This shouldn’t be all that difficult, but this is Billy Beane we’re talking about. It’s always got to be about him.
It made too much sense for the A’s to give their downtrodden fans a thrill and add Barry Zito to the active roster at some point during this lost September, but Beane wouldn’t do it. Today, after injuries to their staff including one that led the A’s to put Jesse Chavez on the 60-day DL, Beane acquiesced. Finally. After thousands of fans and more than a couple sportswriters cried for him to do so.
The next step, if Beane wants to let the world know that he realizes he’s made his millions presiding over a game for kids: let Zito start on Sept. 26, on Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum, against Tim Hudson. Hudson is scheduled to make the last start of his outstanding career at the place where it started. It only makes sense, in a game that would otherwise be meaningless, to let Zito start against him.
However, Beane isn’t the kind of general manager who worries about sentiment. He leaves that to the team across the bay that lucked into three championships won in an unfair, luck-based tournament system.
Susan Slusser’s story had the details of Zito’s call-up, including the Athletics’ Grinch-like plans for his last big league appearance(s).
Assistant general manager David Forst said that the promotion was based strictly on the team’s needs in the wake of injuries and several long games. The A’s called Zito on Monday to see how he was feeling after a shoulder problem that nearly ended his minor-league season.
“Barry was a little surprised” by the call, “but this is what Barry does — boom, he clicks into baseball mode,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said. “He was excited and fired up.”
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, and Barry will be able to give us innings out of the bullpen,” Forst said. “He said he is physically able to do that. All along, health was the issue with him and not calling him up.”
Wait, did Zito somehow get healthier due to Chavez’s injury?
Forst and Beane said Zito will work in relief.
“I don’t think it’s fair to Barry, or medically sound, to try to have him start,” Forst said. “That’s not the point of him being here. The point is to save guys in the bullpen who have been overloaded.”
If Beane and Forst care about one thing above all, it’s the condition of Zito’s shoulder as he gets ready to transition from throwing baseballs to playing guitar full-time.
Hudson, who left the Giants’ game Monday with a hip issue, is projected to pitch Sept. 26 at the Coliseum.
Hudson is looking forward to the reunion.
“It’ll be cool just to be on the same field with him whether we’re pitching together or not,” Hudson said. “It’ll be nice to see him in an A’s uniform again. If it works out where we’re competing against each other, I think it’ll be real cool, too. I think he probably would feel the same way.”
Hudson thinks “it’ll be real cool,” because he assumes it’ll happen. Because why the hell not? Well, because Beane has been obstinate about this Zito thing from the beginning. He knew everyone wanted the A’s to call Zito up from Nashville this month, and Beane took his sweet time. He knows that even if it isn’t “medically sound” for Zito to go five-plus innings, it wouldn’t kill anyone to let him start against Hudson. If Zito has to be lifted in the first inning after walking the bases loaded and giving up a few hits, what’s the harm? The A’s have the worst record in the American League.
Wouldn’t it be just horrible to let the fans know that Sept. 26 is Hudson vs. Zito Day? Oh, the horror. The parking lots will be full by 11 am! Fans will smile all afternoon! Tickets will go for $100 on the secondary market! People will dig into their closets and wear A’s jerseys that say HUDSON and ZITO, instead of the standard safe choices: a jersey with no name on the back or a No. 11 BEANE throwback.
Forst understands the interest in Zito, a three-time All-Star with Oakland.
“Ultimately, this was a baseball decision,” Forst said. “But you’d have to be blind not to recognize the sentiment involved.”
At the least, there is a good chance that Zito could pitch in relief the same day Hudson starts. Manager Bob Melvin has a sense of drama, plus a deep understanding of and fondness for the fan base, and he is an admirer of Zito’s. If the situation presents itself, Melvin wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to give the fans, and the Big Three — all of them — a thrill.
Of course, it isn’t Melvin’s decision.
“I hope Zito gets to pitch in that game,” said Mulder, who will be in attendance with his family. “That would be neat for him and Huddy. And the atmosphere will be great.”
Might Mulder, now an ESPN analyst, throw out the first pitch? “I wouldn’t mind,” he said with a laugh. “I haven’t thrown a baseball for quite some time, but I think I can get it 60 feet, 6 inches.”
“That’s going to be a pretty cool reunion,” Beane said. “I might have to activate Mulder and then write each one of them a check for making me so smart. Mulder, Hudson, Zito to start a general manager’s career is not a bad way to go.”
Making me so smart. Even during a moment like this, when the team he created went from great to awful and fans are trying their best to come up with reasons to care, he has to remind everyone how the rise of the “Big Three” represents the beginning of his tenure as general manager.
Yes, Beane has done several great things to keep the A’s competitive more often than not. His process is unique. He’s a numbers and production guy, and he makes decisions based on merit instead of standing ovations. The thought of handing a start to Zito that would otherwise go to a future member of the rotation probably makes him nauseated.
Too bad, Billy. Sometimes it’s good to remember that the fans, those long-suffering A’s backers who’ve learned to divorce themselves from the idea that their heroes will stick around, deserve a little boost of nostalgia to thank them for suffering through a year full of bad trades and one-run losses. And this isn’t about Giants fans. They’ll be fine if Zito doesn’t start. This is for A’s fans who remember the Big Three, because Zito was always better as an Athletic than he ever was as a Giant, other than that shocking postseason run in 2012.
That doesn’t mean Giants fans are ambivalent about this. The same goes for baseball fans who don’t care much for either team, but still remember when Hudson threw 95 mph and Zito’s curveball was one of the game’s best pitches. Everyone wants to see Hudson start for the Giants and Zito start for the Athletics on Sept. 26, with Mark Mulder close by. You don’t even need to watch, Billy. But everyone else will. Sometimes it isn’t about you.