Forget all that Moneyball rhetoric. Sure, the Oakland A’s do things differently than most teams. Sure, Aaron Sorkin wrote a good script. Sure, Brad Pitt has some nice hair. But, really, this is bigger than a Michael Lewis book. It’s bigger than some watercooler-wide notion of why it’s special.
On Wednesday, the Athletics re-entered the playoff theatre they’ve ducked for six years, when they were smoked out by the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 American League Championship Series. They did it today in grand fashion, by overcoming a 13-game deficit on June 30 to win the division away from the Texas Rangers, the same team which has lost in the past two World Series.
The Oakland Athletics are often the poorest team in Major League Baseball. They have the second lowest payroll in the Bigs – $55 million – and they’re outshining the Texas Rangers – $120.5 million – and the New York Yankees – $198 million – and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – $154 million – and the Boston Red Sox – $173 million – and even the Detroit Tigers – $132 million.
Oh, and, like, everybody. They’re beating everybody.
Only the Yankees have a better record than Oakland, in the American League. Three teams in the National League have bested them since April. And, even when it comes to that, it’s miniscule.
(*So, yeah, they’re not beating them all but, come on… can it get much better?)
Coming into this season, ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski gave the A’s a 1.4 per cent chance of making the playoffs and a 0.4 per cent change of winning the division. They’ve done both.
They’re a miracle, and they’re not nearly as good as they were in 2002, on paper. They don’t have Hudson, Mulder, or Zito on the mound. They don’t have Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, or Eric Chavez in their lineup.
Don’t forget – none of them were in Moneyball, which should tell you how concerned about baseball that movie really was.
“It’s surreal,” said Oakland’s Brandon Moss after today’s shellacking of the Rangers. “Something you work your whole life to get to. To play in the big leagues and then get the chance to compete in the playoffs… We’ve enjoyed every step of the way. There was never any pressure on us. We were supposed to lose 100 games.”
Will an Oakland World Series change the game? Will it do what Brad Pitt’s version of Billy Beane wanted it to? Will it be talked about too much? Is it the sports world’s most overblown superstory, now that the replacement refs have moved on and returned to Costco?
No, no. Yes, and yes.
Oakland has to win the World Series. Not because it would change the game. Not because it would make the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Angels, or the Phillies re-think their ways. It wouldn’t even give Oakland a fighting shot in 2013, because nobody volunteers to play for the Athletics.
It would, however, be fun to watch.