Memories of a forgotten season

Columbia Pictures/Courtesy

“Football stories start describing the action: ‘Joe Montana threw a touchdown pass to Jerry Rice.’ Basketball stories begin: ‘He threw the ball to Michael Jordan, who hit the three-pointer at the buzzer.’ Talk to most baseball fans and their stories begin: ‘I went with my dad.’ Or ‘my mom.’ Or ‘I took my son’ or daughter, my uncle. ‘My best friend and I.’ It matters very much who you see these games with.” — Ken Burns

With the release of “Moneyball” last week we’ve entered into that phase of the year where every weekend there will be another Oscar hopeful out in theaters. More importantly, “Moneyball” was also released to closely coincide with the end of the Major League Baseball regular season with hopes originally being that the Oakland A’s could once again get into the playoffs to help the publicity of the film. Unfortunately things didn’t work out as planned, and the A’s finished the regular season 22 games behind their division leader, the Texas Rangers.

Typically I try to avoid calling out a film for a historical inaccuracies. I especially hate when audience members complain that a film adaptation of a favorite book was not faithful to the original plot or other inconsequential details. An adaptation doesn’t have to be faithful to a novel in order to be good, and often history is a lot less exciting than the film version. But “Moneyball” provides one of the first instances where I can actually compare a movie to my own recollections of a period and a series of events. Baseball afterall is a sport that is all about idealized memories that arise from nostalgically looking back at defining moments in the sport (just look at “Field of Dreams”).

Having grown up a baseball fan in the Bay Area I couldn’t resist catching “Moneyball” during its opening weekend. The funny thing is I hardly remember any of the real-life major events or achievements shown in the movie. A vague recollection of the 20 game win streak exists, and of course I remember when the A’s lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year (fortunately it was to the Minnesota Twins this time instead of the Yankees), but that loss didn’t feel like anything special. It was just the A’s being the A’s. There wasn’t a whole lot of disappointment. It all just reinforced the idea that the A’s always had a promising team, but just don’t expect much come playoff time.

Other than that, I can’t recall anyone giving the A’s the kind of attention that “Moneyball” shows. The 20 game win streak was an afterthought to everything else going on in baseball at the time. As the San Francisco Giants struggled to get into the playoffs, the A’s tied for the best record in the American League. But fans still cared more for the Giants in their new stadium and their home run hitting hero. Keep in mind this was all preceded by the 2001 season, in which Barry Bonds (with the help of steroids) broke the single season home run record. The Giants would go on to play the Anaheim Angels in the World Series, only to blow a five-nothing lead in game six, and lose the entire series in game seven. Now that’s real disappointment.

Although Bay Area natives tend to gravitate more towards the Giants, the larger baseball community gave credit where credit was due in 2002. The year ended with Miguel Tejada and Barry Zito winning the AL MVP and Cy Young Award respectively, but neither player is even mentioned in “Moneyball.” It’s possible that copyright issues may have prevented this from happening, but still how could two such pivotal pieces of the 2002 A’s be left out of a movie about that team?

The 2002 MLB season illustrates an inherent problem with the Oakland A’s. The entire organization is as an afterthought, and this has been the case since they first moved to California. Although they’ve delivered more wins, hall of famers and most importantly World Series Championships to Northern California than their neighbor across the Bay, every baseball fan I knew growing up was a Giants fan (but they’ll go for the A’s if the Giants don’t make the playoffs). Part of the problem lies in the fact that the Giants lay claim to the South Bay (Santa Clara County) with their minor league triple-A team playing in the San Jose, the largest city in the Bay Area. With any luck the A’s will be moving out of Stadium sometime in the near future to relocate to San Jose, thereby expanding their fan base as well as their payroll, ensuring that another winning season won’t need Brad Pitt to earn some notice.