They play in one of the oldest stadiums in Spring Training. Their major league home is one of the last football/baseball combo stadiums of the ’60s. Yet the team that makes these two parks home is playing amazing Billyball. Today they are only three games out of first place in the American League West behind the mighty Texas Rangers. The Oakland A’s are making baseball history once again.
History is the analysis and interpretation of the human past that enables us to study continuity and change over time. It doesn’t say how long ‘over time’ has to be. But in yesterday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, the A’s third baseman, Brandon Inge threw out Pedro Ciriaco at first base in the top of the third inning. What few knew was that ‘pop’ he heard in throwing that ball across the diamond was a season ending right shoulder dislocation which will undergo surgery…season ending surgery.
But he didn’t really tell anyone how badly it hurt him. In the bottom of the third, he went to bat with two runners on. He promptly slapped a double to right, driving in both runners and the A’s were on their way to their 8th straight victory and the crowd was in their glory with impersonations of Bernie Lomax and his celebratory dance. After all, this was Bernie Weekend at the old ballpark. Terry Kiser, the actor who played Bernie in the “Weekend at Bernie’s” movies threw out the first pitch at the beginning of the game. “Lean like Bernie” is the promotional call this weekend. Inge was out of the game and out for the season in a way few will be able to recreate.
The whole season for the A’s will be hard to recreate. Here is a team that was destined to finish last. But somehow, the best General Manager in baseball, Billy Beane, is pulling off another magical season. First he pulled his magic by signing Yoenis Cespedes, a 27 to 37-year-old center fielder/DH to hit this season and many more. This Granma, Cuba (yes, Granma) native is hitting .300 and an OPS of .858. In left field, Jonny Gomes, is hitting .253 and won Friday evenings match. Josh Reddick, in right field, has hammered 28 home runs while driving in 73 RBIs. But who many believe is the key to this team, came in an unusual manner.
The trade that brought Stephen Drew was announced over the club’s public address system in the middle of the seventh inning of a game at the Coliseum with the Twins. He suffered a horrible, season ending injury last season while a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, sliding into home plate in a collision with the Brewer catcher. He was not only out on the play, but out for the season. While recovering this season, he was publicly called out by the D’Backs majority owner suggesting that Drew was taking his time getting his injured ankle back to health. But then again, who listens to what the D’Back’s owner says. The trading of Drew was in the air even before that public spew by the owner.
Yet, Billy B understood the value of Drew. And with his usual magic, he traded for Drew for a 17th round draft pick. Can you imagine that? He got one of the best shortstops in baseball for a 17th round draft pick. That’s must be what makes Arizona so good.
Then there are the Brandon’s. Brandon Moss, the first baseman (who went 4 for 5 on Friday’s drubbing of the Bostonians). He’s hitting .254 with 15 home runs. Brandon Inge, now officially out for the season. Brandon Hicks, Drew’s backup at short hitting well below the Mendoza line. Then there is Brandon McCarthy, the tallest Brandon at 6.7″ with an 8-5 season going for him with an impressive 3.10 ERA. It is my belief that Billy is really trying to get every Brandon in baseball to play for the team and then change the name of the team to the Brandon’s, thus giving him an added injection of cash in new jersey sales that he will need until they get approval for a new stadium in San Jose. “Come get your East Bay Brandon Jersey’s”.
The real reason, however, why the A’s are doing so well is that they are playing great defense with timely hitting. Using a relatively undervalued metric called DER (Defensive Efficiency Rating), the A’s are regarded the second best defensive team in major league baseball. OK. We know this is the home of Moneyball. DER rates how well a team converts “balls in play” into actual outs. The A’s do this extremely well.
Then there is the old man himself, Coco Crisp patrolling center field. He’s hitting .260 but his defense is exceptional, leading us back to DER. You only get a great DER if you have great DER up the middle.
But, can defense win a pennant? Any team that has an outfield of great first names (Yoenis, Coco, Jonny, Josh and Collin) has to play great defense. It’s the All-Smucker outfield. (“With a name like Smucker’s, You Have To Be Good”).
No. It’s none of that. It’s all about Billy. First it was Moneyball. Now it is DER ball. Here’s to you, Mr. Beane. Maybe this season you will get your pennant. We’ll all be pulling for you.