Will this be the big year for the Oakland Athletics?
When clicking onto the Major League Baseball app to track big league baseball action, the home page can be set by “favorite team.” Having made the Oakland A’s my choice for 40 years, 30 of those before apps, the splash page has a three-row feature with headshots of “Superstars” and below that a row of pictures of “Future Stars” and on the bottom line a run of images of the A’s. Which tells you a fair amount about the state of our hometown team heading into 2023:
Only the Oakland Athletics.
Baseball conditions fans to think of the game as a cycle; in fact, there is a phenomenon in baseball known as a cycle (We got our last one in 2007!), but ours fits elegantly to the definition: a period of time taken up by a series of events or actions that repeat themselves regularly and in the same order.
The law of averages (A’s ranked dead last out of 30 teams in average, by the way) has been superseded by the law of gravity. What starts down stays down. For traditionalists, the A’s ranked dead last in measurements like runs and hits, and for the more modern fan metrics looking at stats like OBS and OPS, the A’s are last in that too. Something for fans across all generations!
Except the A’s don’t have fans either. Dead last in the major leagues in attendance too.
A’s fans have gotten used to rebuilds, right? Isn’t that the moral of Moneyball? If one can’t beat ’em, outsmart ’em? Endure the teardowns, the lean years and then after laying low, spring the trap.
When a baseball website trumpeted, “One player from each team who’s made a big impression this Spring,” Oakland’s entry is a guy who is not on the big league roster. If the Yankees and Red Sox have room for a phenom, how come the team picked by most publications as 29th or 30th of 30 can’t squeeze in a flier? (We had no squeeze plays in 2022 and probably the fewest fly balls too.)
And then there is the ballpark issue, where the A’s play. Where will the A’s play? The team’s owner isn’t saying. And the team’s spokesperson isn’t either. Which one would think was the point of a spokesperson.
The A’s are making eyes at Las Vegas, and snake eyes at Jack London Square. But just as other seeming undefeated verities meet their match when confronted with A’s ball, the law of supply and demand would suggest that having the biggest supply in the U.S. baseball world, for the fewest fans of any major league team, might maybe lead to a ticket adjustment. And so there was—last year the A’s doubled the price of their 24 game season ticket plan.
So why root for a team being torn out by the roots? For spite? The A’s dare fans to come to the ballpark. The radio station is two cans and a string, on a weak AM station that drones on with prerecorded stock market tips for the 21 hours the A’s are not on the air. But maybe I’m wrong; the one person who bothered to review it says the station boasts humor, sagacity and a good mix of people representative of the investment sector.
There are two round-the-clock Bay Area sports stations, but apparently not enough capacity on either to carry A’s games, talk much about the A’s or acknowledge they exist. In a national broadcast after the Athletics stunningly beat all-world pitcher Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels to start this year’s season with a shocker, the update guy sounded angry at the results and called the A’s terrible. Twice. If fans missed it the first time or thought they heard wrong. For beating the odds?
An ESPN MLB preview gave Oakland a 0% chance to be in the World Series, so good luck getting paid back infinitely on a wager.
The A’s have the lowest payroll in big league baseball. What’s lower than an underdog? At $43 million, the A’s are spending less on less than any team in the game. Three teams have larger payrolls budgeted for their injured players alone. Max Scherzer, pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, makes more money than the A’s. One guy. Scherzer does sport one blue eye and one brown eye, so that’s got to be worth something—evidently more than the A’s entire roster.
Everybody the A’s has who is any good gets traded to a team with more money (that would be any team). So one can spend the season seeing A’s alums graduated into Brewers, Cardinals, wearing the haunted look of players who have seen the abyss and are able to serve as sentinels warning fellows who are now Marlins, Mets and Twins that the stories of Coliseum possums and feral cats are more than urban legend.
The A’s are the witness protection program in double-knit polyester. As the old joke goes, these guys aren’t household names in their own homes. The A’s first two hitters in the lineup this Saturday were Esteury Ruiz and Aledmys Diaz, both of whose names were rejected by spell check and every other major league team outside of the 510 area code.
The Athletics did sign a Japanese pitcher who played high school with the elite Ohtani. And in Shintaro Fujinami’s start, he did give his old classmate one of the six RBIs he surrendered in less than an hour. To lure this one modestly enticing free agent, the A’s agreed to start him only once a week and then work the rest of the rotation around this eccentric demand—considering he lasted fewer than three innings, maybe the contract had fine print that said Shintaro would also need five relief pitchers to stagger through his starts.
Will this be the last year for the A’s? The Coliseum lease expires in 2024. And squeezing the husk of a once proud franchise into inedible pulp is not likely to get Vegas to fork over free real estate to build a Strip Palace. So the odds are strong that fans may have this year and next to get their fill of a team that is predicted to lose 100 games, as they did last year. In fact, if the A’s do lose that many, fans still win (prediction is 59-103); so even as they lose, fans can win, as it’s more likely they’ll stay in Oakland.
Come out and support the team. You can pitch, right?