New York Times: A’s Are Hitting Home Runs and Beating the Odds

September 4th, 2012

New York Times
September 4, 2012


OAKLAND, Calif. — The faded yellow wordmark of the Oakland Athletics — neat, cursive script, with an underline — watches over baseball games at the Coliseum from high atop the center-field seats. It is printed on a canvas that will come off Monday, when the Raiders open their N.F.L. season, and obscures what was once a crisp view of the Oakland hills.

“It was a prettier ballpark before that thing there,” said the Oakland hitting coach, Chili Davis, gesturing to the football seats, which went up in the mid-1990s. “But it’s still a nice ballpark, and I think they have adjusted to it being their home field. They realized, hey, it might seem big at first, but these guys that are hitting home runs have enough power to hit it out of any ballpark. And it’s our home field.”

So it is, despite the team’s pining for a new home in San Jose, a move that has been blocked by the Giants’ territorial rights. Only 11,688 fans showed up to see them play the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, but with nowhere else to go, these A’s have thrived at their concrete palace. They blast home runs in a park geared for pitchers and have been a surprise hit of the baseball season.

The A’s started play Tuesday with the best record in the majors since the All-Star break, 33-15, and hold one of the two wild-card spots in the American League. Not bad for a team that has not finished above .500 since 2006, its last playoff year, and traded the former All-Star pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey last off-season.

“It’s fun,” General Manager Billy Beane said. “For me, the fun part of the job is having a team that has a chance to get better, over the course of the season or in the coming years. One thing we felt was this team was going to at least create a trend line going up, and these guys should be able to be back next year. You just want to make sure you’re going in the right direction.”

Beane played for Oakland’s last championship team, in 1989, hitting no home runs in 37 games. But teammates like Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Dave Parker hit plenty, and in the waning days of the era before steroid testing, Beane built playoff teams with sluggers like Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada.

As the A’s slipped in the standings, so did their ability to hit home runs, especially in a park that tends to suppress power at night and in the early season. Not one active player on the 2012 A’s hit even 10 homers for the team last season.

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