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When it Hits the Fan
by
Previous Columns

The Truth Hurts…fear and loathing on a Friday night - 05/24/2002

Tonight my son and I are going to the Coliseum, hoping that the post-game pyrospectacular will be preceded by some fireworks off the bats of the depleted and disorganized Athletics. Never in my wildest dreams would I guess that we’d be looking up at the Rangers and the Angels, for God’s sake, at this late date. We’re 20-26, ten games behind Seattle, and a pathetic 5-16 against the Eastern division, who we absolutely destroyed last season.

What went wrong? Why are we looking at a “now or never” situation when things were so promising just three weeks ago? If the home team doesn’t turn it around by June 1, well, I hate to use the word, but let’s face it; the A’s will be toast.

I should have known it when the inevitable became reality—I feared as much last December when the Yanks snatched the franchise out from under our noses. Sure, we reassured ourselves that we could make up the difference—after all, he wanted to leave, the ungrateful cur! So what if we lost Damon, that underachieving Floridian—he hit a paltry .256 for us! And how ‘bout Isringhausen, who never wanted the ball at crunch time? We got Koch, right, and he likes the pressure, and we got Carlos “rookie-of-the-year-in-waiting” Pena, right, who could make the throw from first to second better than G., right? Wrong.

I think we forgot something, fans. This is baseball, the most unpredictable, insane, heartbreaking game ever invented. We love baseball and are attracted to it because it is a metaphor for life itself. There are no sure things. There is only the bounce of the ball, and when it bounces in your favor everything is beautiful. But no, when it goes against you, look out, because the fingers will start pointing and the tongues lashing and the long knives will come out, and they will be razor-sharp, and heads will roll, as they have been lately in the A’s clubhouse. It’s Paris, 1792, and the guillotine is gleaming in the sun, that is, when it’s not in Terence Long’s eyes.

Do we need to microscope the details of what is looking like a total meltdown? Can Billy Beane save us? Can Uncle Art get the core of the team to recapture whatever it was that made them invincible the second half of last year? It doesn’t look good. People are talking about the logistics of the playoff scenario already, and how the wild card will come out of the East, where the Red Sox and their long-suffering loyal fans smell a pennant—a championship, perhaps. A confident and combative Pedro Rodriguez said that if Babe Ruth himself stepped into the box he would “buzz him”. I prophesized in February that this might be the year that the Red Sox would pull the biggest choke of them all, and I stand by that prediction. I will be in New England in July, and I will assess the situation first-hand.

But it’s all about the Athletics. Are they tough enough to break out of their funk and turn things around? Just listen to our esteemed trio of radio announcers. Bill King has seen it all, and as objective as he is, I hear the doubt in his delivery. Ray Fosse, while reassuringly reminding us that it is a long season, seems stunned by the sudden turn of events. Meanwhile, Ken Korach eloquently dissects the situation and points out why this player is struggling at the plate, and why that one can’t get guys out this year, and how one weakness in the lineup, the rotation or the bullpen can cause a devastating domino effect on the team. Well, the dominoes are falling, fast.

It’s too early to panic, you say. Hell, Mulder will come around, and once we get Justice back and the new lineup stable we’ll start beating the crap out of these pretenders, like Toronto and Baltimore, just like we did last year. Wait a minute, hoss: number one, Mulder is hurt, and Beane and Howe rushed him back because they mortgaged the pitching future in the off-season to get Justice, Koch, Velarde and Pena. There’s noone on the farm who can step into the rotation. Number two, Pena ain’t Jason, case closed. Number three, Dye isn’t healthy yet—have you seen him run? Number four, the bullpen has been resembling the carousel-like catastrophe relief corps of the mid-90’s. Do we really need three lefties there? Number five, nobody is hitting!! Number six is too horrible to contemplate, but it’s becoming clear—they just don’t care.

OK, stop your whining, we know all that, yadayada. What can they do, for chrissake?! The answer, as B. Zimmerman says, is blowing in the wind, that wicked spring gale that comes around every afternoon and settles down every evening, portending terrible things for the A’s. How can we be in last place, goddammit?! I don’t know—nobody knows. It’s just a lot of bad things happening at once, and it’s snowballed out-of-control. It’s up to the players. They have to want it so bad that they are willing to fight for it, every pitch, every out, every inning, every game. For once I am not blaming the toupee from Milwaukee and his henchman, the Marine turncoat who left Oaktown for the promise of a commissionership. As much as they want us contracted, they are not the ones on the field making, or in this case, not making, the plays.

That is the only way out of this maze. Not trades, not lineup tinkering, not a quantum switch in philosophy from Earl Weaver ball to small ball—that won’t work. It’s the little things; you start with one good thing, maybe a great throw from the outfield, maybe a terrific slide, maybe a walkoff piece—maybe a complete game. Whatever it takes to wake them up, that’s what the A’s need.

So I’ll go out there tonight and root for the unflappable Tim Hudson to turn it around, and for one beautiful spring evening I’ll forget about the travails of my own little league team, the North Oakland Orioles, who are in the last stages of an injury-riddled season of frustration the likes of which I have never been a part of at any level.

I will cheer for Larry Sutton and Esteban German and John Mabry and Eric Byrnes and Scott Hatteberg and even Mark Fyhrie, but deep inside I will be praying for Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Chavez, Long, Dye, Ramon and Miguel to deliver us from this swoon.

The truth hurts, but remember, the truth will also set you free. Amen.

Rockridge, May 24, 2002


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