Monday, September 26, 2011

No Willingham? Then Beane's Not Willing to Win

Well, that was fun while it lasted.

A lot of us were cheering "Moneyball" over the weekend, basking in the rare spotlight that the Brad Pitt movie brought to our Oakland A's. Tired of all the Lew Wolff-fueled cynicism, most of us allowed ourselves a little naive optimism and wondered if the A's would be smart enough to use the movie to reach out to Bay Area fans to whom they've done so much to chase away. You know, use all that Hollywood star power to sell a few tickets next year.

But you know the obvious punchline: "Why start now?"

We saw the movie Friday night, cheering with fellow Oaklanders at Jack London Cinema. But by Sunday morning, the honeymoon was already over when we read Susan Slusser's article, featuring this headline: "Stadium problem could preclude signing Willingham."

Two days later, Slusser had the same kind of article on Coco Crisp's expected departure.

Yep, Beane and Wolff never seem to miss a chance to rain on their own parade.

Slusser quoted Willingham's agent Matt Sosnick and wrote:

... general manager Billy Beane told Sosnick that spending decisions are on hold until a decision comes down about the A's stadium situation.

"... we were told they have interest in bringing Josh back, but before they did anything, they want to see what happens with the stadium," Sosnick said. "Josh and I both made it clear he'd like to stay, but at this point, I'm pretty sure he'll test the free-agent market."

Looks like Beane and Wolff are trying to sell the same old lie -- known in these parts as the Steve Schott Special -- that the A's just can't afford to keep or attract free agents because they're "stuck" at the Coliseum. Problem is, that statement is completely false. In fact, it's so demonstrably false that it insults every A's fan's intelligence. Let us count the ways:

1) In 2001, Jason Giambi really wanted to stay with the A's but Schott wouldn't do the deal, using the lame excuse that he wouldn't agree to a no-trade clause.

2) During the 2003 season, they didn't even bother to make an offer to Miguel Tejada, but during spring training, Schott made darn sure to make Tejada's imminent departure a reason to cry poor and blame the Coliseum. Of course, a year later they paid Jason Kendall roughly the same salary Tejada would get in Baltimore, only Kendall gave the A's just a fraction of Tejada's production.

During this time, Beane shrewdly stayed above of the fray, which allowed us to pretend for a while that he was above Schott's dishonesty. For a while, anyway.

3) After the 2004 season, Tim Hudson really wanted to stay with the A's. At the Coliseum. In Oakland. But when his agent publicly complained about not getting an offer, Beane traded Hudson within days.

If you doubt that Hudson wanted to stay in Oakland, check out his post-trade quote in a Slusser article:

"This sucks," Hudson said by phone Thursday evening, his voice cracking with emotion. "It just sucks. ... Right now, I'm sort of overwhelmed. I don't know what to think, I'm just trying to get my bearings."

And there's this quote from a different pre-trade article:

"Billy knows my heart is still in Oakland," Hudson said. "I want to play there, I love my teammates. ... The fans have been great to me. He knows my first choice is to stay in Oakland ... I just hope they find a way to figure something out to keep me around."

4) Now, Willingham and Crisp.

That's a lot of free agents who wanted to stay in Oakland, contrary to what Wolff and Beane have said. And they're saying it again. But here's Josh Willingham, the team's best slugger in half a decade, saying he wants to play for the Oakland A's at the Coliseum at the same prices they paid Jason Kendall five years ago. Crisp's agent seems open to him staying in Oakland, too. But Beane and Wolff won't do it. Their desire to stay pokes a Frank Thomas-size hole in Beane's argument that he can't keep free agents. In reality, it's not the Coliseum or Oakland. Beane and Wolff are just refusing to compete. They've completely stopped trying to win or sell tickets or attract new fans or even keep longtime ones. Beane and Wolff apparently are only in one business: To move the A's to the South Bay. And they've been failing at that one for nearly a decade, too.

Other sportswriters agree with us. Check out Yahoo Sports baseball columnist Ian Casselberry, who wrote:

Regardless of whether or not MLB approves a move to San Jose and a fancy new, revenue-producing ballpark, shouldn't Beane and the A's still try to put together the best team they can? If the team's best hitter wants to stay and is willing to sign for an affordable $12 million per year — a second-tier salary for a player of Willingham's production — how can there be any expectation that the A's will compete next season?

Or CSNBayArea's Ray Ratto:

The A’s are clearly playing the extort-a-ballpark game yet again, and now they’ve moved on to direct shoe-squeezing with the players ... We just don’t believe that’s the hangup. We’ve never believed that, and we never will. The A’s are deliciously profitable every year because of the revenue sharing pixie. They could pay Willingham out of that. They are also not hamstrung by the ballpark, because they are the ones who control that department. ... In short, the A’s reason for not engaging Willingham really isn’t the park, but they want it to seem that way. Nice try, but the smart folks aren’t buying.

Want to know the most disappointing part of this? We A's fans really, really want to believe in the Billy Beane of the early 2000s. But that guy doesn't exist anymore, assuming he ever did. Unfortunately, after Wolff gave Beane an ownership stake in 2005, he has been more and more willing to toe the company line. It's called "selling out." And Brad Pitt won't be making a movie about it -- unless he plays the role of the bad guy in that story: Billy Beane.

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