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By Tom Cushing

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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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Son of Moneyball

Uploaded: Sep 13, 2012
Okay, so this week Mr. Obama got his bump, and Mr. Romney continues to demonstrate his proud amateur standing as a student of foreign affairs. It also looks like those nasty media sharks (even including Fox News) are circling and doing actual journalism, increasingly dissatisfied with the GOP campaign's common approach to policy substance and tax returns. The beat goes on.

So instead I'm going to write about the Oakland Athletics' magical season, because 1 – it's by far the best story going in America's Pastime, and 2 -- nobody else is. To paraphrase the legendary, if fictitious, Major League play-by-play man Harry Doyle: "In case you haven't noticed, and judging by attendance you haven't, there's something happening in Oaktown."

By now, folks are familiar with the Moneyball saga of book and movie fame. In it, A's General Manager (and Danville's own) Billy Beane, a former "can't-miss" prospect who did, approaches his job as the small-market A's GM with an abiding distrust of Conventional Wisdom – and of scouts of the type who convinced him to pass-up a full-ride to Stanford to sign with the Mets out of high school. Faced with rebuilding a contender ravaged by the free agent departures to richer teams, he opts for a high-risk, egg-headed approach espoused by various computer geeks, Ivied-Econ majors and an obscure guru/security guard at a Kansas pork-and-beans plant named Bill James.

Out of that creative process came Moneyball, a new recruiting and tactical gospel: batting stats that measure contribution to actual winning, pitching keyed to deception rather than radar guns, and defenders chosen according to a bewildering array of measurement acronyms. Patience at-bat was preached, and steals and sacrifices discarded as bad probabilistic deals. Nobody cared anymore whether a player had an ugly girlfriend. TheA's flourished against much better-paid opposition, setting a league record with 20 consecutive wins -- but the team fell short of brass and World Series rings.

Those other, richer teams noticed, and quickly re-invented themselves with Moneyball-style tactics – and better players. The A's have, for several seasons, regressed to the mean, or just below it. Purists concluded that the potential of quantification had been realized; order had been restored to the hardball universe as the big-money Sawx and Yankees prospered. Oakland's brief era was pronounced an ephemeral Camelot, and ESPN reverted to not-even-pretending any interest in baseball played west of the Hudson River.

But Moneyball was never a static dogma – it stands, ultimately, for acquiring and exploiting under-valued talent, on whatever bases other teams overlook it. It's the team-building equivalent of "hittin' 'em where they ain't." Bad luck, especially injuries, dogged the team for several seasons, and Ownership did itself no favors with the dwindling fan base by actively courting Fremont and San Jose as sites to replace an Oakland home stadium that has all the attraction of a crumbling parking structure. The Coliseum may ooze, but it's not charm.

2012 prospects looked bleak. That old bugaboo Conventional Wisdom opined that the team was building toward a mid-decade future elsewhere, having traded-away its three best pitchers, lacking home run power and with an outfield patrolled by a little-known Cuban defector, a Bahston disappointment and some guy named after a breakfast cereal. The payroll was MLB's lowest out of 30 teams – about 25% of what New York pays its heroes. Recent hot prospects were either injured or slumping, and the A's played to their clippings for the first two months.

In June, perceptive fans in the blogosphere began to notice that the team was stirring – they had shrugged-off a nine-game disaster, they seemed to be "in" nearly every contest not-played-against the Hated Yankees, and they were starting to win. The local media, however, stayed true to their allegiances to the Hallowe'eners 'cross the Bay, leading with them, and never running a positive A's headline without a disjunctive "but." The A's headed into the July All-Star Break flirting with a .500 record for the first time in recent seasons.

And since The Break, oh my… The Athletics are winning at a near .700 clip, at 39-17 comfortably the best in the League (vice Baltimore 35-22, Texas 33-23 and the redoubtable Yanks 28-29, including a four-game sweep courtesy of the A's in late July). And they've had a blast doing it – pie-facing their many walk-off heroes (13 so far), and fittingly bringing a corpse back from the dead by rockin' The Bernie in the dugout.

How have they done it? Superior newcomers, led by chiseled Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, Boston's former "fifth outfielder," wrasslin' fan and Zonker Harris doppelganger Josh Reddick, platooners stylish Seth Smith and roughneck Jonny Gomes, and rookie hurlers Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook. They've been joined by patented Beane scrap-heap pickups the Brandons Moss and Inge, catcher George Kottaras, injured infielder-turned-fireballing-reliever Sean Doolittle and the venerable relic Bartolo Colon, whose reckless pharmaceutical assist has earned him a suspension under MLB's half-hearted drug-testing program.

They've been joined by homegrown prospects suddenly blooming together – the Big Man Chris Carter, surgery-survivor lefty Brett Anderson and still more puppy pitchers in AJ Griffin (6-0, who blanked the Angels over 8 innings last evening) and Dan Straily, pressed into service when anchor starter Brandon McCarthy was near-tragically beaned by an errant line drive. Finally, there's irrepressible sparkplug centerfielder Coco Crisp, whose clutch play might earn him a Wheaties box portrait were it not for that moniker.

But the confluence of talent isn't the-half-of-it. This Son of Moneyball team also has something the father never counted-on: a remarkable chemistry, led by genius puppeteer Bob Melvin. The Manager sets the tone, and this Manager clearly relishes his role in keeping his charges confident and loose. It helps that he has unerringly made the right calls on personnel and pitching. Big assists, too, go to coaches Kurt Young for developing his kiddie corps of no-walks pitchers, and Chili Davis, who has 'em swingin' for the fences. The A's lead the Majors in home runs since The Break – despite playing in the Coliseum, where fly balls go to die.

The A's still have the toughest September row-to-hoe – almost everyone they face has a winning record. But this season has a magical quality to it, and instead of playing "prevent-defense" with their 5-game Wild Card cushion, they appear to have set their sights on their Division rival Rangers – the locals have made-up six of the nine games that once separated them, and the two teams play each other seven more times before the regular season concludes.

Fellow upstarts the Balamer Ohreos come to town this weekend, for fireworks aplenty – including an after-game show Friday night. The fans are starting to come back, despite the continuing media blackout. You might want to get in on the magic by learning The Bernie and coming on out. Brad Pitt may not be there, but Son of Moneyball is the best sequel ever – and the best show in-town.

Comments

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Been an A's fan for over 30 years, and this year has been amazing! Don't ever underestimate what a difference a fantastic Manager can make. Bob Melvin clearly should be Manager of the year. He has control of his team, but let's them have fun and enjoy playing ball together. It is very difficult task to walk that line, and his players love and respect him. Johny Gomes said it best;" He is our manager, our leader, our instructor and our babysitter and we all love the guy".

Let's go Swinging A's!!!


Posted by Malcom X, a resident of San Ramon,
on Sep 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm

As usual, you're a chump on the political front, but I do agree with you on those amazing A's. Absolutely incredible team.


Posted by Citizen Paine, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 15, 2012 at 8:16 am

3-2 A's last night -- great game, great crowd, great fireworks!


Posted by Rick Pshaw, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 18, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Glad to see that T-Cush is writing about something he understands.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 19, 2012 at 7:33 am

Baseball, the great uniter. I can't say it better than Annie Savoy (condensing Walt Whitman):

"Walt Whitman once said, 'I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.' You could look it up."

GO A's!


Posted by A's diehard, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Tom, if you have been a fan for some years,as I suspect, how do you explain the content of "Moneyball" with regards to the portrayal of Art Howe, the exagerated role of Scott Hatteberg in the team's success, the total disregard for the contribution of Zito,Chavez,Tejada,Mulder, Hudson and others whose contributions far exceeded that of Hatteberg? Even now Bean is playing the game of deception in slowly replacing Fosse with Hatteberg.He is not fooling anyone who has watched his underhanded tactics in the past.He covers himself with,e.g., his claim that he had no input to the movie insofar as casting,storyline,etc.Are you kidding me!!I have no interest in ever seeing the movie and I know others who aren't buying Billy's version of the past.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 22, 2012 at 7:09 am

Okay, I'll try to respond. Moneyball was written by Michael Lewis, and the movie was scripted by Aaron Sorkin -- both masters of their craft, who would neither need nor permit interference with their work. Hell, the White House didn't get approval rights over Lewis' upcoming article and book on Mr. Obama.

As to the Art Howe situation and portrayal, I think the movie overdid it, but there was friction between Art and Billy -- in part because Billy did not believe the Manager mattered much, in terms of his contribution to wins within the A's' statistical gospel. Just guessing here, but I think Bob Melvin's work has been a Revelation to our Billy. I don't know how many Wins Above Replacement he accounts for this year, but his contribution has been outstanding.

Finally, the Book did not over-emphasize Hattie, although he's a great example of a scrap-heap pick-up that the A's unearthed -- it was a lot more about Jeremy Brown, the rotund catcher-prospect who made it to the Majors briefly, then retired for personal reasons. The Movie was never intended to be a documentary of the 2002 season; they wanted to tell an interesting baseball story generally rooted in history, and the 2002 A's were a great David to the league's Goliath. They focused on The Streak, and Hattie's example fit the narrative best, based on his winning HR in game 20.

I think they also did a pretty good job characterizing Billy -- and not once in book or movie did you see him interfering in the business side of the team -- which as I understand it, is Mike Crowley's turf. I'm no fan of Fosse, (or any of the other broadcasters except Ken Korach, who's exceptionally good), but I am very nearly certain that Mr. Beane has nothing to do with his change in circumstances. Hattie may be in there, in part, because of the movie's having raised his profile, but Billy's got plenty to do and no motivation that I can see to meddle in those decisions.

Anyway, that's my couple cents. Go A's!


Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Fosse is an awesome announcer, really knows and respects the game and I am one of many who are upset the A's are gradually getting rid of him. Everyone who knows Howe he was nothing like Hollywood portrayed him and I was at game last month celebrating 20 win streak and Howe got loudest cheer of all! Geez, Tom, always can count on you in not understanding anything you preach about, even America's game. Us baseball purist would prefer you ignore baseball


Posted by Ann, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm

How many years of international politics did Obama experience while a liberal law professor and with his two year senate membership, prior to taking on his job of president of the US?

This current White House administration was going to have the most transparent administration in history, according to Obama. What we now know is that the word "truth" means nothing to Obama and his administration. The fact that he chooses to fly to Vegas for a campaign fundraiser the day his Ambassador of Libya and three other American men are brutally murdered by terrorists is the most telling and disgusting fact about the lack of character that Obama possesses. Our president is the most inept student of foreign affairs we have ever had in the White House. Mitt at least knows what country he is loyal to and what country he supports first and foremost. Obama waits for all his staff to do the tough work and then disappears when the going gets tough. Pathetic.


Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Fosse just explained why catcher Derek Norris is hero for sacrificing his body and holding on ball while Ibanez tried to deck him at plate. Most announcers would focus only on our homeruns and not realize none of that would have occurred but for Norris play at plate. Fosse gets it, and explains it so well, we are blessed to have him as announcer, instead of usual pretty boy Hollywood announcer type other teams use. Stick to misinterpreting politics and keep your misguided views off our baseball!


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm

"There you go again." Look pal, I'm as unhappy as you are about the outcome -- and that doesn't make me a Hatteberg fan. If you're not gonna think about your own stuff before you post it, at least kindly read mine.

Tough loss -- get 'em tomorrow. Go A's!!


Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 22, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Tom, you stated, " I am no fan of Fosse" as announcer. That was your post. Do you even read your own post? Fosse is a treasure, throw back announcer, who is graceful and understated, something you will never understand.


Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Sep 23, 2012 at 11:32 am

You know what -- you're right about my statement and that your attack was pro-Fosse and not necessarily anti-anyone else. I conflated your spirited defense with diehard's, which would only be true if you are diehard -- possible, I s'poze, but unlikely. In my meager defense, I had just watched our heroes blow a four-run lead in the 13th, and was in a verry intemperate mood.

But here's the thing: the fact that I'm not Fosse fan is something on which we can respectfully disagree. I think he gets too many details wrong (like hoping for a two-out double-play, either yesterday or Friday -- happens too much). And he wouldn't understand statistical analysis if it barged into him in an All-Star game. His commentary is obvious and banal -- as much as I dislike Kruko's arrogant homerism, he's a student of the game and you always learn something from him. If baseball is an onion (and it is), Fosse's stuck in the paper layer, and I want core depth.

That said, I'm fine if you like Fosse -- good for you, you're entitled to your opinion and your reasons. My problem is that you won't give me that same respect -- here or elsewhere. It doesn't mean I don't know baseball, or politics, or that my views are unworthy of publication -- it just means we disagree. You seem to require a narrow unanimity that suggests you cannot distinguish 'fact' from 'opinion.' Like my dear (also late) Mama said: "son, it's important to be able to disagree -- without being disagreeable."

I wasn't asked to write this blog to soothe the denizens of our little bubble, but to give my opinions. It appears that you are stuck with me for a while -- and That's a fact. Enjoy!


Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Sep 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Was just announced that A's announcer Ray Fosse was not only nominated for hall of fame as announcer, but also made the final top 40. Good luck Fosse, most of us are cheering for you! Let's hope you are back next year doing the A's game, especially our A's are going all the way this year!


Posted by Cornelius McGillicuddy, a resident of another community,
on Sep 28, 2012 at 10:55 am

Tonight begins the A's final regular-season homestand -- three against the Mariners (Fr, Sa, Su) and then three against the Rangers (Mo, Tu and We high noon). They are in the thick of the races for both Division Championship and Wild Card passes to the post-season tournament. They are 88W-68L over 156 games, by a team that some folks thought would lose 100!

By my rusty arithmetic, if they go 5-1, they're in, even if The opposition runs the table. 4-2 and they are nearly assured. The variables become more complex at 3-3.

It really is the best show in baseball -- why not come on out? As an extra incentive, you can listen to Dick Callahan announce the game at the Coliseum.

Let's GO OAKLAND, clapclap, clap clap clap!


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