One last catharsis for Oakland baseball


On June 13th, the Oakland Athletics defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 to improve their record from 18-50 to a whopping 19-50. The 2023 edition of Oakland A’s baseball has been nothing short of a Greek tragedy. They are on pace to finish this season with one of the worst records of all time. With the recent announcement of the team planning to move to Las Vegas, Oakland A’s baseball, beaming with excellence and tradition, may soon cease to exist. The 13th of June, 2023, may be the final time we see a shred of life in the Oakland Coliseum. It’s a shame really.

Oakland fans don’t deserve what is happening to their club. The diehards, the few that haven’t been scared off by rising parking costs and the rotting stadium, have continually shown up for the team in hard times. Sure, the A’s minor league team in Las Vegas has had better attendance numbers than the big league club. But can you really blame the fans? The Las Vegas Aviators, the AAA affiliate of the Oakland A’s, have one of the nicest ballparks in America. The Oakland Coliseum has been considered a dumpster fire for almost 30 years. Once a commodity, the Coliseum was built to house both the Raiders and A’s. When the Raiders packed up for Vegas, the A’s were left with a stadium that was much more suited for football than baseball. Dozens of new stadiums were proposed, but the city of Oakland wouldn’t budge. This wasn’t just an Oakland A’s issue. The Raiders had left for Vegas after the city wouldn’t build them a new football stadium. The Warriors were even more egregious, moving across the bay to San Francisco and to the new Oracle Arena. 

The Oakland Coliseum has stood the test of time, however over the past 25 years or so it has begun to show its age. Once a state of the art ballpark, the Coliseum has seen numerous sewage leakages, a stadium addition (nicknamed Mount Davis after Raiders owner Al Davis) that dramatically altered the look of the stadium, mice dying in vending machines, lights going out, and the abandonment of the Raiders. Once described by the New York Times as “baseball’s last dive bar”, when everything clicks, the Coliseum is resurrected like Lazarus. Last wednesday, roughly 28,000 fans in a “reverse boycott” of the team crowded into the Coliseum for the first time in ages. Like any team, when things are going well, people will show up to games, but when things are going bad like they are right now, people can’t be bothered to visit the Coliseum like they used to. 

One thing that has kept the Oakland A’s relevant in the 21st century is the concept of “Moneyball.” Originally a book by Michael Lewis, this true story is about the 2002 Oakland A’s who won over 100 games by (basically) just using statistics. Ever since then, small market teams like the A’s, Royals, and Rays and big market teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, and Astros have used tactics created by Moneyball to win championships. However, the life cycle of a developed prospect in the Oakland A’s system is around 3-5 years. This is due to the fact that Oakland is the poorest club in the league and since they can’t re-sign players, they have to dump them to bigger clubs in exchange for prospects. This is why from 2002 onwards, a four year cycle would start. The A’s were great from 2002-2006, then sold all their best players after 2007. A’s saw a new crop of young players blossom around 2010 and sold them around 2014. The issue was that the A’s weren’t playing with house money; eventually the cycle couldn’t continue. This past cycle, ending around 2021, is in my opinion the death nail of Oakland baseball. Here is why.

In 2021 and 2022, the Oakland A’s sold Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Sean Murphy, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Starling Marte, Chris Bassitt, Jake Diekman, and Lou Trivino. Those players were all vital to Oakland’s success in 2018, 2019, and 2020. I am not one to question the madness of Billy Beane, the A’s general manager and the creator of Moneyball. Rather, I place the blame on the A’s owner John Fisher for never truly investing in this squad the way Beane, the fans, and the players needed it to be. 

John Fisher bought the Oakland A’s back in 2005. One thing fans were excited for was Fisher bringing in the money to actually create a better team for Billy Beane. No longer would Beane have his best players poached by the Yankees and Red Sox. He was to help build John Fisher and the city of Oakland a winning baseball team. Yet the A’s went back to the cycle mentioned above. Fisher never invested in this club, and after the fire sale of 2021 and 2022, fans could see the writing on the wall. Fisher, like Mark Davis, owner of the newly christened Las Vegas Raiders, was pivoting for a move. 

Fisher’s plan to move leads us back to last night. After announcing the move to Las Vegas, fans were desperate to win their team back. The best way for that: Fisher sells the team. Fans flooded the comments of every social media post with #selltheteam and similar comments. On the same day the Nevada state senate passed a bill for $380 million taxpayer dollars to be allocated to a new ballpark for the A’s in Vegas, roughly 28,000 Oakland baseball fans crammed into the Coliseum to witness a winning Oakland A’s side. The fight to keep baseball in Oakland didn’t start or end last wednesday. Rather it will be a fight for many years to come. 

The karma of Fisher scrambling to move the team has brought up numerous issues. For one, Las Vegas, the state of Nevada, and the A’s don’t know where to put the stadium. Also, many Nevada voters don’t even support paying for the stadium with taxpayer dollars. Another hindrance in the owners vote. If the other 29 major league owners simply shoot down the bill, then it won’t matter. Finally, the A’s lease at the Coliseum ends in 2024, so the A’s will either be homeless, have to play in a minor league stadium in Las Vegas, or go back to the Coliseum. Whatever option they choose, the A’s are in a bad spot. 

Why does all this matter? In sports, fans have been pushed aside in favor of the big bucks numerous times this century alone. Three notable examples are the Seattle Supersonics leaving for Oklahoma City, the Montreal Expos leaving for Washington D.C, and most infamously the San Diego Chargers leaving a dedicated fan base for Los Angeles. All three had extremely dedicated followings like the A’s. Here is why this matters. My entire life, I’ve been a Minnesota Twins fan. Back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Minnesota Twins were rudderless. They had no direction as a franchise after their 1991 World Series win. During this time, the Twins played at the Metrodome, a multi-purpose indoor stadium suitable best for football. The Metrodome after only 20 or so years was already falling apart. In 2001, the 30 owners in major league baseball voted 28-2 to eliminate two teams from Major League baseball. Those two teams were the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins. 

The Twins got extremely lucky. First, they improved on the field. In 2002, the Twins went to the ALCS for the first time since 1991. A group of talented players like Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Brad Radke, Johan Santana, and later hometown hero (and my personal idol) Joe Mauer made the Twins a consistent winner for the entirety of the 2000’s. Then, the Pohlad family, some of the cheapest owners in baseball and the ire of Twins fans everywhere, agreed to build a new stadium after honoring their lease at the Metrodome. After weathering rumors of contraction, moves to North Carolina, and Bud Selig (then commissioner of baseball) wanting the team out of the league to expand the territorial reaches of his Milwaukee Brewers, Target Field was opened in 2010. A new outdoor ballpark, as somebody who has visited the park a number of times over the years said, it is a beautiful place to watch a ballgame. I’d say it’s a little better than being blown out of the Metrodome.

I write all of this to say that I count my blessings that the team I love is still in Minnesota. If not for them, I don’t know where I would be today. Would I have still fallen in love with baseball? Would I even watch sports? Even though they frustrate me and break my heart every year, the Twins are important to me, and the Twins are important to Minnesota. The Oakland A’s are the same way. For three generations, 11 presidents, four World Series, six A.L pennants, a dozen or so Hall of Famers, Oakland has hosted one of baseball’s kookiest cultures. Oakland needs baseball, and baseball needs Oakland. Dear John Fisher, sell the team.