We Wanted It…But They Needed It - 10/16/2001
Thoughts On The Day After…
They say that bad things come in threes, and that must be true for Athletic fans. Up until last night, the first awful moment for me was when a crippled Kirk Gibson took Eck deep in 1988—how could anything be more horrible? I was crushed. The second was when Robbie Alomar got the Eck in the 1992 ALCS, effectively ending a great dynasty. I remember leaving the Coliseum in tears that day. In between, we lived through a devastating earthquake—and a tainted championship--and two years later saw our city almost burn to the ground. What is it about October in Oakland?
For nine years we waited patiently, enduring frustration and humiliation, never knowing if our beloved green and gold would return to glory, or for that matter, return to Oakland. Last season was a breakthrough, despite Gil Heredia’s fateful meltdown. Oh, but this year, well, this year it seemed as if the stars were aligned to make it all happen. Billy Beane and Art Howe had pushed all the right buttons and we were winning almost everyday, accomplishing great things on what seemed like the inevitable road to the World Series. But first we had to get past the Yankees; that would surely be the test.
Without a worry we took the first two games in the Bronx, and were poised to deliver the knockout punch at home, with our wunderkind Zito on the hill. The champs were on the ropes. But out of nowhere came the third, and possibly most devastating of blows. Derek Jeter made his miraculous play, Jeremy was called “OUT!” and that awful feeling sunk in, the knowledge that we had let New York back in the Series, that somewhere, somehow, somebody better track down a broken, jagged-edged Louisville Slugger, and quickly drive it through the Yankees’ heart before it was too late. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach—and for a brief moment I knew what it felt like to be a Red Sox fan. Why didn’t Jeremy slide? We’ll be asking that question 50 years from now.
So what are we left with, besides a ridiculous long laundry list of “what-if’s?” Within 24 hours, the scribes have already dissected that corpse. We all know the terrible details—the pathetic hitting percentage with runners in scoring position, the butterfingers defense, the poor baserunning, over-confidence, even Uncle Art’s questionable decisions. (Santangelo? Lidle?)
My son Willy, who is now almost eleven and has loved no other team, was predictably devastated, but like most fans his age will recover a helluva lot faster than the rest of us. Why do I feel so bad for this baseball-smitten boy who worships his hometown heroes so much he falls asleep listening to Bill King? I feel worse myself! For me, however, there is a new twist to this October’s terrible saga. As much as we want to claim, with good reason, that this painful defeat is our responsibility—“we beat ourselves”--the truth is that the Yankees did beat us, with their poise, their experience, their legacy and their $112 million payroll, to say nothing of their pitching.
But it was more than the Yankees that did us in. We wanted to win this series, God did we ever! After a magical season that saw our team rise like a phoenix from the scrap heap of 8-18 to the pinnacle of 102 wins, I’d say we not only wanted to win this series—we felt we deserved it. After what those damn Yankees did to us last October, we were on a mission, and nothing less than a World series win would mollify us—GO A’s!
But the Yankees—they needed it. When I was finally able to breathe, and began to contemplate baseball in the aftermath of September 11, I realized that the Yankees would be tougher than ever when the playoffs finally started. They would be carrying the banner for all of New York--hell, for that matter, all of the United States. How dare those maniacs come into our country and attack that great city, the heart and soul of our people, that place which is more American than any other? And who represents New York City better than the Yankees? The A’s were unwitting victims of bad timing.
We all know people in New York, and many of us know people who perished in that unfathomable tragedy. There is something singularly remarkable, and, yes, heroic, about New York, and the Yankees are part of that fabric and always will be. They are the perfect symbol of that town’s determination and resiliency, and by coming all the way back from what seemed like sure defeat, the Bronx Bombers have said to their people, “we can do it, so can you.” Even immersed in grief last night I smiled when I saw Joe Torre take Rudy Giuliani onto the field to celebrate with his team. We may be passionate A’s fans, but we can all root for a heartfelt, gut-wrenching story, especially a real-life drama that unfolds on the greatest stage in sports. And, yes, we are all Americans, and baseball is America.
With the exception of the despicable—and cowardly—Roger Clemens (I have never, EVER hated an athlete more than that arrogant Texas a------! How dare he go after our Miguel?!), who is there not to like on that team? Even Chuck Knoblauch, the product of a father who demanded no less than perfection from his gifted son, has seemingly cast off his demons. Go down the list: an under-appreciated Tino Martinez who hears Jason’s footsteps at first base, a brilliant Alfonso Soriano, who should be rookie-of-the-year (sorry, Mr. eight-time batting champ Ichiro), Bernie all-class Williams, man-of-the-hour Derek Jeter, the unflappable Stanford man Mike Mussina, who was apprehensive about living anywhere near NYC, the incomparable Mariano Rivera.
But it all comes down from the top, and I don’t mean that pompous jerk King George, who ordered our young drummers to cease or desist (thank you, Bud Selig). No it comes from Joe Torre, who understands not only baseball, but people. That is why he is so successful. I have to admit, I’ll always “hate the Yankees”, but I sure like this version. And I will be rooting for them to win the World Series.
Certainly, the Athletics were up against all of those obstacles wearing pinstripes, but what ultimately defeated them, I believe, was something beyond their control, something much bigger than baseball. The Yankees had to win for their crippled city, the greatest city in the world. They needed to win to show their citizens that New York would not give in, whether it be to terrorists flying hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, or to a group of young, footloose and very likable guys from the West Coast who may have been the better team, but only wanted it real badly. The Yankees, you see, needed it.
As sad as I am, as painful as this loss is, I feel like this was meant to be. Maybe I’m rationalizing what might go down as the biggest choke, the darkest hour in the history of the Oakland Athletics, but sometimes even the baseball gods have to answer to a higher power.
Let us not forget the great things the A’s did this year. Let us never forget how we came back from an awful start and were the best team in baseball from July on. Let us never forget Jason’s walk-off homer off of Mike Stanton on August 12, let us never forget the thrills Barry Zito gave us, the emergence of Eric Chavez and Mark Mulder, the grit of Frank Menechino, thrust into a role he wasn’t supposed to fill, and Tim Hudson’s heroic pitching performance in game two. Let us remember the good times, the sheer exuberance the young A’s displayed all year long, the joy of playing a kids’ game, winning and having fun. Those boys gave us a summer to remember.
Let us hope and pray that Jason signs and that we come back next year on a mission, and with a little luck, we will be there at the end. I, for one, will be back next spring, and as I write this today I still believe in them. So beat the drums and chant…LET’S GO OAKLAND!
by Peter Elman