Oakland's Unathletic End Of The Season

Today, we look at the disappointing final stretch of the Oakland A's and also dissect the evolving precarious relationship between baseball and sports betting.

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know…

. . . Yesterday, Chris Bassitt pitched three scoreless innings for the Oakland A’s less than a month after surgery to repair facial fractures from a comeback line drive. However, the Seattle Mariners rallied against Oakland's bullpen for a 6-5 victory. That marked Seattle’s ninth straight victory over the A’s this season, including this most recent four-game sweep.

. . . The official attendance at the Oakland Coliseum for the A’s game this past Wednesday was 4,149. That’s fewer fans than the average attendance at Bradley University basketball games in 2019-2020 (5,651).

. . . In 2009, The Caesars Casinos—best known for sports betting—procured an arrest warrant for former MLB pitcher Shawn Chacon due to bad debts totaling $150,000. The casino later resolved the matter and offered not to prosecute the MLB player any further.

. . . In 1970, Sports Illustrated published an article accusing Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain of being part of a sports gambling ring in the 1967 baseball season. The article stated that McLain, who was injured at one point in 1967, had his toes crushed by the mafia for failing to payout a horse race betting win. The League responded by suspending McLain for three months in 1970. McLain responded quite negatively to the suspension. During an interview towards the end of the season, he attacked reporters with buckets of water. Later on, he appeared with a gun in the stadium and was suspended until the season was over. He retired two years later in 1972.

Leading Off

The A’s Are Sputtering To The Finish Line – On The Field And In The Stands

By Rich Campbell

The eulogy for this season of Oakland A’s baseball, of course, cannot be written until it is over. However, the story of the attendance numbers can be told with just a weekend set with the Astros left before a season-closing road trip.

The numbers are not good. Early in the season, capacity restrictions from state and local government were the story. From there, the team decided to not offer any partial season ticket option once the stadium returned to full capacity. Oakland is the only team in MLB that took that approach.

Since the start of September, the A’s had not drawn even 9,000 fans to a game, while the team hung around the edges of Wild Card contention (never more the 4 games from a spot). The first three games of the Seattle series this week featured “crowds” of less than 5,000 fans.

Finally, season ticket renewals for next year were emailed out this week, with price increases near 50%, according to some fans’ complaints on Twitter yesterday.

All this negative news is compounded by the team’s flirtation with a move to Las Vegas if their new stadium proposal in Oakland stalls.

What happens next in Oakland will be a closely monitored sports business story throughout the offseason and into next year.

Record Recap

The last time we gathered, the A’s were 70-57 on the off day of August 25. Since that point, the team has gone 12-13, hardly a playoff push. The division-leading Houston Astros have pulled away in the AL West and the focus of the team’s increasingly remote chance of postseason play has turned to the AL Wild Card. The Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays, and Mariners are all ahead of the A’s, and there are, alas, just two slots available.

After dropping three in a row to the Mariners, FanGraphs gives the A’s only a two percent chance of making the postseason.

Stat Nobody Saw Coming

Reliever Deolis Guerra has appeared in 49 games with a solid 3.45 ERA. He was coming off an eight appearance season in Philadelphia with an 8.59 ERA in 2020. In 2019, he had just one MLB appearance (with the Brewers) and Guerra did not pitch in the majors in 2018. His contributions were an unexpected bonus for the A’s this year.

Roster Churn

The most notable addition to the A’s roster this month is the improbable return of Khris Davis. After hitting 40 homers each season 2016-18, including a league-leading 48 in 2018, Davis had a rib injury in 2019 and was never the same. After he was woeful during the abbreviated 2020 season with an OPS+ of 78, Davis was traded to Texas in the Elvis Andrus deal. In May, he was waived by the Rangers. In July he signed back with the A’s. By August he was in AAA and by September he was back in Oakland.  That is the fun part of the story.

Since returning, Davis has had just 34 plate appearances and no homers. That is the not-so-fun part of the story. 

Regression To The Mean Candidate

Last month’s candidate was Matt Chapman. He has had the predicted uptick in production. Before August 25, he performed at the level of a league-average offensive player (OPS+ of 101, 100 is league average).  Since then, his OPS+ is 155 and he has eight homers and 15 RBI’s in 21 games. While Chappy’s performance did not propel the team to a strong finish, it is a great sign that his recovery from hip surgery should not hinder him in 2022, as it did early this year.

Old Guys Report

The older pitchers are still throwing, just not well. Yusmeiro Petit has 6.97 ERA in 11 appearances since August 25. Think that’s bad? In 11 appearances for Sergio Romo, he has an ERA of 13.00 in that same timespan. The bullpen - especially these two veterans - submarined any playoff hopes.

The older hitters highlighted in this space all season - Jed Lowrie and Mitch Moreland - also did not finish strong. Lowrie is slashing just .160/.228/.320 since August 25. Moreland meanwhile has been hurt and played just one game in that time frame. Ouch!

Coming Up

The season concludes with three home games against the Astros and then a six-game roadie to Seattle and Houston. Barring a remarkable comeback, that will conclude a season, breaking a streak of three straight postseason appearances.

Rich Campbell is a Marketing Professor at Sonoma State University by day and A’s fan by night. He has previously been a sports business contributor at Forbes.com and his academic writing has appeared in Sport Marketing Quarterly. You can find him on Twitter @RichCampbellPhD.

Cleaning Up

Baseball Is Too Unpredictable To Bet On

By Dan Schlossberg

Here in Las Vegas, where I am attending an annual travel convention called IPW (short for International Pow Wow), sportsbooks dominate every casino.

Giant televisions and scoreboards are omnipresent, with plenty of betting fans there to root for their favorite teams – and spend their hard-earned money.

Major League Baseball once eschewed its association with gambling. The late Commissioner Bowie Kuhn even suspended a pair of icons, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, for signing on as greeters for Atlantic City casinos.

And we all know about Pete Rose, who bet on baseball, lied about it for 25 years, and ruined any chance of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was at Derek Jeter’s induction – I saw him in person having breakfast at the Doubleday Café – but seemed a shell of his former self. It must hurt him to peddle autographs for a few dollars just steps from the gallery where he will never have a plaque.

What boggles my mind, however, is how MLB allowed gambling to become ingrained within the sport. Even MLB Network lists the odds of each game and is sponsored in part by DraftKings.

That’s merely encouraging gambling, which was once a no-no. Remember the Black Sox Scandal? Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner, banned for life eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox even after they were acquitted in a court of law. Their offense, in the eyes of the former federal judge, was associating with known gamblers.

It was the same offense that later got Leo Durocher banned for a full season – ironically, Jackie Robinson’s first year, 1947.

Betting on baseball is a bad idea anyway. The game is just impossible to predict.

Want some recent examples?

How about the Yankees, playing at home in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, losing back-to-back games against the also-ran Cleveland Indians by identical 11-1 scores?

How about the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks not only winning a doubleheader in Atlanta but holding the hometown Braves to one hit (Madison Bumgarner had a seven-inning no-hitter in the nightcap but got credit only for a shutout and complete game)?

And how about journeyman Eddie Rosario, acquired by the Braves from the Cleveland scrapheap, hitting for the cycle ON FIVE PITCHES in San Francisco last Sunday? That’s the same Eddie Rosario who was injured, unable to play, and able to land only over-the-hill pinch-hitter Pablo Sandoval (since released) in exchange.

Joaquin Andujar was right when asked to describe baseball in one word.

“Youneverknow,” he said.

That’s why baseball and betting are a bad mix. Yes, it raises more revenue for the cash cow that has become Major League Baseball. But how many innocent victims fall prey to its false get-rich-quick tentacles?

If baseball really wants to regain its status as America’s national pastime, it needs to restore its former integrity. And that means divesting itself of gambling interests. Immediately if not sooner.

Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch. He covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, and more. You can email him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Extra Innings

“It’s an accomplishment that Oakland can keep getting itself into the [postseason] conversation as hamstrung as it is. But the whole century will basically show a book, a Brad Pitt movie, one ALCS appearance, and a whole lot of highlights where they’re the supporting player for someone else’s accomplishment. And hanging over all of it now is the fight over their new stadium they don’t want to pay for, but want to make the city foot the bill instead.”
- Sam Fels of deadspin.com