Steven Travers, the author of 16 sports histories and biographies, first got to know Barry Zito when Travers covered USC sports for StreetZebra magazine in L.A. in the late 1990s. A friendship developed. A few years later Travers found himself covering the Oakland A’s for his column with the San Francisco Examiner. During 2001 Spring Training, Travers said hello to Zito in the A’s clubhouse at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Zito was by now the tall, handsome bonus baby who had smothered Yankee bats at Yankee Stadium in the 2000 play-offs. Great hopes were pinned on him.
The two agreed to meet for lunch a few days later at a Scottsdale bistro, Oregano, at which time Zito told Travers that he had never seen a more fun-loving team.
“Every night Jason <Giambi> leads us to some club or another,” said Zito. “It’s making it kind of hard to stay focused on baseball.”
Travers inquired where the Giambi caravan was headed to that night.
“Probably Martini Ranch,” replied Barry.
Martini Ranch? Was this the greatest name for a bar of all time?
That night, Travers and his pal Kevin McCormack ventured to . . . Martini Ranch. A hard rock band pounded away. The Bud Lite girl next to the door looked like a porn star. The bartenders looked like strippers. The waitresses looked like call girls. As for the patrons, seemingly 60 percent of whom were female, it looked as if Hugh Hefner had gathered his Playmates, bussed them to Scottsdale, and let them loose in Martini Ranch. Scottsdale, Arizona was, in the words of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler, “Hefner’s junior varsity team in training.” ASU and U. of A. coeds. Hot single girls from the Midwest seeking warm weather. A prime destination for sexy chicks in a town overloaded with bars, strip clubs and escort services; all unnoticed by a tourist-friendly police department unwilling to deter men from their “vacation destinations.” An American sex spa.
Sundays through Tuesdays were all “industry night,” when the “workers” in strip clubs, the hookers, the bartenders and waitresses, all partied on their own time, and many felt the “talent” was even better on these evenings.
For an hour or so Travers and Mac drank beer and ogled the pulchritude. They were in a “Girls Gone Wild” video. “Girls, Girls, Girls,” only better than the song. Hot weather, a sultry night. Bare midriffs. Tube tops, bare arms, short skirts, high heels, tanned skin. Ruby red lips and fingertips. The faces of Botticelli angels. Then the A’s arrived, indeed led by their “Pied Piper of Porn,” the indomitable reigning American League MVP Jason Giambi.
Zito was among a group of about 10 or 12 Oakland A’s players. Women mobbed them. Young, good-looking guys with money in their pockets. Eventually Travers made his way to Zito and captured his attention away – briefly - from a Jenna Jameson look-a-like; just enough to say hello. Watching these guys operate was like watching Heifetz tune his piano. They were masters of the genre: girl-chasing.
Oh, yeah, the real Jenna Jameson had a pool party that spring. The whole team showed up. On the field, the 2001A’s were a mess that March. Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Zito were routinely bombed. Giambi was whiffing. Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez were in a slump. Terrence Long looked to be asleep. Towards the end of camp, Travers approached Hudson in the clubhouse. He was married but often “tagged along” with Giambi & crew.
“So where do you guys like to go the best?” he was asked.
“Oh, man, wherever Jason goes that’s where we go,” he replied in his Alabama drawl. “Martini Ranch, Six, Radius & Axis, Barcelona, you know.” He gave a list of Scottsdale hot spots as if reading from a monitor.
“You guys are favored to win the West,” he was asked, “but you’re 8-18 in the Cactus League. Any connection with Giambi leading you astray?”
The answer to a question like that is normally the universal cliché: “We’re just takin’ it one game at a time . . . It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon <Giambi’s favorite term> . . . We’re right where we wanna be . . . ”
No so Huddie. He rubbed his palm over his buzz-cut head and kind of eyed the floor, an aw-shucks boy from Dixie ownin’ up to stealin’ the pie from grandma’s window ledge.
“Yeah, well, I guess we better get outta here while we’re still standin’.”
Not as much temptation in Oakland.
“This town’s unreal.”
Indeed it was.
The A’s opened the season with the Seattle Mariners, who would win 116 games that year. Zito’s stand-up 5-1 triumph over the Mariners was their only bright spot. The club returned to Oakland and got clobbered by the new gazzillionaire, Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers, who were not exactly the ’27 Yankees that year or any other. They looked like Ruth and Gehrig against Oakland pitching, however.
By the end of April the Mariners were something like 27-2 and Oakland seemed to be out of contention already. Manager Art Howe was asked if he was concerned. He lied.
“It’s early,” he said.
It never made the newspapers or even the sports talk shows, but in the press box the conversation centered on whether the team had partied so hard at “Hefner’s Arizona training facility” that they were not ready for the season. Meanwhile, Seattle did look like the ’27 Yankees. Of course, the whole team, pitchers included, was juiced out of their minds, as was Giambi and a few of the A’s, but nobody knew that then.
Finally, as the weather got hotter so did the A’s, but nothing slowed up their off-field activities.
“The 2001 Oakland A’s were the hardest-partying chick hound team in baseball history,” says F.P. Santangelo, a veteran big leaguer who was there in 2001 and played the better part of a decade in “The Show.” “I’ve played on plenty of teams and none compares to these guys. Most teams, maybe two or three guys will go out together after a game. Those are your ‘buddies.’ On the ’01 A’s the whole team hung out. Usually the blacks separate, the Dominicans, the rookies and the veterans; they all go their separate ways. I remember, the first time I ever heard this during a game, Terence Long said, ‘Let’s get this over with so I can go out and chase some tail.’ I never heard a guy say that during the game.
“One time we were in some city and Jason wanted to go to a titty bar,” Santangelo said. “But the bar closed at one. It was like 12:30 and it was like, ‘Not tonight, Jason.’ He just called ‘em and said we were comin’ over. So we get there as the place closes down, but they all kept it open for us. Locked to the general public, but there’s 15 A’s players with all the strippers to themselves and a full bar. Are you kidding me?
“Fans have no idea, when they watch a game on TV, but it’s like, That guy was out ‘til five in the morning; that guy had two chicks in his room; that guy was plowed.”
Not to mention when the camera captures a pretty girl in the stands, chances are she was . . . compromised . . . just a few hours earlier.
Mulder, Hudson, and Eric Chavez, three guys straight of GQ magazine, all shared a house together in Walnut Creek, easily the best nightlife town in the Bay Area. Beautiful girls abounded, but it was nothing like the road.
Giambi was on a first-name basis with every strip club owner and stripper from Seattle to Miami. Escort girls, porn chicks, models. Guys shared women. Orgies. Wild parties.
Zito, as handsome a guy as there is in baseball, was doing some acting on the side, “stealing” Chris Isaac’s girlfriend on The Chris Isaac Show. No monk and definitely attracted to the ladies, Zito nevertheless is a conservative guy from a close, family-values background. He usually resisted the most debauched of proceedings. Usually.
It was a young team, guys in their 20s, unmarried; great players with great salaries. Great friends. Giambi goading them along, a tempter with a goatee, of Italian descent from Southern California but trying to pass himself off as “connected”: “Hey, my uncle is from Vegas, you know.”
He and his brother, Jeremy, having shared girlfriends since junior high, on the rampage in the big leagues. Wild parties at hip San Francisco nightclubs in the company of infamous Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who was arrested for possession of “roofies.”
Somehow, someway, these A’s were young enough, strong enough and good enough to bring their . . . “A’s game” to the ballpark night after night; good enough to win over 100 games and advance to the play-offs. The season was an anomaly, though. The Mariners won 116 games and captured the division, leaving the Wild Card for Oakland. Baseball was steroided beyond belief. Across the bay, Barry Bonds slammed 73 homers. In Arizona, the diminutive Luis Gonzalez “juiced” 58 out of the park. Roger Clemens was untouchable in New York and we now know all why.
The “party” ended abruptly on September 11, 2001, but the A’s were still part of America’s greatest comeback since Pearl Harbor. They slammed the Yankees in the first two games of a best-of-five Divisional Series in New York. Zito was in a 0-0 battle in game three at Oakland when Derek Jeter threw out Jeremy Giambi, running as if carrying two strippers on his back, at home on a miracle play. From there, the Yankees comeback reached legendary proportions: from 2-0 down to a three-games-to-two victory over the A’s; an easy romp over the strangely overmatched Mariners; and a World Series for the ages with Arizona.
The season ended and Giambi took his road show to New York, where despite the Big Apple’s temptations, the corporate Yankees, George Steinbrenner, the intrusive press and eventually steroid charges forced him to tone down his act. He was never the same as he been running free and wild in Oakland.
Some A’s, like Eric Chavez, got married. Girlfriends and wives heard all the stories. Texting and cell phones were utilized to keep tabs on the “swingin’ A’s,” but without Giambi they never partied like that again. The A’s continued to be a powerhouse for years, but like the Angels, when they left the Sunset Strip for Anaheim in the 1960s, they lost much of their charisma.
2001 was a huge year for baseball and America; the last year of innocence before our obsession with Osama bin Laden. A year in which nearly five million people poured through Bay Area turnstiles at Pac Bell and the Oakland Coliseum.
The author once played pro baseball and knows well the life of debauchery in baseball. He once wrote a screenplay about Bo Belinsky, perhaps the most legendary ladies man in baseball history. He knows what goes on and how to dig for it. He is friends with Zito and general manager Billy Beane. A former A’s farmhand, he has close associations with many current and former A’s players, coaches, broadcasters, staff and the media who covered them.
The 2001 A’s compare to any team of “wild men” ever assembled: the Cardinals “Gashouse Gang,” the Belinsky-era Angels, or the ’86 “bad guys” Mets. They did it in the relative anonymity of Oakland, and had a special relationship with their fans. Many were college-educated. They were exceptionally friendly and accountable with the media. Giambi in particular always had a big smile for the writers; a big kid who seemingly could not believe his good fortune to be playing a little boy’s game while getting paid enough to live like 10 grown men put together.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism