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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

A Tale of Teamwork - 08/12/2002

Last week was certainly a week to remember. Not so much for the 4-2 mark against the twin scourges of the East, but for two memorable victories. Wednesday’s dramatic finale at Fenway and Friday’s epic battle in the Bronx will be remembered long after the story of this season is written.

Terrence Long is a quiet and modest young man from Alabama, birthplace of baseball icons Aaron, Mays and McCovey. This season has been an emotional roller coaster for him, with his struggles at the plate, his inconsistencies in the field, and the constant bashing by the fans.

But in a way Long exemplifies the best of the Athletics. Coming over in a trade from the Mets he was slated as the savior in center, yet has had to play all three outfield positions. He hasn’t missed a game since he was called up in April of 2000 and not once has he complained. It all starts at the top—Art Howe never won a batting title or a Gold Glove. He toiled anonymously behind the scenes—in short, the quintessential team player.

A team with a lot of question marks, the Athletics flew into the heart of the beast last week, and they emerged as a team to reckon with. When Long made his miraculous catch to rob Manny Ramirez of the homer that could have sent the A’s into a freefall, the bench exploded. Billy Koch’s reaction was priceless--his bearhug on Long afterwards seemed to last forever. My son and I were on our knees before the TV praying for a miracle, and we got it. Perhaps instead of slamming Long and second-guessing Art and Billy Beane for not getting rid of him maybe we can lighten up and be thankful that we have a wonderful ballclub, with a lot of character guys. We owe you (at least) one, T. Long…

Friday’s marathon was as exciting as Wednesday’s thriller. Long’s two game-saving plays in center, Miguel’s awesome relay to get Enrique Wilson--it is teamwork that is keeping the A’s in contention, no doubt about it. And the bullpen, which has taken an inordinate amount of abuse--mainly off the field, I might add—rose like a phoenix to the occasion Friday night. The resurrection of a written-off Jeff Tam is a wonderful subplot to this campaign—he has a 0.00 ERA since returning to the bigs.

If anyone is complaining about Beane’s inability to land a “bat” before the deadline, maybe they should look at what he did do by revamping the lefty situation in the pen. He summarily dismissed Venafro and Magnante in one fell swoop and brought in Ricardo Rincon and Micah Bowie, whose 16th inning, 1:00AM whiff of the dangerous Robin Ventura Friday was his coming-out, the high point of a career that before this month was a series of lonely minor-league bus rides. Do you think he was pumped?

Ramon is swinging well, and Ray Durham seems to be getting comfortable. Mark Ellis is becoming a major-leaguer before our very eyes, and Chavez is torching the ball with regularity. Art has stabilized the lineup somewhat, realizing that speed in the top three spots is a good thing. Tejada has been remarkable. His play at short is mind-boggling, and he gets at least one RBI daily.

The club has started hitting again—Sunday’s loss featured 14 hits and another 14 outs that were scorched. Cory Lidle has shaken off his first-half demons and is dealing with a vengeance (who would have thought?). So, with all cylinders apparently clicking, what else does this club need to get over the hump? Continue to play like a team, and good things will happen. Anaheim, Boston and even Seattle are very good, but not invincible.

I do know one thing the A’s don’t need, because they’ll never get it—respect. In the last week alone, this is what we’ve been subjected to: After Wednesday’s thrilling finish ESPN put the A’s game fifth on the highlights—thanks, fellas. And by their description of Friday’s game you would have thought it was New York who won rather than Oakland. Keep sucking up to whomever you suck up to, guys (the Yankees, possibly?).

The Chronicle, in a predictably pathetic display of “we shill for the Giants” ran secondary, normal-sized coverage of both tremendous victories this week. Why? Because Barry Bonds is God, Pac Bell is heaven, and San Francisco is paradise! Any questions? By the way, has anyone heard those new god-awful Coors ads (“I like Gina Lee, burritos at 4AM”) that make young American males out to be mindless, testosterone-driven retards? I could swear they must have done a casting call at Pac Bell Park. Cell phones, anyone?

OK, 600 homers is great, but did anyone notice that the Gigantes lost that game? And how ‘bout Fox Sports, split-screening constantly? The A’s were playing, and winning, the longest game in their history, an incredible, unforgettable battle in the Bronx that featured game-saving plays at every turn. Fox repeatedly switched to the Giants even when Bonds wasn’t up. I was totally disgusted. The A’s are, and always will be, chopped liver compared to the paté across the Bay.

Today they delayed a strike date, and I, like millions of others, am praying that something can be worked out. “The people who would be hurt are America's baseball fans and that would be a terrible thing to happen,” says our fearless—and gutless—leader (wait a second, he did gut the Rangers’ pitching staff), who could end this whole mess with one call that might go something like this…

“Bud, W. here—I owe you one, ‘ol buddy. Why, if it weren’t for you taking the commissioner’s job I wouldn’t be here (so says Selig). So I’m returnin’ the favor. I’ve talked to Donald Fehr and we’re gonna work this darn thing out so everyone’s happy—and still rich. Them boys ain’t gonna go on strike on my watch. There’s just one little concession they want, Bud-- your Brewers might have to be con-track-ted.” Of course, that phone call will never happen. George Jr. is too busy now with his “working vacation”, hunting, fishing and golfing while working on his plan to topple Saddam.

If they don’t finish this season, everyone loses. The diversion that the national pastime can provide, especially with the anniversary of 9/11 coming up and the (see above) dogs of war barking, is something that we desperately need. Let’s hope that we have a post-season. As Joni Mitchell once said, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

by Peter Elman


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