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The Worst Part Of Melvin’s Leaving Is What It Reflects

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

First let’s get a couple things clear. One is that as much as I feel, these days, like blustering, taking my toys and leaving the playground, and declaring my fandom over that’s not happening.

I am, as they say, a “lifer,” too old a dog to learn a new trick like to suddenly not be obsessed and loyal to the Oakland A’s. Unlike Dave Kaval I am actually “Rooted in Oakland” and no matter how poorly the front office behaves or how poorly the team performs on the field, I know I will in front of my TV watching, rooting, and bleeding green and gold because it’s just what I do. If there were millions more like me the A’s might be onto something, but sadly there are precious few of us — many on this very site but too few elsewhere — who are unequivocally devoted. That’s the “fanatic” in “fan” not to be conflated with liking or endorsing what we see.

Secondly, let’s not imagine that the blow of Bob Melvin abruptly leaving is the rebuild it foreshadows. With or without Melvin, a rebuild was somewhat inevitable sooner rather than later thanks to a 2021 team that was “good but not great,” free agents creating new holes in LF, 2B, and most of the bullpen, a payroll incapable of filling multiple holes adequately, and a farm system widely judged as bottom 13 and trending closer to 30th than 20th.

Bob Melvin didn’t jump ship just because a rebuild/tear down is in the offing. He was in this same position after another disappointing season, 2014, whose rebuild produced 3 painful seasons that led to 3 post-season appearances. BoMel could “ride the wave” of contention cycles like anyone else so long as Oakland was where he wanted to spread his roots. After all, the east bay was his college home, his residential home, managing the A’s perhaps his ‘dream job’ to make him — like me and many of you — a “lifer” until retirement.

If you have ever worked in a toxic environment, controlled by leaders who are greedy, disinterested in the product, and indifferent to the people who work too hard for too little pay, run by executives who are dishonest, duplicitous, seemingly contemptuous of the very product you are there to love and nurture, you have a sense of what Melvin was facing trying to manage an A’s team owned by John Fisher and presided over by Dave Kaval.

What sustained BoMel for long was the vibe he helped to create — an A’s clubhouse known for being loose, joyful, spirited, and close. But no clubhouse is so insulated that it doesn’t feel, at some point, the attempt to lay off underpaid employees in the middle of a pandemic, response to dwindling attendance by talking loudly about leaving and quietly doubling ticket prices with no explanation, and any of a dozen other examples you could offer to reflect leadership that shows little interest in the team, even less in its fan base, and perhaps the least in its own employees.

There is a vibe that permeates such an organization — I have been in one and you may well have been in one as well — and the effect on everyone, even those not directly mistreated, is that you go from being there because you love that place and it’s the only place you really want to be to going, “Well, it’s a good job and there are still things I love about it,” to...goodbye.

I am certainly extremely sad to lose a truly terrific manager and leader in Melvin. And I am already pre-grieving the loss of some core players I love to what appears to be a significant rebuild ahead. But most of all, I am both crushed and at the same time embarrassed at the toxic environment I believe has finally seeped all the way to the A’s magical clubhouse like the literal sewage for which the clubhouse is famous. It hits you especially hard if you are a “people first” employee and/or leader yourself, someone who values humanity and has disdain for the inhumane.

There is a reason Fisher’s heirs looked between John’s ears and said, “I know what we’ll call our new store: The Gap!” You don’t plan for a new stadium by dwindling your fan base down to nothing so that your shiny new palace has no core to tap into. If you don’t invest some now there won’t be anyone to invest in you later. But when your top leaders demonstrate time and time again that they don’t care about the real people who sustain an organization, eventually the people just want to go somewhere else.

Sit tight through 3 lean seasons? I imagine Melvin was up for that. But sit through more of an A’s organization informed primarily by greed, indifference, duplicity, and the toxic vibe this leadership style produces until it spreads to every corner and reaches every person? The A’s clubhouse may have been Melvin’s sanctuary thanks to the ethos he helped build, but organizational dysfunction is far reaching and I have a strong hunch that the “Fisher/Kaval way” explains why the ultimate “Rooted in Oakland” manager saw freedom in the chance to lead the Padres.

The Oakland A’s need to tear it down and rebuild all right. I’m not talking about the roster or the stadium, though. It starts at the top.