A day and a half after watching their exhausting loss in Kansas City, I’m wondering why no one is talking about the Oakland A’s curse.
If this were a more iconic American city, or the home of a pre-World War II major league baseball team, everyone would be burning sage or turning their pants inside-out or SOMETHING to break the worst curse in baseball.
Red Sox fans clung to the Curse of Bambino like a silk blanket for decades, and Cubs fans still piously shroud themselves in the Curse of the Billy Goat. Those teams went generations (one is still going, obviously) without winning the World Series.
But weren’t all those wintry years the result of mismanagement, poor talent evaluation and penny-pinching more than divine interference? The failures of the Cubs and Red Sox have lacked the Biblical heartbreak and stunning plot twists of a true curse. Yeah, I know about Bucky Dent and Bartman. They are boilerplate compared to these episodes:
1988: The A’s have one of the best baseball teams ever assembled. But they lose the Series to a team with one great player, Orel Hershiser, and a lineup full of Mickey Hatchers. And the precise mechanism for the loss involves a relief pitcher with a strikeout/walk ratio of about infinity-to-1 walking a guy who couldn’t make the A’s starting lineup, then serving up a home run ball to a dude with a fierce countenance but only one arm.
Twenty-six years later, the Kirk Gibson moment still is not really plausible. Don’t believe me? Watch it again. It runs in MLB ads and pregame promos approximately once every 20 minutes this time of year, a metal splinter that never leaves the foot of the A’s fan.
1990: Certainly not as epic as getting beat by the Dodgers two years earlier but, again, there is no way the A’s should have been swept by these Reds. The image in my mind is of hard-hit but fairly routine ground balls turning into doubles on the green-painted asphalt of Riverfront Stadium.
2000: The young A’s were plucky and fearless. And they were on the precipice of knocking off the mighty Yankees in the ALDS when Gil Heredia turned into a pumpkin. Oakland beat New York for eight innings in Game 5. Wasn’t enough.
2001: The plucky A’s were young and fearless. And they were on the precipice of knocking off the mighty Yankees in the ALDS when St. Jeter made The Play. (What is the opposite of a curse, anyway? A blessing? A charm? A mitzvah? That’s what Jeter had his entire career.) Giambi the Lesser could have taken sliding practice every day for the rest of his life, and we might not forgive him.
2002: The A’s won 102 games and surely were good enough to dispatch the Minnesota Twins. Well, no. Mark Ellis hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the ALDS – just good enough to produce a 5-4 loss.
2003: Where do we start with this one? Obviously with Eric Byrnes, still a fan favorite despite having switched from baseball to triathlons and quirky self-promotion. The A’s lost Game 3 of the ALDS in 11 innings after Byrnes tried to score in the sixth. He injured his ankle while sliding on the play, and had the energy to frown and push catcher Jason Varitek when he got to his feet but not to, you know, touch the plate. It was a salient point, since Byrnes had not originally been called out on the play.
2012-13: I lump these two years together because they were, in fact, the same postseasons. The fearless A’s were young and plucky, and they were on the precipice of knocking off the mighty Tigers, but came up just short both times. They scored two runs in four ALDS matchups against Justin Verlander, the same guy Pablo Sandoval would homer off twice in one game in the 2012 World Series.
2014: And saving the best for last – or maybe it’s the middle; you know how curses can work – the A’s morphed from the Harlem Globetrotters into the Washington Generals seemingly overnight. They had the best record in baseball in mid-August, yet had to claw their way into an AL wild-card spot. Having done so, they managed to give up the lead three times and lose in 12 innings to a Royals team with as much punch as a miffed toddler.
That’s some demonic s**t, folks.
And I know what you’re thinking: The A’s can’t truly be cursed. They won the World Series in 1989. Yeah, and all it took for that to happen was A 6.9 EARTHQUAKE. Okay! It’s gonna be the Athletics’ year in 2015! All they need is a tornado to touch down in Kansas City or a meteor to strike downtown Anaheim. The baseball gods are sometimes put in their place by a vengeful earth force, but that doesn’t provide a lot of hope to the most cursed team in baseball.