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Empathy In The Loss of Hometown Players

NOTE: The Texas Rangers have acquired Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners for Justin Smoak and minor leaguers. Thread is here.

In case you were living under a rock these last 24 hours (and maybe not even then), you couldn't help but have heard the news about LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat.

For actual discussion of the news, you can go here, or here. If you want my opinion on the LeBron James special, see this quote from the open letter from Cav's owner Dan Gilbert:

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

However, the rest of Dan Gilbert's open letter is unfathomable to me. No matter how badly, selfishly or horribly LeBron treated the city of Cleveland in recent weeks, how can an owner trash his former franchise player to the magnitude that Gilbert did in his letter? Love him or hate him, LeBron played hard every single night in Cleveland for seven years and brought Gilbert and the Cavs more money, excitement and notoriety than anyone else in the sport could have. Surely that is worth something, no? Would a classier reaction have been for Gilbert to express his disappointment in the decision and how things were handled in recent weeks, but wish LeBron the best and thank him for seven sold-out seasons, five playoff runs, and an appearance in the NBA finals for his basketball team? More to the point, can any of us imagine a similar open letter to the fans from an A's owner after the departure of Giambi,Tejada, Zito, or Thomas?

This isn't about LeBron James. This is about the loss the city of Cleveland is experiencing, and believe me; I know how they feel.

Disclaimer: I've never lived in the city of Oakland. The closest I've lived is 45 miles away, and I currently live 400 miles away, so I have no personal stake or vested real-estate interest or opinion about the city the A's call home. Yet, I take it as personally as anyone when Oakland--the stadium, the team, the fans, the city--is snubbed by a player who chooses to play elsewhere.

On an intellectual level, I do understand. If you are offered more money, more fame, a sold-out crowd every night, and everything else that comes with playing in a big city (or in LeBron's case, all of the perks that make Miami not Cleveland), how can you pass up the chance? Do I really expect hometown player loyalty for an entire career? Do you?

I felt the loss of Barry Zito and Frank Thomas to a much lesser extent. The Giants made a ridiculous offer to Zito; one that I would have been disgusted if the A's had made, so it seemed a no-brainer. Likewise, when Frank Thomas made his financial situation public and I knew he needed the money that Toronto was offering, I was happy to thank him for 2006 and call it a good run.

But when Giambi signed with the Yankees, he ripped out a piece of my green and gold heart and threw it on the ground and stomped on it in the process. He didn't hold a three-ring circus to drag out the process, and if we're being honest, the A's aren't entirely blameless in the loss, but it still hurt like hell. Why not Oakland? Why aren't we good enough to have nice things? We've been around since the 1900's, too; we have pennants to hang and stories of the good old days to tell. And let's not forget; Rickey Henderson and Reggie Jackson were ours first.

Giambi's absence left a gaping hole in Oakland, and I was still numb when Tejada left. But looking back, did I want the best for both of these players in their future careers? I would have to say yes. I don't hold any ill will towards either of them personally; they did what they needed to do in their careers.

But I know how Cleveland feels. It's the worst form of betrayal; that your player wants to play somewhere else. Your player wasn't traded; he chose to leave. And no matter how many time you try to rationalize his decision, and no matter how many reasons he gives, the bottom line is that you feel that your city isn't good enough for the player. And that hurts.

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Friday, Jul 9, 2010, 7:05 PM PDT
Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

Joel Pineiro vs Vin Mazzaro

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