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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

It’s All Over But The Cryin’ - 11/15/2002

J.T. “the Brick” is a total jerk--as if we didn’t already know, given his pompous opinions and rabid jingoistic rants. But this time, Brick, you’ve gone too far. How dare you rail over the AM waves that our Miggy is not worthy of his award? I’m so of tired of the “A-Rod is God” argument. After the torture A’s fans have endured, let us enjoy it, OK?

Now that I’ve got that off my chest I can attempt to extricate myself from the writer’s block I’ve been mired in since September 24, date of my last column. It seemed like every time I sat down to type what was in my head, something dramatic would happen in the local baseball arena, distracting me from my mission, the “now that we’ve had some distance we can take a fresh look” post-mortem of the A’s glorious and tragic 2002 season.

The only things fresh around my house are the wounds sustained in the Twins series, and they are not about to heal quickly, thank you. They say that there are five stages of emotions one goes through after a traumatic loss: shock, anger, denial, grief, and, finally, acceptance. I for one, am still entrenched in stage two, and probably will be until this version of the Athletics brings another World Series trophy to Oakland. Acceptance? You gotta be kidding. Talk to a Red Sox fan about acceptance and you’ll wish you had kept your mouth shut. My son, bless his heart, has moved to stage three. He is deadly serious when he says, “It never happened, Dad.” Now there’s a fan.

All I can say is thank you Scott Spiezio, whose epic at-bat against Felix Rodriguez helped A’s fans retain a shard of dignity. The Giants were toast the instant his loping fly cleared the wall. And done in by an ex-Athletic at that. That, folks, is karma. Way to go, Spiez--now crank that Marshall to 11, and be careful while you’re “shredding” that your gaudy new ring doesn’t scratch the body of your cherry ‘66 Stratocaster.

There was joy in Mudville—in this case my buddy Rich’s kitchen—when Troy Glaus cracked that double to seal the Giants’ fate. We screamed and hollered like there was no tomorrow, which, of course, there wasn’t for the Giants. Like the Red Sox in 1986, there was no way on earth they were coming back from that defeat.

If ever a team snatched defeat from victory it was our neighbors to the West. Now that country-clubbing martini-swilling aristocrat Macgowan has driven thin-skinned Dusty Baker away to the Windy City, let’s see what the classy Felipe Alou can do with a franchise that just blew their last shot for a while. If anyone else besides Baker can get these guys to overachieve, it’s Alou. Again, I find that the only guy on that team I really like is…the manager.

Well, back to our own team for the post-game wrap-up. So much has happened. I received four calls after game five from good friends who know of my A’s addiction, and everyone of them said, “Pete, Art Howe must be fired.”

Like many who questioned Uncle Art’s moves but appreciated the tremendous job he did the seven years he was here, I wasn’t convinced he should get the ax. I found myself trying to put the blame elsewhere—Peterson and Beane were prime suspects. It took a couple of weeks, but I finally came around to realize that for the third ALDS in a row we went in the better team and came out on the short end, and someone’s head had to roll.

Art’s poor pitching decisions are well documented—Hudson starting game one (with a sore hip he didn’t let anyone know about) was not a great call, especially with the Cy Young winner in the dugout. And Beane’s pressure to get some use out of a weak Ted Lilly was disastrous. But when you think about it, it all came down to game five.

With a confident Ricardo Rincon in the bullpen Howe made the mistake which sealed his fate—he compulsively brought in Billy Koch in a non-save situation. I was afraid that it might come down to this. And if it did, God help us. Well, it did, and even God couldn’t help. The entire stadium knew that Eddie Guardado could not hold the fort—we had the Twins right where we wanted them!! What should have gone down as the most dramatic homerun in franchise history—Ellis’ shot in the bottom of the ninth—was a sad footnote to a painful, but entirely predictable meltdown by Koch. The Rolaids relief award, fittingly, went to the man who gave us indigestion. I, for one, would welcome Byung-Hyun Kim; at least he has more than one pitch.

So Howe was shown the door, to the Big Apple of all places, where he’s in for some hard times. He’s inheriting a truly bad team, complete with aging superstars with raging egos, and the long knives will be out before he can say “lemme outta here!” Good luck, Art, you’ll need it. Whatever they’re paying you ain’t enough. At least you won’t have to worry about winning the World Series there.

Ken Macha, he of the perfect managerial profile, was quickly selected as “the man.” A friend familiar with the team tells me that at his first press conference as manager Macha “was so stiff he made Art Howe look like W.C. Fields.” I sure hope Ken can handle the pressure. He knows the players, and they respect him, so that’s a good start.

Within days of Macha’s hiring the hammer dropped—Billy Beane was, as Duane Kuiper says so eloquently, “outta here.” To make it worse, he was going to the Red Sox!! The irony--the horror. That was almost our darkest hour. First, the shame of losing to the Twinkies, then the shakeup at manager, and now this?

Well, something miraculous happened that Sunday night. We don’t know if it was the roaming around all weekend in his pajamas, or driving around in circles at 3:30 AM that did it, but somehow, Billy Beane saw the light, and it must have been an awfully bright one at that, because it burned a hole right through that $13,000,000 contract John Henry was waving in his face. Maybe it was the thought of leaving his beloved California and his even more beloved daughter Casey behind, but I think it was something else.

Beane played in the show, and his competitive fire, if anything, has heated up since he left the field for the front office. Do you really think he wanted to quit? To walk away from something he took five years to assiduously build with his own genius? No way. Billy Beane realized that there is more to life than money in your pocket and a big payroll at your disposal—there is something called finishing what you started. And no way would Billy take to working for a meddling ownership. Unlike Jason Giambi, who saw no future with the A’s, Beane sees the A’s as his future. It may still be a work in progress, but it is his masterpiece nonetheless. Expect some moves this winter, A’s fans. You go, Billy, get us a couple of Hattebergs and Durhams--you got mad game. Can you imagine the elation when the A’s do win the World Series? I’d stick around for that feeling.

What are we left with when we think of the 2002 season? Zito, of course, and his emergence as one of the premier pitchers in baseball. Chavez--another Gold Glove season and some truly impressive homers. The nobodies, like Mabry, Hatteberg, Ellis and Bradford all stepping up. But there is one player who stands out--Miguel Tejada--our heroic, emotional, baby-faced bellwether.

How could anyone—even the $252 million man--be more deserving of the MVP? Anyone who saw Tejada play this year was treated to baseball at its highest level, played with a passion and exuberance that is rarely seen. Like all great performers, his timing was impeccable, his flair for the dramatic unsurpassed, his artistry dazzling. Why didn’t he get the Gold Glove? I guess they had to give A-Rod something. So what if Miguel made a few more errors? How many more great plays did he make—50? What he accomplished for the team was more than valuable—it was downright lifesaving. He is now the unquestioned heart of the team. Tejada is the MVP all right, the most valuable person on the Athletics, and he must be signed. Now his agent wants $180,000,000. Schott may not have to pony up that amount, but the tab will be high. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Without Tejada, the A’s will be relegated to that most distant of major league outposts –the middle of the pack.

So, after a fall flurry of activity that has taken us from the highest highs to the lowest lows, and back to somewhere in-between, I guess it is all over but the crying. Sure, we had our chance and blew it, but, unlike some franchises, we’re still standing tall. The A’s are still playing in Oakland. Zito, Mulder, Hudson, and more important, Beane, will still be dealing. Why, even the Raiders are still alive and kicking (take that, Mike Shanahan). Now, if only the Warriors had a bench…(keep dreaming)

I better stop myself before they take me away. Only 100 days to spring training…


by Peter Elman

 

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