Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bay Bridge Series

This weekend marks what we here in the San Francisco Bay Area call "the Bay Bridge Series." The A's and Giants play each other the last few games of spring training, but here in the Bay Area, in each ballpark. This is a tradition that has lasted since 1982, and has its roots in the 1981 players strike.

In '81, when the strike was ended in mid-summer, a date was set for resuming the schedule. With quite a bit of fan dissatisfaction, the A's and Giants decided to play a pair of exhibition games against each other just prior to the season resuming, one game in each park. This was designed to get the fans back into baseball, and to offer some real game practice to the players. It was so successful that they decided to do this the weekend prior to the '82 season. It also formed a new kind of rivalry because interleague play had not entered the scene yet.

The series took the form of two games, one in each park. But unless there was a sweep, a series tie could result. So they introduced a post-game homerun derby in case of tie. Later on, sometime in the 90's I think, the series was extended to three games to guarantee a series winner. Each year the teams alternated in hosting two of the three games. The series remained a success, was drummed up in the media, and the fans enjoyed it. Some couldn't take sides because they liked both teams and created two-way hats with both logos, and the like. It was a tailgate party's paradise. It could be fun for fans of both teams, because prior to interleague play, the teams never played each other when it really counted, and playing each other in the World Series was not even thinkable. (Then 1989 happened!)

Then in '97, the series fell in importance. This was because of the introduction of interleague play, with the two teams being among the "special" metro area rivals each year, playing each other in real games. One complete three-game series would be held in each park each year, regardless of rotating divisional matchups from year to year. Bragging rights meant something different. The pre-season version of the series also suffered a few other setbacks on occasion. The Giants, acting arrogantly toward their cross-bay rivals upped and scheduled games against other teams one year ('96 I think), leaving the A's hanging. The year 2000 also brought the opening of the Giants new ballpark, PacBell Park, as the villain. The Giants scheduled games against the Brewers and Yankees to christen their new yard, leaving only one game against the A's, if I remember correctly.

This decade, the series still exists, but with two games in SF and only one in Oakland. The Giants have taken advantage of their new ballpark's favor among all fans in scheduling three home exhibition games each spring end, two against the A's. Attendance is almost guaranteed to be greater in SF, so more ticket revenue is in view. Last night, the teams played to a 2-2 tie in 10 innings before quitting (spring training doesn't allow taxing of players when it doesn't count) and at the time of this writing, they had a 4-4 tie in the 5th. Tomorrow's game is in Oakland. I don't care who wins, as it is only exhibition, but it can still be fun.

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