The Oakland Athletics might be the best story of the 2012 season. They entered the season with many expecting them to amongst the worst teams in baseball and ended up shocking the baseball world by upsetting the Rangers to win the AL West division crown. It is the sort of thing that fairy tales are made of and even if they take an early exit in the ALDS, their season's story will certainly have a happy ending. However, that doesn't mean the Oakland A's are going to live happily ever after.
Headed into the season, the A's were a lot less fairy tale and a lot more horror story. Coming off a season in which they finished 74-88 and dead last in the majors in attendance, ownership instituted a payroll reduction of about $15 million. That budget slashing gave them the ignominious honor of entering Opening Day with the lowest payroll in the entire league. They followed that move up during the season by releasing a player right before his wife was due to deliver twins and partially ousting respected and popular commentator Ray Fosse for inexperienced Scott Hatteberg. In short, the A's were trying so hard to antagonize their own fans that you would think the club was being run by Lord Voldemort rather than Billy Beane. (Although, have you ever seen them both in the same place at the same time? I'm just saying)
All these fan-frustrating moves were being made with one apparent goal in mind: forcing the league to approve the team's long-professed desire to relocate to San Jose. Actually, this isn't so much a bad fairy tale so much as it is the plot to Major League only Lew Wolff doesn't look nearly as good as Rachel Phelps in a showgirl costume, but it is closer than you would think. The plan was simple: prove that the A's can't win, spend or draw a crowd in Oakland and Bug Selig would have to intervene in their favor in the territorial stalemate the A's are locked in with the Giants. It was a great plan, on paper at least.
But just like in the movies, the A's shook off a bad start and started winning, like, a lot. In fact, they won so much that they saw fit to make a trade with the Diamondbacks to acquire shortstop Stephen Drew and some of his contract. That all culminated with Oakland making the playoffs and hosting an LDS game, a game that the A's would sell out to the tune of 37,090 in attendance, easily their biggest crowd of the year.
Uh oh. Winning? Check. Spending? A tiny one, but check. Drawing crowds? Check. San Jose? Yeah, maybe not so much.
While it seems unfair to penalize the Athletics for their Cinderella season, that is probably exactly what the Giants will do when it comes to the next round of territory rights discussions. This 2012 run has given San Francisco all the ammunition they need to say, "win and they will come." Considering how reluctant Bud Selig has been to stick his nose into the A's-Giants detante and that might very well be all the justification he needs to continue leaving the A's twisting in the end. In other words, Lew Wolff can kiss all those sweet, lucrative corporate sponsorships goodbye.
That is bad news for the A's ability to put themselves in a more stable long-term financial position, but it might be a blessing in disguise to the citizens of Oakland. The team might be damned to an eternity of microscopic payrolls, but at least they will remain in Oakland. And it doesn't necessarily mean they will be stuck in Oakland to rack up losing seasons. As their 2012 campaign has showed us, as long as Billy Beane is calling the shots, which he will be until at least 2019, he can Moneyball this team into contention with at least some regularity.