Jemile Weeks, the Oakland A’s second baseman, has the hips of a 15-year-old girl and a puny batting average, but he makes a sweet pivot on the double play and he’s a travel-size terror on the base paths. On May 11, he was at the center of an unusual little play that typified his team’s oddball season thus far. He took off too early on an attempted steal of second and the pitcher should have had him dead to rights with the pickoff attempt, but Weeks just kept going. As it happened, the first baseman dropped the ball — a bit of luck, badly needed — but Weeks couldn’t see that and chugged on full throttle. He seemed to be going into his head-first slide five steps early — no one was even trying to get him out anymore — and boom, his chest kicked up a cloud of dirt as he crashed into second. He overshot the base by a good three feet, but it all worked out. The whole sequence was goofy and totally inconsequential, but captivating anyway.
After Moneyball made an Oscar run in the offseason, reawakening debates about general manager Billy Beane’s true talents, Beane now turns up for work to face the painful fact that the A’s are a middling and widely ignored club, just as they have been for most of the decade that’s passed since the events depicted in the movie. Doing your dispiriting job every day after being lionized by a Brad Pitt movie — something of an unusual challenge. The A’s are once again struggling to play .500 ball on the cheap in front of small crowds at “a crappy stadium,” in Beane’s own words. It’s uncomfortably apt that the team plays in what is now called the O.co Coliseum, after Overstock.com’s domain name, since the A’s roster is made up of discounted off-brand merchandise. Last month they took on Justin Verlander with this lineup: Pennington, Cowgill, Reddick, Gomes, Smith, Donaldson, Barton, Recker, Sogard. If you consider yourself a baseball fan and you haven’t heard of half those guys, you are not alone in this world.1
Still, Beane has a plan, whether it makes sense to fans or not, and he is putting a charming and unpredictable crew on the field. Neither their approach nor their performance bears much resemblance to the A’s of the Moneyball years, but Beane’s thinking remains much the same. While hoping for a new stadium and angling to build a contender, he is trying to make the best of what he’s got, just like the players. After a spate of injuries and an awful stretch in late May, the A’s are a long shot to make the playoffs this season, to put it generously, but it’s fun to watch them try.
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