Once upon a time, the Battle of the Bay wasn’t just a final spring tuneup and a reminder for fans that baseball is officially back, but a winner-take-all rumble for local bragging rights.
“It started as a two-game series,” explained A’s baseball information manager Mike Selleck who doubles as a walking encyclopedia of club history. “And if the teams split, then they had a home run derby to determine the winner.”
The first iteration of the preseason set between the neighboring squads took place in Arizona in 1982 — the brainchild of the respective marketing departments.
The teams shifted the series north to the Bay Area in 1983 and the home run derby soon became a thing of the past.
“At some point, the whole series and having a winner and loser kind of faded away,” Selleck said. “But initially for a few years — at least five or six, maybe more — it was like that.”
In this year’s edition of the matchup, the home team ended up on the right side of the scoreline in all three contests. The Giants claimed the opening two games thanks to sharp showings from Jeff Samardzija and Jake Peavy who combined to hold the A’s scoreless in 10 innings of work.
In the final meeting, Oakland grabbed a 4-1 win even though projected fifth starter Felix Doubront only lasted an inning before exiting with left forearm tightness. Eric Surkamp relieved Doubront, whose status for the opening series is in jeopardy, to blank the Giants for seven frames.
When informed about the bygone tradition, Brandon Crawford sounded like he’d be in favor of bringing the derby back.
“That would be fun,” Said Crawford, who was born five years after the first Bay Bridge exhibition series was held.
The 29-year-old shortstop didn’t hesitate when asked who would represent the Giants on such a stage.
“Hunter [Pence],” Crawford declared.
Crawford acknowledged that San Francisco’s right fielder would likely have to fight off Madison Bumgarner before stepping to the plate.
“He would probably try [to do it],” Crawford admitted of the lefty ace who thumped five homers and posted a .468 slugging percentage in 2015. “But I would go with Hunter.”
Pence was intrigued by the derby format, but remains an even bigger fan of the current setup, as the A’s and Giants — along with the Angels and Dodgers — are one of just two sets of teams who compete in such an annual exhibition.
“I think it’s exciting. You root for them over in the American League,” Pence explained. “It’s a good fun rivalry, but I think it’s exciting for both teams to be here to put the icing on the cake — so to speak — of spring training, to play in a big league park, be back in our cities.”
Following the first game at AT&T Park on Thursday, Stephen Vogt expressed a similar sentiment.
“Tonight felt like Opening Night a little bit — without the Opening Night hoopla. It’s always fun to come play in this ballpark. That atmosphere’s great. Their fans are almost as good as our fans.” The catcher said with a smile. “Both Bay Area teams have such great fans and they’re screaming and yelling and it was a lot of fun.”
Just a couple of lockers down, Josh Reddick was also on board with the idea of reviving the derby.
“That’d be pretty sick. I like our chances — I think,” Reddick cracked.
The right fielder, who was also born five years after the inaugural Bay Bridge warmup set, was at a loss when asked to pick a club representative.
“One guy? Hmm. It’s not me. My BP’s terrible for home runs,” Reddick said — even as a few teammates joked that he should take on the task. “I’d probably put [Danny] Valencia or [Matt] Chapman in there,” Reddick said.
The way Chapman put a charge into his eighth-inning homer in the finale, the right-handed hitter, who was sent to the minors after the game, wouldn’t have been a bad pick.
“He swings at the first pitch and almost hits it off the glass in left field,” Manager Bob Melvin marveled after the third baseman of the future connected on his sixth long ball, making him the preseason home run king. “We didn’t expect this kind of impression — this kind of impact from a guy that was probably only going to get a few at bats. He would have been one of the first cuts, but he wouldn’t let us cut him.”