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Bay Area Bombers
Tom Verducci
July 17, 2000
With an attack based on walks and taters, Jason Giambi and the happy-go-lucky Athletics are the prototype team of this long-ball era
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July 17, 2000

Bay Area Bombers

With an attack based on walks and taters, Jason Giambi and the happy-go-lucky Athletics are the prototype team of this long-ball era

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Best of Both Worlds
At midseason the Athletics had hit the fifth-most home runs in the majors (131), while their pitching staff was tied for fourth in fewest dingers allowed (92). The A's ratio of homers hit to those surrendered was 1.42, the best in the majors. The Twins, on the other hand, had hit the fewest homers and had the lowest ratio.

Teams with Highest Ratio

HRs Hit

HRs Allowed

Ratio

A's

131

92

1.42

Giants

127

92

1.38

Blue Jays

147

III

1.32

Mariners

III

87

1.28

Indians

132

106

125

Teams with Lowest Ratio

Twins

73

130

056

Royals

93

146

0.64

Rockies

85

126

0.67

Phillies

81

110

0.74

Devil Rays

91

122

0.75

If your college fraternity ever fielded a team in the major leagues, it would be the Oakland Athletics. Their clubhouse is Delta House, only with the clothes hung up. Two hours before a game against the Rangers in Texas last week, the typical scene included players sprawled over various pieces of upholstered furniture, eating from oversized troughs of popcorn while watching an action-comedy, Rush Hour, on the giant-screen TV. Other players, in Skivvies, whooped and hooted over games of cards, chess or their absolute favorite, trading insults. No one paid any attention to four smaller screens showing major league games—not Miggy, Huddy, Baby Huey, G, Chavy or Ralph Malph. The gang's all here. "You're so small," outfielder Jeremy Giambi said to infielder Frank Menechino, "you can't even get on some of the rides at Disneyland."

"You're Ralph Malph," Menechino said, likening his teammate to a character on the old sitcom Happy Days. "You've got the whiny voice, the red hair, the freckles, and you don't shut up. Every time you open your mouth, you complain, and you've got that voice that drives people nuts."

Two weeks ago Oakland manager Art Howe did his best Dean Wormer after a loss in Anaheim, lecturing his team for playing without the proper focus or intensity. Howe later told reporters, "This isn't Club Med." That news bulletin nearly sent confused players running to their travel agents for rebooking.

"What's so great about this team is we're all very similar," says first baseman Jason (G) Giambi, Ralph Malph's shaggy-haired, All-Star big brother. "We're young and dumb and havin' fun."

Nearly 30 years ago owner Charlie Finley's Swingin' A's won three straight world championships with one of the most complete teams in baseball history. These A's, built on a shoestring budget, aren't nearly as balanced, but they're having just as much fun. Even the brand of baseball they play flouts the establishment. A Department of Motor Vehicles office exhibits more speed than the Athletics, they treat defense as a way of killing time between at bats, their pitching is mostly mediocre, and their hitters have about as much interest in manufacturing runs as they do in making license plates.

So how in the world did Oakland, 48-38 and a mere three games behind the first-place Seattle Mariners in the American League West, reach the All-Star break with a 1�-game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays for the wild-card spot? The Athletics have done it with an offense built specifically to exploit the two most obvious changes in postexpansion baseball: the lively ball and diluted pitching. Home runs and walks—both easier to come by than ever before—are Oakland's weapons of choice. (For the record: When the A's homered, they were 39-26; when they didn't, they were 9-12.)

"We are the masters at getting seven runs on three or four hits," says pitcher Tim (Huddy) Hudson.

At the All-Star break the Athletics were tied for 12th in the league in batting average (.268) but second in runs (.522). That is possible because Oakland had hit the fourth-most homers in the American League, 131, many of which followed bases on balls. The Athletics (428 walks) and the Mariners (434) are on pace to easily join the Boston Red Sox of 1948 and '49 as the only clubs to draw 800 walks in a season. (Oh, yes: Oakland also had struck out a league-leading 635 times.)

"Even when they're ahead in the count, when you think they'll be geared up to take a rip, they'll take a pass if the pitch isn't exactly in that small zone where they're looking," Texas righthander Rick Helling says. "They did that some last year, but what really impressed me was that now the young guys in the lineup are doing it too. They'll take that 2-and-0 pitch on the corner and just spit on it. They'll take strikes to get a better strike."

"That's us," Jason Giambi says. "Sit around and wait for the three-run Jimmy Jack." Pafiltes is what shortstop Miguel (Miggy) Tejada calls home runs, a word that he loosely translates as "Pow!" Oakland, which held the wild-card lead last year as late as Aug. 29 before fading, is making itself heard.

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