If baseball is a business, then their customer service sucks! At least in Oakland this month this is, and will be, the case. How many times have we heard Billy Beane talk about “We’re getting ready…We’re rebuilding…We want to be ready for the new stadium.” Well we’ve been Beaned again by the same rhetoric regarding the trade of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. But I’m telling you, there’s something lacking in their customer service. Please just hear me out, even if you thought it was a wise trade.
I KNOW baseball is a business. It always has been. I’m not so naïve to think it’s just the national pastime because it’s ours and special and historic. I know it’s business, and it always has been. People were hired by factories to play baseball for goodness sake. And I’m not arguing against keeping it a business. My issue is customer service.
In business, you take care of your customers. In business, you think about their wants and needs. In business, you find out what’s going to keep them coming back to your product. And there can be lots of reasons, so you focus on the top “draws” and you be sure to keep that in mind when you make business decisions. In business, you don’t just ignore your customers or ignore what connects them to your product.
This is what I feel Billy Beane is doing. Ignoring a “high priority need” of his customers. And, while I appreciate all that Dave Kaval has done so far, he needs to understand this point and address it. I’ve been watching Oakland since 1968 (actually, I was listening back then). Since 6 years old, one of the things that I’ve always loved about Oakland is that you feel connected to the players. Yes, there was the Charlie Finley hiccup; but in reality his antics made me feel even more connected to the players because of his outrageous actions toward them. We’ve always had connections with players the way baseball has always been, like its beginnings when people would stand in the arc of the outfield!
Oakland is the one ballpark where kids and adults can actually get autographs. You can get a seat next to the tunnel and high-five the boys after the win. You can chat with the players here and there. Just by who they as people and the culture of the Coliseum, you can feel connected to them. VERY different than the feel at Corporate AT&T Park.
That was the case with Sean Doolittle. You felt connected to the guy. One of the things that I loved was when he and his fiancée told less-tolerant season-ticket holders that they would buy all their tickets for the first gay pride night; the less-tolerant threatened to not go. And I love the layers of this story: That Eireann has two moms. That Sean thinks everyone in our community (gay, straight, immigrant, young, old, disabled) is important.
And what did they do at Thanksgiving? They held a dinner for nearly 2 dozen Syrian refugees to welcome them and show them the meaning of Thanksgiving. My gosh, with everything going on in November and all of the rhetoric and all of the awful speech flying from both sides, here they were acting quietly to do their part. They embraced local Syrians here for their first Thanksgiving. Sean and Eireann modeled how one can embrace the newest members of our community. That makes me proud. Makes me want to be better. Makes me feel connected to them and to the Athletics. Makes me proud to be part of the community. And it doesn’t stop there. Sean does so much for veterans and it all comes from his heart. It comes from a place where he really wants to make a difference.
I feel connected to Sean Doolittle, and he makes me want to come to the park when he pitches. I’m connected to his fiancée Eireann Dolan so I watch her broadcasts and her Tweets. I don’t mean I know them personally. Yeah I follow him on Twitter. Yeah I send them a tweet every now and then. But I feel connected to them. I feel like they’re part of my experience of Oakland Athletics baseball. That we are one community. I feel like that’s what makes us special—what makes us Oak-Town.
And now Sean is gone. Because we want to be ready for a new stadium. You can tell me all you want about how this 19-year-old ptcher is going to be fantastic and this 22-year-old third baseman has promise. You can tell me that getting rid of closers that really are unpredictable and into the age “30” bracket is a good move. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
My contention: The front office needs to think about their customer service by thinking and honoring the connection we feel to players. In days gone by there were so many. For example, it was fun to yell out to Gio Gonzalez, “Hey Gio, I like your new haircut” and have him stop and say, “Do you? I was thinking it might be a little short.” To which I responded, “No no…I really like it…looks good.” I’m old enough to be his mom probably and in some ways that sometimes how I feel about these boys, a little different feeling than in my younger years.
The bottom line is this: We need to feel connected. Providing those connections is good customer service. Providing those connections is a founding tenet of baseball.
We need to hang onto what has always been so beautiful about our Athletic Baseball Club. We need to not lose that. Because if we go corporate like San Francisco and their new park, it’ll break my heart…even more so than trading Sean. Come on, Billy…Come on, Dave…Wake up! Rise up! Factor this connection piece into your decision-making equation!