So this is what’s left of the fallen baseball savant: an occasional airhorn tooting through the ramshackle Coliseum while his latest creation, beset by some injuries and bad luck but mostly by his own backfiring trade manuevers, still lags at 43-51. The daily game played by the A’s right now is not the one on the field. Rather, it’s the indirect lobbying sessions afterward, when manager Bob Melvin and the players all but beg Billy Beane not to blow up the roster — please, please, not again! — as another trade deadline nears.
The color of nitroglycerin, as everyone knows, is eerily similar to the yellow-gold of their uniforms.
“This team is resilient and picks each other up no matter what happens. This can propel us to play the way we know how to play for a while,” said the lunchpail cult hero, Stephen Vogt, believing the A’s have momentum with back-to-back wins over Minnesota, including a 14-1 romp Sunday.
Said pitcher Scott Kazmir, the most vulnerable trade-bait piece: “I feel like we can carry this over to … maybe the next couple of series.”
“It’s just putting together streaks, getting on a win streak,” Melvin said. “It’s getting on a roll, being consistent.”
All of which is being disregarded by Beane, who is in his bunker, plotting how to extract what he can for Kazmir, Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard, Josh Reddick and, for all we know, Sonny Gray. Most likely, he’ll soon be launching his latest fire sale, an act that once was considered revolutionary in Oakland but now is feeling stale, counterproductive and ultimately fruitless in a sport where small-revenue clubs are winning everywhere. You could have a Pittsburgh-Kansas City World Series this autumn because there is no such thing as a small-market team anymore, thanks to parity formed by revenue-sharing and subsidy-paying. It used to be an unwritten media rule to never, ever criticize Beane, who routinely achieved more with less than any general manager in sports, working with few resources in a ballpark that sometimes oozed of sewage.
But his work since last summer has been, well, odorous.
And who should be arriving Tuesday at O.co but an MVP candidate named Josh Donaldson, the harshest reminder of Beane’s difficult year, in town with the Toronto Blue Jays for a series that likely will have the sparse crowds asking: Just what the hell has Billy been thinking these last 12 months? No one has asked that more than Donaldson, who has been so embraced in Canada that he received the highest fan-vote total in All-Star Game history — hockey loudmouth Don Cherry was urging the cyber-stuffing — yet sitll can’t fathom why Beane got rid of him last November. Was it really because Donaldson wanted a day off, received it from Melvin, only to be rebuffed by Beane? Was it really because Donaldson, in what has been denied by some parties, referred to his boss as “Billy Boy’’ during an argument in which Beane demanded Donaldson play that game?
Was it because Donaldson, 10 days before he was dealt, angered ownership with a pointed Twitter observation to an A’s fan — “they have plenty of money my friend. They just tell everyone they don’t” — before also tweeting of Beane, “At least he has a vision.”
Whatever the reason, the plug was pulled on an exceptional young player who ’s still three years from free agency and now is doing sensational stuff for the Blue Jays, who are thrilled to have him.
“Honestly, I’ve tried not to think about it,” said Donaldson, who still texts his ex-teammates. “I think it’s gonna be, for me, great to go back. I really had a good time, not only with my teammates but the fans. We just had such a bond in Oakland.”
Until Beane bagged it.
You know the back story. People who don’t know a base from a ball know the Billy Beane story, thanks to cinema. There was this charming overachiever on the other side of the bay who perfected the art of out-thinking the competition. Beane’s way was necessary because his boss failed to politicize his way to a new San Jose ballpark, even though the baseball commissioner was his frat brother, meaning Lew Wollf never should have made fun of Bud Selig’s party toga back at Wisconsin. For years, Beane pulled off his part-martyr, part-survivalist plan in the dated stadium inside Wolff’s cheap domain, leading to a best-seller that became a movie that became a way of American business life.
Maybe Beane wouldn’t reach the World Series or Hall of Fame. But Brad Pitt played him in “Moneyball.” Doesn’t Hollywood trump Cooperstown in general terms?
And then, last summer, Billy decided to stop counting beans and went dead-eye for the championship jugular, which broke wildly from the movie script and seemed counterintuitive to his beliefs. He traded his popular and productive outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes, for front-line pitcher Jon Lester. He dealt hot prospects in a deal for another talented starter, Jeff Samardzija. A dominant rotation, as Beane always has theorized, can overcome all obstacles. And with Lester, Samardzija and Gray, all of us stopped to watch if Beane finally would win it all and get not only a trophy but a movie sequel, this one with a perfect ending and a smarter guy than Pitt playing the lead.
Until the lineup, without Cespedes, stopped hitting.
Until Melvin stayed too long with Lester in the American League wild-card game, which led to a blown 7-3 lead and a 12-inning loss to a Royals team that almost won the World Series.
Until Beane, dismayed that the A’s had lost their seventh straight winner-take-all playoff game since 2000 and hadn’t won a postseason series since 2006, decided to fire up the old TNT. As expected, he discarded Lester and Samardzija, In what was thoroughly unexpected, he also unloaded three All-Stars in Brandon Moss, Derek Norris … and Donaldson.
There was no defending him this time. Beane was bagging it. Beane had gone mad. And when the A’s started the season poorly, with bush-league defense and shaky relievers and a lineup that produced intermittently — well, let’s just say Hollywood no longer was interested. Throughout baseball, people snickered.
The savant had out-thought himself, pretzel-logicked his franchise into knots.
The A’s have played better of late, actually winning a one-run game Saturday and improving to 9-22 in that category. And their plus-53 run margin is freaky. Very simply, they were so jolted — and jilted — by their GM that they started slowly, then woke up too late to have a realistic shot to catch any team with which Mike Trout is associated, that being the Angels, who will win the AL West. There is in-house hope, thanks to double wild-cards, that they could snag one. But the A’s would have to leapfrog nine teams.
In his only recent public comments about whether he’ll make deals, Beane told the club’s broadcast partner, CSN California, “Despite having played better, we’re still in quite a hole. … It’s really depending on how you’re playing and where you’re headed.”
Answers: inconsistently and nowhere.
But hey, in the event Kazmir is traded, Barry Zito might return from the minors to pitch. If this is Billy Beane’s new direction, he may as well contact Jose Canseco, too.