OAKLAND, Calif. -- Let's get it all out of our systems now. The Oakland Athletics deserve better than to spend their playoff days listening to more sewage jokes, paying homage to a book published so long ago that the Boston Red Sox still seemed pitiable, or fretting about a custody battle for the franchise stoked by an ownership group that longs to flee 40 miles to the south.
They clinched their second straight American League West title on Sunday, a week ahead of the regular-season finale, and felt compelled to remind reporters of the paramountly self-evident: This is a strong team, a very strong team. Not a fluke. Not a feel-good story. Well, not just a feel-good story.
They're still a team that opened the season with the fourth-lowest payroll in the majors, that platoons like mad and has no player whose fame rivals that of the general manager brought to cinematic life by Brad Pitt.
Recently, the Coliseum fans began serenading third baseman Josh Donaldson with "MVP" chants, a sentiment supported, if not fully endorsed, by empirical evidence and a rush of attention from the national media. If shock value influenced the voters, Donaldson's emergence at age 27, in his first full season in the majors (he'd tried and failed to stick with the A's in both 2010 and 2012) and on a salary of $492,000, after shifting from catcher to third a year ago would shut down the debate.
When Deadspin posted one of these videos, it originally called Donaldson "Jason,'' (note the URL on the link, preserving the mistake) which amounted to an odd form of validation. He really is the star no one knows -- or knew - and a definitive Oakland Athletic of 2013. They're better than anyone else really understands, and they're not at all squeamish about saying so.
"Last year, I remember feeling like we stole it," Brandon Moss told John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group after Sunday's division clincher "But this year, we are the best team in the West. We are really good."
Yet they are routinely upstaged by plumbing failures. On Saturday, an afternoon downpour, very uncharacteristic for the Bay Area in September, created the Coliseum's third sewage leak of the season, rattling pipes around the coaches' bathroom. Later that evening, after their rain-delayed win over the Minnesota Twins, the A's gathered in their clubhouse to see if the Texas Rangers would lose to Kansas City and make champs of them. Plastic sheeting covered the lockers, and a few players brought out their scuba goggles just in case. Only in Oakland could these universal symbols of a championship in the offing also call to mind hazmat precautions.
The Rangers won, putting the celebratory showers on hold and sparing everyone the co-mingling of champagne and sewage references on clinch day. Now can we get through the playoffs without anyone implying that the rigors of poor plumbing in an old stadium set 22 feet below sea level have anything to do with the resilience of this team?
Not a chance.
One of the definitive features of these A's is their talent for not taking themselves too seriously, whether because many of the players ended up here looking for a fresh start or second chance in the majors, or because they never know when they'll end up showering with the enemy. The worst flooding of the year sent the A's, the visiting Mariners and the umpires to dress in the higher ground of the Raiders' locker room.
"I'm running out of sewer jokes,'' reliever Sean Doolittle, one of the Coliseum's bigger defenders and the team's ranking wit, as evidenced by his Twitter message to fans at the end of a long Saturday at the park:
A's FANS: tickets still available for today's game! Come out for the giveaway! First 20,000 fans get an A's plunger courtesy of Roto Rooter!- Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) September 21, 2013
"To play here and have it be your home stadium, you have to have the right mindset. Don't get me wrong. I love playing here, but it would be nice if we could keep it dry.''
In the spirit of this team's tolerance for deprivation, the least we all can do is agree to rigorous rationing of digressions into tangential elements of Oakland's success over the postseason. The proposal:
- No caps on "Moneyball'' as a concept, as long as the commenter distinguishes between the particulars of the current team and the 2002 one that made the term famous. This includes acknowledging that most teams have now embraced the use of data that guided Billy Beane's stewardship of the A's back then, reducing opportunities to exploit market inefficiencies. In many ways, then, the current team reflects even smarter, more refined management and scouting.
Limits on references to "Moneyball'' the book: one per series. On the movie: One for the entire postseason. (I've already wasted mine on the Brad Pitt mention.)
Penalty for exceeding limits: Ten required viewings of every Sandra Bullock scene from the movie version of Michael Lewis' follow-up sports book, "The Blind Side.'' After that, fight the temptation to break into her house, steal the Best Actress Oscar and turn it over to Meryl Streep.
- No more than two references to sewage per series, unless the pipes overflow every day or the Dodgers come to Oakland for the World Series. You never know. Those guys just might end up backstroking through a flooded dugout.
Penalty: Hear the word "gritty'' during broadcast; drink. Liver transplants on your dime.
- No limits on astonishment at how players perform in front of small Coliseum crowds, and how badly the team needs a new park. Prohibition should be unnecessary during the playoffs, because the old joint boomed through the final games last year. But in case the recent attendance complaints from managing partner Lew Wolff prove irresistible, remember Beane's good-cop comment about home-field advantage in the playoffs after Sunday's clinch.
"You prefer to play in front of these fans as many times as you can, it's that simple,'' he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser. This is an intimidating crowd for teams to come into. Last year showed it."
Penalty: Nothing. If you engaged on this topic, you've already punished yourself.