Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How Long It's Been: The Oakland A's Won a Pennant

Last night, the Kansas City Royals defeated the Oakland Athletics, 9-8 in 12 innings, and advanced to the American League Division Series.

The A's blew leads of 2-0 in the 1st inning, 7-3 in the 8th, 7-6 in the 9th, and 8-7 in the 12th. I've got to hand it to "Green Collar Baseball": You've hit the big time when you can blow 4 postseason leads in 1 game.

This means that, for the 24th consecutive season, the A's will not win the AL Pennant.

For 18 of those seasons, Billy Beane, the originator of "Moneyball," has been the general manager. In those 18 seasons, the A's have reached the postseason 8 times, and not only have they not won a Pennant, they have won just 1 postseason series, the 2006 ALDS. They have won a grand total of zero AL Championship Series games. On 8 of those occasions, including last night, they only needed to win 1 more game to advance to the next round. They've lost 7 of them, winning only a 2012 play-in game against the Texas Rangers for the 2nd AL Wild Card.

Still think Beane is a "genius"? Yankee Fans hate Brian Cashman, but he's given them 6 Pennants and 4 World Championships over the same stretch.

What's that, you say? The A's are a small-market team? The hell they are: They're in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are 6.1 million people there, and if you count those Counties that are Oakland-oriented instead of San Francisco-oriented, it's almost split right down the middle. The A's have a bigger market than St. Louis, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, all of whom made the Playoffs this year; and a bigger one than Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Milwaukee, each of whom made the postseason in at least 1 of the 3 seasons before that. The A's don't have a small market, they have small thinking.

What's that, you say? The A's have a lousy ballpark? It's generally accepted that the Oakland Coliseum (whatever corporate name is on it now) needs to be replaced. However, the A's haven't started to build a new stadium, so they're not spending money on it. So, clearly, they can afford to spend money on better players, the kind who can close the gap between pretenders and champions.

What's that, you say? The A's don't have rich owners? The hell they don't: Majority owner Lew Wolff, a former University of Wisconsin fraternity brother of outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig, is a fabulously wealthy Los Angeles-based real estate developer. He spent $180 million to buy the team, after being rebuffed in an effort to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, who would have cost a lot more. He can afford to spend as much as the Steinbrenners, or the Fenway Sports Group, or Magic Johnson who did end up buying the Dodgers.

There is no excuse for the A's to have not won a Pennant in nearly a quarter of a century -- especially in almost a full generation with a "genius" GM.

I just checked the A's Wikipedia page. Although it's been a long time since they and the Royals have been anything resembling rivals -- 1981, really -- someone hacked their page, so that it calls them the Chokeland Pathetics. (To be fair, in the NFL, the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs have kept their rivalry very nasty.)

Still, the A's have not won the AL Pennant since October 10, 1990, when they completed a 4-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox by beating them 3-1 at the Coliseum. This was the game where Roger Clemens flipped out, and got tossed by umpire Terry Cooney. I think this remains the last time a player was thrown out of an MLB postseason game.

That's now 9 days short of 24 years. How long has that been?

*

These A's were managed by Tony LaRussa, one of the biggest brainiacs in baseball history. But nobody thought of them as intellectuals or "pencil-necked geeks." These were the Bash Brothers. Jose Canseco. Mark McGwire. Rickey Henderson. Dave Henderson (no relation). Terry Steinbach. And some great pickups from other teams, like Willie McGee, Harold Baines, Carney Lansford, and former Yankee Willie Randolph. And a pitching staff with Dave "Smoke" Stewart, Bob Welch, Rick Honeycutt, Mike Moore, and Dennis Eckersley out of the bullpen.

They were the defending World Champions, and had just won their 3rd straight Pennant. They would eventually make it 4 AL West titles in a 5-year span. They combined the power of the early 1960s Yankees, the power pitching of the 1960s Los Angeles Dodgers, the speed of the 1980s St. Loius Cardinals, the mean streak of the late 1960s Cardinals, and the swagger of the earlier Oakland champions of 1972-73-74 or the 1976-77-78 Yankees. They were a great team, and they knew it.

Despite the shock of the earthquake that interrupted the "Bay Bridge Series" (or "BART Series") against the neighboring San Francisco Giants in 1989, no one was surprised when the Series was resumed and the A's completed a 4-game sweep -- and those Giants were a very good team. It was truly a shock when the Dodgers beat them in 5 games in the 1988 Series, and when the Cincinnati Reds swept them 4 straight in 1990: If they had won those Series in 5 and 4 games, respectively, no one would have been surprised.

And the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, still using its original name, was the place to be in baseball in those days. The Raiders hadn't yet moved back from L.A., so the "Mount Davis" bleachers hadn't yet been put up. The bleachers they had were a hopping place, with great scoreboards (for the time) above them. The stadium was not falling apart, there were no leaks in the public restrooms or the clubhouses, and while the City of Oakland did have a crime problem (this was, after all, the hometown of both the Hell's Angels and the Black Panthers), and going to a Raiders home game was always very intimidating, you didn't exactly take your life into your hands going to an A's home game. Unless you were on the other team. (Not rooting for the other team, on it.)

Major League Baseball had 26 teams, but had not yet expanded to Florida or the Mountain Time Zone. The Montreal Expos hadn't yet moved to Washington. There were no Asian players, no Interleague Play, and, a year earlier, the SkyDome in Toronto (now the Rogers Centre) became the 1st MLB stadium with a retractable roof. The Chicago White Sox were about to move from the 80-year-old Comiskey Park to a new stadium with the same name (now U.S. Cellular Field). They were 1 of 4 teams still using a ballpark built before World War I, 6 using one built before World War II, and 8 built before the Space Age. (Now, each of those 3 categories is down to 2.) Today, only 7 teams are using the same stadium they were using in 1990: The A's, the Royals, the Red Sox, the Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the team now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

A month earlier, Bobby Thigpen of the White Sox set a new record of 57 saves, which would stand for 18 years. Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners became the first father and son to play on the same team at the same time, and hit back-to-back home runs.

The Yankees, besieged by injuries, finished last for the only time since 1966. George Steinbrenner fired Bucky Dent as manager while the Yankees were playing a series with the Red Sox at Fenway Park, site of Bucky's greatest moment as a player. When he was invited to return for Old-Timers' Day -- the one OTD between 1951 and 1998 that neither Joe DiMaggio nor Mickey Mantle appeared -- Dent got a huge ovation, and a "Steinbrenner sucks!" chant went up. George would soon be suspended by Commissioner Fay Vincent for hiring Howard Spira, a Mob-connected compulsive gambler who had worked for Dave Winfield's charitable foundation, to dig up dirt on the slugger. He failed, George got caught, and was given a lifetime ban, with the opportunity to be reinstated after 2 years (which he was). George had already traded Winfield to the Angels by the time he was banned. With Gene Michael put in charge of baseball operations, the rebuilding of the Yankees began.

Emblematic of this awful Yankee season was Andy Hawkins pitching 8 innings of no-hit ball against the White Sox in the last game the Yankees ever played at Comiskey, but losing 4-0 because of his walks and 3 8th-inning errors. Although he pitched a complete game and didn't allow any hits, MLB decided to not credit him with a no-hitter. Nolan Ryan was, for the 6th time, and also won his 300th game (although not in the same game).

The Giants hadn't won the World Series in 36 years (and not at all in San Francisco), the Cleveland Indians 42 years, the Red Sox 72 years, the White Sox 73 years, and the Cubs 82 years. The Giants, the Red Sox and the White Sox have since ended their droughts, while the Indians and the Cubs are still trying.

The Colorado Rockies, the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks hadn't begun play yet. Those 4 teams, plus the Blue Jays, the Angels, the Houston Astros, the Texas Rangers, and the Braves since they moved to Atlanta, hadn't yet won the Pennant. The Marlins, the D-backs, the Jays, the Angels, and the Braves since they moved to Atlanta, hadn't yet won the World Series. All of those achievements have since been reached.

In the NFL, there were 2 teams in Los Angeles, and no team in Oakland, St. Louis or Baltimore. Those cities would get teams again, while Los Angeles lost out. There was no team in Carolina, Jacksonville or Tennessee, but those places would get teams. There was a team in Houston, but it was the Oilers, not the Texans. The NBA has since added Toronto, Vancouver (who moved to Memphis) and a new Charlotte team to replace the one that moved to New Orleans; while the Seattle SuperSonics were moved to Oklahoma City, and the Sacramento Kings are still in danger of moving. The NHL has added 9 teams, and moved 5: Since 1990, Minnesota, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Hartford and Atlanta have all lost their teams; while only Minnesota and Winnipeg have gotten their teams replaced.

Baseball legends Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Billy Herman and Charlie Gehringer were still alive. The defining players of my childhood had all retired. Mariano Rivera had just debuted in professional baseball that summer. Derek Jeter had just started high school. Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz were in junior high, Albert Pujols was 10, CC Sabathia was 9, Robinson Cano and current Royals ace James Shields were 8. David Wright, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera were 7, Matt Kemp and Troy Tulowitzki had just turned 6. Felix Hernandez and Stephen Strasburg were 4, Clayton Kershaw was 2, Giancarlo Stanton was 11 months old, and Mike Trout and Bryce Harper weren't born yet.

In addition to the A's, the defending World Champions were the San Francisco 49ers in football, the Detroit Pistons in basketball, and the Edmonton Oilers in hockey. (The Oilers haven't won since, either.) The Heavyweight Champion of the World was James "Buster" Douglas, who had knocked out the previously unbeaten Mike Tyson 6 months earlier, but was about to lose it to Evander Holyfield.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, France, Spain, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Canada, Britain and Russia. The World Cup, which had recently been held in Italy, with Germany winning it (as they did this year), has since been held in America, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was George H.W. Bush. His son George W., having failed spectacularly in business, had recently (with more than a little help from his "friends") bought the Texas Rangers. Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, their wives, and the widows of Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy were still alive. Bill Clinton was about to be elected to a 5th term as Governor of Arkansas. Barack Obama was President... of the Harvard Law Review.

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo, whose son, current Governor Andrew Cuomo, was Chairman of the New York City Homeless Commission, reporting to Mayor David Dinkins. The Governor of California was George Deukmejian, although Senator and former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson was about to be elected to replace him. The Mayor of Oakland was Lionel Wilson, a former Negro Leagues player, but he was about to be defeated for re-election by Assemblyman Elihu Harris.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney. The head of state for Canada, and Britain, was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was about to lose her job to John Major, due to her support of an onerous poll tax. England's Football League had recently been won by Liverpool for a record 18th time -- but they haven't won it since. Manchester United had won the FA Cup, their 1st trophy under manager Alex Ferguson, who said he was determined to beat Liverpool and "knock them off their fucking perch." It would take until 1993, but he would do it.

Major novels of 1990 included Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy, Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard, The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum, and The Burden of Proof by Scott Turow. The last of these became a TV miniseries the next year, while the rest all became major feature films. Major films of the fall of 1990 included Goodfellas, Pacific Heights, Avalon, Henry & June, Miller's Crossing, Mr. Destiny, Jacob's Ladder, Rocky V, Misery, and Home Alone.

TV series that were beginning in the new 1990-91 season included The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Law & Order, Beverly Hills 90210, Evening Shade, Tiny Toon Adventures, Captain Planet & the Planeteers, the even more cartoonish Dream On, and The Flash -- not to be confused with the new series about the Scarlet Speedster.

NBC made a sitcom, Ferris Bueller, based on the 1986 John Hughes film. But it moved the action from the suburbs of Chicago to those of Los Angeles, made Ferris a year younger than his sister Jeanie rather than a year older, and made Sloane a blonde instead of a brunette. Despite having The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as its lead-in, it tanked, and was canceled after 12 of the 13 episodes were aired. It was replaced on NBC's schedule by Blossom. But even Ferris Bueller was a success compared to ABC's combination of a cop show and a musical, the execrable Cop Rock.

Celine Dion gave her first English-language concert. A band named for basketball star Mookie Blaylock debuted, but soon changed its name to Pearl Jam. 2 Live Crew were acquitted of obscenity charges. The Geto Boys, The Rembrandts and The La's released their self-titled debut albums, George Michael Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1, Neil Young Ragged Glory, Warrant Cherry Pie, AC/DC The Razor's Edge (including "Thunderstruck"), Megadeth Rust In Peace, Roseanne Cash Interiors, Mary Chapin Carpenter Shooting Straight In the Dark, and Paul Simon The Rhythm of the Saints, including what remains his last hit, "The Obvious Child," which has the lyric, "The cross is in the ballpark."

The World Wide Web was about to debut, but hardly anybody would know about it for a while. Mobile phones were still the size of the original Star Trek series' communicators. The Hubble Space Telescope had been launched, but it wasn't working, and would need to be repaired by a later shuttle mission. The first digital camera was sold in the U.S.

In the early fall of 1990, Operation Desert Shield was launched, to ready American troops to push Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army out of Kuwait. President Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev met in Helsinki, Finland to discuss the situation, and the breakaway Soviet republics. Germany was reunified for the first time since 1945, and under a free government for the first time since 1933. A devastating civil war began in the African nation of Rwanda. China opened its first McDonald's and its first Pizza Hut. Walmart opened its first store in the Northeast, in York, Pennsylvania.

Leonard Bernstein, and Irene Dunne, and Curtis LeMay died. John Wall, and Matt Barkley, and John Tavares were born.

October 10, 1990. The Oakland Athletics won the American League Pennant. They have never won another.

Will they win one in the next few years? Not with "genius" Billy Beane as general manager, they won't.

1 comment:

WorldWideWaco said...

The ending of the season was a mirrior image of the season itself...what looked liked the best team in baseball after trading away one of it's bedrock players went into a death spiral that would not be a fait accomplii until this game...when upon losing a bedrock player the team went into a death spiral that finally ended both the season and promise of redemption in the post season...yes baseball is about stats and numbers and managing budgets...but it is also about people and their are qualities that cannot be determined by numbers and human understanding...some call that the intangibles we call it the Holy Spirit...you just don't jettison players who are the pillars of your team...it is like removing the foundation of a building...even the mightiest and best built house will fall absent it's otherwise good & true foundation...beane's problem is that instead of enhancing things with his approach he has attempted to REPLACE everything with his approach and left no room for the Holy Spirit to move...NOT good