"And Down the Stretch They Come" - The Oakland A's Bring Their Glory Days Back to Life

By Connor Buestad (connorbuestad@gmail.com)

Last season, after finishing 14 games below the .500 mark, Billy Beane did what he typically has to do during the offseason. He held a fire sale. Strapped with the lowest payroll in baseball, Beane was forced to give up Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey. By that time, Mark Ellis and Hideki Matsui were long gone too. By the end of last Fall, the A’s had nothing in the way of proven talent. They were a dumpster fire, and owner Lew Wolff was determined to keep pouring gasoline all over the flames.

By now, the “Moneyball Era” had run its course. Everyone had read the book and watched the movie. Billy’s secrets were no longer private and it looked as though he had run out of cards up his green collar sleeve.

Meanwhile, Lew Wolff spent the offseason trying to get his A’s the hell out of Oakland. For all he cared, his team might as well lose over 100 games in 2012. The goal was profit, and Oakland wasn’t providing it. If the movie “Major League” was art, Lew Wolff was doing his best to imitate it.

Ironically, the San Francisco Giants, the darling across the bay, have been one of the reasons why the A’s haven’t quite left yet. Giants brass isn’t too thrilled about the idea of San Jose residents going to A’s games instead of Giants games, thus they’ve taken to the courts to prevent a Silicon Valley ballpark.

Instead, the A’s were set to stAy put in Oakland, at least for the 2012 campaign. Lew Wolff would have to wait at least another year to end baseball in Oakland. Yes, the stadium naming rights would be sold to “O.co”, half the place would still be tarped, and the women’s bathrooms would still have troughs to save money (or so I’m told).

I remember it vividly when the A’s signed Manny Ramirez. I was irrationally ecstatic for reasons unknown. Maybe it was because of ManRam’s carefree attitude, or because he ended the most vicious curse in baseball history, or because he was a hitting savant. For whatever reason, I’ve always loved the guy.

Billy Beane, on the other hand, didn’t necessarily love ManRam, so much as he had no money in the bank to work with. Beane drafted a contract for the zany, 40-year-old slugger, that read pretty much as follows: “If you hit, we’ll pay you. If you don’t, we won’t.”

Apparently, steroids really do make a difference, thus forcing a clean Manny into baseball obscurity relatively quickly. He never played a game in the Bigs for the A’s in 2012. For all intents and purposes, he was a bust and Billy Beane had just dug himself a bigger hole.

I remember it even more vividly when the A’s signed Cuban export Yoenis Cespedes. I learned of the news on Twitter of course, from a lifelong A’s supporter, @_Sparky_B. “Did the A’s just land Pedro Cerrano?” he asked. Honestly, no one really knew at that point and fewer people probably cared. A ridiculous, over-the-top video of “Yo” hitting bombs with his shirt off started flying around the interwebs. If nothing else, it gave A’s fans something to talk about.

The only problem with Cespedes, beside the fact that he appeared to swing for Mt. Davis on every pitch, was that the A’s broke their piggy bank on him. On a team where starters routinely get the league minimum salary of $480,000, Cespedes would be earning $9,000,0000 per year. When he sat down in the A’s press room to sign his Yankee-esque contract, Billy Beane (allegedly) whispered to himself, “This guy better not suck.”

Back in March, when the A’s boarded their flight to head off to Japan to start their season against the Mariners, they looked like a safe bet to be the worst team in baseball. Their best hitter supposedly couldn’t hit a curveball, their best pitcher (Bartolo Colon) couldn’t miss a meal, and their owner wanted to lose every game. Even the Banjo Man thought this team was going to be god awful.

In many ways, to be perfectly honest, this team has been terrible. For starters, the team has had no trouble breaking the Major League record for strikeouts (I stopped counting at 1,333). As mentioned before, their most proven hitter, Manny Ramirez, never was good enough to play a game in the Majors. Brandon Inge, who carried the team for much of the year, is now out for the season with an injury. Josh Reddick, the team leader in home runs, recently ran off a streak of zero hits in 30 at bats.

The A’s best pitcher, Bartolo Colon, was exposed as a roid monger midway through the season. Their second best pitcher, Brandon McCarthy, was drilled in the dome by a line drive that fractured his skull. Their third best pitcher, Brett Anderson, was put on the DL with a strained oblique. The list goes on...

Despite all this, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, through all the injuries, all the slumps, all the burnouts, and all the long odds stacked up against them, the A’s have somehow found a way to bring a winner to the city of Oakland and the greater East Bay.

Now that I stop and think about it, maybe it was the “Bernie Lean” that did it.

As the story goes, pitcher Jerry Blevins of the A’s is a big fan of the movie “Weekend at Bernie's”. The 1989 comedy chronicles the escapades of two young insurance salesmen who discover their boss is dead. Believing that they are responsible for his death and that a hitman will kill them unless Bernie is around, they attempt to convince people that he is still alive. Thus, a dead Bernie is constantly being dragged around and looks like he is leaning back, or “doing the backstroke with no arms”. In "Weekend at Bernie's II", Bernie acutally rises from the dead and does a zombie like dance.

In 2009, the rapper ISA created the song "Moving Like Berney". The song became popular in the South and somehow made its way onto Blevins' ipod. Blevins then suggested the song to Coco Crisp, who then put ISA's "Moving Like Berney" on the clubhouse playlist.

Next, as an inside joke, third baseman Brandon Inge decided to make "Moving Like Berney" his walk up song. By this time, the berney lean was really catching fire as the Right Field Bleacher Creatures caught wind and started leaning themselves.

Most recently, the rappers ATM and IMD decided to make a remix of the original "Moving Like Berney" track. They approached Coco with the song and have now granted the rights of the remix to the A's. After Inge went out with a season ending injury, Coco made sure to keep the Berney tradition alive and walk up to ATM and IMD's "Bernie Lean" each at-bat. 14 walkoff wins later and the rest is history.

Heading into the A’s final series of the year versus the Rangers, Oakland finds themselves in a last second sprint toward a most improbable trip to the playoffs. With a payroll of just $49,137,500, the A’s hold a record of 91-68. With a payroll of $195,998,004, the Yankees are 92-67. Amazingly, the A’s are doing this with a five man pitching rotation made up of all rookies. Pardon me for not spending my Friday nights at Stockton Port and Sacramento River Cat games, but who in their right mind has heard of dudes like Jarrod Parker, Travis Blackley, AJ Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone? The timeless phrase “Well, stranger things have happened before," could and should be replaced by, “Well, the 2012 Oakland Athletics did (I won’t jinx it) the playoffs.”

It is certainly no secret that the city of Oakland has seen better days. A sputtering economy, struggling schools, and increased violence never seem to be far from the discussion when one talks about Oakland in 2012. That said, it is even less of a secret of how far fetched and unlikely this Athletics playoff run has been.

You won’t see any splash hits, panoramic bay views or Coke bottle slides when you come to Oakland. Nor will you see any panda hats or lines for gourmet sushi rolls. But, what you will see is team seemingly destined to shock the baseball world, one Bernie Lean at a time. The Athletics’ days may be numbered in the city of Oakland, but they sure have decided to throw one hell of a going away party. Fortunatley, everyone is invited.