It used to be law that no big baseball announcements would be permitted during the World Series or even the playoffs, because they might distract from the cavalcade of 7-2 games that are supposed to be the centerpiece of the annual seven-month slog that is a season. That convention, though, has gone by the boards thanks to scoophounds, agents, sponsors with ad campaigns, and other such mediocrities, so the first real surprise in the announcement that Bob Melvin is leaving the overachieving Oakland Athletics to manage the underachieving San Diego Padres is that it was done between Games 2 and 3 rather than during either of them.
That Melvin decided to leave the rich Corinthian anonymity of Oakland was the first eye-raiser. He had been there for 10 full seasons and a hunk of an 11th, making him the second-longest-serving manager in A’s history after original team owner Connie Mack. That’s a lot of patience to show for a team that has been notorious buck-stranglers and quick to undo good works when it looks like the price for maintaining excellence is going to steepen.
The second surprise came with the news of the term. Three years isn’t nearly enough for the guy who has been hired to remove the whiff from a comparatively disastrous season. Maybe the price for a manager asked to save a franchise from its own skankiness is shrinking; Dusty Baker initially only got one year and an option for polishing the reputations of the Houston Astros, and is still working naked (without a deal for 2022) even though the team is not only back in the World Series but is doing it without the benefit of steel drums. But were I Melvin (and we have it on good authority that nobody is more thankful this is not so than Melvin himself), I’d be asking for five years with no options because the Padres need him more than he needs them. Then again, hyperkinetic Padres general manager A.J. Preller and owner Peter Seidler must have decided that Melvin didn’t have the kind of leverage that required a greater commitment. This is a mistake they can ruminate on when they screw this up despite all the money and energy expended in the franchise’s perpetually quixotic chase to make the Padres bigger than the Angels, let alone the Dodgers.
Third, and this part is not really all that surprising, Melvin’s departure seems to suggest at least obliquely that the A’s are blowing it all up again, which is an odd but very John Fishery way to start an actual ballpark campaign. The A’s have now spent more than a quarter-century under the stewardship of skinflints, and while the return in the post–Walter Haas era has been good in the regular season, their swift disappearances in October have become almost pathological, and their spectacular inability to make themselves a more necessary part of East Bay culture have caused them to become almost annual we-need-a-new-city-because-nobody-loves-us whingers.
So it looks like the A’s will combine potential construction of a bayside ballpark (and we’ll believe that fully with the evidence of the first dirty shovel) with another roster dissolution, their most enduring contribution to modern baseball. That it begins with Bob Melvin may not matter to most folks, the A in A’s meaning “afterthought,” but the world’s a funny old place … at least when it’s not too busy being lousy.