Ratto: The Oakland A’s you remember best are back

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Slowly but surely, in almost imperceptible ways, the Oakland Athletics are reverting to the most successful, interesting and disputatious days in their long history. The years when they fought each other as much as they did other teams. The years they resided furthest from the hyperbolic box. The years they won three consecutive World Series, and then the years when they went to three more in succession.

Sunday, it was a virus-defying bench-emptying brawl against the Houston Astros because Ramon Laureano objected to being hit twice by Astros pitchers and objected more stridently still when Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron smarted off to Laureano himself. Thursday, it was their own bench coach, Ryan Christenson, whose either inadvertent, misapplied or just plain intolerable Nazi salutes after a win over Texas created its own storm. There have been two walkoff grand slams, a 15-percent-of-the-schedule winning streak, sporadic social distancing throughout the season — they are baseball's best daily outlier.

That is to say, best daily outlier among the teams that play. The St. Louis Cardinals are the most extraordinary outlier of all, replacing the Miami Marlins as the game's Typhoid Mary and becoming a team that will wake on August 13 having played five more games than the St. Louis Browns, who haven't existed in 68 years.

But the A's are everything else — the most skilled, stubborn, insouciant, incorregible, rule-ignoring and optic-destroying team in the game. It is stunning that they didn't sign Draymond Green to a one-day contract so that he could be a club employee when the NBA fined him 50 large for tampering with Phoenix' Devin Booker. They finally have the image they should have always had, as the team that smiles, wins and if need be shoots off the old middle finger to let everyone else know that their new goal is not just to win but to win attitudinally.

It's what the A's always should have been. Their front office should have picked fights with the Giants' front office. They should have not claimed to be rooted in Oakland but roared its roots. They should have been known as much for its swagger as for its history, and every time they have, they have won.

And now they are again.

The Laureano incident belies a basic truth about this team, and about most teams in these COVIDic times — baseball players don't particularly like rules in general, and will devote time to circumventing as many as they can manage. These A's, though, have been particularly problematic this year because they haven't been religious about masks, distancing or celebrating in general. They wasted years trying to seem like the good kids down the block that you'd pay double to babysit your kids, and while they aren't going out of their collective way to ignore protocols and behavior, they have either ignored or forgotten them more than most.

Or maybe they've finally had more opportunities to do so.

Either way, the A's have a strut that their recent history doesn't suggest they are entitled to, but one that they are now exhibiting without shame. They are easily the most interesting team in the Bay Area in a year that desperately needs all the interesting they can bring. They definitely ought to be better at their mask and distance game, and the Christenson episode is profoundly problematic as much for the way the A's are trying to make it go away as for the act itself, but they definitely lead with their best snark and best snarls.

Frankly, they should be tampering to get Green to leave the Warriors, just to sit next to Bob Melvin and smile demonically.