by Kansas City, which is no disgrace, the A’s were averaging five runs a game and their starters were equally impressive (17-7, 2.37 ERA) during the 20-11 run. Every five days, manager Bob Melvin trots out Gray, who is the polar opposite of Madison Bumgarner in stature — 5-11, tops — but does have a heater and masterful reptorire to accompany his killer curveball. The lineup could use a bat to help Vogt, Josh Reddick and the electric Billy Burns. The bullpen could use an arm. But the defensive woes and one-run losses of April and May no longer define this team.
And is anyone impressed by teams the A’s would have to overtake? If they’re 7½ games out of the final wild-card berth, the club that holds the berth is the Minnesota Twins, something of a fluke. Nor am I sold on the Houston Astros, who lead the AL West by relying on home runs, the miracle of 5-5 Jose Altuve and kid pitchers who may not hold up. The Angels, despite Mike Trout and rejuvenated Albert Pujols, still rank 12th in the league in runs. Seattle has major brain cramps, and I’m not referring to the errant warmup ball that beaned Robinson Cano. Beyond the Royals, I see little AL excellence.
As for Beane, he owes it to A’s fans to see his creation through. Need I remind anyone that this man walked on the sun last summer, finally tried to win it all by acquiring big arms Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija and giving up big bat Yoenis Cespedes, only to watch his team go 22-33 and immediately exit the playoffs? His offseason response was madness — he traded away third baseman Josh Donaldson, who is having an MVP season in Toronto, along with Samardzija, Derek Norris and Brandon Moss for a bunch of kids. At one point, after their rough spring start, the A’s were 39-63 since dealing Cespedes, who, upon returning to Oakland with the Detroit Tigers, openly questioned Beane’s modus operandi.
“Then, why operate?” he said. “Don’t they want to win a championship?”
Be reminded that the A’s have a healthy bottom line, helped by subsidies from big-revenue teams. They also have 84 games remaining, plenty of time to resume and sustain their winning ways.
So, gentlemen, prove Cespedes wrong. Show the fans that you care and the politicians that you don’t quit. Sorry, Beane-counting is not permitted at the end of June, not with Gray pitching Tuesday night in a decrepit ballpark. If Oakland is about representing, the A’s need to do keep showing up, too, now more than ever.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.