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I get a lot of e-mail that reads, "I liked reading your article until
it turned into another stupid A’s love-fest." It’s a valid criticism:
while I talk a lot about the A’s and their player-development philosophy,
their success, their control of the strike zone, and their amazing trade
acumen, the Mariners have nearly as good a strikeout-to-walk ratio, a better
record, a farm system percolating more interesting prospects than any other,
and have had great success in international recruiting, and I don’t
constantly make asides about how great that organization is.

So why do I tend to put little pro-A’s comments in my work? How did a
long-time Giants fan who once used to heckle Jose Canseco
relentlessly come around to cheering for Eric Chavez?

Defiance.

I grew up watching Mariners baseball in Seattle and, when I was visiting
family in San Francisco during summer, the Giants at Candlestick Park. The
Giants were playing the Kids–Robbie Thompson, Matt Williams,
Royce Clayton, Will Clark–while the Mariners were playing
retreads, no-hit prospects who might be at home today on the Royals squad. I
went to home games in Seattle all through my impressionable youth knowing
the Mariners would probably lose that night, and nothing I could do would
change that. The A’s would stomp those Mariner teams on their way to, say,
stomping the Giants in the World Series.

Every year, we heard that our stadium was terrible, that our city couldn’t
support a team, that the team couldn’t afford to keep players, that it might
move to [city of the week], it lost $150 billion that year, and we should be
happy if they won 40 games.

This is the time-tested lament of bad teams: that they can’t win. So they
don’t try.

We see this in Kansas City, where they plead poverty and pick up Roberto
Hernandez
‘s option, in Pittsburgh, where they’ll say they can’t afford
top-tier free agents, but will spend a ton of money on Derek Bell and
Terry Mullholland.

The Athletics don’t make excuses. They acknowledge their limitations, but
instead of whining that they don’t have any money, they talk about how
important it is to spend what they have in the right way. And having said
that, they follow through, making investments in long-term contracts to
young players, their farm system, and their draft picks, instead of finding
an available, aging stiff with recognizable fame to spend their money.

It goes beyond that, too. When the A’s lost in the playoffs last October,
they didn’t slouch about and make lame statements about how it was
impossible to compete in the current economic climate, or that they’d lost
to a team with more than twice their payroll. No, Billy Beane dismissed
those questions, saying "This is the worst team I intend to field over
the next five years." This year, when the Royals, having run Johnny
Damon
out of town for salary reasons went to dump more players in
mid-season, it was the A’s, another low-payroll team, who picked up
Jermaine Dye and used him to fuel their drive to a 100-win season and
the wild card. They didn’t dismantle their team after a slow start and moan
about how narrow the window of opportunity is for teams without new
stadiums–they stuck to their guns, and now they’re headed to the playoffs.

The A’s have battled low attendance (while they averaged about 38,000 in
their last series against the Mariners, they’ve rarely drawn more than
20,000 on weeknights without promotions), stadium issues, and uncertainty
surrounding ownership and potential moves. All the while they will not lie
down, concede a season, go the easy route of playing the model small-market
franchise, losing 100 games and crying poor.

How can you not love this franchise?

So if I’m a little too enthusiastic in my praise of the team, I beg your
forgiveness. To me they’re more than just a success story to be emulated;
they’re what my 1980s Mariners could have been but were not, and their work
at fielding good teams means that in Oakland, there are kids now watching
baseball of much higher quality than I ever got to see. That makes me happy.

Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.