Oakland Oaks

Oakland Oaks 1903-1955

Exuberant sports fans abound in any workplace, and our office is no exception. I, the old grouch who sits by the window in the middle of the crossfire, am well and fairly known as Sports Ignoramus, truly a lost cause among die-hard sports fans. But it’s hard to get mad at friends when they can get THAT enthusiastic about anything.

So when the subject of sports rears its noisy head, I am likely as not to holler out, “Hooray for our side!” (since everybody already knows I don’t have clue one as to who was playing whom). If the team du jour is the Oakland Raiders, I may just inquire innocently how many home runs they gained.

I haven’t watched a Super Bowl since, oh, maybe the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. It was the year the Raiders went to the Bowl. Oh I know, there was probably more than one such year, but that year was special. I surprised my Raiders fan neighbors. Just to keep them off balance, I studied all the sports stats and came up with a bogus computer printout that successfully predicted a Raiders win, within two points. They still talk in wonderment how Alex (of all people) did that.

Even among perverse sports philistines, there can be a curious kind of local pride. I grew up in a region of the country that’s currently home to the Oakland Athletics and the Oakland Raiders. Teams move far too fast for someone like me to track. Are the Giants still San Francisco? What happened to the Seals? Do I not hear about the Warriors because it’s baseball season, or because they moved too?

And when animated voices start raising Sports to stentorian boom levels at the office, and someone shouts out, “Hey, how about that game last night?”, I am fond of calling out “Go Oaks“! It has become our local gag.

Oakland Oaks logo (one of many)The Oakland Oaks were a local team who played with the Pacific League from 1903 to 1955. As a kid in our grammar school playground, I remember how all the really cool kids – they ones who could hit a pitched baseball – talked about the Oaks all the time. The Oaks were managed for a time by the legendary Casey Stengel. Even I have heard of him. There is a photo on the web somewhere of Stengel training a rookie named Billy Martin, who went on to manage the A’s, who moved into the territory about a dozen years after the Oaks left it.

As best as I can trace it, the Oaks went to Vancouver for a number of years, and then to Texas, and – not sure on this point – on to Salt Lake City as the Bees. The Oaks ballpark was housed on Park Street in Emeryville, became a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant in 1957, and currently is home to Pixar Studios.

To the lyrics of the old Kingston Trio “MTA Song” (1959), at the office we will sometimes ask of the Oaks, “did they ever return”?. And the answer is always, “No, I don’t think they did … and we don’t know what happened to them, either.”

As surely as the hometown where you grow up shapes your memory of the way things once were, the lore of the local sports teams instills a youthful civic pride. Not even the larger-than-life, big-league national teams can really substitute for the home team. “Go Oaks” forever!

Chorus:
Well, did he ever return? No, he never returned and
his fate is still unknown.
(What a pity! Poor ole Charlie. Shame and scandal.
He may ride forever. Just like Paul Revere.)
He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Boston.
He’s the man who never returned.

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America’s Cup 32

Americas_Cup.jpg  ... Click image for larger picture.

I wish my Dad were here. He died in 1959, way too early. He was the real yacht racing fan. He would not have believed what I was seeing on TV, but I can see that his love of racing sail lives on. I haven’t sailed in about 30 years, but I’m still in “shock and awe”.

I happened to tune in to a cable TV station called Versus. I was looking for something that wasn’t a Discovery re-run. A serious jolt of something new and something old: here were the most magnificent racing sailers I have ever laid eyes on. They are having the 32d America’s Cup Races in the Mediterranean. At the moment the Kiwis are beating the Italian team, 3 races to zero. Boats have sponsors like Prado (isn’t that what the Devil wore?) and Louis Vuitton (handbags?). You get the money to build these multimillion dollar racing thoroughbreds wherever it is available.

The Louis Vuitton Cup is the prize for the winner who will then get to go against the current holder in the 132 year old America’s Cup races. I was watching The New Zealand go against Luna Rossa.

These sleek racing boats run about 75-80 feet in length. They carry an unbelievable square footage of sail on towering masts of about 112 feet height. I did not catch downwind speeds, but noted that they make over 10 knots tacking into the wind. To watch one of these things, the racing hulls do not sail through the water so much as skim.

I used to sail 6 foot El Toros on the landlocked Lake Merritt, in Oakland, CA, when I was a kid. They plowed and scudded through the water. The only time I came close to winning a race is when the wind was so high people were retreating back to the boat house. I broke masts and booms learning to push the Toros past their limits, and then moved out of the secure little world of life at home into the great workaday world.

What I was doing back then was like comparing little balsa wood gliders to what NASA does with the space shuttle launches. The pros are running the “big boats” again!

In the 1930’s Sir Thomas Lipton mounted a series of challenges to take the America’s Cup away from the Yanks. Like the racers of the 2000’s, these behomeths were called “J Class”. The Shamrock V, pictured below, is said to be the last to be built of wood. It is hard to get dimensions of these craft on the web – I guess you are just supposed to know. According to the link above, Shamrock V was actually rebuilt and lived to race again.

Shamrock_V.jpg  ... Click image for larger picture.

This photo was scanned from “Shamrock V’s Wild Ride Home”, by Captain Irving Johnson, Milton Bradley Company, 1933. It describes the voyage home to Europe after the unsuccessful Amerca’s Cup challenge in Newport. I had a tough time getting an image for The Vuitton Cup. The image at the beginning of the page was a bitmap screen capture and I regret that I lost the credits information for the web site providing it.

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