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A’s future in question after latest playoff failure

Greg Beacham The Associated Press
Tuesday October 08, 2002

OAKLAND – The Oakland Athletics were supposed to put it all together this October. Instead, everything fell apart in six days — and now one of baseball’s sweetest success stories has turned sour. 

Billy Beane, the general manager who has built an improbable contender in Oakland, was left with mixed emotions as the A’s packed up for the winter Monday following their five-game division series loss to the Minnesota Twins. 

Beane felt pride in his players, who won 103 games and the AL West in a season that included an AL-record 20-game winning streak that captured the nation’s attention. Beane also felt frustration over the tiny differences in a five-game playoff series that turned their season into a failure — and he also felt anger at the fans who still won’t show up to support the young, dynamic A’s. 

Lackluster crowds watched Oakland lose two of its three playoff games at the Coliseum, and everyone in the organization noticed — from owner Steve Schott, who didn’t get as much playoff revenue as he’d hoped, to the players who didn’t get the same home-field advantage enjoyed by Minnesota. 

“It’s disappointing that not more people came out,” Beane said. “We accomplished some great historical things here. Not to have that support is disappointing. You almost think they’re spoiled.” 

But the A’s were angry at everybody following their ouster. A young, tremendously talented roster hasn’t produced any postseason success after three outstanding regular seasons, and it’s starting to wear on them. 

“It’s a weird feeling. You play so long and spend every day together, and then everyone says goodbye,” said first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who was told his contract option for next season will be picked up. “That’s part of it. You never really get used to it. It’s a depressing feeling.” 

The A’s lost 5-4 to Minnesota in the deciding game, sending them home after the playoffs’ first round again. The Yankees eliminated the A’s in each of the previous two seasons — both times in five games. 

With their peerless starting rotation and a young lineup with several quality players, the A’s still have one of the finest collections of young talent in the game — but except for two division titles in the past three seasons, they don’t have anything to show for it. 

“You can’t prepare for the playoffs,” Beane said. “There’s a certain randomness there. The point is to get there. That’s what you prepare for. 

“Look, we only spent $40 million, and we won 100 games. You have to have a sense of perspective going into the playoffs that randomness is going to play a part.” 

The season ended with a one-run loss — the same margin by which Oakland won so often this season. A’s closer Billy Koch gave up three runs in the ninth inning, making Mark Ellis’ dramatic three-run homer too small to help. 

“This was our best opportunity in the last three years,” manager Art Howe said. “We’ve been so close, and that’s what makes it so disappointing. (But) as long as we can keep the nucleus together and just make little tweaks, I’ll be surprised if we don’t contend every year.” 

But as the players cleaned out their Coliseum lockers on Monday, there was plenty of uncertainty about the future. 

David Justice and Randy Velarde are expected to retire — and Velarde actually left the locker room with a fishing pole on his shoulder. Several other players will get significant pay raises next season, and Beane will once again be forced to work his magic to keep a small-market, small-budget team in contention with baseball’s big spenders. 

Miguel Tejada, the MVP candidate who collapsed into a 3-for-21 slump in the playoffs, has just one year remaining on his contract. He wants to sign a long-term deal, and he said he would take less than market value to stay. 

“They’ve told me they’re going to try to work something out,” Tejada said. “I want to make sure my family is happy. That’s what I care about. It’s not all about money. I can live comfortably. I have friends here, and I don’t want to lose that.” 

Manager Art Howe expects to be back, but Ken Macha — Howe’s bench coach and right-hand man — is expected to land a managing jobs with the Brewers, Tigers, Cubs or Mets. 

The Boston Red Sox also are expected to ask permission to speak with Beane about a job in their organization, but Schott scoffed at the notion that he would allow one of baseball’s top minds to leave while he’s under a lengthy contract extension. 

“If they want Billy Beane, I want their whole team and some cash,” Schott said. “That’s all tongue-in-cheek, (but) Billy has a daughter here on the West Coast that he’s totally devoted to. I don’t think anything will move him.” 

Beane sounds torn about his future – and a bit tired of all the extra work it takes to win in Oakland. 

“I’m under contract. I really can’t comment about that,” Beane said. “I love these guys, but realistically, we share a facility with a football team. We drew 30,000 for the playoffs. We’re killing ourselves to get here. What more can we do to get that support? 

“It wears on you that you put out a product, but you can’t do more to improve it.”