Cinderella Men

If you read this blog, the chances are good that you hate the Yankees. I know I do. I enjoy watching them lose. I enjoy how they constantly overpay for  talent (Raul Ibanez excepted). I enjoy the fact that Yankees fans have to endure John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman on the radio. And I enjoy watching the scene at the Yankees’ overpriced stadium, with its overpriced, empty seats and empty atmosphere.

But I look a recent article by CSN’s Ray Ratto with bemusement. He compared Yankee Stadium’s current atmosphere to the Coliseum’s last week during the ALDS. Ratto proclaimed the great Oakland fanbase, as it magnanimously came back for the last week of the season and the playoffs to create the kind of 10th-man crowd rarely seen in baseball.

The fact is, the fans in Oakland made Oakland a cool place to play the last few weeks, not out of obligation, but because the players taught them how to overcome their annoyance at the people who run the franchise. And it certainly wasn’t out of anticipation for a new stadium somewhere, either.

It was the moment that made the ballpark, and the comparisons with Yankee Stadium have never been more apt.

As A’s fans, we’ll always have that moment, the 2012 season (July-October, anyways), and the improbable tally of 15 walkoff victories to hold in our hearts forever and to keep us hopeful for the future. Maybe someone will write a book or make a movie about it. If moments were enough to sustain the A’s, we’d have no worries about the future of the franchise. The harsh reality of the situation is this:

  • All four teams in the LCS have payrolls over $110 million, and have been at or above that level for several years.
  • Three of the four teams have won the last three World Series.
  • The exception, the Tigers, went to the ALCS last year and the World Series in 2006.

The teams that are left in the postseason, they aren’t satisfied with disparate moments. They want success. They demand it regularly. They have the revenue to pay for that success, and that’s exactly what they do: pay for it. With that comes raised expectations, such as winning the World Series every year in the Yankees case. They aren’t the A’s, who are famously beneath 50 feet of crap. Sustained success is not something A’s fans can realistically demand every year because the franchise doesn’t pay for it, and neither do the fans. So Ratto can smugly claim superiority, but the real story is that A’s fans had zero expectations going in, making the whole season feel like we were playing with house money. Yankees fans, well, they are the house. They expect returns. Should they not be entitled to the same kind of disaffection many A’s fans have felt? We all vote with our wallets, right?

Disaffection means people walk. For the A’s, it means people don’t pay for cheap tickets. For the Yankees, it means people don’t pay for expensive tickets, whether on the primary or secondary market. Going into 2012, Yankees regular season tickets were 238% the cost of A’s tickets, according to FCI. Nosebleed seats for the ALCS, which start at $41 and escalate quickly up to $1,500, remain available for potential Games 3 and 4. StubHub has an enormous inventory of available ALCS tickets. Sure, the Yankees are gouging their fans. But even in the old Yankee Stadium, where tickets are generally cheaper, the Yankees choked plenty of times in the playoffs. Did the 10th man have any measurable effect there? It certainly didn’t get them over the hump. In Game 5 of the A’s-Tigers ALDS, Justin Verlander quieted the crowd with strikeout after strikeout. The fans’ only release came after the final out, when a long and deserved standing ovation greeted the fallen heroes. What the Yankees are experiencing now and the A’s did from 2007 to 2011 are not fundamentally different. The only real difference was the level of expectations for both teams.

This great postseason we’ve witnessed so far this year has reminded me a lot of a really good NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. You have your major conference powers like Duke, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Kentucky (Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals). They’re the teams that constantly make the Sweet Sixteen (third and fourth rounds), even the Final Four (semis/finals). Then you have your Cinderella teams, the mid-major schools like Belmont or George Mason. Frequently overlooked, and with a fraction of the resources the big schools have, no one expects these teams to win. When they do win it becomes a big story. That’s what the A’s and Orioles represented this year, along with the Moneyball A’s and recent Tampa Bay teams of the past.

Sometimes those Cinderella teams get to the Final Four. Almost invariably, they don’t win it all. The last Cinderella team to win the NCAA basketball championship was Rollie Massimino’s 1985 Villanova squad, and they’re arguably a Cinderella because Villanova was perennially competitive in the hoops-crazy, big money Big East. The last win-it-all Cinderella story in MLB was the 2003 Florida Marlins ($49 million payroll), and unlike Villanova, they sank into mediocrity shortly after the World Series. It’s great to revel in these stories, but let’s remember that they’re exceptions, not the rule. The Yankees and Tigers beat the Orioles and A’s, respectively, because they can afford $20 million/year aces like C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. More than ever, it seems as though premium pitching comes at a premium – and is worth the investment. Try as everyone can – and Billy Beane does – to beat the house, the house usually wins. And that’s nothing to be smug about.

Update 7:28 PM – This Grantland post and mine came to similar conclusions. 

21 Responses to Cinderella Men

  1. J Canseco says:

    Bummer, dude.

  2. Briggs says:

    The Game 5 loss really made me question what I want out of baseball. I spend my disposable cash on it. I spend my free (and working) hours absorbing news, tweets, etc. Do I do all this because I want a World Series win? Nope. I’d like a World Series Championship just as much as the next guy, but what I really want is to be inspired. The A’s do that. If the A’s are piss-poor for the next 25 years, I’m okay with that as long as they continue to give their fans something money can’t buy.

  3. emperor nobody says:

    If teams could really pay for it straight up, there wouldn’t have been a total lack of repeat WS winners the last decade, no? Teams wouldn’t just be able to buy continuing excellence, they’d be able to finish it every year. I mean, the Cardinals might this year, true. But lately not. Anyway I think what people love and identify with in the A’s — and this was never more true than this season IMO — is the commonality of the struggle, the daily struggle to make it and prosper up against others with more resources and publicity presence. What the A’s do and try to do gives the lie to the Yankees and what Ratto is saying in that article — we are joking on FB and FK that if the Mets allow it the NYY should move to the Hamptons and build a 120-seat stadium and charge $20,000 a seat, per game. Instead of always running down the Coliseum and what kind of fan experience is possible there, I wish people would remember what it was like those life-changing games at the end there, when we were all unified and loving each other like it was a homecoming (I guess for those that have stayed away in disgust with ownership, it kind of was). I just think there’s a galaxy of potential in this thing now and we should quit bursting the balloon before it’s fully inflated… we know now if we come out, it can be the party of the century that leaves us literally screaming for more like this year’s version did.

  4. jgmj says:

    What we are talking about here is identity. Over the past decade + the A’s have developed an identity that has set us apart from the other teams in baseball. For many of us, this is a source of pride – we are underdogs that have seen some success despite all odds. This identity is tied to the players, fanbase and for better or worse, the ballpark and city our team calls home. A fear of mine is that a new ballpark will greatly alter this unique identity. The last thing any of us want is to become the Angels North – The second fiddle team in the region, flush with cash but lacking a uniqueness.

  5. Anon says:

    And straight to your point about money, what it entails for the fans, and what it means for the team with no “excitement” at a big venue like Yankee Stadium:

    http://sports.yahoo.com/news/yankees-worthy-of-boo-birds-and-empty-seats-after-looking-like–200m-bust-in-alcs.html

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/gameon/2012/10/14/yankee-stadium-crowd-empty-seats-game-2/1633317/

    Note the kool quotes in their from the Tiger’s players:

    “This is a very easy place to play right now,” said Detroit Tigers outfielder Quentin Berry after the visitors took the first two games in the American League Championship Series from the Yankees.

    “Coming from Oakland and how rowdy they were and how loud … that was the loudest place I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Berry added, saying many other Tigers players felt the same way.

    “They’re loud here, but coming from there (Oakland) man, it made this trip so much easier to deal with the fans and the electricity here because it’s nothing like Oakland was.”

    It shocked me today to hear that my Giants friend didn’t buy playoff tickets even though he’s a STH because 1) the Gnats demanded upfront payment through all the playoffs and 2) wouldn’t issue any refunds directly (it would go towards next season), if they didn’t make it through any of the games! So at times thinking about it more, I can get pretty complacent and outright selfish with the status quo at the Mausoleum. I’ll live with the urinal troughs and expensive crappy foods with nowhere to go after a game, because I can go to any game I want, anytime i want, and into practically any seat i want cheaply without ever worrying about availability, much less parking. But I know that it went last long if I want our A’s to consistently compete out on the field without having some miraculous Moneyball season….

  6. Anon says:

    What we are talking about here is identity.Over the past decade + the A’s have developed an identity that has set us apart from the other teams in baseball.For many of us, this is a source of pride – we are underdogs that have seen some success despite all odds.This identity is tied to the players, fanbase and for better or worse, the ballpark and city our team calls home.A fear of mine is that a new ballpark will greatly alter this unique identity.The last thing any of us want is to become the Angels North – The second fiddle team in the region, flush with cash but lacking a uniqueness.

    Wait, are you regretting the Bash Brothers era then, where they were in the top 5 in spending? /scratches head

    I understand what you’re getting at, but identity is usually forged form the players/team themselves (look at the Finley/Billy Ball/Bash Brothers/Moneyball years). If we become the Angels North (without the rats and fans), i say bring it on! If anything, we’ll be like the Cardinals who spend wisely and somehow always have that October magic even though everyone writes them off.

  7. bartleby says:

    “The last thing any of us want is to become the Angels North – The second fiddle team in the region, flush with cash but lacking a uniqueness.”
    .
    Actually, I’m all good with being Angels North. Being flush with cash, competing for real, keeping our stars and having a decent yard to see games in sounds pretty good.
    .
    I could care less about being “second fiddle;” anyway, what would you call the A’s now? And the A’s would still have “uniqueness” in San Jose, it would just be of a different kind.

  8. jgmj says:

    Anon – The Bash Bros era was a different identity, which was also great. My comment is more general – The A’s are an organization that have character. The stadium, fans and city all contribute to that.

    It would be nice to have the payroll of the Angels, but if that means becoming another generic team with fans that only know how to cheer when the scoreboard tells them so, then no way.

  9. Dan says:

    The Angels lack uniqueness and are second fiddle?

  10. bartleby says:

    “My comment is more general – The A’s are an organization that have character. The stadium, fans and city all contribute to that.”
    .
    Totally true. However, sooner or later the A’s will get a new ballpark; if not here, then somewhere else. Even if it were somehow possible to build that ballpark in Oakland, the current character of the team would change. Just look at the Giants – the AT&T crowd is not the same as the Candlestick crowd.
    .
    “It would be nice to have the payroll of the Angels, but if that means becoming another generic team with fans that only know how to cheer when the scoreboard tells them so, then no way.”
    .
    The status quo is not a long-term option. So, you might consider, if you can’t avoid change forever, what would be the next most palatable option that has a realistic chance of happening.

  11. Jeffrey says:

    For me, the last week of the season was a “enough with the bullshit” moment for all of us. I’d elaborate, but really… Enough with the bullshit. I am in Tokyo right now. I saw a guy wearing an A’s hat yesterday. That’s enough for me.

  12. Makhan Singh says:

    ML-
    Apologies if it’s inappropriate for me to post this link on here. Just ran into it on twitter. Just tough to see all this bickering between our fans. :
    http://mbd.scout.com/mb.aspx?s=304&f=2062&t=9717071&p=7

  13. Marine Layer says:

    @Makhan Singh – There are some serious misquotes, bad info, and all-around laziness in at thread. I wasted 10 minutes on that.

  14. Makhan Singh says:

    Yeah, sorry. What I was getting at is how badly A’s fans are on each other. There is a horrible lack of information out there. Big UPS for the work that you do.

  15. duffer says:

    The Tuesday 10-9 TBS MLB playoff ratings:

    A’s – Detroit 2.8
    Reds-Giants 2.4 (LOL)

    The national media (ESPN, Fox, etc. have always insisted that the Giants are popular in SF – outside of ‘Frisco – not very popular. The Fox network routinely trashes the Giants. Most MLB fans outside of ‘Frisco prefer the A’s (despite the efforts by pro-giants hype from pro Giants hacks such as Ratto, Ostler, Kawakami, etc.)

  16. dmoas says:

    Duffer, you’re ignoring game times.

  17. duffer says:

    Possibly, the giants do no draw good national ratings though. Their ’10 WS championship suffered the lowest viewer ratings in MLB history. Their ratings for the ’12 post season will likely be unimpressive.

  18. daveybaby says:

    I think Ratto’s basic thesis is spot-on. The reason why we go to the Coliseum is because of our team and the purity of the game. I don’t need a lot of novelty, just a great game played between two evenly matched teams. My glasses are clouded a bit because, like many here, I grew up in the Coliseum and still reminisce about the old days of real bleachers, flower pots, and the ability to look through a fence and watch the game. But here’s where it gets confusing for me. His thesis, while valid, might work if we are looking at baseball in the 1960′s. But this is a multi-billion dollar industry, considered one of, if not the best, in the world. And there is no way the A’s compete with the Yankees of the world in the Coliseum.
    One of the things that frustrates me to no end are the people that say, “What’s wrong with the Coliseum? It’s ours, it may not be fancy, but it’s ours.” Sorry, but the team I love deserves to play in a baseball-only park worthy of their glorious franchise history. They do not deserve this football stadium they are forced into.
    It’s disingenuous for Ratto to put the blame squarely on the owners. He might say that it’s not the customers job to support the owners, and I would be able to see his point if attendance was historically good except for the last six years or so. As has been quoted repeatedly here, that is hardly the case.
    I am glad that the A’s did a George Mason impression this year. But I am very hopeful that they can become Butler. And once in a while, Villanova.

  19. Cleveland NRAF says:

    Marine Layer:

    If you have a moment, could you contrast the NFL’s business model with MLB’s? I just wonder how small markets like Indianapolis,Pittsburgh,New Orleans,Green Bay and others win NFL championships while their small market brethren in MLB are treated like distant cousins.

  20. LoneStranger says:

    @Cleveland_NRAF – I think a big part of it is the salary cap. You don’t have a handful of teams able to pay a premium on the top players without suffering somewhere else on their team. Everyone is on generally the same footing. I also think it’s just a difference of the game. There is more hands-on strategy from the coach and coordinators and good ones can make more of a difference than a good manager on a baseball team.

  21. Marine Layer says:

    @Cleveland NRAF – The best way to characterize the two models is this: NFL gets 2/3 of its money from national sources, 1/3 from local (individual teams). MLB is the opposite. It might be closer to 60/40. You get the idea. The NFL pulls in approx. $2B more than MLB every year and has a salary cap.

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