Unhappy Medium

What a rotten time for East Bay sports teams to have an average year.

The arc of the 2010 sporting scene in the East Bay was a flatline. The Oakland A’s proved that when they finished their season with a record of 81 wins and 81 losses. The Golden State Warriors hovered around the same line for much of their first quarter of play. Cal football played their last game of the year aspiring to be 6-6. The only reason the Raiders aren’t even-steven is that, at press time, they hadn’t played an even number of games. Even our mayor’s race failed to produce anyone who could get 50 percent of the first-place votes.

And all of this might be tolerable, and in some cases inspirational (Raiders at .500, yo!), except for the inconvenient fact that right next door, a bridge and an area code away, was a sports season that rocked hard.

Not only will we have to live with the World Champion San Francisco Giants for all of 2011, but we have that long and probably longer (how many different memorial editions of the Great Event will the Chronicle produce?) to live with the fact that those jag-offs stole our narrative as well? Who knew that the Giants were a scrappy bunch of scrap iron? That their multi-hundred-million-dollar payroll masked a blue-collar spirit that mocked the pretentions of the pretty boys from, uh … fuck it, let’s just say the Yankees again.

The dead-end kids from China Basin are being marketed as reg’lar guys who succeeded in overcoming by rubbing-some-dirt-on-all-purpose-its, while neglecting the part of the story that shows them being so affluent as to sit down pitcher Barry Zito and his $126 million contract, and sign Cody Ross for $4 million in August, not because they wanted him but to keep the rival Padres from picking him up for themselves. Yep, nothing says true grit to A’s fans more than the image of the team owner getting an ink smudge on his hand while writing a fat check. It was nice to have baseball in the Bay until November, but it makes it hard to remember that there was a perfect game, a quartet of stellar sophomore pitchers, and running fun from beginning to end for the 2010 Oakland A’zzzzzzzzzzz.

And in what sort of Bizarro world have the San Francisco 49ers out-hoodoo’d the Raiders? Their quarterback controversy whipped ours in Oaktown by more than a first-down marker. Alex Smith agonistes was way more gripping than Jason Campbell fumbling. Mike Singletary‘s psychological state grabbed headlines, while Tom Cable shared space with the Fishing Report. The Niners’ owners and home-field issues trumped ours. When the Coliseum woes are second place in a two-team town, then you know that the sporting sun has left the East Bay in a deep eclipse.

Want more? Stanford rules the college football world. The only 510 team to win anything at all, women’s professional soccer’s FC Gold Pride, celebrated their title win by folding the franchise at season’s end. Of course, there were high-school champions and somebody probably broke par at Tilden Park, but let’s get real. The A’s flagship radio station is literally all static after the season ended; the Raiders station, except for three hours of football a week, plays nothing but oldies (ha!); while the Warriors spend more time on KNBR‘s secondary station than erectile dysfunction ads. Meanwhile, across the bay and radio dial, they’re still replaying entire Giants baseball games for the listening pleasure of people who cannot get enough hot Nate Schierholtz action while unwrapping their Christmas presents.

We are taught that it’s the effort that matters. Is our mediocrity made the more middling by the fact that our neighbors are riding the roller coaster while we are on the merry-go-round? Actually, it’s made worse. Vince Lombardi once said: “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?” Since it doesn’t look like Golden State is going to compete for a title or an All-Star or a game on national television, or that any free agents will come to play in Oakland for free, or that the Cal football team will suit up in Berkeley for two years (or the baseball team will play ever again!), or that the Raiders can’t even muster up the interest to be a punch line, we suffer the worst sporting fate of all: irrelevance.

With first place come hosannas, coaches as motivational speakers, and commemorative plaques. With last place comes draft picks, notoriety, and coaches being fired. With a mid-level finish comes silence, obscurity, and questions about whether that guy is still our coach. If we can’t beat ’em (and we can’t), then at least we can tie them, right? There can’t be two champs or two bottom dwellers, but there can be a party at parity.

If we’re going to be better than sea level, sports fans of the 510, it’s clear we first have to be better than C-level first. Put another way, just treading water requires effort. Here’s hoping that 2011 gets us going somewhere else.


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