Seeing A’s fans having fun with the Josh Reddick “Careless Whisper” walkup song recently reminded us that, 1) Oakland’s fans are one of a kind and, 2) they resemble the citizens of Whoville after they’ve been robbed by “The Grinch.”
“What the …,” you are probably responding. Let us explain.
Reddick’s use of Wham’s “Careless Whisper” gave fans and sportswriters a good laugh two weeks ago, reminding us all that the game shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Featured prominently in the MLB videos that went viral were the Coliseum’s right-field fans, who immediately seized on the goofy irony Reddick was delivering. Almost from the second they heard the song, A’s fans were swaying in their seats, waving their arms and dancing. Reddick’s song and Oakland fans’ tongue-in-cheek response instantly became the talk of the nation, getting ink from ESPN to USA Today to Rolling Stone.
In the HBO documentary, “Rebels of Oakland: The A’s, the Raiders in the 1970s,” a biker describes the city of Oakland’s open-minded, rebellious spirit: “They let ya’ breathe out here.”
Those pithy six words perfectly capture the city’s eccentric, free-spirited charm, which has fueled Oakland’s great sports teams, from “The Hairs” on Charlie Finley’s Mustache Gang dynasty, to the wild BillyBall years, to the Giambi-led frathouse in the Moneyball era to these Bernie Lean/Stay for the Pie/Careless Whisper A’s led by Bob Melvin.
Here’s what inspired us about the fans’ response to Reddick’s kitschy walkup song: No matter how much negativity gets heaped on the Coliseum and the A’s faithful, the fans just shrug it off and keep coming. Wait, more accurately: A’s fans keep coming AND keep displaying a fun-loving, unpretentious vibe that Reddick and other players have fed off of since the late 1960s.
Their stadium gets mocked almost daily? Whatevs. Oakland baseball fans are going to have a good time at the Coliseum, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them.
A’s fans aren’t treated fairly, but they won’t whine about it. Sure, it’s not fair that the A’s front office and a some sports radio hosts constantly insult Oakland fans, chiding them and their stadium for what they do not have, rather than all the great things they bring to the table. But those loyal Green-and-Gold-loving fanatics never got that memo. And if they did, they’d likely just tear it up and keep cheering, chanting and — on those nights when Wham’s cheesy saxophone pierces the cool Coliseum air — dancing.
Which brings us back to Whoville. “Really? ” … we can hear you asking again. “Whoville? Really?!”
Yes, really, and here’s why: In the classic TV show, the residents of Whoville awake to find all their gifts and decorations have been stolen. Completely gone.
Singing, dancing and celebrating together, like every year — the communal party will continue no matter what. In fact, a type of defiance is buried beneath those cheery cartoon smiles, as if to say: “Didja really think this thing’s just about gifts and an evergreen tree?”
Which sounds an awful lot like A’s fans hanging together — with their team and their city — through thick and thin. As if to say to obnoxious A’s fan critics: Do you really think this A’s baseball thing’s about scoreboards? Or how new and shiny your ballpark is? Nah, it’s about community and family and tradition. It’s about the things that REALLY matter in life; the things you simply cannot buy.
Oakland sports’ longstanding rebel spirit can be found in unusual places and unpredictable Coliseum moments: like, in a rousing 5-minute standing ovation for the losing playoff team. Or in the unlikely bond forged between players and fans from a rap song about an ’80s B-movie and the goofy dance move it spawned. Or in the cheesy saxophone solo in “Careless Whisper,” as player and fans share an unspoken wink and a nod.
That Oakland baseball spirit — as unpredictable and joyous as a late-inning rally – remains in unexpected places, wrapped in the strange magic that has defined A’s baseball of any era.
One of MLB’s better kept secrets is that, after almost 47 seasons at the Coliseum, that spirit has become part of the DNA of the city of Oakland, and of A’s baseball itself.