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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

BLACK THURSDAY - the HORROR - GODSPEED, JASON/ - 12/13/01

I saw the Yankees’ press conference where they introduced Jason Giambi, and despite my heartbreak and sadness at seeing the spirit of the Athletics depart, in a way I’m happy for him. Jason, you see, wanted to leave. There was no way the A’s were going to sign him—he wanted to be a Yankee. And he’ll be a great one, as long as he stays away from Carnegie Deli and “Scores”.

Did Jason Giambi really sell us out? By donning the pinstripes, he has achieved his “dream come true.” How many of us can say we’ve reached that plateau in our lives? Before the press conference, which I found quite revealing, my inclination was to blame all the parties involved: the Yankees, for their unbridled greed and arrogance, the Athletics for being stupid and cheap, and Jason himself, for his ingratitude. (My God, he’s going to the damn Yankees, after what they did to us the last two years!!) But the real villain is major league baseball itself, for not having the guts to institute a salary cap and stand up to the Steinbrenners of the world. Thanks again, Bud.

As I saw a tearful, clean-shaven, necktie-clad Giambi put on the dreaded Yankee uniform, I got soft. I tried to put myself in the position of the kid growing up in West Covina with a dream, a dream nurtured by his father, to play major league baseball for the Yankees. Who among us can fault him? As he spoke of growing up at his Dad’s knee with stories of Mickey Mantle his teary eyes said it all. Are the Bronx Bombers not the organization by which all others are measured, the greatest team in sports? Can you fault Jason for wanting to play in Yankee Stadium for Joe Torre? The legacy of great lefty sluggers marches on; Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Maris, Reggie, and…Giambi?

When he spoke of Yogi Berra calling him on the phone and the mayor putting on the full-court press, Jason made it painfully clear to all of us that there was never any doubt about where he would end up. When a reporter asked him what he had to say as “consolation” to all the fans back in Oakland, Jason said, “they’re great fans, and I will miss them, and my teammates, who I believe know how to win now.” $120 million makes it easy to move on.

The rich get richer ($147 million payroll now!!) and everyone else scrambles for the drippings. Here it is not even Christmas and the Yanks have already filled five of the six stockings that King George promised. At first base, the consummate pro Tino is out—and maybe here—and Jason in. At third base, former Athletic Scott Brosius is gone home to Oregon and the classy Robin Ventura is in. In left, Knoblauch is out and Rondell White, poised for a comeback year, in. For right-handed setup relief, the unreliable former Athletic Jay Witasick has gone (to the Giants, hee,hee!) and the brilliant former Athletic Steve Karsay is in, giving the Yankees once again the best 1-2-3 bullpen punch in baseball. In right field, O’Neill has retired and Alou, Floyd, or underrated Yankee bridesmaid Shane Spencer will fill the role. And at DH, they’ve got John Vanderwal and the Mets, no, wait a minute—the A’s—have now got David Justice. More on that later.

Let’s see—combine that with the best up-the-middle quartet in baseball (Posada, Soriano, Jeter and Williams) and a returning rotation of Clemens, Mussina, Pettite, Hernandez and Hitchcock. Not too shabby. Contemplate the above, look in the mirror, and tell yourself with a straight face that the Yankees are washed up. NOT. Don’t forget, if it weren’t for a bad throw to second by an overworked Mariano Rivera they would have won their fourth ring in a row.

So how come the “Black Thursday” and “Apocalypse Now” references, which I usually reserve for really bad events? Because I’m sick and tired of the Yankees stealing from us, that’s why. Starting with Maris and a dozen others from the old Kansas City Athletics to Catfish to Reggie to Ricky, the New Yorkers have raided our talent chest, and there is nothing on the horizon to indicate that anything will change.

But today may be the darkest day of them all--they stole our heart and soul, and to make it worse, he wanted to go. Giambi’s reference to “wanting to play for a winner”, although certainly not intended as a dig at the A’s, was a dagger. Excuse me, what are the A’s, who just won 102 games? Are we perennial losers, like the Dodgers, the Giants, the Red Sox, and now, sadly, the Indians? Not a chance, not with the triplets on the hill. And yes, it is truly a horror (thank you, Colonel Kurtz) to think that Steinbrenner and Selig are at the watch while the rest of us see our national pastime inexorably careening towards the iceberg.

I am worried about what will happen to the A’s. Sure, we’ve got the pitching. Newcomer (if he doesn’t get traded soon) Billy Koch, he of the high stirrups, menacing goatee and 100 mph fastball, actually wants the ball at crunch time, unlike the departed Izzy. But what about the lineup? I’ve got my fingers crossed that Billy Beane will weave some magic. He just signed Justice—no more Jeremy/Olmedo platoon at DH, I guess. Will Damon go—it seems that with the “collusion” going on that noone will offer him the big bucks he thought he could make as a free agent. He doesn’t deserve them, anyway. So maybe he’ll stay and give us a whole—not a half--year as part of the best defensive outfield in baseball.

We’ve got problems, at second base, in middle relief, and now, a glaring hole at first base. And Jeremy—he’s so upset about big brother leaving that he’s getting high—and busted! Not good. As we get closer to spring training we’ll know more, and the pens—and long knives—of the writers will come out.

Greg Papa, the brilliant and poetic voice of reason and wisdom, made the point that it was the “power of the Yankees” that eventually swayed Jason. He also said today, “the world is upside down.” I couldn’t agree more. The juxtaposition of the airing of Osama Bin Laden’s videotaped gloating and Jason’s announcement must have been the ultimate emotional roller coaster for New Yorkers. First Hitler, then the Messiah.

Thursday was a dark day. After seven years of watching him grow and develop into an all-star player and personality, we have to accept that Jason is gone, off to the Big Apple where he’ll wear number 25 not only to commemorate Mickey Mantle and honor Mark McGwire, but also to remember his A’s number, 16. He gave us many things, but what I hope his legacy will be that he helped get us out of baseball purgatory and brought a winner, an exciting young team that under his tutelage has learned how to play like champions. I just wish he hadn’t told Dan Patrick when asked if Hillary lobbied him (along with Pataki, Giuliani and everyone else) to come to NY, “hey, I’m a Republican.” Maybe it is better that he’s gone…

Ray Fosse reminds us that it’s the name on the front of the jersey that counts, not the name on the back. There are already some positive signs—we may get that stadium built downtown after all. Hopefully, the home team will survive this blow and maybe even flourish in Giambi’s absence. So, godspeed, Jason, vaya con dios, mi amigo. We will miss you. And we’ll be waiting with last year’s brooms and a chorus of boos when you’re up at the plate in the top of the ninth and Billy Koch on the hill…


by Peter Elman

 

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