Editor's note: Like you, NBC Sports Bay Area insiders, reporters and analysts are feeling the sports void during the coronavirus stoppage. They'll share their thoughts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in "What I Miss About Sports." Next up in the series: A's color commentator Ray Fosse.
The great thing about baseball is that every team is in first place on Jan. 1 of the new year. Unless you're a fan of, or personally involved with, the previous year's World Series champions, you might not remember too much about the Fall Classic. Especially if your team was eliminated early in the season.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, I experienced both.
I was one of the lucky young boys who grew up dreaming of playing professional baseball, and I lived my dream for parts of 12 seasons, mostly with Cleveland and the A's. My years with Cleveland were seasons in which we, as players, thought “This is the year and we’re going to win the World Series!” That started on New Year's Day and went through spring training.
Then, the reality would set in.
All the hopes and dreams of a successful season disappeared as soon as the regular season began in April. The unfortunate part of my career is that every season during two stints in Cleveland ended in a trip home following the last game of the year. Our season would end, and all we could do was get through the winter and start dreaming of Jan. 1 again.
The fortunate part of my career occurred in the spring of 1973. I was still dreaming of a successful season, playing home games at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.
It all changed with 10 days left in spring training. I was traded to the A’s, and all my dreams were about to come true all of a sudden.
Ray Fosse homers off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton in Game 5 of the 1974 World Series. Image courtesy AP Photo.
To be honest, I was disappointed to be traded. As a young kid, I collected baseball cards and watched my favorite player, Stan Musial, play his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals. I, too, wanted to play my entire career with the same team.
When I reported to the A’s in Mesa, Ariz., I was really disappointed. The A’s had won the World Series in 1972 against the Cincinnati Reds, and my first reaction was that I just got traded to the World Champions.
But why not the year before? I thought I was a year late and the team would not repeat.
I was wrong.
With the season soon to begin I asked Dick Green, our second baseman, why A's were just going through the motions and seemingly not too serious about the upcoming season.
"We are ready to go," he simply said. "We know we are going to win our division, play a team from the Eastern Division, beat them, play the National League representative and be World Champions, again.”
I was stunned by his comments, but everything he said came true. Not just in 1973, but also 1974. Three consecutive World Series championships: 1972, 1973 and 1974. The New York Yankees are the only other team to win at least three straight World Series.
There have been many great summers in Oakland since the club moved from Kansas City before the 1968 season. Each year started with the “dream” on Jan. 1 and then getting in shape in the warm sun in spring training. First in Florida, and then in Arizona where the club currently trains.
The A's always knew they would be starting the regular season in Oakland, in front of the best fans in baseball. The real grass at the Oakland Coliseum, warm summer days where families could get away and enjoy their favorite sport and team -- this is what everyone misses about sports, especially at this time of the year. The thought of a winning season always is on the minds of the A’s fans, too, even though there are some years they know they probably won’t see October baseball.
I have been very fortunate, both as a baseball player and broadcaster, to experience the highs and lows of a season. Even though the “dream” arrives every Jan. 1, there are certain years that the “experts” say your team does not have a chance to be successful.
The year 2012 stands out as one.
The A's celebrate winning the 2012 AL West title. Image courtesy
It started with the A's flying to Japan to begin the regular season against the Seattle Mariners. It was Bob Melvin's first full season as manager. Yoenis Cespedes had just signed with the A’s, and he hit his first MLB home run in his second game. The A's unexpected journey to the playoffs when the team returned to the Bay Area.
There were a number of walk-off wins, and Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge were the team's inspirational leaders. Inge, on two different occasions, separated his shoulder, manipulated it back in place and continued the game: Once getting a clutch two-out hit and the other staring a double play to end the inning. Gomes, when taken out of the game for a pinch hitter, would be at the top step cheering for the player hitting for him.
There was no “I” in that team.
The remarkable season came down to the last three games of the season, all against the Texas Rangers. The Rangers needed to win one game to clinch the AL West, and the A’s needed one to win the Wild Card.
The A's clinched a playoff spot by winning the series' first game on Oct. 1, and they celebrated in the clubhouse. I asked Melvin how the team would be ready for the next game against the Rangers.
"[Then-A's bench coach Chip Hale] will get everyone ready,” Melvin said.
Hale did, and the A’s beat the Rangers in the second game.
They won the third game, too, on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in front of a sellout crowd at the Oakland Coliseum. It was winner-take-all, and the A's clinched the AL West -- with the help of a dropped fly ball by Josh Hamilton -- in a 12-5 win.
The A’s were in first place for one day of the season: Game No. 162. They proved the "experts" wrong and did something very rare in baseball. Oakland celebrated twice in three days!
The A's lost in five games in the ALDS to the Detroit Tigers, even though they ultimately forced a Game 5 after losing the first two in Detroit. Oakland scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win Game 4, but the A's couldn't repeat the magic in Game 5 and the Tigers headed to the ALCS.
Something very strange happened after that 6-0 loss. With the Tigers celebrating on the field, A’s fans didn't leave the Coliseum.
Instead, they stayed and cheered their team.
The great A’s fans were so appreciative of the way their team played all season that they didn't want to leave. The A's did not immediately leave the field, either.
Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick embrace after the A's lose Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. Image courtesy AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
It was the best celebration for a team that “did not win” that I have ever seen. As a matter of fact, the Tigers said the cheering by the A’s fans, in a loss, helped prepare them to play -- and eventually beat -- the New York Yankees in the ALCS.
Baseball, like all sports, is played in front of wonderful fans. Everyone wants to support a winner, but that does not always happen.
At the end of the game, win or lose, everyone involved leaves with something special to talk about with friends and family. It is a memory that will last forever.
Those memories have been taken away from us at this time, but as a great country, we will be back and the memories will be even greater.
I miss sports, like everyone. But please, be safe and know we will all be together soon.
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