There were encouraging signs last week that the Oakland A's, who simply have not been their World Champion selves, were finally emerging from the doldrums of .500 baseball. They were starting to gripe again, and this is a team that is not truly happy unless it is unhappy—about its eccentric owner, Charlie Finley, maybe, or its stern manager, Dick Williams, or the multitudes in Oakland who do not come out to see them play. The A's griped all the way to the pennant and the World Series last year and, when it was over, they griped all the way to the bank.
But the new season started on a depressingly happy note, for the A's were the defending champions and their enemies would have to catch them. This they quickly did, and instead of grousing about that appalling development, the A's assumed the aspect of chastened puppies.
Last week, however, things were back to normal. Joe Rudi, the team's premier hitter of a year ago, was griping because Williams had benched him for not hitting. Rudi's .217 average merely depressed him at first, then he was hurt by not being allowed to play and finally, happily, he was really angry.
"I know what I can do," the ordinarily placid outfielder snapped, "but I can't prove anything sitting on the bench."
At first slugger Reggie Jackson grieved for his pal Joe. "I hate to see him suffer like this." Then, suddenly, Rudi was back in the lineup banging out a couple of therapeutic hits and Jackson himself was on the bench, "resting" by Williams' fiat. The sympathy he lavished so generously on his friend turned now to self-pity. He, too, was griping.
"Why should I need a rest?" he asked plaintively. "I just had a birthday, but I'm 27, not 37. I'm not tired. What's he thinking of? What did I do wrong? I'm hitting .285 and driving in runs."
On the very night he was supposedly resting, Jackson was sent in to pinch-hit for his replacement in right field, the volatile Angel Mangual. That was enough to arouse Mangual's strangely dormant ire, which he expressed on his way back to the dugout by tossing his batting helmet high in the air.
Now it was Williams' turn to be angry. He fined Mangual $200—the highest he had ever levied against an A—and denounced the gripers with the reminder that "I can't be concerned whether a guy is unhappy or not. I just want them to go out and play."
The next night the A's, muttering to themselves and exchanging dark looks with their manager, trounced the Brewers 11-1. Rudi had two more hits and Jackson drove in five runs.
This restoration of ill-humor is a salubrious development, but it will require much more than griping, valuable as it may be to team morale, to right the capsized champions.