Feb. 21, 2011RATTO ARCHIVEA'S PAGE A'S VIDEORay RattoCSNBayArea.com
PHOENIX, Ariz -- Far away from Hank Steinbrenners cry that baseballs lesser team should eat cake, Billy Beane was inundated by media and fans at Papago Park.It is the closest Beane has been to being part of a large revenue team in his 14 years on the job in Oakland, and while much of the media and some of the fans were there to see Hideki Matsuis first workout as an Elephant, there was still more than hes seen here in years.It is pretty crowded for a change, he said as he squinted in a game but underpowered sun. Like to see that.Then again, its the first time the As have seen expectations in the flesh in some years -- even the 2006 team that reached the ALCS operated largely on in-season stealth rather than spring training fanfare. If nothing else, the As in Beanes time have been built on the element of surprise.That comes, of course, with being built on the element of cheap, which has also been a staple in these parts in the post-Haasian era. The As go through their seasons, subsisting on low-hanging foliage and the kindnesses of revenue sharing, which of course is right in George 2.0s wheelhouse."We've got to do a little something about that, and I know Bud wants to correct it in some way," Steinbrenner said from the Yankees spring training home in Tampa. Obviously, we're very much allies with the Red Sox and the Mets, the Dodgers, the Cubs, whoever in that area.Then he dropped the gauntlet, which is Renaissance Fair for started the process of picking a fight.At some point, if you don't want to worry about teams in minor markets, don't put teams in minor markets, or don't leave teams in minor markets if they're truly minor, he said. Socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it, is never the answer.Even though its been the answer in baseball for 10 years and football for 50, is how he meant to say.Beane hadnt heard that message in the morning, and would have deferred if he had. Thats why John Fisher and Lew Wolff gets paid the big money -- to see to it that Wolff answers and all questions about the Steinbrenners.Meanwhile, though, back in the new wasp hive of activity that is As camp, Beane watched the expectations for his 15th team taking wing, and tried to pretend that he didnt pay attention to expectations.I wouldnt put a number on it, he said, but I think if we stay healthy, we ought to be in the conversation all of September. Im not one of those people who think Texas has fallen off -- they lost Cliff Lee, sure, butAdrian Beltre was a great get for them, and theyve got some very good young pitchers like (Michael) Kirtman and Derek Holland, and I dont think Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson are going away.But I think if we stay healthy, we ought to be contenders.That, by necessity, means there ought to be actual pressure on manager Bob Geren to help make the As a player viz. Beanes vision. He has one .500 season in four years as a manager, and the only person to go longer without a winning record in the last 35 years is Lloyd McClendon, who had the excuse of managing the Pittsburgh Pirates.Beane, though, defends him as he has throughout.You could say that if we hadnt lost 40 percent of our payroll to injury a year ago, Beane said, excuse-ifying at a spectacular pace. But we havent given him enough tools for him to have expectations in his four years, either.But there are tools now, at least enough to make the As look like a six-month team if nothing else. The bullpen is stocked with arms and characters, although Grant Balfour has so far resisted the impulse to see what Charlie Sheen thinks of the Australian brewing industry. There are more hitters than last year, though with the notable exception of Matsui they still dont have a bomber.Truth is, though, the As would still be a surprise. There are some folks trying to make them the fashionable darkhorse pick in the AL West, which Beane rejected with a bemused smile. But darkhorses dont run very well for very long, and even the Giants, who darkhorsed their way right into the postseason and the perfect format with a team with four good starters, are the exception that proves the rule.People want to compare us, naturally, but I think this is the year where youll see that we really are truly two very separate and distinct entities, Beane said. Yeah, we have starting pitching if it stays healthy, and I think weve made our bullpen much better, but we and they are really two very different animals.He then went into a brief soliloquy about the As, the Giants and the difference in their media coverage and ballpark prospects, but we glazed over that point.Besides, ballpark or no, the As have a bigger problem on the horizon than where the lockers are.Its Hank Steinbrenner and his move to thin out the herd. Nothing may come of it, but the NFL owners battles are leaking into baseball consciousness, and that may mean that the As could become an endangered species before they realize the grass-roots support they seem to attracting this week.