Editor’s note: this is a long and rambly post about baseball. Read at your own risk, and feel free to skip to the very end for my main point.
I’m an A’s fan, first and foremost. I’m from the East Bay and that’s where the A’s are, and to be honest, they’ve been a really likable team for most of my adult life. But, I’m also a Giants fan. This is something that’s generally frowned upon around here, but I don’t really care – it’s how I was raised. My dad saw the arrival of two teams to the Bay Area – the Giants in 1958, the A’s 10 years later – and became a fan of both. That’s how I was raised. That’s likely how it’s always going to be. I’m going to raise my kids that way too, and no one’s going to stop me.
The rivalry between the two teams was pretty much born in 1989 when they squared off in the World Series, infamous for the earthquake and for the horribly mismatched series it turned out to be – an A’s sweep. At the time, as a 9 year old, I didn’t prefer one team over the other – it was pure glee to be a fan of both. On one hand, I had Eck, Ricky, Carney, Dave Stewart, and on the other was Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, and my dad’s favorite player, fellow bald-headed Matt Williams. Both teams were really, really good, and having the entire baseball world focused on the Bay Area was incredibly special.
But it was also awful, in a way – because I didn’t want either team to lose. I decided I wanted the A’s to win in 7 games – probably the first time I shifted slightly towards the A’s. Instead, they swept in 4 games, taking a lot of the drama out of the series. I was incredibly happy for the A’s, but I was terribly sad for the Giants. The A’s, after all, had won three straight titles in the early 70s, whereas the Giants hadn’t (and still haven’t) won since moving out West.
I really do love ’em both. As their identities shift, as they go through rebuilding periods and phases of success, their players and managers (and stadiums and ticket prices and team-building philosophies) change but I stick with them. Though I grew tired of the Barry Bonds circus, I still got to see perhaps the most dominant player to ever hold a bat, and still got to see successful teams play in the best park in baseball; though the A’s have stumbled since 2006 and haven’t really developed a good hitter since then, I still believe in their philosophies and love their players. When they play each other, which they now do 6 times a year since the advent of Interleague play, it’s not easy on me. I don’t like to watch the games. And this is a time where, I admit, being a fan of both is not very practical. But to me, it’s a small price to pay.
But in the larger scheme of things, I get to root for two teams, and to be blunt, I do feel, at times, like I’ve got the fandom thing down cold. I get twice as much baseball to follow. I get twice as many players to root for. A’s fans who hate the Giants, and vice versa, well – they get on my nerves. There are rivalries in baseball – A’s-Angels, Giants-Dodgers, two name a couple – that are either deeply historical or more recent, but they make a lot of sense. The Giants and Dodgers have been butting heads for a long, long time, and the A’s and Angels have been battling each other for the AL West title since the late 1990s. But the A’s-Giants rivalry, to me, feels completely manufactured, based only on their geographical proximity. There’s no real rivalry there. I just don’t buy it. Maybe in 50 years, when they’ve faced each other in a couple more World Series, maybe then there might be a real rivalry. But not now.
There are several reasons I’ve identified more with the A’s in recent years, and it all began with Moneyball. At the risk of sounding amazingly nerdy, that book has influenced my life probably more than any other, for its fascinating account of how the A’s managed to field highly competitive teams with a small payroll. It introduced me to the world of advanced statistical analysis – Sabermetrics – and to Bill James, the genius who pretty much started it all. It helped me understand how teams are run, how they draft and develop and scout and trade for players, and how varying philosophies in building teams affect their success. It’s framed the kind of fan I am today.
Throw in the fact that A’s games are cheaper and more easily accessible, that they have a fantastic blog, and that in the late 1990s and early 2000s they were among the best teams in baseball, and it was a natural shift. Additionally, despite all the accolades he’s currently getting, I’ve always thought Giants General Manager Brian Sabean was (and remains) a pretty awful leader. His practice of signing old players to expensive deals, making questionable trades, giving Barry Zito a billion dollars a year for 30 years, well… he made it hard to identify with the team. He’s made some shrewder moves recently, and has wisely shifted towards a younger group of guys, but I still have major doubts going forward. What he (or his front office crew) excels at is drafting, evident in Lincecum and Cain and Posey and Sandoval and others, and that’s not to be neglected.
In any case, this run by the Giants into the World Series, two wins away from winning it all, has been pure magic. It’s been so fun that even some Giant-hating A’s fans have begrudgingly joined in. The Bay Area is abuzz with baseball, and it’s a blast. It’s more than a blast – it’s incredible. Casual fans have had a very easy time latching onto this scrappy team of weirdos, and the media has plugged into Lincecum’s Freakiness, Cain’s quiet underratedness, Wilson’s zany Beardery, Pablo’s lovable antics, and all the others. It’s not a hard team to love, because frankly, there isn’t a single person on this team I don’t like.
It’s really, really fun. It feels like the bay Area has united to root for something, which is a pretty great feeling. And in a perhaps selfish way, I feel like I’m reaping the rewards of following two different teams, because I know this Giants team extremely well – I’ve been reading the minutiae of their season since before it started, and for the last several years.
I welcome the bandwagon fans, the folks who can’t name anyone besides Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum, the people who step into a bar just to join the cheering crowd. This is what it’s all about – a city, an area joining together to celebrate. Because we’re not just rooting for the Giants – we’re rooting for Northern California. For San Francisco.
Two more wins. Just two more.