The Mercy Rule

Adopting October

By David Roth

Baseball is different in October, and not just because the games are played in colder weather and the Mets are nowhere to be seen. The sport being played so very slowly during baseball's postseason is still recognizably baseball—it's played by the same rectangular Caucasians with weird hunting-season beards and Latin dudes with chin-strap facial hair, managed by the same managers wearing the same expressions of small-eyed confusion usually seen only on Congressional candidates, discussed by color commentators who talk about bunting as if it's the closest thing to Godliness on this fallen planet, and punctuated by commercials for patriotic trucks and hilarious car insurance and self-actualizing boner pills and fiercely independent smartphones. None of this is new or novel, but the stakes are higher and the games are longer and they are, to the dismay of  all people who enjoy watching baseball, being broadcast on TBS, so they serve mostly as a delivery service for reminders about Big Bang Theory reruns. Only very good teams are left, and also the San Francisco Giants. It's an exciting time. But.

But, what if you don't have a team in the postseason? What if, like most people, the baseball team you care about was kind of a bummer for much or all of this season and didn't make the playoffs, and now you're stuck watching TBS and hearing Dick Stockton try to sound excited about Cougar Town—which is a TV show that is now on TBS, as Dick Stockton will giddily and kind of abashedly tell you—and wondering which, if any, of the remaining teams is worthy of your time? For a very brief while, there are still eight teams to choose from. The choice, of course, is yours. But while the answer to this question is, on its face, actually as simple as Not The Yankees, Ever, it's actually a little more complex than that, because every team in the playoffs—except for the Yankees, who are pretty much Goldman Sachs employees in stirrup socks and with lower salaries—is a team that a reasonable person could support. How reasonable you choose to be, of course, is up to you. But if you're not cheering for the Oakland Athletics, you're probably a jerk.

This is with all due respect to the St. Louis Cardinals—who win, loathsomely and grumpily and implacably, with a team of interchangeable Steak-umm-molded goofs and as many pitching changes as possible—and the heroically implausible Baltimore Orioles, who are presently fighting the oligarchic Yankees with a roster full of randos, misfits, and whiff-prone sluggers who play defense like they're wearing snowshoes. Anyone who cares about baseball cares about these teams, because such teams can and routinely do slip into Cornholio-mode and charge, spazzily and wonderfully and inexplicably, to the World Series. This is the kind of team the Athletics are, but weirder and better.

Oakland, which has the second-lowest payroll in baseball and as such, fields a team of weird old guys, bouncers, hockey-haired Camaro aficionados, should-be college students, and one swaggy outfielder named Coco Crisp, is probably the most unlikely team in the postseason, and inarguably the hottest—they won like crazy down the stretch, without reason, to beat out the super-stacked Texas Rangers for the American League West title. They have, after a dramatic comeback against the P'Zone-shaped but very effective Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde, now won eight straight very important games at home. A ninth will get them into the American League Championship Series. A loss, on the other hand, would put the team where they probably should've been all along, which is spending the cold-weather months selling their own game-worn memorabilia on eBay for beer money. But no one wants that. And no one who cares about or understands baseball truly believes they're headed for that.

Given a bunch of baseball stuff we won't get into, it's easy to expect Oakland to lose, easy and reasonable and easily and reasonably explained. The short version is their players are just mostly not as good as other teams', their home field is basically a brownfield site with a Clinton-era JumboTron half-blinking puns towards acres of (until now) empty seats. The team's very identity is currently in a hellish soul-escrow of real estate fuckery thanks to the machinations of owner Lew Wolff, who is almost certainly only getting away with any of it because he is quite literally a former frat bro of Major League Baseball's current commissioner. The story of the A's is Major League before some baseball-fan intern scrubbed the script for verisimilitude. But, October being October and this team of Cornholio-ed turbo-bros and minimum-wage pitchers and crustily goateed minor league flotsam being this particular team, none of that matters much.

But also, however fictive-fantastic it might seem, they are here because they played better than better-paid and better-known and demonstrably-better-in-every-way-but-one teams. The Oakland Athletics might lose, and go back to their frankly unimpressive East Bay condominiums. That or they could win their next game, and could win their next series, and could win everything. It's October and things are different now. Different in all the silly and overstated ways that TBS's pomp-y promos suggest, but also different in some very great ways that are very much realer than anyone could have a right to expect, or could possibly resist.

@David_J_Roth

Previously:

The Jets Are America's Team

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