Epic Collapse

by Travis Richardson

Travis Richardson_5x7_300dpi (1)

"Oakland athl primlogo" by Oakland Athletics - http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/international/postseason_07.pdf. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oakland_athl_primlogo.svg#mediaviewer/File:Oakland_athl_primlogo.svg
“Oakland athl primlogo” by Oakland Athletics

I don’t know if any of you watch baseball, but my favorite team (since 2000), the Oakland A’s, is suffering one of the worst collapses in baseball, if not professional sports history. If you don’t like baseball, please bear with me as I’m going to go through a stats to get to this historic stumble and eventually relate it to writing.

Before the All-Star break, General Manager Billy Beane’s Moneyball team not only had the league’s best record with 59 wins (a team record) and only 36 losses, but they were also blowing teams away with an astounding run 145 plus differential. That is runs scored minus runs given. For the first time in ages, the A’s had more than one player (six!) going to the All Star game, and of the players represented, Yoensis Cespedes won the Home Run Derby for the second year in a row. This team looked like they were ready to storm their way to the World Series leaving other club swirling in their wake. Billy Beane even brought on Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija by trading his 2012 and 2013 first round draft picks (read: the future). This strengthened an already solid pitching staff, and everything looked bright. Then on August 1, Billy Beane, thinking about the playoffs, made a shocking trade dealing All-Star outfielder Cespedes for All-Star pitcher Jon Lester. Between August 1 and September 20 the A’s have gone 18-29, losing the Western AL division to the Angels and trying to eke out enough wins to take the Wild Card race.

Fans and analysts have been trying to explain the reversal of fortune while Athletics haters have derogatorily called the team the Choakland Pathetics. Most analysts and all number crunchers still explain the trade with charts and numbers as a good thing, citing that Oakland was showing signs of slowing down and that Cespedes was wildly overrated. They point to the other batters such as Brandon Moss who had 23 homeruns before August 1 and didn’t hit another one until 39 games later as well as late inning pitching fiascos. But the success of Moneyball (finding talent in statistics that other teams don’t value), which has served Oakland well, takes out the human elements that make a team.

In this case, fans, including myself, can’t help but see the trade as the reason for the mighty slump. It’s something you can’t explain on paper. There are no statistics for leadership and the intense emotions that a player brings to a team. From the beginning of the season, the A’s were a tight knit team that ran off of enthusiasm as much as talent. They had been great at coming up with big wins in the ninth when they were down and just having fun. Even if Cespedes didn’t always hit game winning RBIs, he was in the line up every day, putting pressure on pitchers in the clean up role and providing defensive highlights. The team looked up to him. It wasn’t that Oakland just traded a batter for a pitcher, they traded away something deeper. Without being too melodramatic, I’d argue they traded the soul of the team (or at least the leader with the most heart and soul). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is hard to replace. For those who love statistics, you can stick them where the sun don’t shine. We’re talking about humans, not robots.

So how does this all relate to writing? Book industry has many trends, and many writers jump on the bandwagon of what’s hot. YA books are exploding, but make sure it is in a post-apocalyptic setting. Fifty shades of mommy porn is what makes money. Detective or procedural novels should only have characters thirty and above who have deep emotional scars from the death of their wife/brother/parents/partner. But if you follow what is on the best sellers list (i.e. reading statistics), instead of following your own instincts to tell the story inside of you, you’ll have a book that is an imitation if it sells or a manuscript that is no longer interesting if the trends have changed or market is flooded with it – think of all the zombie fiction and the vampires before it. If you have a strength, you should exploit it and not sell it short for something that sounds hot. It might just wreck a great season of writing!

Travis Richardson is fortunate enough to be nominated for both Anthony and Macavity awards for his short story “Incident on the 405” in MALFEASANCE OCCASIONAL: GIRL TROUBLE. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines as well as the anthologies SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER AND FINANCIAL CRIMES, THUGLIT ISSUE #13 and ALL DUE RESPECT ISSUE #1 and ISSUE #4. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter, reviews Chekhov short stories daily at www.chekhovshorts.com and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. Find out more at www.tsrichardson.com


18 thoughts on “Epic Collapse

  1. Great comparison and you are correct. We all, unless we are selling out, need to tell the stories that are in our hearts and soul. The readers will find you, someday. Doris


  2. I’m a baseball fan too, all the way back to 1961 when I first started pay attention as a nine year old out in San Bernardino, California. Of course, that means I rooted for the Dodgers of the ’60s, the Koufax and Drysdale Dodgers. I still root for them, and while they’ll get in the playoffs I have my doubts they will reach the World Series. Yes, the Angels stormed by the A’s. Other collapses that reach epic proportions: the 1964 Phillies and the 1951 Dodgers. Wiki describes the Phillies’ collapse in this way: “The team is notable as after being in first place in the National League since the opening day, the team suffered a drastic collapse during the final two weeks of the season. The “Phold”, by which it became known, is one of the most infamous collapses in baseball history.” The ’51 Dodgers held a 13-game lead in late August but the Giants tied them on the final game of the season, and won the playoff. When a new fan in ’62, I saw the Dodgers struggle when Koufax got hurt and lose their lead, typing the Giants at the end of the season, and just like the ’51 Dodgers, lose in the playoffs; 10-year-old Mike was heartbroken.


    1. Thanks Mike! Sometimes as a fan I wish for shorter seasons when a hot team is cooling, or longer ones when they final get hot. I’ve heard about those Phillies. Since I wrote this the A’s are 2-0, including last night’s win against the Angels. If they go into the post season and win big, I’m totally fine with eating crow (and Beane being proved correct.) The Dodgers lost a tough one last night. I hope they keep the Giants back and win the division.


  3. I like baseball okay, but like most sports I don’t watch it on tv. My oldest brother played in the minor leagues. I was too young to rememberanything about it. I think your right about the trends. Congratulations on all your accomplishments. I’m working my way through the Writing Wranglers and Warriors books, so I will eventually get to yours and Im looking foward to it. Cher’ley


  4. My late husband’s favorite baseball team was the Colorado Rockies, and ever since I attended one of their games in Denver last week, I’ve taken more of an interest in them for some reason. They’re not doing well, either, but not as badly as the A’s.


  5. Interesting post even though I am not a sports fan. My memories of ball are softball with the neighbors as a kid. Fun because of the relationships. Professional seems a business, but am sure the players have relationships formed that are great too. And you sound like the one to write a book about it! Congrats on your accomplisments! Neva


    1. Thanks Neva. Yes. There should be an addition to Moneyball about personality and team dynamics. It is a business and players get traded all the time, but how do certain trades effect morale. Not sure if current players would open up, but retired ones would with their recollections. Definitely a book to be written.


  6. I’m not really a sports fan, but I did see Moneyball and enjoyed it. For what it’s worth, your analysis sounds right to me. You can’t replace heart and soul. Ditto with your remarks about writing trends. We have to be true to our hearts too and write the stories that speak to us, that only we can tell. As Doris noted, the readers will find us someday. I do think there is an audience for pretty much everything–we just have to find it.


  7. As I read your post, Travis, I thought of the St. Louis Cardinals after the abrupt exit of “Prince Albert” — the Cards slumped for a year or two but seem to have found their groove again in this late season (my hubby and I are both Red Birds fans, him MUCH MORE so than I since he’s a graduate of a high school in St. Louis). And, your analogy re: writing is SPOT ON — we need to stay true to our calling, write our passion, and find those readers who will appreciate our stories! Thanks for a great read!


  8. I don’t know a thing about baseball but I know about teams and being part of them. I agree they took away a large part of what made them a team. I loved the way you worked in writing and statistics. I have to say the best advice anyone can give any writer is write what you know. If vampires are big sellers , but you know nothing about them, and aren’t really into vampires the manuscript will suck. When writers write what they know and are passionate about then they have a winner.


  9. I know almost nothing about baseball, Travis, but I do know about sports teams having great pressures put upon them to outperform every other team on the planet…ever single match which is totally unrealistic. Regarding your comments on the writing trends, I couldn’t agree more. Such success today, for some, is purely for monetary gain and very much ‘in the moment’. A more ‘original’ style, I’d hope, would have a longer ‘shelf life’.


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