Here is a link to my Sunday column about the A’s. The full text runs below:
MESA, Ariz. — Picture Sonny Gray standing at his locker in the brand-new clubhouse of the A’s brand-new spring ballpark. I go up to him. I say:
“A bunch of writers last night had dinner together. We were saying on the Giants the face of the team is Buster Posey. And we were saying, ‘Who is the face of the A’s?’
“Some said you. Some said, ‘No, Sonny can’t be the face because he’s not an everyday player.’ Then we said, ‘OK, who else is it?’ We couldn’t name one. It seems like this is a team without a Posey, without someone you say, ‘That’s Mark McGwire, that’s Jose Canseco.’ If I were to say, ‘Who’s the face of your team?’ is there an answer to that?
“Uhhh, ha ha,” Sonny Gray replies.
“You’re laughing,” I say.
“There’s one name that kind of came up, but I’m not going to say.”
I say, “Eric Sogard,” a self-acknowledged nerd, who came in second last season as the Face of Baseball to the Mets’ David Wright. David Wright?
“No,” Gray says. He laughs again. (I have no clue who he means.) “I think that’s why this kind of team has been successful because there is not one guy. I don’t know. We try to come together as a team — not to say other teams don’t because they obviously do. But I don’t know. That’s a tough question.”
“You don’t have to have an answer,” I say.
“I don’t have one. I’m not sure.”
“I appreciate the attempt.”
“It’s a good question,” Gray says. “I feel like you’d have to ask that outside of the team, I guess.”
OK, Dear Reader. Think of Gray establishing a pattern. No superstar. No face of the team. The A’s put the concept of team first. This pattern will prevail as I work the clubhouse. Like with A.J. Griffin:
“Here’s a quiz,” I say to Griffin. “When you think of the Giants which player is the face of the franchise?
Griffin stares at me. He had not expected an exam so early in the morning.
“Posey,” he says. It is the correct answer. Madison Bumgarner was the face of the 2014 postseason, but he is not an everyday player. And Posey, God love him and his face, has been voted the current Face of Baseball.
“I really don’t pay attention to other teams that much, to be honest,” Griffin says.
“I was really asking about your team,” I say. “I was using Posey as an analogy. Do you guys have someone who stands out like that, who assumes that function?”
“I feel like we could take anyone from this team and the fans would run with it. We’re just a team here. I don’t know how to describe it even. I don’t know how they are over there (the Giants), but there’s no big egos here. Everyone’s equal pretty much. What I meant by the thing about anyone could be the face, I feel like if we decided to choose anyone our fans would just rally around that person no matter who it was. Last year, it was Sogard.”
Which brings us to Sogard, nerd as ballplayer, nerd as great guy.
“Remember last year when you were contending to be the Face of Baseball?”
“You came in second. It was a heartbreak, right?
“It was,” he says smiling. “It took me weeks to recover.”
“Some writers were discussing who’s the face of the A’s. Two names came up. We said you and then we said probably not. And then some said Sonny Gray, but others said no because he’s not an everyday player. Is there any player in here you would say is the face of the A’s?”
“Honestly, that’s what’s interesting about this team,” Sogard says, reciting the company line. “We don’t have any of the crazy superstars on this team. We have a lot of guys that are good hard players. We see ourselves as more of a team than a one-face guy. To A’s fans it doesn’t matter. Obviously, I didn’t deserve to be in that race but I came in second because of the A’s fans. They’re passionate.
“I give our front office big credit. They look at the character of players and how they are in the clubhouse. There’s no doubt the guys they’re bringing in want to contribute to the team and not be selfish players.”
Before we get to manager Bob Melvin, let’s summarize. The A’s are the essence of a team. They don’t have “crazy” superstars or “selfish” players. This is good, although most teams would not mind having Ted Williams.
Melvin conducts his daily news conference near the practice fields. He sits on a picnic table and the media gather around him. Because of the massive lineup turnover in the offseason, Melvin answers lots of questions like this one:
“Should the players wear name tags?”
“We have a certain amount of turnover from time to time,” Melvin answers in a serious voice, calmly. “This year, maybe a little bit more so. You have a lot of time during spring to create that camaraderie and develop those kinds of relationships. I know the names by now.”
He keeps going on Topic No. 1. “It’s not like we haven’t had roster turnover during the three years previous. In ’12 we had roster turnover. We were mid-50s, close to 60 players during the year.
“When you talk about losing some guys that were awfully important, those guys were no-names when they got here, the Mosses and Donaldsons (Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson). They became name players based on the opportunity they got here. The younger players know we embrace them. If you perform, you’ll thrive even at a young age here.
“That’s the way baseball is. There’s change everywhere now. If you get demoralized by it, you’re not headed in the direction you need to be going in. Our job is to embrace it. I really like the roster we have.”
Melvin probably believes what he says. I have no idea. He is a good soldier and a very good man. And there is a certain truth to the company line. Every season, the A’s are more of a “team” than a showcase for a superstar or two. And the A’s generally are a good team, a good team that breaks your heart. That is the pattern.
What no one says is this. General manager Billy Beane is the face of the franchise. That, in itself, is unusual. Giants general manager Brian Sabean lives in the background. Beane is more famous than his players. Every GM plays God with his roster. Nobody is more Godlike than Beane, trading players as casually as getting a coffee refill.
Maybe he doesn’t need a player who’s the face of the franchise. He may be right about that. He hasn’t been right yet.
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