The story of the Oakland Athletics is well documented in the New York Times Bestselling book and later major motion picture “Money Ball.” It’s basically the story of a small baseball market that dared to think outside the proverbial box to create a way that would allow their $60 million ball club to compete with MLB Goliaths such as the $260 million New York Yankees.
For generations the statistical focus in MLB box scores focused on the more colorful stat lines — batting average, hits, runs, runs batted in and the long ball to name a few. The basic philosophy of “Money Ball” challenged old school baseball thought and turned the focus to more obscure stat lines such as walks, on base percentage and slugging percentages.
The Athletics knew they couldn’t pursue the power hitters, as they simply could not lure them to Oakland with the operating budget they had. They would have to rely on what Money Ball preached — essentially the sabermetric principles of baseball historian/statistician Bill James.
In the early years you could basically sum up the Athletics teams as “has beens” and “never will bes.” You can only imagine some of the characters general manager Billy Beane and the Athletics fielded over the years. With that said, it’s hard for me to visualize a bigger group of perceived outcasts than the current 2014 Athletics team.
Let’s be honest; if you see most of this year’s team without their uniforms in some dark back street watering hole, you’re looking for the closest exit in the event of confrontation.
There’s unorthodox — and then there’s this year’s Athletics who blared Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” between innings in the Thursday night showdown with the Seattle Mariners. A few Thursday images that cannot be forgotten and lend as evidence to this claim. There’s the 160-pound Athletics starter Jesse Chavez who more closely resembled a bat boy than a major league pitcher, Josh Reddick’s irritation after swinging at strike three and Derek Norris who looks more like a long lost relative of Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family than a big league catcher. There’s attitude, a mullet or two and an unmistakeable swagger.
And yet, it all fits. They seem to have assumed an identity that has their backs against an unseen wall with their fists clenched and their teeth grinding, daring any team to step in the box or on the mound against them.
It seems far less a story that fits on the diamond instead more suitable for the big screen as one cannot help but remember the gritty Cleveland Indians team portrayed in the 1980s hit baseball movie “Major League.”
And it just may be the missing ingredient Beane has lacked in getting over the proverbial hump in the playoffs. This team seems to have the perfect blend of attitude and tenacity it takes to put together a championship season. Not so much that they have the superior athletic ability, shut down bullpen or power hitters, but instead they have that stubbornness and die hard attitude that Johnny Cash speaks of when he wrote the lyrics about “gravel in your guts and spit in your eye.”
At the end of the day, the 2014 Athletics seem to have what it takes. In just a handful of games they bring resiliency with unconventional methods to the table while they mascaraed as the flotsam and jetsam of Major League Baseball.
Watching Coco Crisp‘s walk-off home run against the unbeaten Mariners it was clear to me that these Athletics have something special, a certain swagger. Watching them will be entertaining and rarely uneventful.