Finally, and after 47 years, the split A’s-Giants caps and jackets made perfect sense. Evidently the orange-green-black-gold color combination just needed to age beyond the melted crayon box stage.
To age, and to find the right circumstances.
Timothy Adam Hudson and Barry William Zito were merged as one Saturday for the benefit of their places in Bay Area baseball history and the fans who demanded they be placed there. The matter of San Francisco playoff chase had been all but disposed of by mid-week, and the A’s had been one-run-lossed to death months earlier. Thus, there was only a day, contextual on the grand scale if not on the immediate one.
It was baseball by sentiment. Two teams driven to co-exist by equal measures of envy and dismissiveness merged to provide a stage for two of their favorite employees – a grand going-away party without the open bar, because baseball, like sports in general, does cash-only, no matter what the reason.
And everyone got what they wanted, except for those who wanted one last brilliant start and sendoff for each man. The party ended too quickly – after only a decade and a half.
Neither man lasted until 2 p.m. Hudson, socks obscured by the stubborn yet damnable long pants leg look, eased through the first and then lost his command and luck in the second, loading the bases with a walk (Stephen Vogt), a hit-by-pitch (Billy Butler), an error by Matt Duffy on a double-play grounder (Brett Lawrie), successive bases-loaded walks (Eric Sogard and Sam Fuld), another hit batsman (Mark Canha) and a 2-0 count to Josh Reddick before being hooked by a pained manager Bruce Bochy to a standing ovation and waiting until the inning to take his curtain call so as not to disturb teammate Ryan Vogelsong. The man had his code to the end.
Zito opened with unstriped socks (poor effort there), an 85-mph “fastball” and a routine fly ball out from Angel Pagan, but couldn’t escape the first (Marlon Byrd two-run double) or second innings (Jarrett Parker home run, Kelby Tomlinson single) without two runs of damage. He was removed after walking Buster Posey to start the third to a similar ovation, only one that included Hudson.
But the results had been rendered moot by the occasion, which was all that really mattered in the end. The event nobody thought would come off, then some folks thought was too undignified and even cheesy, and that other folks still thought might not be as important to A’s fans as watching the Giants’ season collapse and die on their watch . . . well, it came off.
The mutual homage to Hudson and Zito was that rarest of events – one which could have veered straight into mawkishness but didn’t, one which could have ruined the idea of competitive, ever-game-must-mean-something baseball but didn’t, and finally, hit the right notes without hitting them too loudly.
And frankly, it happened because the Giants, who love ceremony, and A’s, who eschew it, came together informally and decided that there was no better reason than “what the hell” to do this. It had occurred to someone at some point that fans want what they want, and every once in a while it is okay to provide it. Warrior fans fell in love with Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway without needing a parade to validate their feelings, and Sharks fans remain fond of Owen Nolan despite no corresponding championship with his (or anyone’s) name on it.
What made Saturday so satisfying and odd at the same time, though, was the happy set of circumstances that trumped all the reasons why it shouldn’t have happened. Starting with the fact that the A’s and Giants have aggressively chosen different courses.
The Hudson-Zito collision was rare enough, based on the fact that nobody can remember a time when two teams came together to salute two different players from separate teams on the same day. But the more intriguing thing is that the A’s and Giants actually hadn’t come together to exchange players in 11 years, and only five times since the Elephants moved to Oakland in 1968.
By contrast, the two Chicago teams have made 15 deals in the same time span, including the Cubs sending beloved icon Ron Santo and future play-by-play man Steve Stone to the South Side in 1973.
The Dodgers and Angels have found their interests converge eight times, most recently this past December when the Dodgers sent starting pitcher Andrew Heaney south, and the Mets and Yankees have dealt with each other 12 times while fighting over the back pages of the Post and News.
Plus, the Giants and A’s have fought in their passive-aggressive way over real estate, advertising dollars, media attention and even history. John Fisher owns the A’s today in part because his father, Don, thought he’d been shabbily treated as a minority owner in San Francisco.
And finally, the A’s stylistically have erred on the side of serious, strictly business-based, math-heavy and not terribly joyful work, while the Giants seem the more frivolous organization, slapping animal heads, nicknames and marketing ideas on nearly every player to see what will stick. The A’s portray themselves as have-nots when they really aren’t, and the Giants are haves in the have-iest way imaginable – by not even bothering to poormouth their financial position any longer.
In other words, they are as fundamentally and stylistically dissimilar as two pieces of the same business can be. That this came off at all, especially with the Giants still technically in a pennant race while the A’s had been eliminated on Flag Day, is a remarkable feat of teeth-clenched cooperation driven in part by the demands of two fan bases who simply wanted this done, and two pitchers whose careers warranted such a sendoff.
It was perfectly bizarre then that neither man outdid the other on their mutual sendoff. Zito never found a groove and Hudson lost his within five batters, but as we said, the results are already forgotten. It was their journey-in-tandem that was hailed for its length, mutual dignity and in the end, its remarkable serendipity.