It’s official: after more than 35 years of faithful devotion, I am no longer an Oakland Athletics fan. I’ve rooted for the A’s since the late 1970s. During that time I’ve seen some awful teams and some spectacular teams. I’ve seen tremendous athletes do incredible things. I’ve seen the A’s win a World Series and lose two. I’ve seen them, more than once, rebuild the team after breaking it up. I’ve seen Hall of Famers and a few bums. I’ll see more of the same for a while since the A’s are one of the local teams and I’ll still watch their games, but I’m done rooting for them.
“Are you crazy? They just made a couple of trades that practically clinched the World Series for them!” a friend of mine exclaimed. Actually, those trades are exactly why I’ve thrown away the ring, called the lawyers, and filed for divorce. You see, for more than a decade A’s fans have taken pride in how the organization puts a competitive team on the field in a way no other team in baseball seems to be capable of replicating. The recipe includes acquiring undervalued assets, developing young pitchers, and throwing in just enough veteran presence to win. The A’s found or picked up players few other teams showed an interest in (think, for example, Frank Thomas in 2006) and, with a ridiculously low payroll by Major League Baseball standards, often put together a decent squad. Since Bob Melvin became the team’s Manager in June of 2011, we’ve seen more of the same. In fact, the A’s have the best combined record in baseball since the start of the 2012 season. What’s not to like?
The 2012 season was particularly brilliant: the A’s were in first place for exactly one day that year, the only day it matters, the last day of the season. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Detroit Tigers, or more specifically to Justin Verlander, but the future seemed bright. In 2013 the A’s claimed first place in their division relatively easily using the same formula they’d settled on over a decade ago (see above), and it was another exciting season that unfortunately ended the same way the 2012 season ended. To those who questioned the ability to go all the way and win the World Series with the Oakland formula, the team’s general manager has said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You don’t jettison a philosophy simply because of the results of a short, five-game series.” That was good enough for me.
And it seemed like it was good enough for the 2014 A’s, too. As of July of this year, using the same formula, the A’s had the best record in baseball. And then the July trades happened. The A’s picked up two premier pitchers, two expensive pitchers to change their prospects in the playoffs. They bought a couple of guys that everyone who knows anything about baseball knows are top quality pitchers. These two guys are not undervalued assets; they’re not veterans on their way out who might be able to chip in a couple of starts or innings here and there; neither one of them was under the rest of the league’s radar; neither one of them is some plucky upstart just waiting for his shot in the bigs. They’re both big-time stars who were languishing on teams going nowhere this year. In other words, when the A’s made these trades, they went from being the feisty, intelligent, surprising team that often found an economical way to win where others had failed, to being the West Coast version of the Yankees. Yuck!
I’ve never liked the Yankees’ brand of baseball management. In my view, the result has been that when other teams try to keep up with the Yankees through the frenzy of trading and free agency, their fans end up rooting for the laundry, not the players, their players on their team. I like rooting for the players that make up a team. It's the way I grew up loving baseball many years ago. That fan perspective has gotten increasingly difficult if not impossible to maintain in the 21st century. But it seemed possible in Oakland, and I was doing just that until the July trades.
The A’s may well win the World Series this year. If they do, I’ll be happy for their fans, but it won’t mean anything to me. A team, at least to me, is more than a bunch of guys all wearing the same uniform, and buying a championship by scooping up the best the league has to offer is about as cheap as it gets.