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The Creative Destruction of Baseball

“If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.” ―Moneyball

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Dodgers
Kevin Smith, next man up
Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

“If you want full disclosure, I think it is a good thing that you got Damon off of your payroll. I think it opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.”

Moneyball, screenplay by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

The Athletics are back, baby!

I have been worried about them for a while. I even considered becoming a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have been doing what the A’s should have been doing every year: ruthlessly churning the roster, trading the over-valued, expensive assets for incremental improvements to the team performance, building the farm system, and making the sensitive, die-hard fans cry in their beers.

(The Rays just traded Austin Meadows, their former star-in-the-making outfielder, just because the Detroit Tigers were willing to give up a minor league infielder for him. That’s cold. I love it.)

The cheapskate Rays also win lots of games. They went to a couple of World Series, too. They have kicked big-budget Yankee ass for years and, get this, they have a whole bunch of extraordinary players in their system backing up Wander Franco and the Wander Rays. Damn! Who knew?

Well, the A’s once knew. Hell, Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics invented the Tampa Bay Rays! But that was back when A’s fans recognized this current roster crisis as nothing more than the creative destruction of baseball … on steroids! (Oops! Too soon, Ramon?)

A long time ago, an Austrian economist identified the notion of creative destruction. Of course, he applied the concept to markets and capitalism, not baseball. The idea was, in healthy markets, long-standing arrangements and assumptions must be destroyed to free up resources and energy to be deployed for innovation.

The A’s somehow forgot that. With this new stadium project forcing political and social conformity on the most uproarious underdog baseball team in modern history, the A’s lost their way.

Indeed, by keeping a core of players together that would (presumably) emerge as World Champions, they were starting to resemble the Damn Yankees. That is not a template the Athletics should ever emulate. No disrespect to the A’s recent core of players. It was good, 97 wins good. It came together in the minors and won championships as it ascended to the majors. Unfortunately, its youthful achievements gave us fans the impression it would win titles at the major league level. Never happened.

The 2018 Opening Day roster included Jed Lowrie, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder, Mark Canha, Stephen Piscotty, Liam Hendriks, Lou Trivino, Blake Treinen and Sean Manaea. What, those guys didn’t get enough chances? Three times (2018-2020) they earned a place in the playoffs and whiffed. They were good, just not good enough.

Last year, they missed the playoffs altogether. They were beaten like a drum by the Seattle Mariners. They barely won their season series (10-9) against the Texas Rangers who lost 102 games! Were Pinder, the Matts, Manaea, and Trivino going to do better in 2022? I don’t think so, nor do Beane and Forst. Hallelujah!

In baseball, it is up or out, win or go home. That is what powers the creative destruction. Matt Chapman goes so Kevin Smith and Sheldon Neuse can play. Now, the rookies may not cut it this year, and Chapman may remember how to hit for the Blue Jays, but so what? Next man up.

I am grateful the A’s front office recovered the Athletics’ gonzo just in time to make this season fun again. Watch Moneyball, people! The Athletics begin every season buried beneath 50 feet of crap, aka expert prognostication. And yet, on a regular basis, the A’s emerge from the crap yard like jubilant zombies and embarrass teams who deceived their fans with big player budgets and free agent signings.

Yeah, I was worried. On Sunday, however, when Sean Manaea, Oakland’s scheduled pitcher, executed a reverse Ricardo Rincon and pitched for the Padres, I knew the A’s were gonna be alright.

It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.