December 14, 2001
Gratitude and Relief
My mom and dad took me to A's games; I remember my mom's old--and long-defunct--company, Caelus Memories, renting a bunch of buses for the entire company to make the trek from San Jose to Oakland to see Joe Rudi and Reggie Jackson homer in the same game. I think I was seven or eight; I don't recall exactly, but I do seem to remember (probably incorrectly) that Rudi's homer was his ninth, and Jackson's was #22.
I used to emulate Joe Morgan's arm twitch when playing a version of stickball with the Townsend brothers at our apartment building in Belmont. My elbows (and bat speed) were considerably less prominent than Joe's. In my mind, I dreamed of Morgan getting traded to Oakland, and it was a thrill to see Joe in the green and gold, no matter how late in his career it happened to be.
I could wax nostalgic about the A's and bore you to tears for another 2,500 words or so, but there are limits to my self-indulgence, contrary to the opinion of certain light-hitting editors. I do want to say that Dwayne Murphy rocks, and congratulations to the Paragon of CF on his ring.
Today, the A's front office is being vilified by ignorant talk-show callers, hosts, and local newspaper columnists. Jason Giambi has left for the hated Yankees and $120 million over seven years, and a lot of fans are pretty bitter and depressed about the whole thing. Giambi, like Mark McGwire before him, was the walking embodiment of the A's. He's been somewhat showy, yet professional in his approach to the game, and has been perceived as the heart and soul of the clubhouse. More than one REALLY ignorant radio voice has condemned the A's ownership and front office as low-class. (There go a lot of my promo appearances pushing Baseball Prospectus 2002. C'est la vie.)
From this A's fan's perspective, I have just two feelings about the entire situation: gratitude and relief. My gratitude is to Giambi, Billy Beane, and Sandy Alderson. Giambi for his fantastic efforts while with the A's. He developed exceptionally well, tried his damnedest to play third base and left field, both without a whole lot of defensive success. He's become one of the very best first basemen to ever play the game, and I am genuinely and massively grateful for his fantastic service to the A's and the Bay Area.
Giambi isn't solely responsible for his service; I remember touting him as a third-base prospect when he was playing in the California League, right about the time of the A's farm system ascendancy under Alderson and Beane. Just as I'm grateful to Giambi for developing, I'm grateful to Beane and Alderson for providing the leadership to bring modern management techniques to the Oakland organization, and providing the environment and system in which Giambi excelled.
Still, surpassing the gratitude I feel for these last few years is an overwhelming sense of relief. Thank GOD the A's didn't sign him to the reported six-year, $91-million deal with a no-trade clause. As much as I love Jason Giambi, that likely would have been a disaster. Giambi will start the 2002 season at age 31, and probably at the middle or tail end of his prime, at best. He plays a position at which it's fairly easy to find very reasonable production for a league minimum (or close to it) price. No foreseeable changes in the A's situation are going to make them a team with unlimited resources in the immediate future, so they need to be very circumspect about all their investments in players. Giambi would have been, in this fan's opinion, an absolutely miserable signing that would not have been in the best interest of the club, either in the short or long term.
I'll be out "At the Net" a bunch more in 2002, and I'll be cheering for the A's, who probably will field a platoon of Mario Valdez and a hopefully recovered Adam Piatt at first base. And you know what? I still objectively believe the A's will be the team to beat in the AL West. I believe that the Oakland front office will find a way to put a league-average or better first baseman out there, and will do so at a small fraction of the money Jason Giambi will be receiving. Hopefully, some of that leftover cash will be part of long-term deals for Jeremy Giambi and Barry Zito, along with well-considered investments in player development, contracts and extensions, and research into how the club can continue to improve.
Jerry Seinfeld had a famous--if somewhat limp--routine about sports fans in general, and baseball fans in particular, rooting for laundry. In Oakland, we don't root for laundry. We root for another crack at the Yankees in October 2002, and we know that when we beat them, it'll send Steinbrenner, Yankee fans, and probably a third of the owners into serious cramping fits. There exists no informed Yankee fan who wants to see the A's again in the postseason; they'd rather see the Rangers, Mariners, or Indians.
We're coming back, and we're coming back now, with a team that's going to continue to improve. We may have Roberto Petagine or Mario Valdez at first base instead of Jason Giambi, but we still want the Yankees and the Giants this October. We'll probably get half our wish.
Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.