Monday, December 15, 2008
My 20 Most Hated Oakland A's – Part II
Having been an A's fan since 1981, I've had the pleasure of watching some of my favorite players – both all-world and obscure – wear the white shoes and rock the green and gold. But, I haven't openly rooted for every Oakland Athletic. Some were incessantly overhyped rookies, some were unsuccessful closers. Some were more style than substance, some were just jerks. I'll always love my A's…I just hate these guys.
#10 – T.J. Mathews: As part of the worthless 1997 haul from the Cardinals (along with the immortal Eric Ludwick and Blake Stein) for Mark McGwire, Mathews became Oakland's top middle reliever by default. His knack for serving up game-tying or tie-breaking home runs was legendary and forever earned him the moniker "Death to T.J. Mathews" by m'boy – and fellow A's fan – Smitty. He last pitched for the A's in 2001, then bounced around the minors and independent leagues for five more years as part of some demented tour to piss off every baseball fan in America.
#9 – Arthur Rhodes: Whenever anyone points to the unimpeachable genius of A's GM Billy Beane, one can either reference the Tim Hudson trade or the signing of Rhodes as a free agent in 2003 to serve as a rebuttal. Beane was still perched atop his just-published Moneyball mountain of sabermetric blowjobs and hubris. His theory: "closers are made, not born" – so why not make a longtime middle reliever like Rhodes into his new closer? Statheads everywhere defended the move and while Beane's theory is absolutely right, Rhodes was the wrong arm to test it. He was 9 for 14 in save opportunities, surrendering late home runs to everyone from Alex Rodriguez to David F'n Eckstein. When he was finally demoted, he lashed out at the entire organization. Most egregiously, the A's sent him to Pittsburgh for Jason Kendall. Foreshadowing!
#8 – Brian Kingman: I was too young to remember Brian Kingman's bizarre 20-loss season in 1980. He threw 211 innings, posted essentially a league-average ERA (3.83) and completed 10 of his 30 starts. Oh, and the A's scored just 2.87 runs/start for him. That '80s A's pitching staff completed 94 of their 162 total starts under the old-school eye of alcoholic manager Billy Martin. Kingman blamed Martin's overuse for ruining his career – an accusation that isn't entirely untrue – but, any sympathy points he might've garnered were washed away when Kingman began embracing the "celebrity" of his 20-loss season. Take the rampant douchebaggery of the '72 Miami Dolphins, strip the squad of all its talent, fame and place in history – and you've got Brian Kingman. All I can say is: thank you, Mike Maroth.
#7 – Octavio Dotel: Once the Arthur Rhodes experiment had run its calamitous 10-week course, the A's acquired Dotel as part of the three-way Carlos Beltran-to-Houston trade. On June 26 – Dotel's first appearance with the A's – he coughed up a four run lead in the ninth. On July 9 against the Indians, Dotel blew a late 4-2 lead. When the winning Indian run crossed the plate, I punched the coffee table in response resulting in a sweet purpley bruise on the side of my hand from my wrist to the tip of my pinky finger. Dotel would give up nine home runs in a tick over 50 Oakland innings as each save opportunity turned into a two or three-runners-on roller coaster. Lost his job to Huston Street the following year.
#6 – Jeremy Giambi: Just to get it out there, I remain unconvinced that Giambi would've been safe even if he'd slid into home plate during the "Jeter Flip" game in the 2001 ALDS. "Little G's" problem was a sense of entitlement that came from being the kid brother of the A's then-best player. Jeremy's approach was fine for those A's teams – he reached base at a very good clip, had some pop and couldn't field a lick. However, there never seemed to be any accountability for the idiotic way he played the game. In an early April 2001 game, Rangers reliever Mike Venafro walked the bases loaded. On the first pitch he saw, Giambi grounded into a game-ending double play. His off-the-field tomfoolery was cribbed from the 1986 Mets playbook and once his big brother was no longer around to hold his leash, Jeremy Giambi was unceremoniously flipped to Philadelphia.
#5 – Todd Van Poppel: You really had to be following baseball in 1990 to appreciate the Todd Van Poppel experience. Even though ESPN was in the infancy of its eventual worldwide domination of the sports media field, Van Poppel's hype was inescapable. The baseball card industry (then, the ONLY measure prospective talent) couldn't overproduce his rookie cards fast enough in an already oversaturated market. Van Poppel would win just 18 games in an A's uniform and put up season ERAs of 5.04, 6.09 and 7.71 while doing it. He would pitch in the bigs for parts of 11 seasons, compiling the highest lifetime ERA (5.58) for anyone with at least 500 career innings pitched. Hey, that's a record!
#4 – Barry Zito: Zito debuted against the Anaheim Angels throwing Bugs Bunny curveballs that started over the hitter's head and ended somewhere around his shoe tops. Zito won seven games in his rookie year, then 17 the following season. Oddly enough, it in 2002 – when Zito won 23 games and the Cy Young Award – that my fandom for the man took a nosedive. He made his last start of the regular season on the last day of the regular season, instead of saving himself for Game #1 of the ALDS. Consequently, the A's best pitcher that year started just one playoff game and Oakland was sent home early when the Twins upset 'em in five. From there, Zito began a slow decline into an – at best – average pitcher. His starts turned into torturous ordeals where his pitch count would be at 110 in the fifth inning. His post-game interviews after yet another loss included ridiculous lines like, "I made good pitches". His flaky lefty schtick got so obnoxiously disingenuous that even Zito tried to tamp it down. Watching him suck mightily in San Francisco has warmed the darkest recesses of my heart. Keep making good pitches, weirdo.
#3 – Jason Kendall: One of the most polarizing players in recent A's history, Kendall spent 2 ½ seasons in green and gold. The sycophantic local media successfully conned the know-nothing portion of the A's fanbase into thinking that Kendall's unshaven face and permanent scowl equaled "leadership". And, whenever anyone quotes the mythical and un-measurable skill of "game calling" as a legitimate attribute, you know you're hearing the equivalent of complementing the ugly girl with the "great personality". Kendall was just a terrible hitter in Oakland, save for drawing walks decently in 2005-06. His ability to hit into double plays was almost legendary, while his opposite field infield groundouts were the stuff of Little League. By 2007, he'd become almost impervious to criticism, while racking up a .542(!!!) OPS over 80 games. His supporters pointed to the team's ERA as if this nancy had anything to do with the outcome of a ball that's pitched and put into play. Now in Milwaukee, I wonder why he's getting no credit for CC Sabathia's half-season there.
#2 – Eric Byrnes: Even when Byrnes was at the apex of his popularity in Oakland, I never climbed aboard the bandwagon. Most A's fans saw Byrnes as a whirling dervish on the basepaths and a kamikaze daredevil in the field who – wait for it – got the most out of his abilities. He lived the gimmick with a goofy, self-deprecating interview style that the media ate up with a spoon. Never mind that Eric Byrnes might be the most fundamentally unsound player alive today. I've watched him off an on for his entire nine-year career and I can say the next cutoff man he hits will be his first. He swings from the heels on almost every pitch, playing a power game that he's ill-suited for. And, while he owns a terrific lifetime stolen base percentage, he's actually an embarrassingly bad baserunner who famously help cost the A's an ALDS win over the Red Sox when he opted to bowl over catcher Jason Varitek, instead of touching home plate. Byrnes is a glorified fourth outfielder whose balls-out approach consistently wears him down over the course of a full season (career first half OPS: .826, second half OPS: .695).
#1 – Bobby Crosby: The 2004 rookie of the year – in what would turn out to be one of the weakest crops of AL freshmen in a generation (Shingo Takatsu? Ross Gload?) – Crosby somehow parlayed that 22 home run season into a five-year run as the Oakland A's regular shortstop. From 2005-07, Crosby never played in more than 96 games and never hit more than nine homers. He was frequently excused by fans and the media with the "if he could only stay healthy" caveat, yet when he was healthy he wasn't hitting. In 2008, Crosby played in 145 games, racking up 605 plate appearances and rewarded the team's inexplicable loyalty to the tune of a .645 OPS. His approach at the plate is simply "pull everything". It hasn't changed since his rookie year and watching him rollover the top of one change-up after another has become something of a summer tradition. Like most bad ballplayers, he remains completely oblivious to his own sucktitude and publicly pissed and moaned when the A's announced his playing time would be cut last September. "The Crosby Show" can't be cancelled soon enough for my taste. (Been sittin' on that one for awhile now.)