OAKLAND — A lot of people are worried about the Oakland Athletics in this 1988 World Series. But I am not one of them. My philosophy is: Never worry about anyone who can beat the hell out of you.
Which Oakland can do. Me and 10 of my friends. Without breaking a sweat. Can I tell you what it’s like to watch the Oakland A’s take batting practice? It is like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger play pepper with Sylvester Stallone. Like watching a “Body by Jake” video. The A’s may not have the most glamourous team in the major leagues, but their T-shirts are the tightest.
Ripples. I see ripples. Mark McGwire ripples. Dave Henderson ripples. Jose Canseco ripples so much, he makes noise. The A’s do not smile when they win, nor frown when they lose. People say they are unemotional; I say they’re doing isometrics.
“Are you at all scared of losing this series?” someone asked McGwire, after the Dodgers captured Game 2 in LA Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the Fall Classic.
“I’m not scared at all,” he said. “I know what this team is made of.”
Right. Granite. Or is it quartz? Whatever. They aren’t nicknamed “The Bashers” because they like to knit. Here is how worried Oakland manager Tony La Russa was about his team’s sudden deficit: he gave them Monday off. Eight guys came to the ballpark anyway. The others, presumably, were at Nautilus.
“Why am I here?” said shortstop Walt Weiss. “Well, I didn’t have anything better to do. There’s only reruns on TV, or soap operas.
Worried? Why start being frightened now? There is, of course, good reason for Oakland confidence. The A’s won 104 games this season, which was not done with mirrors (were it done with mirrors, half the team would have been in front of them, flexing). No. The A’s accomplished what they did with power
(151 home runs), pitching (three starters with 21, 17 and 16 wins) and a bullpen (Dennis Eckersley: 45 saves). Also, I think they just scared the hell out of a few teams, which was good for about 14 or 15 victories.
And which makes the current situation so perplexing. The Dodgers have now beaten Oakland twice — in Game 1 with Kirk Gibson, who can barely walk, and in Game 2 with Orel Hershiser, who can barely shave, and Hershiser shut them out.
LA has hit Oakland smack in the macho.
Don Baylor, designated hitter:”This is not adversity, we’re just down two games.”
Dave Parker, left fielder: “I haven’t seen anything real exceptional in this series so far. Hershiser just got the ground balls he needed.”
Terry Steinbach, catcher: “Hey. We know what pressure is. Once, during the season, we saw an 11-game lead in first place shrink to three. So we know what it’s like to feel like heat.”
Now. Some would argue falling to a mere three-game lead in the AL West is not really “feeling the heat.” Some would say that’s more like riding around without the air conditioning for a while.
Whatever. It only shows the A’s are not used to being frightened. Why start now?
No reason. In fact, I believe we will see an A’s explosion, possibly in tonight’s Game 3. Why?
1) The return to their stadium
2) The return to the designated hitter
3) The absence of Hershiser
4) Canseco told me to say this
Also, there is La Russa, who just doesn’t look like a worried manager. Of course, La Russa doesn’t really look like a manager.
La Russa, for example, does not resemble Sparky Anderson, who is silver-haired and creased with wisdom. He does not resemble Tommy Lasorda, who looks like he swallowed his bowling ball.
La Russa, like his players, is trim and athletic looking, with dark hair and dark eyes and thin lips that you do not want tightening. You know where I see La Russa? I see La Russa working the tables at Caesars Palace, and he whispers something to two big goons, and five minutes later, somebody dies. In Oakland, forget the glitz This would be reason enough for confidence. But the biggest reason is the A’s home town, Oakland.
Oakland is not Los Angeles. Oakland is not San Francisco. You get the feeling when they were putting California together, they decided to create Oakland just so they’d be able to say to the rest of the country: “See? We don’t all eat salad.”
Oakland is blue collar. Oakland is Sam’s All Night Pancake House & Massage Parlor. In Oakland, a man is a man, and a police siren is a shrug. The hotel where the media are staying is the same place where NBA stars David Thompson, John Lucas and Walter Davis fell off the drug wagon.
It is not a city to be trifled with.
And I believe a team reflects the town in which it plays. Which means don’t cry just yet for the A’s. Things are not always what they seem.
As I left the Coliseum Monday, a man in his 30s rolled up to me on a bicycle. He said he was in trouble and asked if I could help.
“My wife and me were riding back home and we had some trouble with the car, and we need to get to South San Francisco, so if you cold just let me have two dollars, that’s all we need, to take the subway back home, I would really appreciate it, just two dollars. ” I reached in my pocket. I handed over two dollars. He took it, then looked at me.
“Can you make it three?” he said.
I am not worried about Oakland. Not one bit.