Remembering The 2012 Athletics
(originally written 6/1/13)
What a team.
There was the superstar Cuban outfielder with the iron body and the flair for showmanship, bopping forearms with the young, somewhat awkward slugging first baseman who let his play do most of his talking.
There was the acquisition of the future Hall of Fame left fielder earlier in the year, known as much for his malaprops and eccentricities as his superlative diamond skills.
Their clearly under-appreciated and under-valued manager had been fired from his last gig despite breaking a lengthy postseason drought for his former club; he kept the ship steady through injury-stained waters.
Their rotation had no real holes, with a fifth starter who could have been No. 2 on many clubs.
They kept the Oakland Coliseum rockin' every night, even as their crossbay rival Giants—led by the National League MVP—charged into the postseason themselves.
Billy Beane absorbed negativity for his performance, but enjoyed the last laugh in the end.
I give you the 1989 Oakland A's—a team that went on to World Series glory and will never be forgotten.
I also give you the 2012 Oakland A's—a team even more colorful and even more beloved than its VHS-using, Sonic the Hedgehog-playing, Milli Vanilli album-buying counterparts who fell short of the championship.
(For the record, readers, I have no clue if Todd Burns and Tony Phillips ever owned a Sega or even heard of Milli Vanilli and I'm not here to talk about the past. Just go with it. Thanks.)
Sadly, a generation from now, someone will pick up a sports encyclopedia or glance through a website such as baseballalmanac.com and view the '12 Athletics as just another division winner when they were so much more than that.
He/she won't understand the level of tumult surrounding the franchise entering the season—how its long-term survival hung in doubt as ownership and even local politicians found themselves stymied by an unmotivated commissioner's office in their efforts to secure a new ballpark.
He/she will peruse the regular-season roster and won't see the name of Manny Ramirez, baseball's newest FFHOFer (former future Hall of Famer) whose second PED suspension triggered a temporary retirement.
By the time 2012 ended, most fans forgot Manny ever donned the green and gold—which he did in the spring before serving his abbreviated suspension—let alone the vitriol they directed at management when it chose not to activate him upon eligibility. Ramirez' stint with the A's just kind of quietly evaporated, worthy of three throwaway lines on page C6 and nothing more.
The individual will not fully grasp just the level of surprise impact newcomers Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss brought to a lineup perennially lacking significant left-handed punch. They won't see ancient Bartolo Colon firing 38 strikes in a row and carving up A.L. hitters better than he did in his Cy Young award-winning days.
He/she won't be able to watch Chris Carter's home runs (namely a late-season extra-inning jolt at Yankee Stadium) rival the hang time of the average skydiver. Cliff Pennington will be just another infielder, not one who could fire a baseball through Tony Stark's uniform.
Brandon McCarthy will have endured another (yawn) injury-abbreviated year. He won't be the displaced ace starter grounded by a liner to the head that almost killed him, who courageously and heroically rejoined the team during its final days.
Ryan Cook will be just another middle reliever, not an All-Star who ran through American League hitters like Usain Bolt through finish lines—as a rookie, no less.
He/she will note Oakland's 94 wins with no clue just how many came in dramatic, walk-off fashion. This club won a lot of games it shouldn't have. Though they'd never publicly admit it, the Athletics likely surprised even themselves a few times.
And perhaps the most glaring injustice of all: the encyclopedia reader will only see Coco Crisp as the regular center fielder with the, uh, "interesting" name and decent-but-not-great stats—not the author and promoter of perhaps the best ballpark fad of all time: the Bernie Lean.
I'm not an A's fan; my allegiance is to the Orange and Black, but come June 29 I will have my Coco Crisp "Bernie Lean" Bobblehead. The tickets are ready and waiting.
(Google "Bernie Lean" if you aren't familiar; this article is long enough without an explanation)
It's up to the fanbase and the ESPN/MLB/CSN/(insert acronym) documentors to guarantee the 2012 A's story gets properly told, and stands the test of time.
Sadly, many cast members from "2012: First-Place Odyssey" have gone on to other roles. Carter is an Astro. Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew joined the Red Sox. McCarthy is a Diamondback. Brandon Inge—such a big hero during those middle months of '12 before getting hurt—won a roster spot on the Bucs. Business as usual when your GM is Beane.
But if the 2011-12 off-season taught us anything: losing players doesn't necessarily equate to losing games. I think it's fair to say that 100 percent of the sports community gave Oakland no shot after watching Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey and Josh Willingham shown the door—and became convinced that years of working with minuscule budgets had driven Beane batty when he gave unproven Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes $36 million instead.
How wrong we were.
The 2013 A's are off to a fine first trimester, in spite of the turnover. But it's not, nor will it ever be the same. I'd wager everything I own that no Oakland team from now through eternity will match the personality, popularity, pride, success, surprise and suspense of the 2012 edition...
...except my Bernie Lean Bobblehead.