Sunday, July 29, 2012

Will the A's Get Hot Attendance Wise?

The A's are having a truly remarkable month. Today's Oakland Tribune points out that, with one more victory, they will best the team's best ever month of July and have a winning percentage of .792. However, the A's last "make-or-break the team" home stand featuring the division leading Rangers and MLB best Yankees produced zero sell-outs. This is all the more remarkable given both the A's robust play and that the Yankees were in town over the weekend. So, what gives?

A look at MLB's attendance this year team-by-team is remarkable. Ask a casual fan what teams they think will be at the bottom and the A's and Rays are logical candidates given their stadiums -- and the endless drumbeat in the media regarding how bad their venues are. However, baseball's team with the worst attendance is the Cleveland Indians who play in a gem of a stadium and aren't exactly playing poor baseball -- 50-51 going into today, just 5.5 games off the lead in the AL Central. They were a competent and competitive team last year as well. So, where are the fans?

In Cleveland, the temptation is to say that the economic morass in the city and its surrounding area is the culprit. However, the answer is not that simple. Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Post-Dispatch speculated on My 27 (when the team was doing even better in the standings) that one very big reason that fans are not interested in coming to the ballpark is a disdain for ownership who has shown that, financially, it is not committed to threatening the team's profitability for a championship.

Here in the Bay Area, to say that the fanbase has mixed feelings towards the John Fisher-Lew Wolff ownership team is a an understatement. Fisher, one of the richest individuals in the world and an utterly spectral presence with the team and in life, and Wolff, whose singular drum-beating for a move to San Jose, have alienated many fans both by being cheap and by being consistently and constantly unhappy with the Coliseum. General Manager Billy Beane, who also owns a small part of the team, is less reviled by fans but is still towing the company line. Make no mistake, the Coliseum might not be voted baseball's best venue, but it is not the sole reason that fans are gun-shy about committing to the team and packing the stands.

Much as the Indians for years shedded talent -- see Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia -- the A's have shown a propensity to do the same. This past offseason was utterly brutal for A's fans with fan-favorites and All-Stars Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez leaving town. The trades, in hindsight, look like shrewd moves based on the team's current record. However, they reinforced the reality that A's fans never want to get too comfortable or enamored with a player as they may well be out of town in a few months. (Cahill in particular was a cruel tease as he was signed to a reasonable, long-term contract.)

The business of trading fan favorites hurts attendance, as does the endless talk about the Coliseum and San Jose.

Owner Lew Wolff, who is the point-person, is a scorned man among many fans. In a relative puff-piece by Bruce Newman in the Oakland Tribune this week, Wolff cracked this joke before a recent A's-Rangers game that was less-than-packed:

"It's sad," he said, surveying the crowd. Then he turned his attention to the diamond, where the Rangers were taking infield practice. "Let's watch the expensive team warm up."

The Rangers are extraordinarily well-run. They also have a lucrative TV contract, a major revenue source the A's really whiffed on. However, the A's have the means to be an "expensive" team. They just don't want to. The problem is not Wolff, but rather Fisher who has his wallet locked up. The team seems to operate under the edict that it must be profitable

As with the player trades and the endless stadium talk, baseball as a business does not put butts in the seats. Just look at Miami, which is in disarray even with a gleaming taxpayer-funded stadium. This comment on July 25 from Marlins baseball czar Larry Beinfest to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, speaking about the Marlins attendance and on-field woes, sums up the sheer insanity of the stadium chase:

"We're in this brand-new building," Beinfest said. "It's beautiful. It's done its job, and the team has underachieved. This building deserves better. I think our fans deserve better."

The stadium, an inanimate object, deserves better. The fans, well, they are clearly secondary. Utterly insensitive and tone-deaf.

The bottom line, and CSN Bay Area columnist Ray Ratto pointed this out, is that the ballpark is not as central as some will have you believe.

Being competitive and committed to winning is paramount.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Might Winning Be the Answer?

There was a curious stirring from baseball's commissioner Bud Selig the other day. He called A's owner Lew Wolff, according to beat writer Susan Slusser. A's fans all over leaned forward in their easy chairs, anticipating what the Wizard of Oz-esque sage might say. Would he finally say something about the team's desire to move south? Here is Slusser reporting yesterday:

Owner Lew Wolff said Commissioner Bud Selig called him Tuesday not to talk about the A's stadium situation "but to tell me how excited he is to see how well this team is playing."

Like a child who is perpetually overlooked, A's fans had hope that the commish actually cares and doesn't just consider the team the great mistake of baseball.

The team has said in the past that the lack of direction with respect to where the it will play has hampered its ability to effectively plan. Fans, have seen this in the accelerated rebuild cycles the past few years.

The consequences of these teardowns are low TV ratings and low attendance at the Coliseum. If you attend a game you will no doubt be amazed by the sheer number of traded players who fans still wear the promotional giveaway or shirt-jersey of. The other weekend, the A's had a "tent sale" where you could pick up names long ago traded off or who played their last games in town as a semi-retirement.

The A's recent stellar play may be a mirage, but it may also be just what is needed to make the team not only relevant, but also important to the commish. It sees abundantly clear that losing or being utterly middling did not pique his interest as witnessed by his -- and the "Blue Ribbon" panel's -- utter inaction.

If the A's were as bad as people thought they might be, would it be the nail in the coffin of any national interest in the team? In contrast, much like Sacramento River Cats and baseball strikeout king Dan Straily, the team is forcing its way into the conversation.

However, any constructive talk about finding the A's a much-deserved jewel of a stadium may never materialize -- even if the club truly becomes, as ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted, "the most improbable Cinderella story" and makes the playoffs. After all, the well-recieved movie chronicling the team's struggles and successes, Moneyball, really didn't do anything to either build mass sympathy for the club's plight or stir the still-as-stone committee members. (Do some people think the A's are a fictional team?)

The old adage is that winning fixes everything. If the A's continue to win, might this thing finally come to a head? Here's hopin'. It seems abundantly clear that winning is a better formula for generating buzz than being Bob Geren-steady -- meaning middling to poor. Fans win with a better club and ownership gets to say, "Hey we're a real baseball team!"

Aren't A's fans due for a scolding?

The A's are currently averaging 20,866 per game. This is good for 28th in baseball. They are drawing better than both the Rays (20,669) and the Indians (19,256). The Rays have a virtually identical record as the A's and play in a stadium that is also considered less-than-ideal by many. The A's drew a mere 15,115 on Tuesday against the division leading Rangers and failed to sell out against the Yankees tonight (only 23,382).

Consider Selig's comments on July 11 regarding the Rays' scant attendance as reported in the Tampa Bay Times:

They've run a great operation. They're a very competitive organization. They have very competitive teams. To see that they're No. 29, I think it is, in attendance, it's inexcusable. Nobody can defend that. It's disappointing. And I know that people down there, some people, will be offended; not the fans, not the people who go every day. And I know they have great intensity, the people there....I watch a lot of games every day — sometimes all 15 of them — and I pay great attention not only to what's happening on the field, but to the attendance. So to use my father's old line, nothing is ever good or bad except by comparison. I'll rest my case. It's disappointing. And I'm concerned.

Does Bud feel the same way about the A'a attendance situation?

A Couple of A's Join Lincecum as "Worst Ever"

In case you missed it, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum is "the worst pitcher ever" based on this year's performance. His ERA+ -- ERA altered for a pitcher's home ballpark and the average of the league. Per the article:

If the season ended today, Lincecum (above)—a two-time Cy Young Award winner—would have the worst adjusted ERA, 55, of any pitcher who has thrown at least 95 innings in a season since at least 1901.

Joining him on this list as two former A's -- Todd Van Poppel (ERA+ of 57 in 1996) and Philadelphia Athletic Rube Bressler (ERA+ of 56 in 1915).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

More A's Presence at All Star Game Greater Than Cook

Last night's All Star game actually had quite the Athletics presence when you go beyond just the current team's sole representative Ryan Cook.

NL Pitching Coach Dave Duncan --Catcher: 1967-1972, Pitching Coach: 1986-1995
NL Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez -- Outfielder:  2008-2009
NL Pitcher Gio Gonzalez -- Pitcher: 2008-2011
NL Outfielder Matt Holliday -- Outfielder: 2009 (Partial Season)
NL Manager Tony LaRussa -- Second Base and Shortstop: 1963, 1968-1971; Manager: 1986-1995
NL Hitting Coach Mark McGwire -- First Base: 1986-1997 (Partial Season)
AL Manager Bob Melvin -- Manager: 2011 (Partial Season) - Present
NL Pitcher Huston Street -- Pitcher: 2005-2008
AL Manager Ron Washington -- Infield and Third Base Coach: 1996-2006

Cook had a nice night:

1.0 IP; 0 R; 2 K; 11 Pitches, 8 for Strikes.

He faced Bryce Harper, Carlos Ruiz and David Wright. Wright and Ruiz are numbers three and four, respectively in terms of top batting average in the National League. He induced a pop-out from Ruiz and struck our Wright.

These Trades Will Haunt You


This trade was an absolute steal for the Rockies (aside from Smith who was nothing special). Street saved 84 games for the Rockies over the next three years and Carlos Gonzalez has blossomed into one of the best in the game with a batting average of .314 and an OPS of .932 in his time with the team. 

Both were All Stars this year, as was Matt Holliday who the A's didn't even keep for a full season and traded in July of 2009 to the St. Louis Cardinals for prospects -- several of which have, in turn, been traded.

Here is what the A's ultimately ended up with for two pretty good players:

Infielder Brett Wallace -- traded to Toronto Blue Jays for Michael Taylor (AAA)
Pitcher Clayton Mortsensen -- traded to Colorado Rockies for Ethan Hollingsworth
Outfielder Shane Peterson -- currently in AAA

Awful, awful trade unless one of these prospects blossoms into something better than CarGo -- which, at the moment, seems unlikely.

Just Two More Days

If you can't stand another off day, check out the A's Class A Advanced affiliate the Stockton Ports who are at home taking on the Bakersfield Blaze at 7:05 p.m. Ian Krol is on the bump. Free audio is available here.

Check Your Attic

You might just stumble upon a vintage Rollie Fingers card. Or, better yet a stack of vintage cards including A's legend Connie Mack.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are the A's a "Crown Jewel" of MLB?

If you caught the home run derby last night you saw a beautiful, multi-angle showcase of the recently renovated Kauffman Stadium.  On July 2, the Kansas City Star ran an interesting piece detailing the long and winding road the city and the team traveled to get the All Star game. In it, Commissioner Bud Selig is quoted as saying this about the Royals stadium in support of a sales tax measure to fund improvements:

Kauffman Stadium’s construction (in 1973) played a key role in the transformation of modern-day ballparks. With approval of the proposed renovations, this historic venue will once again be transformed into one of the crown jewels of Major League Baseball.

He is quoted later in the piece as saying:

This is a franchise we need to be successful...

Consider that the O.co Coliseum opened in 1966.

Has Bud ever expressed a similar fondness for a facility that, while undoubtedly drastically hurt by the 1996 renovation in terms of baseball, is still rich in history having hosted six World Series? No. He did offer this rather damning statement back in 2009 in an effort to boost support for the Fremont plan:

I cannot stress enough that the need for the A's to have a viable and modern stadium is a paramount objective for your organization and for the game overall. The A's currently operate in one of the least desirable venues in Major League Baseball and it has placed your club at a serious disadvantage with respect to other clubs in the game.

What he could have said was something like this, "The A's clearly need a new, modern facility. The Coliseum, while rich in history and home to some of the all-time great baseball teams, has seen better days and was rendered a less-than-ideal facility upon the return of the Raiders. Our goal is for the A's to find a new home and build upon their tremendous legacy."

Just saying, Bud.

If You Thought Charging for Soda was Absurd

In Moneyball, the actor playing David Justice finds out that the A's charge the players for soda in the clubhouse in an effort to "keep the money on the field." This beyond-the-pale cheapness was fictional. However, this tidbit from yesterday's New York Times regarding the Royals is not:

In a 2011 article, former employees told The Kansas City Star that scouts and others were denied basic equipment, even company cellphones, as the Royals cut costs. Brett, who fronted a group that failed in a bid to buy the team, said he had heard that the Royals, in the early 2000s, would pay no more than a $1,000 signing bonus to any drafted player taken after the fifth round.

Waiting for Godot

Was anyone really surprised that Bud offered this today regarding the A's stadium situation?

The main hang up is we don't have all the answers yet....It's a very complex issue. It's complex on both sides.

The quote of the day, however goes to San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo regarding MLB's stadium indecision :

If pregnancies took this long, the human race would be extinct.

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Unexpectedly Fun Ride So Far for the A's

It's been a strange season so far, perfectly summed up by this tweet from ESPN's Buster Olney on July 5:

If you thought the Oakland Athletics would be four games better than the Phillies on July 4, it is strongly recommended you go to Las Vegas. 

Consider

1. The A's are at .500 at the All Star break despite trading Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez.
2. The A's All Star representative is Ryan Cook, not even the primary guy in the deal that sent Cahill to Arizona. The main piece in that deal was Jarrod Parker who, although roughed up on Saturday, gave up fewer than two runs in nine of his first 13 starts a feat accomplished only by Dwight Gooden since 1918. Not bad Billy.
3. The Bailey/Ryan Sweeney deal for Josh Reddick/Miles Head/Raul Alcantara is looking pretty good as well. Bailey hasn't pitched in a game this year due to an injury and Sweeney has been solid, but not nearly as good as Reddick. The A's must also be pleased with Miles Head who tore up single A ball and is now at AA Midland. (Alcantara has not been anything special this year.)
5. Bartolo Colon is continuing to defy the aging process as witnessed by his strong first half, including a game early in the year where he threw an astounding 38 consecutive strikes. Colon was excellent on Sunday throwing 93 pitches in 8.2 innings with 79 for strikes.
6. Attendance could go up. Last year's average attendance was 18,232. This year, and there is still a lot of baseball (including sparsely attended weekday games) to be played, the A's are averaging 21,011. Bear in mind, they still have a four game set with the Yankees after the break. 


Did you know?

A's reliever Grant Balfour saved All Star pitcher R.A. Dickey's life when the knuckleballer attempted to swim the Missouri River. Dickey was featured on NPR's Fresh Air. (Start around 29:10):

All Star Festivities

Yesterday's "Futures Games" featured A's prospects, outfielder
Michael Choice and pitcher Chih-Fang Pan. Choice was 0-2 with a strikeout and Pan did not play.

Here is a good
feature piece on Choice.

The great Rollie Fingers took part in yesterday's celebrity softball game and then did a quick radio interview for SiriusXM.
Take a listen as Rollie mentions both the KC A's and his appearance as an A in 1973.