ANAHEIM, Calif. – It's not a bad story, the one where the owner grows impatient and orders his general manager to go out and get some hairy ballplayers, to put an end to this rebuilding and win now, because the fans have it coming (pounds desk with fist, startling timid secretary).
And then that GM, none other than the iconic and dashing Billy Beane, sets off to make it work, a winter's maneuvering leading to a batting order in which Nos. 2 through 5 – Orlando Cabrera, Jason Giambi, Matt Holliday and Nomar Garciaparra – are all new and exciting and potentially productive.
And then the owner sits in the visitors' dugout on opening night and folds his arms, pleased at what his assertiveness has brought.
At a time of potential economic catastrophe, when nearly half the owners cut their payrolls and the other half (with a few exceptions) wish they had, the Oakland Athletics added about $10 million and turned the worst offensive team in the game into something watchable and possibly threatening.
Yes, a nice story, told many times this winter while the A's were surprising the industry by trading for Holliday and signing Giambi and going hard after Rafael Furcal before settling on Cabrera.
"And it was totally wrong," A's owner Lew Wolff said Monday night at Anaheim Stadium.
Wolff drove down from his home on L.A.'s Westside on Monday and once in the visitors dugout did indeed fold his arms over his chest. That was about where the stories ran out of parallels.
"I'd love to feel like I was directing those decisions," he said. "I wasn't."
He did recall a meeting with Beane and the baseball folks two winters ago. They had said then it might be time to replenish the farm system, trade some established players, get younger and fresher and (by the way) less expensive. That's pretty much why Dan Haren, Rich Harden and Nick Swisher aren't around anymore.
"Sounded Socratic to me," Wolff said.
For the most part, he said, that was the last he'd heard of it. The rest he left to Beane, who went from slow rebuild to attack mode in about a week, or so it seemed.
"I [own] luxury hotels," Wolff explained, adding with a grin, "well, with the economy and all, they used to be luxury hotels."
Now they're just hotels.
Seems he was strolling through one of his palatial properties when the general manager of the place asked Wolff how he liked the carpet.
"Beautiful," Wolffe told him. "Better than in my own home."
Well, the dutiful employee said, "I'm going to change it now, before it frays. My job is to see that before others do."
A couple hours before the A's would open the season against the Los Angeles Angels, Wolff said, "Billy's job is that, too, if you get the analogy."
That old carpet is now in Billy's den. Kidding.
Look, Wolff said, "We have to get on the field every year expecting to make the playoffs, otherwise what's the point?"
But, he added, as for making it some kind of special directive for this particular season, leading to a mostly overhauled offense, "I literally never said a word."
So, they were on their own. What the A's became offensively was a team that might at least compete on most nights, unlike the 646-run wreck from a season ago. Their starting pitching is ridiculously, historically young, as in five starters under the age of 26, two of them not yet 22. The bullpen is without Joey Devine, so potentially an issue, too.
And they've got to make up a 24½-game talent disparity with the Angels, who maybe met them halfway by backing out on Mark Teixeira, letting Francisco Rodriguez walk and then having to wait a few weeks at least on three high-end – and injured – starters (John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar).
All that being said, the A's loaded up, were fed something less than the Angels' ace on opening night, swung hard and … were shut out.
Just like they were 10 times last season.
Holliday had a single to right. Eric Chavez singled to left-center. Cabrera doubled. They had those three hits, spread over nine innings. They lost, 3-0.
That was that. A's manager Bob Geren was reminded, hey, uh, you guys were gonna hit this season, right?
"Ha ha," he said. "Just one game, yeah. Ready to go tomorrow. Can't look too much into one game. Our offense will be a lot better than last year."
The theme carried through the A's clubhouse, as it should have. These guys will see pitches, they'll push runs, they'll assure the baby pitchers that it's OK to spend a little time in the strike zone. The alternative – Giambi and Garciaparra age, Holliday lives to his career road splits, the whole machinery breaks down again – would be tough to bear. The alternative would pull the rug out from under the season.
If you get the analogy.
- Billy Beane