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7:57AM

Are these the new Swingin’ A’s?

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Well, all was quiet on the western front. Also in the East Bay clubhouse. No punches. No concussions. No conversation either. All reminders of the Swingin’ A’s of the 1970s are only coincidental.

Those guys could play baseball. They won three consecutive World Series, ’72-73-74. Those guys also could fight. Each other. There’s nothing wrong with teammates smacking each other around, as long as when the umpire yells “Play ball,” the priorities are reassessed.

As the Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers said two years ago when the ’74 champions had a reunion at the Coliseum, “We had some characters and, we were beating the bleep out of each other. But still we won.”

The ’16 A’s have not for the most part, although Oakland looked more than competent Tuesday night at the Coliseum, defeating the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians, 9-1.

Solid pitching, timely hitting. Which is the way it used to be.

Minus an attempted haymaker or two. Ah, such memories of the glory and gory days.

Game One of the ’74 Series was at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Writers from around the country stood around the cage during batting practice, most skeptical of the Athletics’ reputation.

“I don’t believe all those stories of the fighting,” a journalist told the late Ron Bergman, in those days the only correspondent who covered every A’s game. At almost that very moment, Fingers and fellow pitcher John “Blue Moon” Odom began to brawl in the visitors’ clubhouse.

Ray Fosse was a catcher on the ’73 and ’74 A’s. Now at 69, he works with Glenn Kuiper as the Oakland television commentator. Fosse became famous for being run over by Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game — and for breaking up a fight between Billy North and Reggie Jackson in that ’74 A’s title season.

“I just tried to pull Billy away,” said Fosse, who having incurred a crushed disk in his neck that still hurts, is reluctant to say much more about that battle.

Ballplayers are with each other virtually every day from February until October, on buses and planes, in cramped clubhouses. Nerves fray, tempers explode.

Jeff Kent once took a swing at Barry Bonds in the Giants’ dugout at AT&T. That Danny Valencia of the A’s conked teammate Billy Butler wouldn’t have been particularly noteworthy except that Butler was diagnosed with a concussion, a serious condition.

In fact, while one offers condolences to Butler — who must have taken a beating from Valencia — the incident has for a brief moment made the A’s relevant once again. Consigned to the back pages of the Bay Area’s dailies, they suddenly became front-page news.

They would prefer to do it by being successful, but until then any sort of attention will do.

“It’s not the first time guys have gotten in a fight in the clubhouse,” said Oakland general manager David Forst correctly.

“Unfortunately, when we’re having the kind of season we’re having, it’s a big story. If we were winning, it would be colorful, but we’re not.”

Precisely, and even though the A’s fined both Valencia and Butler, Forst and manager Bob Melvin perhaps were not displeased in their athletes showing some fire, if they didn’t appreciate Butler getting concussed.

Oakland team chemistry has been lacking — “not great” is the way Forst described it — which is hardly unexpected the way the A’s repeatedly ship people from Oakland to Triple A Nashville, and vice versa.

The insecurity has to have an effect on young players. How can there be chemistry when there’s no stability?

Through it all, Melvin, the A’s manager, has remained resolute and pleasant. While it’s true any manager is only as good as his players, the entire business, from lack of talent to losing a player because he was socked by a teammate, must be a downer. 

The rare triumph, such as Tuesday night’s — after loses in eight of the previous nine games — allows Melvin a brief chance to escape the craziness of the past few days, not to mention the season.

“Certainly we had this incident, but when you have losing seasons and you’re not playing well, it’s not going to go as well as when you’re winning,” Melvin conceded when asked about the fight.

“And we’ve had two tough seasons. So in that respect, you don’t expect everything to be warm and fuzzy all the time.”

As men such as Rollie Fingers and Billy North from those 1970s teams readily would confirm.

9:03AM

S.F. Examiner: Amidst global turmoil, sports trudge forward in Europe

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

PARIS — Unable to find Giants or Athletics results in L’Equipe, the historic French sports daily, one goes to the Internet and ESPN and gets not, say, the Red Sox but so help me Qarabag FK, an Azerbaijani soccer team. Yikes.

Not until I open the Examiner website do I discover the Giants have been in a free fall that began in San Diego, of all places, and continued at Fenway Park. The A’s unfortunately have been in a free fall since April.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

8:53PM

Newsday (N.Y.): Michael Pineda gets first win since April 6

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. — Michael Pineda stood taller, literally, extending his body to the maximum, which is considerable for someone who is 6-7. And also figuratively, finally looking like the pitcher he and the Yankees believed he was.

It had been a difficult seven starts for Pineda, who was winless in each of them. But he came to the mound at O.co Coliseum on Sunday after working on standing more erect, which would help him throw sliders to the bottom of the strike zone.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Newsday. All rights reserved.

10:38AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Rob Refsnyder gets big hit, but will he be staying with Yankees?

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. — The question was inevitable. So was the answer.

Rob Refsnyder had the big hit Saturday, proving that on this day, at least, he deserved to be on the Yankees. But not unexpectedly, the present seemed less important than the future — the immediate future.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2016 Newsday. All rights reserved.

6:59PM

A’s pull a number on the Royals

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — He was wearing a Warriors T-shirt, as seemingly half the Bay Area is these days, the gold one passed out a day before, the one reading “Strength in Numbers.” But for Chris Bassitt, a Cleveland Cavaliers fan under that shirt — understandably, since he’s from Ohio — there was only one number Sunday, 114, the career-high number of pitches he threw for the Athletics.

He didn’t get a win for that effort, but the A’s did, beating the World Series champion Kansas City Royals 3-2, and suddenly everything was as joyful and upbeat at the Coliseum as it had been some 24 hours earlier next door at Oracle Arena.

The weather was the best of the weeks-old baseball season, only 70 degrees at first pitch but climbing to 79 at the final out of an efficient, tidy game that required only 2 hours 37 minutes. The A’s closed out a home stand that began with four straight losses and ended with two wins, both over K.C., of course. And the stadium, often as lonely as a graveyard at midnight, was nearly full, 29,668 fans, after 25,584 on Saturday.

John Axford got the pitching victory. He was the one in the lineup when, in the bottom of the eighth, Billy Burns tripled down the right field line. “It was this close to going foul,”  said Burns, pinching his fingers together, “and that close to being caught.” Burns then scored the tie-breaking, winning run on pinch hitter Josh Reddick’s sacrifice fly.

But the 6-foot-5 Bassitt was no less responsible for the victory than anyone in the Oakland clubhouse. He went the first seven innings, giving up two runs, one a homer by Mike Moustakas. “I was not committed on the pitch,” said Bassitt. That’s acceptable. The A’s — every team in the majors — would delight in their starter allowing only two runs.  

Sunshine and success alter everything at the Coliseum. Maybe it’s not AT&T Park, and yes, the A’s still need a ballpark, but with blue skies the figurative atmosphere is changed. So too are the A’s fortunes. Now, one game below .500, they head to New York for three games at Yankee Stadium.

“We’ve got some momentum,” said Burns. “Scratching out a win against (the Royals) is big.”

The Royals pride themselves on their late-inning relief. Their template for winning the World Series was to get through the sixth inning in front or tied, then call on a bullpen some would say is the best in the majors. So A’s manager Bob Melvin was particularly pleased the way his team, trailing 2-1 into the seventh, rallied to tie and win.

“Coming back against this team is something,” said Melvin. “Typically, in the seventh, eighth and ninth, it’s a big challenge.”

So many games in baseball, 162, and yet this one game, especially at home, where the A’s were 2-7, the second-worst home record in the American League, was important. Teams need to do well at home to make believers of the ticket buyers. People want to leave a ballpark in a good mood. And Sunday at the Coliseum, most of the people did.

“We’d been struggling at home,” confirmed Melvin. “Now we’re going on a 10-game trip against good teams.” Those teams, in order, are the Yankees, Blue Jays and Tigers. “This was significant,” Melvin added.

Ryan Madson pitched the ninth to get his fourth save (and the A’s only have six wins).

“He did the job,” said Melvin the onetime catcher.

Which Madson considered ordinary, or at least nothing out of the usual. Just get on the mound and throw strikes, whether it’s the Royals — with whom he won a World Series last season — or the Mariners. “The idea,” said Madson, “is to keep the pressure on the hitters.”

The pressure’s been on the A’s in many ways. They’ll always be in the shadow of the club across the Bay until they get that ballpark and then have the revenue to retain their stars. Also, having bottomed out in 2015, the Athletics need to prove they’ve put together a team that can win and also be attractive, not that one doesn’t follow the other.

So there’s Bassitt, wearing his shirt for the most attractive, winningest team in the region — and in basketball — that of the Warriors. “I’ll root for them until the finals,” said Bassitt, who played at the University of Akron, close to Cleveland. “Then I’ll root for the Cavs.”

Everybody makes mistakes.

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