When Moneyball is released in theaters this September, the Oakland Athletics will, for once this season, be drawing attention for reasons other than clubhouse controversy, losing streaks and managerial second-guessing.
The movie will hopefully serve as a reminder to A's fans of better times. Times before the current Wolff-Fisher ownership gave this franchise ties to another more famous baseball screenplay.
Long before I ever started writing for Bleacher Report, I made a comparison on the A's message board of their official website, stating the similarities at the time between the Athletics' plight to flee Oakland with those of the movie Major League.
This was back when Lew Wolff first instructed that the upper deck be covered with tarps, and the courtship of Fremont first started.
I backed off those statements, because the perception (one I still believe to be true) was that Billy Beane was doing the best with the resources available to build a contender. Injuries drained the club's chances of contention, just as much as Bob Geren's questionable lineup decisions and handling of the bullpen.
Then I read a column this week by Monte Poole of the Bay Area News Group and all those similarities came racing back to my mind.
If Charlie Sheen and Corbin Bernsen do eventually sign on to a fourth installment of the popular Major League series, perhaps they could base their movie off the real-life story of the A's franchise from 2006-present.
Poole portrays Wolff and Fisher as "slumlords," having made the initial investment, but then choosing to neglect the product while reaping the profits.
Poole accurately points out that the ownership group represents the fourth-wealthiest ownership in professional baseball, yet the payroll and lineup do not reflect this fact.
I can make an argument that wealthy men do not become wealthy by spending money in excess of the revenue their business generates—that would be bad business. That argument tends to fall on deaf ears though when it is made to sports fans. It's the reason, though, that I don't personally have a major problem with the Wolff-Fisher ownership. I have my issues with them, no doubt, but I believe it could still be worse. At least they are committed to keeping the team in the Bay Area.
A's fans have a legitimate gripe, though, seen through the following comparisons to that fictional Hollywood-generated team whose owner tried to drive down the attendance to the point of where Major League Baseball would have no choice but to allow her to move the team to Florida.
Lew Wolff Is Rachel Phelps
His actions since he took over the team have all pointed to his desire to move the team to the South Bay, under the assertion that the A's cannot continue to stay competitive while playing in the rundown dump that is the Oakland Coliseum (there's your slumlord comparison by the way).
The Coliseum is to blame for the Athletics' inability to sign major free agents in Wolff's mind, not their reluctance to open their wallets and offer the best contract.
To Oakland's credit, it did offer Adrian Beltre the highest contract in 2010...he declined. It offered the better contract this past offseason to Lance Berkman, who also declined.
Scott Boras, who represents Beltre, supported Wolff's insistence that the Coliseum is a major deterrent to bringing big names to Oakland.
Granted, the Coliseum is not the palace that other teams play their home games in, but speaking from the perspective of a fan who attends roughly 20 or more games a year, it is still an enjoyable place to catch a game. Yes, I am biased, but I prefer the Coliseum to that park named after a phone company across the bay.
If the ownership invested more emotionally, and perhaps dropped its profit level just a little by expanding the payroll, more fans would come to the games.
That would not bolster the argument though that the A's can't survive playing in Oakland and need to move south to San Jose.
No argument from me that they need a new stadium, and I would even concede that San Jose offers a brighter financial future for the team's revenue stream.
Coming close to selling out 81 home games a year in the Coliseum, though, would give MLB and Bud Selig the opportunity to uphold the Giants' territorial rights; a new stadium in Oakland would be all that is needed to support the team without relocating them.
We all know how much Rachel Phelps, I mean Lew Wolff, wants to relocate this franchise, though.
Like Major League's Indians, the A's Have the Talent To Win, but Can They?
Here's the greatest difference in plot lines between Major League and the real-life A's team; the fictional Indians team was built to lose—this A's team was built to win.
The players on this team are talented enough to win the American League West. Our lineup may not stack up against the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, but our pitching is better than all of them. This team is constructed to win with a middle-of-the-pack offense. Give the pitching four runs, and they generally win (I am conveniently forgetting the past two games against the Red Sox).
So far we have not been able to offer our pitchers the support they need to keep the team above .500 and in contention.
The A's lack the gritty, scrappy attitude that Willie Mays Hayes, Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn, Pedro Cerrano and Jake Taylor possessed.
If I were trying to match casting, I'd have a hard time. I suppose Mark Ellis is my Jake Taylor on this team, albeit at a different position.
Hideki Matsui could also fill that role from a different angle—the aging star brought in just for name recognition. Matsui doesn't seem to have that last flash of greatness left in him though; I hope I am wrong.
Coco Crisp as Willie Mays Hayes? Probably not, but he does have that flair to him at times. The speed at least is a match.
I'm at a loss when it comes to casting Rick Vaughn's character out of this A's roster though. I suppose you could slot Gio Gonzalez there because of past issues with wildness, but it's not the best comparison.
As previously stated though, the premise of that movie was a team of has-beens and never-will-be players that overachieved and contended. Oakland is a team that has the talent, but has largely underachieved and pushed itself out of contention.
Besides, Hollywood mimics enough scripts that we can deviate the casting from the original Major League with a fresh cast of characters.
Bob Geren Is No Lou Brown
Goes without saying, right? Lou Brown, the manager of the Indians in the movie, made solid managerial decisions. He took a few risks, and they worked. He inspired his team to come together and play competitive baseball.
Bob Geren is no Lou Brown, and this is my plot twist for the Oakland A's version of Major League 4.
The player controversies that have been brought to light recently, starting with Brian Fuentes, call into question Geren's ability to lead a team talented enough to win the division, to play to its potential.
(For the second time since I began writing for Bleacher Report, I need to thank BaseballOakland.com for bringing an interesting article to my attention.)
CBSSports.com's Scott Miller wrote an article on May 25 detailing the Bob Geren communication controversy. The additional quotes that got lost in the media madness following the Buster Posey collision included a remark from reliever Michael Wuertz that seemed to echo Brian Fuentes' concerns:
"I think anybody can construe it any way they want but, in the end, whether it's the bullpen or the [position] players, I think we all want to know what situation you're going to be used in...Bullpen roles, going into a series saying, 'Here, this is what it's going to be.' Position players probably feel the same way.
"It's hard to communicate with a 25-man roster. But in the end, what makes good teams good is that everybody knows what they're doing, everybody knows to be ready for certain situations. A player will pinch-hit here. Players who know they're going to be playing a couple of days in advance. But, it's our job to take care of business."
The players, for the most part, have only questioned Geren's communication skills and management of the lineup and bullpen. They all take responsibility for their own shortcomings.
I agree with Wuertz, though, that good teams know their roles, and the A's seem simply lost.
Then the bombshell arises by an anonymous player in Miller's article: "Guys start to hit, and it's almost like, we'll put him into a slump."
Yeah, every A's fan can sympathize with that anonymous player. It is frustrating to watch a player go 3-for-5, or 4-for-4 and then sit on the bench the next day, especially if the player had been slumping and finally has some momentum.
And there is my plot twist! The manager is on board with the owner's desire to sabotage the team in an attempt to move out of town.
Do I really believe that Bob Geren is trying to sabotage his players? No, of course not. I believe he unintentionally does it, though, because he is incapable of managing at the major league level. He was a good minor league manager, and seemingly a very decent man, just not a good big league manager.
It makes for a good climax in my movie scenario, though. At some point the veteran leader of the clubhouse, in this case we'll go with Mark Ellis, will step up and challenge the team to play in spite of their incompetent manager and they will turn it around and win the division!
Okay, I'm dreaming there, but I am trying to find a happy ending to this season plagued by mismanagement and underachievement.
An outcome that spurns our "slumlord" owner's incessant claims that the team cannot compete as long as it resides in Oakland.
I've got to hand it to Monte Poole, though. His article accurately depicts the current situation of the A's ownership, and the feelings that most A's fans harbor regarding those who cash the revenue checks while largely disregarding the product and presentation (stadium counts as presentation—work with me here).
So if Charlie Sheen somehow finds this article, forget those meetings with Brian Wilson and take this idea instead.
All I ask in return for helping you with your movie idea is a larger role than the one I had as an extra in Moneyball (don't bother trying to find me when it is released, I was one of those guys sitting in the stands, like most of you as well).