So the Giants finally have their World Series win. As A’s loyalists like to point out, that leaves San Francisco three behind the team from Oakland — a team suddenly more relevant than Lew Wolff’s desperate attempts to move to San Jose or the whispered hints of Major League Baseball to contract the franchise into oblivion.
One remembers that slogan on the billboard at the eastern section of the Bay Bridge put up by the A’s: “While they were building a ballpark, we were building a team.” Also that other little zinger, “No splash hits, four world championships.”
The Giants eventually built their team, along with their park, splashing their way to a championship.
For 2011, although still in the Coliseum, the A’s have rebuilt their team, or at least they added pieces they lacked last season when Oakland, almost unnoticed because of what was going on at AT&T Park, finished with an 81-81 record.
With virtually no hitting.
Oakland signed Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus in the offseason, players intended to bring offense to a franchise that — because of a pitching staff many believe is the best in the American League — already had defense.
It’s a formula that worked across the Bay.
If the other team doesn’t score, you can’t lose. Then again, if you don’t score, you can’t win.
Thus Billy Beane, Mr. Moneyball himself, got DeJesus, a career .289 hitter who — as the baseball maven Joe Sheehan pointed out — “usually is good for 45 extra-base hits a season.”
Beane (who is comfortable with manager Bob Geren, and that is where the building process begins) acquired Willingham, who has a career .475 slugging percentage. Beane lured Matsui, who has a .479 slugging percentage and, much like Willingham, usually delivers no fewer than 20 homers. When he’s not hurt.
Oh, the dreaded disabled list, the A’s personal Hades, the place you could find such former stars as Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez, along with numerous pitchers.
Indeed, when All-Star closer Andrew Bailey was forced to see a doctor in mid-March because of tightness in his elbow, the thought was, “Oh no, there they go again.”
The prognosis for Bailey was encouraging. Still, his problem was a reminder the A’s for once must avoid sore arms, stiff backs and other diverse and Sunday ailments if they are to win.
Yes, win — a word permissible in conversations about the ’11 A’s.
Oakland finished nine games back of the Texas Rangers, who of course made it to the World Series, to be beaten by the Giants. But Cliff Lee is gone from the Rangers, and pitchers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour have come to the A’s.
“I feel this is a team that could be really near the front from the beginning,” A’s reliever Brad Ziegler said. “We’re sick of being the pushover in the division.”
The pushover was the Seattle Mariners. The A’s were merely break-even, at worst mediocre. The question is, will they be able to break out? And can they do it quickly enough to bring enough fans to their stadium so Wolff’s follies are ignored?
There’s nothing like having a team in the race to keep people attentive.
So the Coliseum is a stadium, not a ballpark. So A’s management irritatingly puts tarps on seats in the upper deck, sort of an ostrich-in-the-sand philosophy that what isn’t seen is out of sight.
Those issues become trivial if Dallas Braden throws strikes and Matsui drives a few into the bleachers.
“The front office went out and made some moves to hopefully make us better,” was the statement to MLB.com from Ziegler, who then offered the eternal A’s caveat.
“If we can stay healthy,” he said, “we should definitely be better.”
Cross your fingers, but not to the point where you can injure them.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.