MLB Road Trip: Oakland Athletics, White Sox West

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By Paul M. Banks

Thou shall not be a sports bigamist- that is one of the ten sports fan commandments. You got one team and you stick with them. But I often bend this rule. Sure, whenever my Chicago White Sox play anybody, the Sox are the good guys and the other team, they’re the bad guys. However, I’ve had moments when I’ve rooted for the Cubs (now is not currently one of them), and I have a soft spot for the Oakland Athletics. If there’s a legitimate chance to have a 2nd or 3rd favorite team, it’s probably the team in forest green and gold. And I have many legitimate reasons to feel that way, especially since they’re sort of White Sox West.

-When I last played organized baseball, at a level where a “fastball” would be clocked in the mid to high 60s, I was on the A’s, two years in a row. The early ‘90s A’s hat is the hat I wore when I lived “The Wonder Years” and experienced going through puberty. I’ll stop right there before this descends into T.M.I. territory.

-One of the first teams I wrote feature stories about, to build up my portfolio, is the Kane County Cougars, in Geneva, IL. They are the class A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. Every time their fourth starter, Trevor Cahill takes the mound, it’s a bit more exciting for me than your average Major League game because as the cliché goes, “I knew him when.” I hope I can say the same when Jemile Weeks and/or downtown Corey Brown makes it to the show.oakland-as-gate

-I am the world’s biggest fan of personal economic thriftiness. Some may think I enjoy the free handouts and food from media events a bit too much. Or others might just call me cheap. I say I’m cost-effective and fiscally streamlined, like the A’s front office. I’m a huge fan of  “Moneyball,” how Athletics GM Billy Beane does more with less. You got to root for the small market team. They need you! I also like Beane. He is an openly gay individual who works in a traditionally homophobic industry. And he is a figure that almost everyone in baseball looks up to.

-The A’s are White Sox west for reasons other than the fact that their roster currently possesses Gio Gonzalez, Orlando Cabrera, and Ryan Sweeney. Until you’ve been to the Oakland Coliseum, you don’t fully appreciate the similarity. Taking the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) south through the city of Oakland, you’ll notice that the train stops quite a bit in the city; but when you get south, it only stops once while it travels for a long time through stretches of vast industrial and residential zones. Finally it stops for the ballpark (extremely reminiscent of taking the Red Line to U.S. Cellular Field.) I don’t need to say that the Coliseum is in a ghetto because the train station and pedestrian bridge to the park do it for me. They are covered in barbed wire. So are numerous parts of the ballpark which makes it bleak and depressing.

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Sox park is a much more fun and lively place than the A’s home, but the truth about these two franchises is the truth. My live-in girlfriend Lisa and I attended this game the night before a friend’s wedding in Napa. She had season tickets to the San Francisco Giants during the time she lived in the Bay Area. Most people have Giants tickets, not A’s tickets. It’s rather sad how low attendance was on the night we were there, or on pretty much any night for that matter. They almost never open the upper deck anymore. And there’s more than a multitude of empty seats in the lower decks too. Perhaps this will change when the team moves into Cisco Field in 2011 or 2012 or whenever, but will Fremont, CA be that much of an upgrade?oaklandathletics

The Giants are the 400lb gorilla in the baseball marketing room of NorCal. They’re just across town, play in a trendy and romanticized ballpark adjacent to yuppie bars that will feverishly buy tickets to the games no matter what the team’s record is. Sound familiar, Chicago baseball fans? Indeed the Giants are the Cubs, Napa, and the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The A’s are the White Sox, Sonoma, and the Big Island. They may be solid in their own right, but they’ll ALWAYS be overshadowed by their richer and more heavily promoted/marketed neighbors. I’ll always root for a team like this; why do you think I love Northwestern Men’s basketball? They need you.

Many decades ago Gertrude Stein penned the phrase “there is no there there” to describe Oakland, and today the phrase has stuck because no one seems to want to ever go to the East Bay, unless their heading towards Berkley or Oakland Hills. And it’s a shame because the A’s have a very rich history. Some of the biggest names of the steroid era- Canseco, McGwire, Tejada, Giambi etc. all came up through the Oakland system. The team has four world championships, which places them in the top sixth of MLB franchises. oakland

In the 70s, they were a dynasty on par with the more publicized “Big Red Machine” in Cincinnati. These teams were chronicled in the HBO Documentary “Rebels of Oakland” which highlighted the anti-establishment elements of the 70s Athletics teams. They dominated their respective leagues with a team of non-conformists. Stanley Burrell, you might know him as M.C. Hammer, was once a batboy for them.

And their Hall of Fame owner, Charlie O. Finley (not to be confused with former Angels pitcher Chuck Finley, the guy who married and was then beat up by Tawny Kitaen, the slag from the Whitesnake videos) set precedents that owners all around the league followed. Those BEAUTIFUL mustard yellow and forest green jerseys of yesteryear came when Finley decided to have some fun with the fact that MLB was now broadcasting their games in color television. Every other team started designing jerseys like they were tripping on acid, before eventually things settled into everyone wearing powder blue in the 1980s. Those were the days! And the franchise can also boast of the game’s best postseason player (Reggie Jackson), best base-stealer (Rickey Henderson) and manager (Connie Mack).

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Yet all this history still elicits poor attendance. I checked the website to see what the game started, and the site said, “what time can you get here?” Za-zing\! Hey-yo! Lisa thought it was hysterical when I said out loud, “Hey cotton candy guy, move. I can’t see how much they suck.” And yes it’s true, all that excessive foul territory on the field does lead to very poor sightlines. On this night the A’s were getting destroyed at home yet again. But I still genuinely like this team, especially when they’re down. Or when they would  seem to make the playoffs (and get eliminated in the first round) every other year in the late 90s/early 00s. And not just because they remind me of the White Sox. But because I have history with them, and more importantly so does Major League Baseball.

Matt Holliday trade makes Cardinals the NL Central favorite

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By Jake McCormick

Next stop for the St. Louis Cardinals: A Holliday in the sun.

After trading for the versatile Mark DeRosa, the Cardinals looked spent like Austin Powers. The team already didn’t have a lot of money to work with and the farm system isn’t the strongest in the league. But somehow they’ve managed to finagle a deal for the most prized hitter on the market in Matt Holliday, thanks to the A’s willingness to swallow $1.5 million of the remaining $6 million on his contract. The team was forced to part with top minor league prospect Brett Wallace, but like the CC Sabathia trade a year ago in the NL Central, it is a small price to pay for huge dividends.

Holliday, who I hope has already started growing his man ’stache, has struggled to find consistency this year with the Oakland A’s, with a batting average of .286, a .378 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and 54 RBIs. Those numbers are struggles for most players, but Holliday came to Oakland after a strong season with the Colorado Rockies in 2008 and was poised to duplicate his numbers to boost his stock this offseason in the free agent market. But Holliday has had trouble adjusting to American League baseball and the Mausoleum stadium compared to the Kate Moss-thin air of Coors Field.

There is reason to fear the slugger in more ways than just his spot behind Albert Pujols in the order. Since the All-Star Break, Holliday is hitting a scorching .387 with a .429 OBP, 3 home runs, and 11 RBIs. Over the whole month of July his average registers at .338 with a .413 OBP, so it looks like he’s starting to find a consistent stroke at the plate. With Holliday batting behind Pujols and in front of the red hot Ryan Ludwick, his RBI and home runs totals should easy improve. I’d even go on record saying that as of the trade’s completion, the Cardinals have the best lineup top to bottom in the NL Central, which is nice considering they are in first place.

Holliday’s impact will also be felt among the rest of the Central teams still in contention. By landing the biggest hitter on the market, the Cardinals put added pressure on the Cubs, Astros, and Brewers to make some move, any move, just to keep up. When Milwaukee traded for Sabathia last year, the Cubs almost immediately went out and picked up Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. The only possible counter trade of equal impact would be bringing Roy Halladay into the division, but that seems less likely because he has another year on his contract and the Blue Jays are asking for roughly an entire farm system.

So come next week, the St. Louis Cardinal lineup should read as follows:

1. Skip Schumaker – 2B
2. Colby Rasmus – CF
3. Albert Pujols – 1B
4. Matt Holliday – LF
5. Ryan Ludwick – RF
6. Mark DeRosa – 3B
7. Yadier Molina – C
8. Pitcher X (Damn La Russa’s unconventional methods)
9. Brendan Ryan – SS

The Cardinals’ biggest concern this year has been hitting, as the starting pitching and bullpen have performed better than expected. They solved part of the problem by bringing in DeRosa, and the addition of Holliday boosts the Cardinal lineup into the conversation when talking about the best batting orders in the National League and makes them the favorite to win the division. Time will tell if this trade pays off, but the rewards were far too high not to take that risk.