Melvin, A's a pairing that just feels right
My personal favorite moment of 2012 might have been watching A's manager Bob Melvin -- exhausted, happy and soaked in champagne -- sit on a table outside his clubhouse and try to find the words to describe what had just happened.
The A's were nine games out of first place at the All-Star break. They'd been better than a lot of people thought they'd be, but with so many kids on the roster and with so much experience on the Rangers and Angels, it was difficult to see them hanging around in August and September.
After all, their entire offseason had been about retooling for the future. A's general manager Billy Beane did a tremendous job stockpiling young pitchers, but even he admitted 2014 or '15 might be a more realistic timetable for contending.
And yet, the A's kept going.
Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker. A.J. Griffin and Travis Blackley. They all pitched liked aces at times down the stretch.
Josh Reddick, spending his first full season in the Major Leagues, hit 32 home runs. Rookie Yoenis Cespedes hit 23, and the A's were 82-46 with him in the starting lineup.
Anyway, the Rangers and Angels did not run away from the A's in the American League West. The A's passed the Angels for good on Aug. 7, and then caught the Rangers on the next-to-last day of the regular season.
And on the final day of the season, the A's, as improbable a story as baseball had in 2012, won the AL West.
They did it with all those arms and with an offense built around walks and home runs. They also did it because of Melvin, who made it all work with his smarts and toughness and his ability to make his guys believe in themselves when almost no one else did.
Beane rebuilt the roster on the fly after a 26-35 start, and after all he has accomplished, the 2012 season might have been his most satisfying.
On that final day, there was his manager doing a good imitation of the happiest guy on earth. The A's were Melvin's third managerial stop, and he'd guided the 2007 D-backs to the postseason.
People sometimes underestimate Melvin because he's so calm and polite on the outside, but that exterior covers an inner toughness and a raging competitive fire. In other words, people know not to cross him.
In return, Melvin asks only a few things: play hard, play smart, be a good teammate. That's how he'd conducted himself during a 10-year playing career that included stops with seven teams.
Along the way, Melvin did what a lot of catchers have done through the years. He learned to see the entire game, not just his part of it, not just the pitching part of it, but the whole game.
Melvin also watched players -- great ones and others, too -- to see the things that motivated them and drove them to succeed.
By the time Beane hired him for the 2011 season, Melvin was beginning his 32nd season in professional baseball. Oakland was special for him. He grew up in the Bay Area and had attended a World Series game at the Coliseum.
On Melvin's office wall is one photo: a Who concert he attended at the Coliseum in 1976. That night when the A's won the AL West, he was proud for himself and his players, but he was proud for Oakland, too.
Melvin noted that the Coliseum had again been as loud as any ballpark in baseball, and when he thought about what winning with the A's meant, the words did not come easy.
"I felt it the first day here that there was a little more pride because it's here," Melvin said. "When I put on the uniform for the first time, I had to go look at myself in the mirror."
The A's thought he was a pretty good fit, too, and on Monday, the club announced that Melvin's contract had been extended two seasons, through 2016. It still feels right.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.