A's Haunted by Ghosts Of Oakland Past

Ray YockeContributor IJune 23, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 11:  A fan of the Oakland Athletics holds up a sign in support of Rickey Henderson during a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at McAfee Coliseum on August 11, 2005 in Oakland, California. The A's defeated the Angels 5-4.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The All-Star break is still three weeks away, yet it’s already been a long season in Oakland. Home games have been remarkably lifeless, and the team can’t even sell out their annual home series with the Giants.

The most exciting moment of the A’s season is likely to be the trade of their best player, and Oakland’s top All-Star candidate wasn't even in the organization until May 8.

Even the failed film adaptation of a seven-year-old book has overshadowed the team on the field.

When you’re a franchise struggling like the A’s are, you sell your fans whatever you can, even if that means living in the past. The 49ers have been doing it for years now, and this season the A’s have been forced to adopt a similar strategy.

Walk around the outside of the Coliseum, and you’ll see giant banners celebrating three players: Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi, and Rickey Henderson. Chavez hasn’t played a full season since 2006, Giambi spent the last seven years with a bitter rival, and Henderson hasn’t played for Oakland since 1998.

But Oakland’s promotion of Henderson doesn’t end there, as half the team’s in-game promotions this season seem to revolve around his Hall of Fame induction. The A’s are even bringing back Henderson’s 1989 World Series teammates (most of them, anyway) this week to keep the nostalgia alive.

This week’s proceedings will feel a bit empty, however, thanks to two pieces of the A’s past that won’t be returning.

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The identity of the 1989 A’s was personified by Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, both of whom are now unwelcome anywhere baseball is played. The Bash Brothers were the biggest thing in baseball (literally and figuratively) in the late-80’s, and their absence makes this reunion feel more like a PTA meeting than a championship celebration.

Perhaps the only thing worse is the fact that the cross-bay rival Giants are now a better team.

For nearly a decade, the A’s were the young, exciting upstarts who poked fun at their elderly neighbors across the pond. But the Giants now roll into Oakland with the NL Wild Card lead in hand, led by young stars Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and the force of nature known as Pablo Sandoval.

Meanwhile, the last-place A’s are stuck in the mud, praying that Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra can make it through another week without getting hurt. It’s a tough pill to swallow for A’s fans, who are used to deriding the likes of Edgardo Alfonzo and Russ Ortiz.

There is a bright spot in all of this for Oakland, as the team’s rookie rotation of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Vin Mazzaro should be good enough to make a run at the AL West next year. The “New Big Three” gives the A’s something new to promote instead of Chavez (owner of six consecutive Gold Gloves and twelve consecutive surgeries), and they also provide a convenient distraction from Oakland’s biggest weakness: their distressing inability to produce major league hitters.

The team that made “Moneyball” and the Bash Brothers famous now owns the worst on-base percentage in baseball, and right now the most logical substitute for one of the endless Rickey Henderson promotions would be a "Watch Dallas Braden Get No Run Support Night”.

Giambi was supposed to help change that, the hope being that there was enough left in his bat to rekindle some positive Oakland memories. In his time away, Giambi became definitively associated with both the Yankees and steroids, and A’s fans couldn’t decide which was worse. He was a pariah in Oakland, but as soon as he returned, the A’s immediately began digging up highlights of his old glory days, selling him to the fans like a used car.

Giambi once represented the type of player who spoiled A’s fans in previous rebuilding efforts, someone who kept the fans entertained even in lean years. He felt like family in Oakland, as did Marco Scutaro, Nick Swisher, and Matt Stairs, each of whom made their name here during non-playoff seasons.

There aren’t many human fast-forward buttons on this team right now, players who make rough seasons go by a bit faster. So the team is instead forced to press rewind, bringing back big names and old stars until a new wave of talent washes over Oakland’s shores.

That new wave needs to arrive quickly, because the only alternative left in Oakland is to grant Rickey his wish and let him suit up again.

The Oakland Sports Examiner, new columns every Tuesday and Thursday: http://www.examiner.com/x-12984-Oakland-Sports-Examiner

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