Monday, April 30, 2007

The Oakland A's Monday #4

Overall: 12-13 (3rd Place, AL West)
Last Week: 3-4 (2-0 vs. Orioles, 0-2 vs. Mariners, 1-2 vs. Devil Rays)

Truth be told, we were spoiled by the 1980s.

As kids, we could still enjoy Saturday morning cartoons, instead of live-action badly-acted teen sitcoms starring Dick Butkus as a gruff, but cuddly curmudgeon/coach. Cereal could still use the word "sugar" in its name and video game systems were released in numbers divisible by 2600.

Back then, the mighty A's were represented by The Bash Brothers on offense, but their unquestioned leader was a pale, slightly paunchy third baseman with thinning hair and an awful '80s mustache. Carney Lansford played 10 seasons in Oakland (1983-1992) and is probably known most for four things: his wobbly batting stance, hitting second behind future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, being the best two strike hitter of his era (he'd basically wait for Rickey to steal 2nd base, then get into hitting mode) and the 1991 snowmobile accident that essentially ended his career and killed the A's dynasty.

Without their leader, the A's run of consecutive playoff appearances ended at three. CF Dave Henderson was forced to hit in Lansford's #2 spot, which weakened the bottom of the order (Hendu usually hit fifth or sixth). Meanwhile, Lansford's injury occurred too late in the offseason for the team to adequately replace him through free agency, so they panicked and signed washed up 3B Vance Law from the Japanese League and traded for utility IF Ernest Riles. Words can't describe how awful they were, so here are some numbers: OPS (Law, .579 and Riles, .614).

The reason for the history lesson is that the A's now have a third baseman who is the antithesis of Carney Lansford.

Eric Chavez is a spectacular fielder but seemingly indifferent towards every other aspect of the game, whether it's offensively or off-the field. Last Wednesday night, the A's and Mariners were playing, with Seattle leading 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th. Shannon Stewart was on first, one out, and Chavez strode to the plate. He hit a slow roller to the second baseman, which prompted the play-by-play guy to immediately predict the Mariners would only get one out. Instead, Seattle turned a game-ending double play (even though Chavez was obviously safe at first).

Afterwards, Chavez gestured slightly, put his hands on his head and slunk back to the dugout. The next day, I wrote to my boy that if this happened 20 years ago, someone would've had to pry Lansford's hands from around that blind umpire's neck.

And, that's my point. Chavez has been in the big leagues since 1998 and has put up some fine numbers. He's won, like, 600 Gold Gloves and seems to be universally liked by his teammates. But, this team has needed two things during his tenure: 1.) A win in a decisive playoff game. 2.) Someone in the clubhouse who'll put his foot up the collective asses of his 24 teammates.

Accounting for the fact that the Pirates are picking up a portion of Jason Kendall's horrible contract, Eric Chavez is the highest paid player on the team. Now, I'm the last person to play the salary card, but is it asking too much for the biggest drain on Oakland's miserly payroll to actually look like he gives a sh*t?

It seems like each at-bat can't end soon enough as he frequently swings at the first pitch he sees, whether it's at his eyes or below his toes. Meanwhile, his stubborn, almost comical refusal to make adjustments vs. left-handed pitchers has killed dozens of late-inning rallies.

No one is claiming that Lansford (.290/.343./.411) was a better hitter than Chavez (.271/.349/.487) over their careers. What little power Lansford did have dried up by his 30th birthday. But, he was a solid player for several years who A's fans still remember fondly.

And, all he had to do was give a damn.

This Week: at Red Sox (2), at Devil Rays (3)

1 comment:

that mexican guy said...

No mention of Carney Lansford's seminal performance as the main "bad guy" hitter in "Angels in the Outfield"? Seriously, though, I love these weekly reads on your A's. I'm looking forward to see how you weave in the rest of the 1989 A's as the season wears on.

Surely, you've got room for Gene Nelson. Surely!