Written by Brian Oakchunas
Published: 07 May 2007
unintentionally stirs a debate. While A’s fans see
their favorite players, Giambi, Tejada, Zito (and the list goes on),
disappear for the greener pastures of free agency every year, the A’s
persevere. Look no further than the 2007 A’s. Though virtually all of
their best players have fallen and landed on the DL, the A’s continue
to perform successfully and are within shouting distance of the
division lead. But if the team is not in fact the same team, what
exactly are the fans cheering for? The great players on the DL? No.
Their favorite players long gone to New York and San Francisco?
Certainly not. The town of Oakland—hometown pride? Maybe, maybe not.
When discussing this problem, Billy Beane has often referenced the old
Jerry Seinfeld line, that A’s fans are just ‘rooting for laundry.’
There is no easy answer to this question, but it is something we can
try to determine by looking trough the pages of the aptly titled A’s Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Real Fan!
by Steven Travers.
Before I read this book I wondered what exactly that title meant. What
does one need to know to be a real fan? I was curious to see if the
book would be chalk full of recent stats and organizational
philosophies so that fans could better appreciate the current team they
put on the field. But the author takes a stand in this regard. He sends
a clear message that what we need to understand to be a real fan is history
The book follows the A’s from the Connie Mack era of the early 20th
century up through the current incarnation of the team that made it to
the American League Championship Series in 2006.
But the book does not want us to understand the history of the A’s from
a business perspective or a statistical point of view. These issues are
glazed over. Indeed, the book does not even mention why the team
decided to move from Philadelphia to Kansas City and dismisses the
decision to move from there to Oakland as a sort of quirk of Charlie
Finley: “Finley just up and moved the A’s from Kansas City to Oakland”
(34). Payroll problems of the 90’s and 2000’s are similarly discarded
because the game is just “not the same as it once was” (182).
The stats are there, after a fashion. You’ll find out how many home
runs Jimmie Foxx hit and the number of wins virtually every A’s pitcher
got during the A’s run of the early 1970’s, but it doesn’t go much
deeper than that. If you are interested in Jimmie Foxx’s isolated
slugging percentage or what kind of control those pitchers had, you are
in the wrong book. Far more problematic is that Travers is not the
least bit inclined toward sabermetrics (the study of baseball
statistics) and never attempts to prove his questionable conclusions
about the statistical values of players and teams. The author champions
small ball (stolen bases, hits and runs), which he refers to as
“National League baseball”, rather than on-base percentage and power,
which is referred to as “the Yankee way” (79) but might as well be
called the ‘Billy Beane way.’ He also refers to players as ‘clutch’ or
‘not clutch’ at his whim but provides little evidence as to what makes
them clutch and completely ignores the orgy of evidence
that the vast majority of players don’t possess any more or less
ability than they normally have in ‘clutch’ situations. While I’m sure
that any number of baseball books published each year that take these
outdated philosophies for granted, in a book about the most
statistically oriented professional team in the world with a foreword
written by Billy Beane
, of all people, these seem like unforgivable sins.
What A’s Essential
does give us in heaps is the history
specific players and other A’s personnel. Most of the chapters are
titled after players and Travers manages to dig up plenty of
interesting quotes and his knowledge of other writings about the A’s is
voluminous. He finds enough fascinating material that it is easy to
forgive his irrelevant jaunts on topics like Rube Bressler’s opinion of
Some of the writing seems like fluff in favor of the players. For
example, even something as innocuous in the grand scheme of things as
Esteban Loaiza’s drunk driving arrest is glazed over as “off-field
trouble” (194). Numerous instances of these obfuscations of the truth
tend to heighten the reader’s curiosity about the more juicy details
while detracting from the enjoyment of the book. The exception to this
is the topic of steroids, which is clearly an emotional issue for
Travers. He is ready to speculate on the use by a variety of players
and Mark McGwire’s chapter is particularly brutal as he views all of
the slugger’s achievements and troubles through the lens of steroids.
For instance, Travers blames all of McGwire’s injuries and relationship
problems on performance enhancing drugs: “Like Canseco, his were
abnormal injuries to his feet arches, back, tendons—all the telltale
signs of steroid use" (140).
includes a variety of pictures, tidbits, and
trivia, all of which are interesting and add to the reader’s experience
with the book. The foreword written by Billy Beane may potentially
attract readers but it is a brief two pages and merely discusses how
happy Beane is to be involved with a team that has such a “winning
tradition.” Travers ranks his top ten players from each era and a
variety of other top ten lists demonstrate how opinionated Travers is
and often leads the reader to question his judgment (Terrence Long made
the all 2000’s team?!). The absence of an index detracts from the
book’s eventual utility as a library reference book.
So what, then, of our original question of what does one need to know
to be a real fan? I’d say reading this book gives me a better sense of
the A’s history but as I go out to the ballpark, I hardly feel that the
information was essential
to make me a better fan. By way of contrast, after I read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball
I felt that I was watching a team with an incredible force behind it.
It wasn’t the individual players that came and went that made it great;
it was the braintrust running things that made us have faith and
heartfelt admiration in our team. While A’s Essential can be a useful
source to those who are students of A’s history, I’d recommend Lewis’
book to those looking to augment their experience as fans.