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SI FOR KIDS
Talented but callow, the so-called Generation A's will struggle to generate W's
By David Fleming
The a's aren't just young and inexperienced. No, they're young and inexperienced -- and downright proud of it. The cover of this year's media guide carries the headline GENERATION A's with a portrait of the 1998 American League Rookie of the Year, rightfielder Ben Grieve. During the off-season the 22-year-old Grieve still lives in his parents' house in Arlington, Texas, where his status as a big league ballplayer gets him out of weekly chores. "But," says Grieve, "I still clean up after myself and all that."
Need further proof of Oakland's youthful pride? Take a look at the television promos for the upcoming season. In one commercial 21-year-old third baseman Eric Chavez is hitting the streets to solicit votes for Rookie of the Year. In another, A's coaches are shown scouting an 11-year-old pitcher. And in the campaign's hilarious feature spot, manager Art Howe is about to turn in for the night on a road trip when he is startled by a mysterious noise coming from the room next door. It turns out that Grieve and the team mascot, an elephant named Stomper, had been bouncing on their beds like four-year-olds. "We're building something big and something really great here in Oakland,'' says Chavez. "It's just a matter of time before we get things happening again with this team."
Grieve has certainly arrived. The second pick in the 1994 draft, he hit .288 with 18 homers and 89 RBIs last year. His 41 doubles were a record for an Oakland rookie, and his 168 hits were the team's second-highest total in a decade. On June 16, in his first visit home to play the Rangers, he cranked homers in his first two at bats. "Last year was like witnessing a fairy tale with Ben," says Howe. "When you see talent like that, it's just a joy to watch."
First baseman Jason Giambi also had a growth spurt in 1998, hitting .309 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs in the second half and occasionally putting on a McGwire-like show during batting practice. Chavez, the 1998 minor league player of the year, hit .327 with 33 homers and 126 RBIs in 135 games in Double A and Triple A last year before batting .311 during a September call-up to Oakland. "Sometimes I miss doing things other guys my age are doing, like spring break," says Chavez. "But when that happens, I just watch Jerry Springer."
Centerfielder Ryan Christenson and catcher A.J. Hinch showed promise in their rookie seasons, and shortstop Miguel Tejada looks like a 20-home-run threat in the making after his first full year. "We have some of the best young players in baseball right now," says general manager Billy Beane. "I get chills when I see Grieve and Giambi and think of Chavez down the road." If Chavez's journey is anything like his teammates', however, it may be bumpy at times. Last season Hinch went through streaks of 91 and 83 at bats without a home run, Christenson gambled unwisely on the base paths, Tejada committed 26 of Oakland's league-leading 144 errors, and Grieve faltered a bit in the second half. The road for all the A's became especially rough after the All-Star break. Oakland hit just .245 in the second half and finished with a losing record for the sixth straight year.
"The next time around the league these guys won't be in so much awe," says 41-year-old knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. "There were times, like when we played in Yankee Stadium, when our young guys sort of stood there in awe of everything. You had to shake them and say, 'Hey, come on, guys, we're beat before we even step on the field.' Now I think we're past that. Maybe some of our older guys' stuff is rubbing off on the kids."
On the first day of spring training, Chavez was greeted by ace Kenny Rogers, 34, who was holding a VOTE FOR ERIC sign, mocking the rookie's commercial. Rogers, who went 11-0 at Oakland Coliseum in 1998, and closers Billy Taylor, 37, and Doug Jones, 41, are just a few of the older A's getting a kick out of playing camp counselor. Even 31-year-old designated hitter Matt Stairs got with the program. In addition to working with the team trainer, he traded in his diet of beer, butts and burritos for more nutritional fare and reported to camp at 195, his lowest weight in eight years.
Among active players, Raines and Phillips rank second and seventh, respectively, in runs scored. They'll try to make A's fans forget about the top player on that list, Ricky Henderson, now with the Mets. Phillips, who came up through the Oakland system like the rest of the starting position players, will play left and lead off. Raines, who has won World Series rings in two of the last three years, will probably get 350 at bats in spot duty.
"We've taken some big steps," Howe says. "Now we just have to keep going. When our younger players mature, this is going to be a very, very solid ball club."
Issue date: March 29, 1999
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