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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

“You’re the Best, Eck” - 07/25/2004

An Appreciation of What We Have

I just saw Dennis Eckersley’s beautiful Hall of Fame induction speech, and along with thousands of Athletics fans—and perhaps millions of baseball fans watching the proceedings on television--found myself tearing up as the Eck described his long journey from Fremont to Cooperstown. Ken Korach is describing the action at the Coliseum—Chavez just went deep in the bottom of the first (1-0), a good omen on this important day for A’s fans. As if Eck’s induction is not enough, today the Hall inducted Lon Simmons—does it get any better for A’s fans? This gets me out of my extended funk and compels me to attack the keyboard, full of nostalgia, emotion and a heavy heart.

The A’s just muscled up on former Athletic John Wasdin to make it 2-0. I smile, knowing that someone would be happy on this special day. Like Eck, I had a brother two years my senior. Joe and I shared baseball growing up outside of Washington D.C. as kids and, later, as A’s fans. And like Eck’s brother Glenn, who is serving 40 years in Colorado for kidnapping, my brother’s life was marked by a tragedy. He was killed in 1996, the victim of domestic violence. He was only 47 and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Eric Byrnes just went deep—4-0. I remember Joe moving out to San Francisco in 1974, and I followed him out here in 1977. He moved to Oakland in 1982, and again, three years later, I followed him to the East Bay. I had always rooted for the Athletics ever since the Mustache Gang, but now that Joe and I were reunited in Oakland I really got into rooting for the green and gold. When Sandy Alderson and Tony LaRussa took a chance on the Eck, Joe and I now had something in common—we shared a favorite team and a favorite player. Joe had grown up a Yankee fan, and I was sort of a Senators fan (!) who lost interest after high school.

5-0 sounds good—it’s fair to say that Mark Kotsay has made us forget Terrence Long—I had to check the TV to see how far that shot went (it was crushed). Anyway, Joe and I, always close but separated for 20 years by geography and lifestyle became best friends again, thanks to the A’s, and Dennis Eckersley. How many dozens of games we would enjoy, at his season seats in section 214 (I still sit there whenever I go), enjoying the exploits of the Bash Brothers and waiting for the ninth so we could see Eck swagger in D’Artagnan-like, long hair blowing in the breeze, slider at the ready. You just knew the game was over. I think the current version of the A’s suffers because we haven’t had anybody who could carry Eck’s jock since.

Uh-oh, Harden just walked his fifth guy and Michael Young’s homer made it 5-2. (Nice segue—I was about to list the unfortunate pretenders: Billy Taylor, Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch, Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel, who might be the real deal). Those afternoons at the Coliseum with my big brother were special times, and the backdrop for our filial bonding was the specter of Eck coming out of the pen like the headless horseman—I’m sure some of the opposing batters felt like Ichabod Crane. Walking out of the Coliseum after one of those many saves was a warm feeling. Looking back fondly, I am reminded that we had something unique right under our noses, and I feel lucky that I was a witness to that incredible run by number 43.

The A’s are playing some serious long ball against the over-achieving Rangers—Durazo crushes the A’s fourth homer of the day to make it 7-2, and Ken Korach exclaims, “you can tell it goodbye”. Nice touch, Ken—you are a class guy. By the way, where was Bill King today—hiding in the shadows of the Cooperstown crowd, or did ESPN simply drop the ball by not showing him? I was actually quite surprised that neither Lon nor Eck mentioned Bill, who has been such a huge part of their careers. King may be the only broadcaster in history who legitimately belongs in the baseball, basketball and football Halls of Fame. His time will come…

Are we not incredibly lucky to live in this “small-market” burg, where seats are cheap and plentiful, parking is easy and every year our team is competitive? I can’t imagine what it would be like to live elsewhere, where your team may be hopelessly bad--or so good that tickets are impossible to come by. Excuse the digression, but I am grateful. And I am especially grateful to Eck, and Lon. Like many others in these parts, my two worst moments as a sports fan both involved Eck—think Gibson and Alomar—and my happiest was October 1989 when he made the final out and hugged Tony Phillips.

Still 7-2, top of the seventh, and here comes Mr. Submarine, scraping his knuckles on the mound. It is days like this that I commune with my brother’s spirit. After he died, every Sunday I would walk a mile over to his house and write long letters to him. He really loved the Eck, so much in fact that he kept a photograph of Eck and his former wife Nancy in his room. Although possessed with a great right arm, Joe was never much of an athlete. But he knew sports. Joe was quite a gambler, in more ways than one, and before he suddenly passed away in 1996, he was working on an amazingly complex computer program that would help sports bettors increase their odds—Stab Systems, he called it. Sadly, he never lived to see it through.

Hatteberg is 4 for 4, and the game is almost in the bag. “Ken Korach has fallen into his Bill King impression,” says Steve Bittker, covering for the master who by now is probably wolfing down some corn on the cob and barbecued chicken and quaffing a few tasty upstate New York microbrews. Even the broadcasters are loose, almost giddy on this great day. I just checked the tube, and is there anything more heartwarming for an A’s fan than the sight of Buck Showalter striding out to the mound for the third time to remove his pitcher? Whoa--It’s 9-2 now, thanks to Kotsay, and the Angels just lost, 6-2—hallelujah. When the A’s win this game they’ll be 2 ½ back, but more importantly will have made a statement to the rest of the league that their annual second-half push is getting into gear. Whether or not Billy Beane makes one of his patented trades does not seem to be as imperative as it did two days ago, now that Hudson is coming back, Harden is pitching well and Kotsay continues to rake.

9-2, game over—now that’s what I like, an old-fashioned butt-whuppin’. The A’s have made the necessary statement, and put their rivals on notice. For the fifth year in a row we’re in the middle of a playoff race, and if the bullpen can maintain their composure (eight innings, no runs, one hit the last two games) then we are in it. Back in April I made some rash predictions, and, like most fans—and writers—I was right on about half of them. I thought that Texas would fade sooner—and I still think they will. The Angels are the team the A’s need to beat. I also thought that Seattle would right their ship, and that won’t happen. Meanwhile, the Red Sox’ daily melodrama is prolonged due to Jason Varitek’s desperate decision to go after A-Rod in the hope of injecting some emotion into his team—and it worked, for one day, anyway. So, bring on the last two months, and let’s hope that this year’s stretch drive is like the last four for the A’s.

As I listen to the highlights my mind wanders back to those glory days of 88-92, and those wonderful afternoons I spent with my late brother watching the A’s (usually) win. Today Eck is in the Hall, Lon is in the Hall, the A’s have beaten Texas, and all is well in our little corner of the baseball universe. Today Eck revealed that after a (rare) tough loss Tony LaRussa wouldn’t say a thing, but later he’d see a note in his locker, saying, “you’re the best, Eck.”Somewhere up there my brother is smiling…

Pete Elman

Rockridge, July 25, 2004

by Peter Elman


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