True East Bay sports fans realize that the teams we love make playoff runs only in rare magical years, or if you are a Raider fan, like the mythical village of Brigadoon, once every hundred years. This year it was Brig-A-doon, as the Oakland baseball team won its division for the first time this decade and then celebrated by being sucked back into the mist. Jonny Gomes and Brandon McCarthy, the heart and soul of the 2012 A’s, will begin 2013 as members of the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively. So, as the San Francisco Giants enjoy their championship by re-signing their stars and scrubs to lavish contracts and the San Francisco 49ers waltz toward the playoffs while hoarding two quality NFL quarterbacks, we in the East Bay can either rage against the stacked deck, or celebrate that we got dealt a flush for a change.
The Golden State Warriors, who started the 2012-13 campaign in first place and will finish the 2017 season in San Francisco, may be tantalizing their loyal fan base with their second playoff appearance since the first Clinton administration — and the ball is now in their spectator’s court. Do you fret about the future, about building a foundation? Or do you just say, “Fuck it, these guys are moving out of town in five years, let’s jump on the Draymond Green Express?” Having experienced 2012 with the Mystery A’s, we can say while clutching our BART ticket with one hand and a foam finger in the other — All aboard!
The A’s won their last championship in 1989 — and that makes them the hottest team going in the 510. The Raiders won their last Oakland title in 1980. The Warriors won once in 1974. Cal basketball ruled the roost in 1959, and the football team won the Rose Bowl in 1938. Happy Depression Golden Bears! It is painfully obvious that if we wait for titles, this might be a rough millennium.
This year began with some favorite local traditions: the Raiders fired their coach, Warriors fans booed their owner off the court, and the A’s traded everything that wasn’t nailed down. The baseball club that had been bad for five years was poised to be worse; its marketing campaign focused on waiting for 40-year-old Manny Ramirez to end his suspension. Thrilling! The A’s then lost their very first game of the season in Japan. Then they lost their very first game in Oakland. They were the worst team in each hemisphere! Two weeks into the season, the A’s were in last place and their magic number was 408. The only time the national press spoke about the team was to ask the A’s whether San Jose or Fremont would look better on their jerseys. The club lost nine in a row to end May, and there was no reason to presume summer would be any brighter: rookie pitchers; everyone playing the wrong position; hitters using their bats as canes to walk back to the dugout, leading the civilized world in strike outs; and then All-Star Ryan Cook, selected because every team gets a player selected, losing his job shortly after the game.
Then suddenly, the A’s started winning. June was good. July was better. The A’s had already defied the odds, how hard was it to defy the laws of gravity? What went up kept going up. August was great, September greater still. While baseball’s cognoscenti were calculating whether the A’s maybe could snatch the first or second wild card spot, the A’s blew past that stop sign and set their sights on winning a division owned and operated by two baseball plutocracies, the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, who between them had won every league title but one since 2004. The last weekend of the season saw Oakland beat Seattle every game in every way, and still trailing first-place Texas by two games with three games left to play.
The A’s took the wild card, partied hard, and were scolded for squandering their energies on champagne, cigars, and god knows what after the TV cameras left. Hung-over or inspired, the Athletics won the first two games over the Rangers to tie for the division lead, the highest perch for the team in years. The last game of the season found the A’s with a puncher’s chance, which they pulled when they fell behind 5-1 about a minute after the National Anthem had been sung. But then October, which was turning out to be a more glorious month than the four that had come before, began to pour down on Texas: Ground balls with eyes found holes in the Rangers defense, and a fly ball on a mission was dropped by their All-World outfielder Josh Hamilton. The A’s crossed the plate five times in one inning, and since it felt so good, just kept doing it until the umpire said, “Nine innings of this is plenty” and the A’s were on the right side of a 12-5 score.
A playoff series with Detroit started with an A’s home run, and ended with a tiger-like roar from a fan based supercharged into talking the A’s’ penurious owners into taking off the hated seating tarps that extol past glories but make the thousands of seats underneath unavailable to actually sit in. The A’s lost the rubber game of the series and never got to sit in the forbidden seats, but rightly stood and applauded the most enjoyable baseball season in Oakland history. There have been teams that won more in the green and gold, but none that made anyone happier.
But 2012 also was the year that Cal fired its football coach, the Raiders were their usual pathetic show, and the Warriors’ newest acquisition fell apart like a cheap watch — which everyone kind of expected and yet still booed. The A’s, meanwhile, are spending the winter dismantling whatever magic the year brought. And it will all fade from the record. Twenty years from now someone will discover that in 2012 the A’s won a division and got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, and then shrug and wonder that the A’s once played in Oakland.
This year, those who saw it will say, “Oh yes, did they ever.”