This almost seemed inevitable. Nonetheless, it was surprising and shocking when the news broke Wednesday.
The ownership for the Oakland A’s had signed a binding agreement to purchase 49 acres of land in Las Vegas to build a $1.5 billion stadium and more entertainment options. It came after years of back-and-forth negotiating between the city of Oakland and the A’s on multiple sites, eventually landing on a plot of land at Howard Terminal and a $12 billion total project that included a $1 billion stadium.
That plan was part of a revitalization of downtown Oakland that has taken place over the last two decades. The proposed ballpark was on the waterfront and had a cool look. It was going to be a cozy, 35,000-seat stadium that would have been perfect for A’s fans.
Why do I know that? Because when I moved to the Bay Area in August 2000 for a job on the sports desk of a newspaper, it was to the East Bay. And I made it a point to go to A’s games when I could. It started with other folks from the sports department going to an afternoon game before our shift that night.
It grew to where I would go on my own and sit out in the left-field bleachers. There, I met the core of the A’s fandom. They were there every day, hung banners, and waved flags. I’ve been to 17 MLB stadiums and these fans were different. It didn’t matter if it was the bunch in left field or right field. Sure, they were loud, but that was part of the fun. Most importantly, they were a baseball family, gathering for every home game and sharing three hours of bliss and camaraderie, regardless of whether the A’s won or lost. In those days, the A’s were winning a lot.
Because the A’s were winning, I was able to attend my first MLB playoff game. (After all, I grew up as a Milwaukee Brewers fan and, at that point, the Crew hadn’t been back to the playoffs since losing the 1982 World Series.) The year was 2001, and the opponent was the New York Yankees. It was the American League Division Series where the underdog A’s won the first two games at Yankee Stadium. I went to Game 3 at the stadium then with the formal name of Network Associates Coliseum. It was just one of many monikers the aging stadium would have. Unlike most games, I didn’t sit in the bleachers. Tickets at that point were hard to come by, and I went with a couple guys from work and sat (stood, really) underneath the overhang behind extended first base.
It wasn’t the best view, but it was an unforgettable experience. It didn’t matter that it happened in a crappy stadium. Even then, the Coliseum was outdated and needed to be replaced. Everyone knew it. The 2002 season proved that. It was the season chronicled in the book “Moneyball,” which was made into a movie.
Ownership then was cheap. It was Steve Schott at the time. Remember the movie scene where David Justice incredulously asked why he had to pay for a soda in the A’s clubhouse? Or Billy Beane requesting equipment or supplies in trades?
Well, A’s ownership has continued to be penny-pinchers to the extreme. On April 1, 2005, Schott sold the A’s to a group led by John Fisher that included Lew Wolff, who had been a college frat brother of then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Wolff was a minority owner but the managing partner (i.e. face of ownership). His group was chosen over a group led by now Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob, who had promised a big chunk of private financing for a new A’s stadium. Wolff sold his 10% share to Fisher, who controlled 80%, in November 2016.
That proved to be the start of the end of the Oakland A’s. Fisher has slowly chipped away at the integrity of the franchise, with the on-field product deteriorating from an 86-76 showing in 2021 to 60-102 last year and a disastrous 4-17 start to this season. They traded away stars such as Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Sean Murphy, and others because they were about to earn too much money. This year’s team might be one of the worst in MLB in recent memory. The team has become even more of a joke with the stadium infrastructure, which has seen the dugouts flooded with sewage and at least one possum taking up residence in the visiting TV booth.
Is it just because Fisher doesn’t have the money to sustain an MLB franchise? Hardly. His parents founded the Gap and Fisher himself was reportedly worth $2.2 billion last year. Fisher also owns stakes in Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes and a Scottish soccer team.
It is hard to know the motivation for why Fisher wants to move the A’s to Vegas. Fisher could have been a Bay Area icon had he been sincere in his efforts to keep the A’s in Oakland. Instead, he is now the villain with no chance of ever wearing a white hat as a good guy on the sports scene.
The hard part to swallow is the deception. It has been reported that a mediator had gotten the A’s and Oakland to sit down this week for negotiating sessions over what had been a $500 million infrastructure gap. Oakland had found $375 million of that. But that all changed with a Wednesday phone call from A’s President Dave Kaval to Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, notifying the city that the team was moving forward with the Vegas plan. Thao, to her credit, immediately issued a statement saying Oakland was done being a pawn in the A’s plan.
It doesn’t feel good from any angle. Baseball is a game of romance and the emotions are pretty raw at the moment. The plan for the A’s to move to Vegas isn’t guaranteed. Facing a deadline of June 5, the A’s and Nevada lawmakers have a $500 million incentive package of their own to resolve. The June 5 date is the end of the Nevada legislative calendar, although a special session could be called to continue negotiations. The A’s need to have everything resolved before formally submitting their relocation request.
Vegas would be the fourth city the A’s would call home, following Philadelphia (1901-54), Kansas City (1955-67) and Oakland (1968-current). The A’s actually played six regular season games at Vegas’ Cashman Field in 1996 as the Coliseum was being renovated. The new minor-league stadium, which houses the A’s Triple-A team, could be a temporary home for the major-league team until the new Vegas stadium is ready.
While this has been a truly nomadic franchise, Oakland seemed like the perfect fit for the A’s. The team wasn’t a big spender at any point and, as “Moneyball” showed, was one of the leaders in MLB teams adopting statistical analysis into player acquisition and playing decisions.
The gamble by the A’s is that they will succeed in Vegas. But will they? The summers are often unbearably hot (there would be a retractable roof on the stadium) and there will be a reliance on tourists to help fill out ballpark seats. With 81 home games each season, that might prove to be a tougher task than imagined. A Tuesday night game in May against the Miami Marlins? A Thursday afternoon getaway game in July vs. the Kansas City Royals? Good luck with that, especially considering the current A’s fanbase will be further alienated by the move and many will sever ties to their favorite team completely.
And it is those fans that I feel for the most. I sat amongst them for most of one summer when I bought a season-ticket package. They were the best set of fans I have been around. Pure of heart in not only their support of the team, but in the way they conducted themselves and felt about one another. Much like their team, they were scrappy and punched above their weight.
When it comes to gambling, the house always wins. That is why there are so many casinos. It this case, the house is MLB. It should rake in a hefty relocation fee and join the NHL and NFL in tapping Sin City as a franchise location. But for Oakland, it will be the third major sports franchise to leave the city. While the NBA’s Warriors hopped across the Bay to San Francisco, the NFL’s Raiders moved to Vegas.
Oakland fans certainly don’t deserve the second-class citizen treatment that Fisher is giving them. Sure, there could still be an out if things fall through and Fisher sells the A’s to someone who will keep the team in Oakland. But it seems pretty dim at the moment.
After all, Vegas is where dreams go to die.
Great piece. Sad for the A’s and their fans – they deserved better.
A’s have been my favorite team since I can remember. Who knows, maybe we met in the bleachers one of those years. Dollar Wednesdays or the place absolutely rocking for any playoff game.. I was there when coco walked off vs the Tigers after being dead to rights and even when Vogt backed Sonny for the 1-0 win. I think my favorite was game 162 vs Texas so steal the division in 2012. It will always be my favorite year of any team given the circumstances. But now, as long as Fisher owns the team, I’ll never give them another dime. I Truly hope Vegas fails and he’s forced to sell. Stewart has tried to buy them, Lacob has floated the idea many times, all with the intent to stay in Oakland – look what he did for the dubs for gods sake. A’s fans deserved better, hopefully some sort of natural justice ensues by sadly the rich billionaires usually win.. but until it’s all over can only hope for another underdog story