When interleague play began in 1997, the goal was to generate fan interest in a game that was still licking its wounds from the strike three years prior. I’m not one to give Bud Selig credit, but this one worked. Not only did it help regenerate revenue and fan interest, it fostered local cross-league rivalries which would have otherwise waited for World Series play. This is fine unless you can’t wait for the vaunted Padres-Mariners Fall Classic.
Not every team has a true (in-state) interleague geographic rival (Atlanta, Colorado, Arizona), the one’s that do seem to ratchet up the intensity during interleague play. They also play every year, regardless of which division is playing the other. This of course breeds familiarity which breeds contempt, which breeds competition, not only for fans, but bragging rights. It’s akin to dogs making their territory, although I’ve never seen anybody piss on the field during an Interleague contest. However I would not put it past Brian Wilson (new save celebration?).
Of the true geographic rivalries (we’ll include Kansas City and St. Louis), only the Yankees and Mets have played in a World Series since interleague play began. Nonetheless, these games take on a playoff atmosphere for some reason. Look at some of the head-to-head records; they are remarkably close despite obvious fluctuations in talent over a 14-year span. Although you can make a case for the Subway Series, Windy City Series, Smog and Self-Importance Series (Freeway Series) The Ohio Cup or the heralded Marine Biologist Series between the Marlins and Rays, there is one interleague rivalry that stands above the rest: The Bay Bridge Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s.
I don’t know if 5 reasons will suffice, but feel free to scroll down (via the tab on the right) and keep reading, or not, but then you won’t be able to argue in the comments section. On to the top 5….
Before Sarah Palin could see Russia from her backyard, those attending a Giants game at AT&T Park could look across the bay and see the Coliseum. Both of those are kind of false, but also a bit true. Let me rephrase, with the right kind of eyes, say Sarah Palin’s eyes, one could look across the bay and see the Coliseum.
Not one of the aforementioned rivalries can make that claim. You can’t see past the smog in Los Angeles. Cleveland and Cincinnati, while both beautiful, are situated a ways apart. Even the Mets and Yankees, while “sharing” the same city, are separated by six miles and straddle two sides of the Big Apple.
Not so with the Bay Bridge Series, you can literally take public transit from the gates of one stadium to the next. Not only that, but the fact that they are actually separate cities (not boroughs), only adds to the rivalry. The sense of competition. There are numerous similarities and differences between the two. Just like the boroughs of New York or the districts in San Francisco, you can walk a few blocks in either city and be in an entirely different place. Rich and poor live within a few blocks. Trendy morphs into seedy. Yuppie to elderly, all in a couple hundred paces.
While Oakland may have been cast as San Francisco’s little brother, the A’s have long been a source of pride for a city with little else to buoy it. However, that inferiority complex, appropriate or not, still manifests itself in t-shirts that read “4 World Series Titles…Zero Splash Hits.” The fact is, The City and The Town are connected. By bridge by baseball, by….
This extends beyond hyphy and hippie, the Victorians in the Haight and the mansions that dot the Oakland hills. Either city can be generalized, unfairly so, by stereotypes that don’t do either justice.
The culture of either baseball team, from fans to philosophy, can be more clearly defined. The A’s of the 70s were lovable ruffians and possibly the most underrated dynasty in baseball. The Giants, save for the early part of the decade, were mediocre, still reeling from Mays’ departure. There wasn’t enough wind in Candlestick to change the team’s momentum. By the late '80s, both teams returned to prominence, culminating in The Battle of The Bay in 1989 when the Giants and A's made it to the World Series…more on that later.
Both teams returned to mediocrity for the better part of the '90s. The pair combined for three postseason appearances, 1990, 1992 (A’s) and 1997 (Giants) respectively. By the millennium, the Giants had built a solid squad almost entirely through free agency while the A’s had Moneyballed draft picks into a team full of phenoms.
The differences were clear down the line and this, along with interleague play, fueled the rivalry. The Giants spent money on Bonds, Kent, Burks and Nen. The A’s nurtured the likes of the Big Three, Chavez, Tejada and Giambi to multiple AL West crowns. The A’s played in what was once a jewel of a stadium…until Al Davis built a colossal self-dedicated monument, obscuring one of the best views in baseball. The Giants financed what is widely regarded as the best view in baseball along San Francisco’s once desolate China Basin. As both teams rose to prominence after 2000, the rivalry also reached new heights.
A’s fans labeled Giants fans as cab-sipping corporate elites who only get off of their cell phones to steal a glance at the Coke bottle in left or miss a Barry Bonds splash hit. In turn, Giants fans pointed to the dump the Coliseum had become, the fact that nearly every homegrown star eventually jumped ship via free agency and that a toxic creek ran just yards from their park.
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. There are plenty of bleacher bums that braved the winds of Candlestick and have the pins to show for it. The Coliseum also has its quota of latte-sipping cell phone junkies from rugged locales like Walnut Creek, Blackhawk and San Ramon.
A’s fans entrusted in Billy (most still do) and his Midas touch. Giants' fans mistrusted (most still do) Sabean and the troop of mediocre free agents that paraded in. The A’s pointed to their payroll, the Giants pointed to the best hitter in baseball. The A’s represented frugal youth. The Giants represented expensive veteran experience. Either way, the teams combined for eight playoff appearances and one pennant. Not a bad run for two “small” market teams.
The Giants borrowed a page from the A’s and built a core around homegrown players like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson. However, the team still won a World Championship in 2010 with valuable contributions from various free agents. Though that may have been the playoff luck that Billy Beane has come to despise.
Meanwhile the A’s have fallen on hard times. Billy Beane, still hamstrung by the A’s paltry payroll has swung and missed on a few prospects and free agents. That said, he is still one of the best in the business. Despite the recent similarities, the culture war is alive and well.
The theme park in San Francisco. The troughs in Oakland. Hegenberger vs. Third and King. The corporate climate in SF. The parking lot BBQs and broken 40s at the Coliseum. There was a begrudging respect and jealousy that still exists. A’s fans wanted a functional ballpark and owner. Giants fans wanted young, homegrown talent. The fact is, you can throw the records out when the two cross the bridge to play each other….speaking of
3. The Record(s)
Of all the Interleague rivalries—and there are some close ones—nothing tops the Bay Bridge Series in terms of parity. Before Friday's game, the A’s held a slim 42-41 advantage. Of the first four years of the series, the two teams split 20 games down the middle.
In 15 years of play, the pair have split the series in eight of them.
There always seem to be outliers. 2006 saw a Giants team that lost nearly 90 games split the series with an A’s squad that eventually reached the ALCS. The A’s managed a tie with the 2010 World Series Champions.
One of my favorite moments in the rivalry came in 2000. Both teams wore throwback uniforms, the Giants in their baggy New York duds, while the A’s reciprocated in Philly attire. Hudson was on the mound against Bonds when the latter drilled one. Not one to back down, Hudson pitched him hard inside his next time up. You knew it mattered to both teams, and no matter the records, it always would because…
If you’re a Giants fan, the A’s are lucky that quake happened, otherwise that two-game lead would have fallen apart like Chuck Knoblauch’s fielding. Will Clark and Co. never recovered from the devastation of the 6.9 quake that left The City in disarray. If you’re an A’s fan, the Giants were swept easily by the best collection of baseball talent since...the '70s A’s. Not only was it one of the most lopsided Fall Classic's ever, it was well attended for a sweep. I have met at least 256,000 people who were at Game 3. They remember the shaking and Esther Canseco’s leopard jacket. I had no idea Candlestick held that many people…
The ’89 World Series had always been the atomic bomb for any argument between the fans. Not only did the A’s win the last World Series, they won it head-to-head. In a sweep. Game, set, match.
Giants fans could throw out 2002, Bonds, Kirk Gibson or Jose Rijo, the fact that they had a squad that should have won five in a row. Didn’t matter. Rebuttals were met with a Cansecoan smirk, followed by a gentle hand on the shoulder while the point was made though not conceded. This was followed by a subtle lean in and a soft but enunciated “Eighty nine…”
I have a friend (Nate) who became a master at this. He’s a Jedi. We could be talking about beer preferences and he would toss out “89.” I would lose all composure. Like R. Kelly at a middle school dance. It was awful. Like slamming your finger in a door for 21 years…
Until somebody opens it! After last year’s improbable run, Giants fans are euphoric and rightfully so. All of the sudden 21 years was a “long time ago.” Despite the fact that any of us born before 1984 remembers that series in great detail. The vitriol and rhetoric have gone up a notch as expected. Don’t get me wrong, I had A’s friends congratulate me after the final out in Texas.
The well-wishing quickly gave way to charges of bandwagoning, "52 years is not 21 years" and my personal favorite—Scott Cousins fan clubs (you know who you are).
I understand the anger, the rage. I was there for 21 years.
However, when both teams are relevant, it makes the rivalry that much better. My best baseball memories are the early 2000s when the A’s and Giants both had a shot at baseball supremacy and another Battle of The Bay. If that doesn’t happen, we can settle for the best interleague rivalry in baseball. So whether your preference is $2 Coors Lights or $10 Anchor Steams, drink up, you will need the ammo.
Rivalries are just pissing contests anyway.