A's overcome adversity to keep on winning
Oakland successful despite not having best stadium, biggest fanbase
They are doing it again. I mean, how in the names of Catfish, Billy Ball, the Bash Brothers, "Moneyball" and a legacy of stifling pitching is this possible? Despite so many things that would force your average professional sports franchise into the fetal position before succumbing from the pressure of it all, the Oakland A's keep going from surviving to thriving.
You know, again.
Remember those powerhouse teams of Charlie Finley? And then came everything from Billy Martin making double steals more popular than tape-measure homers to domination of the American League courtesy of Tony La Russa's brain and his sluggers' brawn to Brad Pitt evolving into Billy Beane on the big screen to the amazement of everything the A's are doing now.
Let's start with now, where the Athletics lead the Major Leagues in runs scored thanks to the game's most efficient offense, and nobody pitches better than these guys as a whole. Then again, since this is the latest Year of the Pitcher, the latter is debatable, but this is for sure: Oakland is the only team in baseball winning over 60 percent of the time, and with more folks in next week's All-Star Game than anybody (six, or seven, if you include recently acquired Jeff Samardzija from the National League), the A's are flashing no signs of shifting into cruise control when summer becomes autumn.
Ho hum, and did you hear Vida Blue had a good fastball? Winning no matter what is just what the A's do more often than not. Since they moved from Kansas City to Oakland before the 1968 season, they've risen to prominence at least four times by ignoring the things around them.
Those things are as ominous as storms on the nearby Pacific Ocean.
About those things: The Athletics are in a constant battle with local officials over their stadium thing, and all you need to know is that their ballpark has changed names so often, I haven't the space to list them all. Most folks prefer to call it by its original name -- the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Whatever you call it, you'll never call it charming. That's reserved for the likes of AT&T Park, the Giants' jewel on the other side of San Francisco Bay. And speaking of the Giants, they are partly why the A's are Northern California's "other team," which means they also suffer from that stepchild thing.
That stepchild thing and that stadium thing combine to create that fan thing for the A's, and, historically, that hasn't been a good thing around Oakland during the baseball season.
Despite those impressive moments through the years, the Athletics often play before large sections of empty seats during home games. We're back to that fan thing, and this is a two-headed monster -- likely three-headed. First, the A's have those Giants sitting on the other side of the Bay Bridge with their splendid little ballpark and two World Series championships since the 2010 season. Second, they have the Raiders sharing their home ballpark while operating as one of the NFL's most popular teams ever. In addition, since the Giants and the Raiders came to the San Francisco Bay Area long before the Athletics (1958 and '60, respectively), they have deeper fan bases.
The same goes for the 49ers, the granddaddy of them all regarding Northern California pro teams. They were founded in 1946, and they shared Candlestick Park across the bay with the Giants for nearly 30 years before the Giants moved to AT&T Park in 2000. Even though the 49ers don't compete as directly with the A's as the Raiders, the 49ers became one of the NFL's premier teams during the early 1980s, and I'm guessing that hasn't helped those around the San Francisco Bay Area acquire A's fever before, during or after baseball seasons.
But back to the A's stadium thing. In recent years, the place had issues with raw sewage in the clubhouses and elsewhere, along with lights that malfunctioned during games. That's for starters. Still, for years, the A's ballpark actually had a touch of charm. There was its view of the Oakland hills beyond the outfield walls that nearly matched that of the San Gabriel mountains sitting majestically in the distance from Dodger Stadium. But along came Mount Davis, the massive structure that was built to satisfy late Raider Al Davis. He wanted more seats at the Coliseum as one of his conditions to bring the Raiders back to Oakland from Los Angeles, where he moved the team for 14 seasons after a dispute with Oakland-area government officials.
The A's have threatened to move elsewhere in Northern California, but they've recently agreed to stay under a slew of conditions surrounding an improved Coliseum. While board officials of the Coliseum have approved the A's requests, Oakland city and county officials continue to debate the matter, which means the stadium thing lingers.
Which affects the fan thing.
That stepchild thing will never leave.
Even so, the Athletics keep winning ... and winning. Like they did during those Finley years of the early 1970s, when they managed three consecutive World Series titles despite averaging no more than 12,000 fans or so per home game during any of those regular seasons. A decade later, Martin used his Billy Ball approach to bring victories and fans to Oakland, but the crowds weren't Giant-like. There also were three straight AL pennants and a World Series championship for the A's through 1990 under La Russa and the Bash Brothers. Then came Beane's sabermetrics approach, a 20-game winning streak and a major motion picture about the A's after that 2002 season.
Now the A's are sprinting like crazy in search of a third consecutive AL West title, with the possibility of doing much more than that.
Despite everything. Again.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.