In continuing my series of articles interviewing fans of each Major League Baseabll team, I decided to tap my buddy John for the job of representing those adorable Oakland Athletics’ fans. John and I met many years ago while working at a legendary Seattle-area record store, Cellophane Square. Cellophane is now relegated to a portion of history that doesn’t even have its own proper Wikipedia page. For shame.
John had moved up to Seattle from his East Bay natural habitat in the late 90’s and we became fast friends. In fact, it is to John that I owe many thanks for quickly catching me up to speed on the Sabermetrics movement and how not to be a moronic baseball fan. The latter part is something I still work very hard to avoid.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Gabe: Do you remember your first game seeing the A’s? Which star of that day did you develop a Teen Beat-style crush on? Also, how many stadiums have you seen the A’s play in?
John: I don’t remember my first game because I have a terrible memory and am slowly but surely losing my mind. It was probably in the ’86 or ’87 season – my parents weren’t really into baseball until I got into it – I remember really having to beg to play Little League when I was nine. My parents weren’t really into baseball until I got excited by it. The county library system had a summer promotion where you would read 10 books and get two free baseball tickets. I was a voracious reader so I spent most of my summers reading crappy sci-fi books from the library and getting baseball tickets for my family.
G: How many tickets did you end up getting? I imagine you also read some illustrated biography of Charlie Finley, too, right? Though, that might negate the deal for the free tickets. Also, man, let’s be real, you’ve been losing your mind for quite some time, so that’s not much an excuse, is it now?
J: I can’t remember, but it was a lot. I’m a pretty voracious reader, probably partly because of this. I remember the librarians being really skeptical that I was actually reading these books and quizzing me on them. Strangely enough, I was never really connected to the Charley Finley era as a kid – the A’s didn’t really do a good job connecting to that era at the time, and the early ’70s might as well have been Ancient Greece to a nine-year-old. Listen, I don’t think it’s a secret that my brain has been aging at the same rate as my hair.
The first season I really remember is ’87, mostly because of the ’87 Topps cards. Carney Lansford‘s card is just so great – it might be the lamest picture ever taken by a baseball player.
He looks like a middle school science teacher – like he could honestly step in for Walter White in Season One [of Breaking Bad] and you wouldn’t even know it.
McGwire was my guy though; another terrible ’87 Topps Card.
I loved McGwire so much – how could you not? He hit dingers, he lived a block away from my elementary school. Every year we would go to his house to trick or treat for Halloween and every year the place would be dark, and then finally in like ’92 or ’93 or something we gave up, and of course that was the one year he turned on all the lights and met all the neighborhood kids. I was devastated.
G: I’m not as familiar with Big Mac’s batting stance as you should be. Did he always look like he was pinching off a loaf (like he does in the photo on that card)?
J: No, it looked a little more normal once he very naturally gained 100 pounds in his biceps and head, like we all do.
Pretty sure I’ve seen the A’s in 10 stadiums? The Coliseum, Safeco, Kingdome, Candlestick, AT&T or whatever that yuppie hellhole is called, New Jacobs, New Yankee, New Shea, Camden, and Fenway. I try and go to Camden when I can because New Yankee Stadium is just awful.
G: A few quick thoughts here. First of all, it only reminds me why you’re such a close friend for your refusal to call it Progressive Field; you’re a true friend. I also love what cajones you have to bemoan anything Yankee-related. Lastly, I know that I’ve seen the A’s at least twice with you at Safeco. Do you remember the Opening Day game in 2007? I’ll give you a hint, there was an extremely uncharacteristic blizzard swirling around the stadium.
J: I have no idea what you’re talking about. I kind of recall it being too cold to go to the ballpark so I stayed home and read a book and stared out the window sadly. All kidding aside, I might as well do that on Opening Day. Do you know how many Opening Days Felix Hernandez has ruined for me? We always play the Mariners. It’s supposed to be the best day of the year! It’s like Christmas only with MORE religion. Except for the last eight years or so I’ve gotten a big turd on Opening Day courtesy of King Felix, I mean Krampus. King Krampus.
G: I know you’ve been gray-haired since you were like 12 years old, but did you ever try to style your ‘do like Dennis Eckersley?
J: No, but that’s a fantastic idea. Feathered hair is back in, right? Incidentely, have you ever heard Mike Birbiglia’s joke about Eck? It starts somewhere around the 46th minute here (NSFW).
G: That seems completely in character for Eckersley. Honestly, before I clicked on that link, I thought Mike Birbiglia was probably just some no-name bullpen catcher for the A’s in the 80’s. I guess I’m a little behind on my comedians. You think Birbiglia would agree to be a bullpen catcher for the A’s for a day, just to set the universe right?
J: I don’t think he likes baseball. At least not very much. Surprised you didn’t recognize him – he’s making a great career as “schlubby dad” in like every f****** movie.
G: Okay, now for some trivia. The only rule is that you can’t look up answers if you don’t know them. In the event you don’t know, give me your best guess.
What was Dave Kingman’s nickname?
J: The King Man? The Long Ball? Big dumb stupid idiot who could only hit home runs?
G: What pathetic guesses. His moniker was “Kong.” Plain and simple, but maybe your last guess could be added to his baseball-reference bio. He did actually have 14 league-leading sacrifice hits with the A’s in ’84.
J: That’s called flying out to left field three-out-of-four at bats. By the way, this is a very good website.
G: In 1965, which Kansas City Athletic became the first major leaguer to play every position in a single game?
G: Bert Campaneris. I’ll give you a pass on this one.
J: Ooooh – forgot about that one.
G: Eric Chavez led the league with 95 walks during the 2004 season. Do you think you can guess his OBP within 10 points that season?
J: Nope. Let’s say .410.
G: It was .397; I’d say you were close enough, but if we were playing Price Is Right rules, you’d be screwed.
J: Drew Carey is no Bob Barker.
G: Which Athletic was the last switch-hitting AL MVP?
J: God, it wasn’t in my lifetime. Jimmie Foxx?
G: It was Vida Blue, in 1971. Kind of a shifty trick question, honestly.
J: That is a weak, weak question. That is the A.J. Pierzynski of questions.
G: Who were the GM and Farm Director for the 1989 World Champion A’s?
J: Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane.
G: You’re half right! Walt Jocketty was the director of their farm system. Now look at what a fantastic job he’s doing in Cincinnati.
J: Yeah, what has that bozo ever done? Stupid Cardinals.
G: Jose Canseco is a member of the 40-40 Club. Can you name all the other members? And what year did Canseco join that club?
J: Nope. Pretty sure Ruben Sierra is in there though. OH NO, WAIT, HE ISN’T BECAUSE THAT TRADE WAS DUMB AS HELL!! (Editor’s Note: Here we can see just how far gone John’s mind is, as Sierra never hit more than 30 home runs. The trade in question happened in 1995, which brought Danny Tartabull to Oakland.) I don’t think I can name them all, but I know Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano and Barry Bonds are in there too.
G: Well, you got the other members perfectly right. Canseco did it in 1988. Could it have set off seismic waves that ended up producing the earthquake during the ’89 World Series?
J: Everyone knows that earthquakes are caused by underground trolls moving their gold around under the earth. In this specific case I’m pretty sure it was Tommy Lasorda.
G: Name the last player to win a batting title wearing an Athletics uniform.
J: Can’t do that either. As an A’s fan, I’m obligated to point out that batting average is a stupid statistic and we, as a collect group, have completely eschewed it since about 1970. Probably Sal Bando or Joe Rudi. I suck at this.
G: As the friend who got me to read Moneyball before it was a bestseller, I’m glad you pointed that out. Did you know you also bought me my first ever book from Baseball Prospectus? Anyway, it was Ferris Fain, who hit .327 for the 1952 Philadelphia Athletics.
J: I forgot about Ferris Fain. Just a great name.
* Alright, we can see, from John’s performance, that trivial knowledge may not be of high import to Oakland fans. Let’s wrap this up with a few more questions not steeped in trivia trickery.
G: Okay, hypothetical situation here, yet seasonally appropriate. You see Jeremy Giambi working the Salvation Army pot for the holidays. What do you do?
J: I just stare at him, shake my head and say, “You couldn’t have slid, bro?”. Then I chunder in his Salvation Army pot when he’s not looking.
G: I remember all the girls in middle and high school having posters from Teen Beat or some crap in their lockers of members of New Kids on the Block. Did you follow that trend, but instead have a poster of Bob Welch in your locker? If not Welch, then who? If nobody at all, what is wrong with you?
G: Without writing a novella, talk to me about the stadium issue. Can Lew Wolff find a solution and stay in Oakland? If they can stay true to their hilariously rabid fans in the East Bay, will they also solve the dugout toilet problems?
J: I’m not a Lew Wolff hater. As with all things in Oakland sports, this is all Al Davis’s stupid fault. If you’re ever in the Bay Area, do me a favor and go spit on his grave for me. I think they stay in Oakland, but it takes awhile and will be very messy. More than anything, I hope they move away from the current Coliseum grounds – I really think there’s a few other good areas for a ballpark in Oakland and it would be great to have a park close to something besides a dilapidated drive-in movie theater.
J: Coco. I live in Brooklyn, every third guy I see looks like Catfish.
J: Absolutely. I don’t fault him; there was every reason to think he had peaked and was slightly overrated on defense. I hated the move, but I really didn’t think it was a bad trade. I hope to god Beane moves Brett Lawrie this offseason (John’s wish has been granted) – I can’t stand that feral bro.
J: I’m pretty sure Koch jumps up and down, yells and postures, and then gets dropped when Foulke slowly grabs Koch by his stupid goatee and stuffs his mouth full of 76 mph changeups.
G: Make an argument, for or against, considering Miguel Tejada’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame.
J: Just look how far behind Alan Trammel he is in JAWS. Plus, he could barely play the position for a good part of his career.
G: Back to Moneyball. I wasn’t totally sold on the casting. For example, the guy who played David Justice didn’t look anything like him. Give me your thoughts on Chris Pratt and Brad Pitt in their roles.
J: You give Steven Bishop some damn respect. Whatever, man, it’s Hollywood. Nobody cast in any movie or TV show looks like an actual human being. The real problem with casting that movie was the complete and total absence of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Especially Zito. It should have been called Zitoball. Or Billy and the Cloneasaurus.
Thanks to John for a completely entertaining and illuminating interview!