OAKLAND — Jeff Larish barely rates a footnote in A's history. The infielder played 24 games for Oakland in 2010, hit .175 with a couple of homers, and was granted free agency after that brief East Bay blip.
Larish's greater contribution to the A's was indirect — he may be largely responsible for Brandon Moss being their first baseman today. That's the way Moss feels about it, anyway, and he maintains he owes Larish a major debt of gratitude. Perhaps the A's do, too.
Moss and Larish crossed paths in 2011, when both played Triple-A ball for the International League's Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the Philadelphia Phillies' chain. They became good friends, and with Moss eligible for minor league free agency at the end of that year, he was considering his options.
"Larish told me, 'Dude, you really should look at Oakland, because they won't care about your batting average and strikeouts so much as you just making an impact,' " Moss said. "So when I declared for free agency, I called them and found out there was mutual interest."
Obviously, the A's didn't know exactly what they had in Moss when he was signed to minor league deal on Dec. 1, 2011, particularly with a player who had logged only scanty experience at first base during 10 previous years in pro ball.
But things have turned out fairly beautifully for both player and team since he was called up to Oakland on June 6 of last season. Combining last year with this season, Moss has played roughly a full season in an A's uniform — 157 games — and his impact is obvious. He's hit 35 home runs with 92 RBIs, coupled with a .267 average, a .331 on-base, and, OK, he has struck out 170 times.
In short, the 29-year-old Moss has delivered the kind of corner offensive production the A's gave predecessor Daric Barton every opportunity to provide and didn't. Over parts of seven seasons in Oakland, Barton hit just .248 with 28 home runs in more than 1,900 at-bats, and topped out at 57 RBIs in a 2010 season in which he played 159 games. In fact, he drove in just 166 runs in nearly 500 games with the A's.
Hence, once Moss demonstrated he could play first base competently — and he's done more than that at the position this year — the trade-out was an easy call. For his part, Moss still can't believe his good fortune. "I love it here," he said. "I love everything about the organization, the coaching staff, my teammates, the city. It's the first time in my baseball career I'm in a place where it really feels like home." <NO1>That's a far cry from where he was at the end of the 2009 season, when he was so disappointed following a failed 2 ?-year run with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he briefly contemplated quitting, asking a friend back home in Loganville, Ga., to inquire what he'd have to do to become a fireman. His wife Allison, among others, convinced him to keep pushing.
"The Pirates gave me a great opportunity and I blew it," he said. "I didn't know I'd ever get that kind of chance again." Then came the fortuitous 2011 season, when he had a terrific year in Triple-A and received up Larish's recommendation. He said everything Larish told him about the organization has been spot-on. They haven't tried to make him into something he's not, and they don't harp on him about his batting average or strikeouts, even though after hitting .291 last season, he's at .239 now.
"I don't worry about batting average," he said. "I know myself, and I'm not a .300 hitter. I'm not Albert Pujols. And I'm going to strike out. But I get my walks, too, my OPS numbers are good, and I feel whenever I do hit the ball, I'm going to hit it hard and the odds are high something good is going to happen." Hitting coach Chili Davis believes Moss could be more than that with just some minor adjustments.