In Oakland, Brandon Moss emerges as unlikely star for Athletics

Friday May 30th, 2014

Brandon Moss is second on the Athletics in home runs with 12 and has the highest OPS on the team.
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He worked the register at Maxi Mart Gas. He worked the kitchen at Sonic. He worked at a golf course and at a gym. He worked in a veterinarian's office, in the kennels, cleaning litter boxes. During his long, winding journey to big leagues, Brandon Moss held these odd jobs during his winters at home in Loganville, Ga., to keep his family afloat. It was a struggle. One winter while he was in the Red Sox organization, he worked at Sonic, in the kitchen in the back, while his wife Allison worked out front at the register; at nights, he would go to work a shift at the kennels. "I'll just say that there's nothing worse in the world than cleaning litter boxes," he said. "I've repressed a lot of those memories."

It was Thursday morning in Oakland, and Moss was standing at his locker in the Athletics' clubhouse. Inside the lair of the best team in baseball, country music was thrumming over the speakers, players were on the couch playing Mario Kart, Derek Norris was at a table staring intensely at a cribbage board and Yoenis Cespedes was sitting next to him crushing a plate of waffles. The A's are a seemingly odd assemblage of disparate parts, but it all comes together beautifully in a deep, talented, and highly entertaining roster of overlooked and undervalued players. And after 12 years, four organizations, and countless miserable jobs, a 30-year-old journeyman has found a home, at last.

You may think you know Brandon Moss, but you probably don't. His baseball life has been full of fighting misconceptions and labels, of being pegged as something he isn't. There was "The Four-A Player" label, which stuck after his struggles in the Pirates' organization. In 2009, Moss got 133 at-bats as Pittsburgh's rightfielder, struggled, and was sent down. "Once a guy gets labeled something, it is very hard to get rid of that label," he said. "After I got designated by the Pirates, I was labeled as a Four-A player. It was a justifiable label — at the time, I had struggled in the big leagues and I could hit at the minors. I thought I could do what I'm doing now in the big leagues, but the opportunity to be consistent never came up." Of the Pirates, Moss said, "They had an idea of the player they wanted me to be, more of a line drive, go with the pitch, not strikeout a lot kind of guy. That's just not me. It's something I never was or will be."

The label followed him to Oakland after he signed a minor league contract in 2011, and Moss thought it would be the same as Pittsburgh: "You get 20 token at-bats, and if you don't light the world on fire, then you're designated. I thought it was pretty much going to be a joke." That year, he nearly packed his bags for Japan. He had an opt-out in his contract on June 15, and was set to go, but then was called up on June 6. "I was gone, for sure," he said. "Everybody dreams of being in the big leagues, but baseball is a career. You have to find a way to succeed and make money for your family. The opportunity to make a lot of money was there, and I thought I could go over there and go back to who I was before I struggled in Pittsburgh. I could go find my swing again."

Instead, he found it in Oakland. He homered on June 7, then had one hit over his next seven at bats. He remembers being in Colorado on June 11, convinced that he would be sent down that day; he and Allison talked contingency plans. But he wasn't demoted. He was in the lineup on June 12, homered twice that night against the Rockies, then in three straight games. "They just kept starting me, and that's what surprised me," Moss said. "I thought one or two or three starts and if I don't get a couple hits in all of them, then my name's not going to be in the lineup. It was the first opportunity I ever had where I could come in and see my name in the lineup every day. I didn't even know how to handle it."

Later, Moss found out that it was assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi who was his impassioned advocate in the Oakland front office, pushing for the A's to give Moss a shot. "For someone to stick out his neck for a 28-year-old who had done nothing with 600 at-bats in the majors, that's bold," Moss said. What Zaidi had seen were Moss' numbers at Triple-A Sacramento. "The difference in flyball rates, walk rates, isolated power, there was an obvious change," Moss said. "Those numbers changed because there was an obvious change in approach over a two-year period. It's something I did work on. I felt that what gave me the best chance to succeed was to hit the ball in the air."

He has been hitting ever since, with a team-leading 30 home runs a year ago and 12 through Thursday. He's still being labeled as an all-or-nothing slugger who strikes out too much, a hitter who struggles against lefties, a platoon player who sits when the A's face a lefty, but none of those labels are true. With a monster start — a .552 slugging percentage (fifth in the league), a .917 OPS (tied for sixth) and 25 extra-base hits (tied for seventh) — Moss has hit his way into the everyday lineup. He has settled in as the cleanup hitter between Josh Donaldson and Cespedes and established himself as one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game.

He thinks often about where he'd be now if he'd gone to Japan in 2012, or if he hadn't homered on June 12, or if he had gone 0-for-4 the next three nights instead of homering in each game. Maybe he'd be in Japan, or maybe he'd still be in the minors, working odd jobs in the winters. After all he's been through, after all those winters of in Logantown, he is grateful for this, his first real shot in the big leagues. "There was nothing that had to be given to me here," he said of the A's. "They didn't have to give me an opportunity. They didn't have to call me up. They didn't have to give me at-bats when they did. Think about it: I was a 28-year-old who had 600 at-bats in the big leagues but didn't do anything. And they still gave me a chance."

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