A's Challenge: Sign Paul Konerko
The Giants ownership team, then headed up by Walter Shorenstein and now by Peter Magowan, had been told by National League owners in 1992 that approval for the sale from Bob Lurie was contingent on getting a new park to replace Candlestick. There was no chance to build support with the dispirited team that finished the 1992 season. Adding Bonds gave the Giants the shot in the arm they needed.
Now, the A’s are in a similar position, needing a new park and needing a jolt that would stimulate passion, not only among their base but in the casual fans who lose interest if the team doesn’t win at least a divisional title. Just continuing the refrain of The Little Engine That Could won’t work with those fans.
The A’s face a clear choice. If they don’t sign Konerko, he will likely go to the Anaheim Angels, their competition for the AL West. Like the A’s, the Angels suffered from a power shortage last season. If they get Konerko, that will solve their problem and the gap between them and the A’s will widen further. No matter how much the young A’s improve, they will have virtually no chance to catch the Angels.
If the A’s sign Konerko, though, it will plug their one gaping hole, the need for a right-handed power hitter who can energize the whole lineup. General manager Billy Beane could forget about Erubiel Durazo and Scott Hatteberg. The home run totals of Durazo and Hatteberg combined don’t equal Konerko’s production in each of the last two seasons, 41 and 40.
If the A’s signed Konerko, they could alternate him at first base and designated hitter, which should be power-producing positions but haven’t been lately for the A’s, with Dan Johnson.
Then, they could put out a batting order that would be something like this: Jason Kendall, Mark Kotsay, Eric Chavez, Konerko, Bobby Crosby, Johnson, Jay Payton, Nick Swisher and Mark Ellis.
Since Ellis was their leading hitter last season, maybe A’s manager Ken Macha might want to tinker with that lineup, possibly moving Ellis up behind Johnson to be a table-setter for Payton and Swisher. Maybe even putting him at the top of the lineup instead of Kendall, though I prefer Kendall at a spot where he can’t hit into double plays so easily. Whatever, that would be a lineup that would be strong from top to bottom and score runs consistently for the outstanding starting rotation the A’s will have.
And Beane wouldn’t be tempted to trade Barry Zito to get the hitter he needs.
THE ANGELS are also an example for the A’s in another regard. When Arte Moreno bought the team, the Angels’ attendance was comparable to the A’s, sometimes even below. Then, he signed Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels attendance has boomed, more than 40,000 a game this last season and more than half again what the A’s have been drawing.
Like the A’s, the Angels have been the second team in a major population area, the A’s playing second fiddle to the Giants, the Angels to the Dodgers. Moreno’s attempt to identify with the entire L.A. basin with that “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” business was pathetic, but the Guerrero signing and the Angels subsequent rise to the top of the standings has raised the team’s prestige considerably.
The A’s have been perenially the second team in the Bay Area, with the possible exception of the 1988-90 period when they made it to the World Series three straight years and beat the Giants in the middle year of that span. Even the great teams of the 1971-75 period, which won five straight divisional titles and three straight World Series in the middle of that span, didn’t capture the Bay Area public, mostly because owner Charlie Finley insisted on having the spotlight, instead of his team.
The Giants have the advantages of being in the area for 10 years before the A’s came, so their fan base is area-wide and the A’s is much more restricted, primarily in the East Bay. The Giants have a powerful radio presence with KNBR, which promotes the team relentlessly as well as broadcasting the games. The A’s have bounced from station to station. With KFRC going to a religious format this year, they are certain to be on another station for next season. The Giants have a beautiful park, set on the Bay, while the A’s are stuck in a Coliseum remodeled to fit the Raiders’ needs but not theirs.
The A’s badly need a dramatic move to get the attention of sports fans beyond their base. Signing Konerko could have a ripple effect, especially if it gets them a World Championship.
This is the ideal time. The Giants are faltering, stuck with their veteran-heavy approach and the hope that Bonds can play often enough to make them a serious contender and keep drawing the crowds to PacBell Park. Without Bonds last year, the Giants were a boring team and a bad one.
With Konerko, the A’s would be the favorite to win the American League pennant, and as we know, the AL winner always wins the World Series. The Yankees and Red Sox are fading, because they forgot that there is a pitching element to the game. The White Sox will fall back without Konerko. The main opposition in the league appears to be the Cleveland Indians, but an A’s lineup with Konerko and its strong pitching could beat out the Indians.
And, think what a World Series championship would mean. The A’s have celebrated their four previous World Championship teams in the last two seasons, but the last championship was 1989, ancient history to many fans. If they could win next year, which would be 52 years since the Giants last won a World Championship, that would be an enormous step forward.
THE A’S new owners have the money. Do they have the will? The ball is in their court.
NOTE: I will be part of a panel discussing Latino baseball players, past and present, on Friday night at the Oakland Museum Theatre. The panel will be moderated by Spanish broadcaster Amaury Pi-Gonzalez, who will also take questions from the audience, and will run from 7-8:30 p.m. Tito Fuentes will also be a panelist.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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