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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Oakland Shines Bright at Moneyball Premiere

"Moneyball" created a buzz in downtown Oakland on Monday. Movie stars like Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, along with current and former A's ballplayers -- from Jemile Weeks to David Justice. It also brought out the bleacher bums and their tailgating equipment, with some arriving at noon just to see the workers set-up a mock stadium for the red carpet (which was green). They waved their flags high and proud. As stars started to show up, you could hear the chants "Let’s Go Oakland," "Keep the A’s in Oakland" and "Lew Wolff sucks" when the owner showed up. Here’s the story from Oakland North.

The premiere was scheduled to start at 6 p.m., so that's when folks started going into the Paramount. The people who did not have tickets stuck around downtown and enjoyed the Oakland night life. Bars and restaurants had "Moneyball" specials all day and night: from Luka’s Tap Room to The Layover to the new Make Westing bar next to the Fox. Those all are great places and are just a few in this thriving city that was rated #2 on Newsweek’s "Top 10 Can-Do Cities in America."

Now imagine the scene before and after a game around a ballpark at Victory Court, near Jack London Square, where there are great top-notch restaurants and bars. The "Moneyball" premiere was just a glimpse of what Oakland's nightlife scene could be if the A's were to build a stadium here. After the premiere, stars and ballplayers walked towards the Fox Theater for an afterparty. Some even stopped by the local bars. Imagine that happening in Jack London Square every time the A's are in town. How great would that be?

Oakland was on the big stage Monday night and it shined brighter than the stars. The diversity of this City was there, the fans were there, everyone was there and we will continue to be there -- all we need is the A's to join us! The premiere created a buzz for one day and a stadium could do it for many days to come.

"Moneyball" opens in theaters everywhere today, September 23rd , 2011.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A's News Round Up

It's been kind of a slow summer, but in the past month the news has really picked up.

First of all, we would like to thank Jorge Leon, Oaklandish and the Green Stampede for the wonderful event they co-hosted honoring the late Glenn Burke last Wednesday. Oakland Local had an excellent write up on the evening.

Last week, another Lake Merritt Station Area Plan meeting, where conceptual ideas on how the area could be redeveloped, was held. We previously discussed this in April 2010, and March 2011. We were unable to attend the meeting last Monday, but we are reviewing the PDF of the presentation and will try to have a write up ASAP. You can download them by clicking here. The PDF is rather large (23 mb) but covers a lot of the plan.

Victory Court and the Lake Merritt area across the freeway from each other and whatever happens with the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan will affect the Victory Court area, and vice-versa.

Last Thursday, news leaked out that the A's were switching their bleachers ticket policy, changing it from open general admission seating to assigned seating. Naturally, this was not well-received by A's fans, who had been used to general admission seating for more than 40 years. BaseballOakland essentially was put together by friends who sit out in the bleachers, so we weren't too happy about it, either. But, there's good news. The A's reversed course and will keep the bleachers general admission, according to the Keep the Bleachers General Admission Facebook page.

Now let's work on those damn tarps ...

Also, you may have heard that Bill Neukom is stepping down as the Giants' CEO and managing partner. We don't talk much Giants on here (for obvious reasons) However, many South Bay partisans see this as an opportunity for the A's to move out of Oakland. Not so fast. Larry Baer, a longtime Giants executive and the new managing partner, remains just as committed as his former boss to preserving the Giants' territorial rights in the South Bay.

A's manager Bob Melvin has been given a three-year contract extension.

Lastly, Moneyball premiered Monday night at the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland ... but more on that later. It was a great night for Oakland.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Vote for Bill King (2011 Version)

It's time to vote for Bill King again for the Ford C. Frick Award, the Baseball Hall of Fame award for MLB TV/radio broadcasters.

If you're reading this blog then you already know what a broadcasting legend King was. You already know he was an A's play-by-play announcer from 1981 to 2005 -- from BillyBall to Moneyball. He was hired by the Haas family and for 15 years he and Lon Simmons (a previous Frick Award winner) were the A's announcers, forming one of the Bay Area's best all-time broadcasting duos. Ken Korach (also a great announcer) replaced Simmons in 1996 and worked alongside King until his death in October, 2005. King was 78.

What is there to say about him, really, other than this: A's fans miss Bill King. A lot. We miss him more than we can probably put into words. (As do Raiders and Warriors fans, by the way.) The best part of the Monebyall movie trailer is hearing Bill's excitable voice calling Scott Hatteberg's winning home run in Game 20 of the streak. In the clip he succinctly and perfectly describes the incredible finish as: "Just plain crazy!"

King was one of a kind. He was a true maverick, unfailingly genuine and uniquely honest in the booth. In an industry increasingly filled with homers and sanitized company men, King went against the grain and always approached his broadcasts with integrity. He also had unparalleled talent -- with a golden voice and an ability to deliver the perfect description at a rapid-fire pace. He could be eloquent and make an obscure, only-Bill-King-like reference. And he could be profane, fiery and off-color. He was simply irreplaceable.

Jane Lee of quoted a few of Bill's colleagues in her recent article:

"I've voted Bill No. 1 on every ballot I've had," said Lon Simmons, King's longtime broadcasting partner. "When you think of play-by-play, you have to think of Bill King as one of the best there ever was. He certainly has all of the qualifications."


"The depth of knowledge, the passion, the crisp description, the attention to detail, the command of language -- Bill was a master, like Mozart or a Rembrandt behind a microphone," said Ken Korach, the current voice of A's baseball.

So vote every day for Bill King at this Facebook page until Sept. 30. It really is a travesty that he has yet to win the Frick Award, even six years after his death. He received the most fan votes in 2005 and 2006 and still, inexplicably, has not yet won.

For him to be snubbed again would be, in the words of a wise man, just plain crazy.