Frantz: A’s are the best team you don’t care about

Just more than a month ago, the obituaries were already being written for the Bay Area baseball season. You remember when the Giants and A’s were both mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, don’t you? It was about a week before opening day, right?

The Giants were going to be too old in some spots, too young in others, and for the better part of the batting order, quite simply overmatched by major-league pitching. The A’s were about to star in yet another edition of “Extreme Home Makeover” after general manager Billy Beane traded away the club’s best pitcher (Dan Haren) and its most reliable hitter (Nick Swisher) and were once again going to be years away from contending with the new, raw talent on the roster.

Well, at least the Giants held up their end of the deal. They’re just about as bad as they were expected to be.

The A’s on the otherhand seem to have forgotten their place. Instead of getting their brains beat in on a nightly basis, while learning on the job like an obedient little rebuilding club, Beane’s latest batch of promising prospects have joined Bob Geren’s group of hangers-on and retreads to post a 23-16 record, tying them for first place with the mighty Angels of Somewhere in Southern California. Truth be told, the A’s, with the third-lowest payroll in baseball, have about as much business sitting at the top of the AL West right now as Hillary Clinton has in staying in the Democratic primary race. Yet here they are.

Even with a full roster, the A’s were supposed to be doing little more this season than preparing the kids for possible contention in 2010 and beyond, but to be seven games over .500 midway through May, without any help whatsoever from their Band-Aid Brigade, borders on the surreal. Former All-Star third baseman Eric Chavez hasn’t stepped between the lines all season and Rich Harden has given Geren just 14²/³ innings, including his 3²/³ innings in Sunday’s game against the Texas Rangers. Jack Cust’s bats were injured for a month (what was that diagnosis again — soft lumber or something?) before he busted out as the AL Player of the Week, and it’s been up to Emil Brown and Bobby Crosby to provide enough run support for a young rotation that once again leads baseball in team ERA.

So with the capital “O” and “A” in Oakland A’s really standing for “Over Achievers” once again, there’s really only one question that remains: Why in hell are you ignoring this team?!?

Make no mistake about it — the A’s are the biggest surprise in the American League this season; one of the most entertaining teams in the game — and baseball fans in the East Bay could not care less. Only four clubs in baseball are drawing fewer fans to the park than the A’s, whose nightly attendance is less than 20,000 per game.

It’s inexcusable. Time and again, Oakland fans complain about Beane’s inability or refusal to sign top talent to long-term, expensive contracts in order to maintain a consistent winner, yet time and again those same fans refuse to pump some cash into the club by showing up at McAfee Coliseum when another one of Beane’s rebuilding projects starts churning out victories ahead of the pace!

With the Giants doing everything they can to lull Bay Area fans into a six-month slumber, the Amazing A’s should be in prime position to steal a few of the headlines and maybe even lure a few people through the turnstiles.

Beane has done his part to field a competitive team, at least two full years ahead of schedule, Geren has done his job in keeping his veterans motivated and his kids well-grounded, and the players have certainly done theirs to date. Even the Giants have done their part by relegating themselves to insignificant status. So when, then, do you plan to do yours?

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@examiner.com.

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