A generation before “Moneyball” and the analytics revolution, the Oakland Athletics represented the cutting edge of baseball in very different ways.
Instead of the data-driven, small-market efficiencies wrung out by Billy Beane, the brawling, “Swingin’ A’s” embodied the cultural excess of the post-1960s at the dawn of free agency in North American professional sports.
Winning three consecutive World Series will generate plenty of extended historical consideration, and the A’s continue to be a popular topic for authors and scholars for those and other reasons.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also In This Issue: On Wildcats (Kentucky And Villanova); Dave Kindred; The Dust Bowl Girls; An Iconic Image Of Horror In Munich
Jason Turbow, author of the “The Baseball Codes,” is the latest to weigh in with “Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic,” to be published Tuesday by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In retelling many familiar tales of the the halcyon days of Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s, Turbow casts some fresh light on their legacy and what this club signified as Major League Baseball entered a lucrative, albeit unsettling, era.
Finley was a baseball outsider, but an old-school autocratic owner who, instead of keeping his dynasty intact, watched his stars walk off into free agency rather than pay them less money than the big-market clubs were offering.
A major component of Turbow’s tale is Finley’s shoddy treatment of infielder Mike Andrews, whose errors in the 1973 World Series prompted the A’s owner to try and get him put on the disabled list in order to fill his place on the roster.
But A’s players balked dramatically, in a significant signal of labor revolt. More than anything, however, the Andrews fiasco showed how anyone who operates against the culture of sports and the camaraderie of the clubhouse—even an owner—will ultimately pay the price.
What Finley built with moxie and marketing zeal he destroyed with his own stubornness and cluelessness. However, as someone who came of age as a baseball fan when the rollicking Oakland Athletics were all the rage, I still fondly regard them as unforgettable.
Even if their longevity, and the notion of the contemporary baseball dynasty, was on borrowed time.
A Few Good Reads
- ESPN’s obsession with sports and politics is truly over the top: Jayson Stark goes long (far too long, IMHO) on why baseball players aren’t speaking out on current issues like their counterparts in the NFL and NBA. I’ve groused enough about all this previously, but Stark’s story reads like it was concocted, and reader comments are telling;
- Move over, Ashley Judd: Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports on the late Kentucky basketball superfan Margaret Swindler, who kept personalized scorebooks of her beloved Wildcats for 50 years. Like any true follower of the Big Blue, she turned down the volume on television games and tuned into the radio to listen to Cawood Ledford’s legendary play-by-play;
- At Forbes, sports business contributor Rich Campbell reviews two new books by/with Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright, whose Wildcats won an improbable NCAA tournament last year and are poised to be a No. 1 seed this season;
- At The Undefeated, Donald Hunt creates a fantasy game involving his choices as the best hoopsters from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and it’s a doozy, suiting up Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Slick Watts, Truck Robinson and so many more;
- David Davis details the backstory of one of the most haunting photographs in sports history: The masked terrorist standing on the balcony at the Munich Olympic Village during the Israeli athlete hostage tragedy in 1972. The image taken by Australian photographer Russ McPhedran, Davis writes, hasn’t gotten its proper acclaim;
- At The Virginian-Pilot, David Hall remembers Dave Rosenfield, a longtime executive with the Norfolk Tides minor league baseball team, who has died at the age of 87;
- The University of Washington’s Kelsey Plum is the new NCAA career women’s basketball scoring champion, with more than 3,400 points and counting, and the science of her shot is almost clinical. What wasn’t delved into here are how her hesitation dribble and other elusive moves give her the space to launch;
- Long before the days of Title IX, women played basketball not in college but in company and industrial leagues, many of which were decimated by the Depression. “Only A Game” host Bill Littlefield talks with Lydia Reeder, the author of the newly published “Dust Bowl Girls,” about a rural Oklahoma barnstorming team that took the court in the 1930s against Babe Didrikson;
- One more on the distaff basketball front: Dave Kindred talks to Jeff Pearlman for The Quaz about why he enjoys covering a small-town girls high school team, the Lady Potters of Morton, Ill., as much as anything he’s ever done:
“Here’s a thing, too—it feeds my reporting addiction. I don’t go to Lady Potters’ games for the ‘experience,’ the spectacle, the hype that big-time sports sells. There are no cheerleaders, no halftime extravaganzas, nothing but four eight-minute quarters and you’re done. I go to watch a game and find a story. Stories are everywhere, you just have to pay attention. That’s what I’ve always done, whether it’s a Super Bowl or a World Series or an Ali fight—I ignore the hype and write what I’ve seen, what I’ve learned. I mean, if I go to a Broadway show, I want to go backstage afterwards to ask the actors why, why, why. After a Lady Potters game, I wait around with the parents on the court—pure Americana, pure heartland—and wait for the players to show up. I ask them why, why, why. Then I go home to the typing machine and try to earn my Milk Duds.”
Sports Media News
- One of the recent casualties at Sports Illustrated is NFL writer Melissa Jacobs, who’s dusting off her blog The Football Girl. Unlike so many who’ve been displaced in the industry, Jacobs is rather young, and she developed a healthy following before going to the magazine. I’m hopeful efforts from those like Jacobs will succeed, and not just because of my affinity for indie ventures. The legacy media continues to suffer from a lack of energy, innovation and imagination as it scuttles even young, bright talent in the name of short-term cost-cutting;
- Pearlman—who left SI before the great media deluge of the last decade—also this week riffs on what’s been happening at his old place, which was slow to adopt to digital. Like newspapers, there are still many terrific people remaining at SI, but what it may become as the online realm expands is very uncertain;
- SI briefly had a partnership with The Cauldron, a sports vertical begun under the auspices of Twitter (and for which I wrote a couple of times). At Yahoo! Finance, Daniel Roberts unfurls the bizarre saga of how that partnership fell apart. I didn’t know much about Chat Sports before this; now I know why. What a greedy, convoluted mess.
- As I’ve realized after a dozen or so years since switching from all-print to mostly-online media, the digital evolution will not be quick, nor pretty, and many fine journalists will continue to be eaten up by the transformation. I’m working like hell not to become one of them, although at times it feels inevitable.
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 74, published March 5, 2017. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website.
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