Collared

Baseball, class, and color theory
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For the past three seasons, the Oakland A’s have marketed themselves as “Green Collar Baseball”; you can see the full sizzle reel, display campaign, brand essence or whatever you call it here. Setting aside the fact that Oakland’s jerseys don’t really have collars, and if they do, they’re not green, this slogan nails the A’s (advertising people like it too). Although the phrase “green collar” is scooting its way toward a dictionary definition, albeit a sort of dumb, imprecise journalistic one—which is not at all the same thing as “blue collar,” which the A’s also do not have, the A's are no-doubt blue collar, in the grinderball sense, or some other macho euphemism for “we do not have that many good players because of money/the vicissitudes of fate.”

If ever there was a team that might have legit claim to “[non-white] collar baseball,” it is these late Moneyball-era A’s. They have the second-lowest payroll in baseball (second to San Diego by a rounding error), on pace to win 70 games, clocking a team OBP of .295, possessed as they are of Brandon Inge’s tattoos and Dallas Braden’s personality and several dudes named Josh with long hair. Their stadium had a nice view of the mountains to the east which was then blocked off by Al Davis’ luxury boxes. They’re in Oakland. They’re also getting the nominally losing end of a territory dispute with their much-more-white-collar neighbors, the Giants. Brandon McCarthy and Yoenis Cespedes and presumably post-suspension Manny Ramirez are all contrapposto that serve to highlight the general Paul Schrader vibe of the current Athletics roster.

No team in baseball does good-->bad-->good-->bad like the vagabond Athletics. Their classy/ashy status jumps around like a seismograph reading. The Connie Mack-led Philadelphia Athletics went to the World Series four times in five years from 1910 to 1914, winning three times. They blew the 1914 World Series to the Miracle Braves and then they lost an average of 100 games for the next six years after a fire sale. That average includes the war-shortened 128-game 1918 season, in which the A's posted a gaudy .406 winning percentage. Then they turned dynastic again with Jimmie Foxx, appearing in three straight World Series from 1929 to 1931, winning two. (NB: A slant rhyme on the topic of class, but please note that Connie Mack's grandson was a U.S. senator, and his great-grandson is a Republican congressman from Florida and aspiring senatorial candidate.)

After their Depression mini-dynasty, the As's sucked for forty years, and wandered from Philly to Kansas City, and then to Oakland in 1968. Starting in 1971, they ripped off five straight first-place finishes and three straight titles from '72 to '74. Then came more suck, followed by the Bash Brothers era, an association I still make with the team. (When I was in elementary school, the kids I mentally categorized as front-runners wore A's hats. If I was in elementary school now, I'd see a fellow kid in an A's hat as a mild dissident of some sort.) Then came the Billy Beane era, which is basically what it would be like if a large corporate entity did a karaoke version of Moby-Dick (the whale is either winning a World Series or capitalism or both, Billy Beane is Ahab, there is no Ishmael). Maybe it's more Raymond Carver. We can talk about that more later.

***

Enough about the 2012 A’s. Good for them that they have a cute slogan and virally transmittable videos re: Cliff Pennington ; high time someone in the AL West stepped up their marketing game in response to the Mariners’ ready-for-Sundance short films. The real work to be here is to be done in listicle format.

I want to have a conversation about class in sports, or rather continue the conversation that the A's advertising firm may or may not be starting about green blue-collar baseball. This is mostly just goofing around, playing language games—after all, the meaning of blue collar, if it means anything, is about the kind of work that a person does or identifies with doing, and a baseball team ≠ a person, Citizens United be damned. A baseball team is a large entertainment corporation with many employees of various collar colors. That said, let's make some lists of which baseball team belongs to which class.

Hyperextending an Oakland A’s branding slogan into a quarter-assed sociological inquiry is probably not the greatest idea I have ever had. But I think this is instructive anyway—after all, at a certain point, not that far away, identity politics is the same thing as marketing, or the other way around. I'll mumble some caveats about blue/white not being a particularly nuanced spectrum, as with left/right, right/wrong, true/false, and then let's do some quick breakdowns.

Let's start with 2012 cash outlays. Here are the teams crudely sorted by their payroll this season. Not a lot of surprises here, save for the Brewers being white-collar. There is no such thing as "neon white" but if there was, the current Dora-the-Explorer-makeover Miami Marlins would wear it.

By 2012 Payroll

White Collar: Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Angels, Tigers, Rangers, Marlins, Giants, Cardinals, Brewers.

Indistinct Collar: White Sox, Dodgers, Twins, Mets, Cubs, Braves, Reds, Mariners, Orioles, Nationals.

Blue Collar: Indians, Rockies, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Rays, Pirates, Royals, Astros, Athletics, Padres.

Here's another approach, more historically minded. Here's how the 30 franchises stack up by historical winning percentage. Even though the Phillies are the best overall team of the past five years, they're still the Phillies, a lousy 1,000+ games under .500 all-time. Same for the Orioles, who are burdened with their history of being the St. Louis Browns.

Franchise life-to-date winning percentage

White Collar: Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Cubs, Indians (natural aristocrats, I have been saying), Reds, Tigers, White Sox.

Indistinct Collar: Pirates, Braves, Angels, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Astros, Athletics, Twins, Royals, Mets.

Blue Collar: Marlins, Brewers, Nationals, Rockies, Rangers, Orioles, Phillies, Mariners, Padres, Rays.

Here's a third breakdown sorted very carefully by carefully weighted/counterweighted scientific observations. None of what follows is in any way a joke.

Completely Goddamn Arbitrary

Gold Collar: Yankees (not judging, just sayin').

White Collar: Dodgers, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies (five years ago they were bathyspheric-depth blue collar but hey, vicissitudes of fate), Cardinals, Cubs, Twins (Minnesota is the Massachusetts of the Midwest—I’ll explain that later), Nationals, Giants, Mariners.

Clerical Collar: Padres.

Indistinct Collar: Reds, Rangers, Tigers, Braves, Marlins, Astros, Rays (arrivistes!), Rockies.

Canadian: Blue Jays.

Blue Collar: Brewers, Athletics, Pirates, N.Y. Knights, White Sox, Royals, Mets.

Desert McMansions/Meth/Weird Collar/Not Sure/Mark Grace: Diamondbacks, Orioles.

No Collar/Best Team/Most Pure at Heart/Beautifully Flawed &c: Indians.

My rubrics, as swell as they are, don't really do any serious work. If you wanted to get all bourdieuvian and rank teams by their cultural capital, you’d want to divide teams by how sabermetric, broadly speaking (e.g. engaged in competent practices) they are, although this assumption is surely culturally biased). A team’s taste in its roster construction, on-field tactics, branding, uniforms, stadium—in short, a team’s consumption pattern—are probably impossibly to quantify in a clean way. (In a way, signings like Yoenis and Manny make the A's are more gutter yuppie [read: IKEA shopper] than blue collar--their moms and dads may have been blue collar, but they're crypto-white collar. Call it gray.)

You could rank teams by the average income of their metropolitan statistical area or the ZIP codes of season ticket holders. You could actually inspect the collars of fans and average out a color (we'll have to think of a way to count tank tops). A team’s class identity can be fluid, determined by on-field results, historical trends in revenue, moving to the East Bay, etc. In short, there's a lot of cultural data points to make overreaching, dubious arguments about. In other words, a California gold (hex #b78727) mine of wonderful bullshit.


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