Oakland is the right home for the Athletics and it’s the best possible city in which to build a new ballpark for the team. Baseball is a business. The hardest decisions Major League Baseball owners make are determined by financial and political circumstances. In the worst cases, owners must move a franchise to a different location for the survival of the team. However, it cannot be truthfully said that moving the A’s away from Oakland and building a new ballpark anywhere other than Oakland is either economically or politically necessary. Attempts to claim otherwise are, at best, an exaggeration. Moreover, such a move would be bad for the A’s as a franchise and bad for MLB.
There’s no doubt that Philadelphia lamented when the Athletics moved to Kansas City in 1954. And the celebrated arrival of the team in Oakland in 1968 was definitely not a happy day for Kansas City supporters. That said, Philadelphia and Kansas City rebounded quickly in the baseball world, an outcome no one can realistically expect for the City of Oakland, given the limited availability of MLB franchises. In fact, moving the A’s away from Oakland would be more akin to moving of the Dodgers from Brooklyn in 1957, in that there will be no team to take its place.
The A’s franchise also benefits greatly from the people, character, and history of Oakland, not to mention their intelligent, loyal, and outrageously passionate fans. The distinct Athletics brand would not be as resonant throughout baseball had the team not been nested for nearly fifty years in a city defined by values like tenacity, initiative, ingenuity, spirit, resilience, and originality. Home of the fifth busiest container port in the United States, Oakland has reinvented itself, thanks in part to the determination of lifelong residents who never gave up on their city, a massive influx of young working families seeking a diverse place to raise children, and a world-class arts output that has officially surpassed that of any other Bay Area city, including San Francisco. And all this despite a relentless campaign of misinformation about and exaggeration of Oakland’s crime and blight. Like St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, Oakland is a city that has had to rebuild in the wake of a collapse of US manufacturing and a decline in living-wage and union jobs. However, unlike St. Louis, Detroit, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, it is hard to imagine a proposal to move the Cardinals, Tigers, Orioles, Pirates, Brewers, or Indians from their respective hometowns. Why do we not find it just as preposterous to imagine moving the A’s from Oakland?
The seating capacity for baseball games at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is approximately 35,000. The average single game attendance in 2012 at the Coliseum was roughly 21,000, or about 60 percent of capacity. To put things into context, the Chicago White Sox attendance record in 2012 was roughly 24,000 per game, or about 64 percent of capacity, and there are five other MLB teams with essentially the same averages as Oakland, including Kansas City, Seattle, Houston, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland. The average attendance for all MLB teams in 2012 was something like 30,000 per game. So why is Oakland’s low attendance exaggerated relative to other similar MLB cities?
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was a major reason why Charlie O. Finley moved the Athletics to Oakland in 1968, but the Coliseum has become outmoded by modern stadium standards and is an awkward hybrid football/baseball stadium — an arrangement that is not ideal for either team. The owners tell us every effort was made to plan and build a new park in Oakland, therefore moving the Athletics is economically and politically necessary. But the owners did not explain why, when the City of Oakland offered a prime site at Victory Court (Jack London Square) and $100 million of redevelopment money, it seemed they never considered the offer. After waiting for an answer from the owners, the development funds became unavailable due to state cutbacks. Undeterred, the city now proposes an alternative site on the 120-acre lot that the Coliseum is presently on, a proposal owners have made no mention of considering. No mention, despite the fact that the city wants to develop a world-class sports and business complex on the Coliseum site — a site that would be the envy of many other cities, given its sheer enormousness, its proximity to the present stadium, its location on the 880 freeway, and its existing dedicated BART station. No mention, despite several overtures made by Oakland-based corporations to invest in the team and stadium to ensure that the team remains in Oakland. Clearly, the city (and its businesses) are neither incapable nor unwilling to make the necessary investments and provide sufficient resources for a new stadium. Yet the team’s owners are unmoved.
In truth, it’s a miracle that Oakland’s attendance record is not worse, given decades of the media sensationalizing about how dangerous Oakland is, and owners treating their local fan base and home city as basically disposable. Many Oakland fans feel profoundly betrayed by ten years of talk of moving the team, so it’s not surprising that their will to attend is diminished. There is no doubt in my mind that if the team’s owners committed to Oakland it would result in at least a 10 percent increase in attendance, which would give the A’s the same average as many other MLB teams. If the owners needed proof of this hypothesis, all they would have to do is offer the Oakland fans a “challenge.” If 10,000 new season tickets are acquired for an upcoming season, the owners will commit to build and stay in Oakland.
In 1972, when the A’s and Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, and Gene Tenace captured the country’s collective imagination, the nation was still reeling from the Vietnam War and the bitter struggle for basic human rights. Then, like now, Oakland represented the very fabric of the American people, just as baseball represents the very soul of America. Oakland is currently having a renaissance of cultural enthusiasm, as young families flood into local neighborhoods — drawn by the family-centered, working-class, diverse, and progressive attitudes that characterize Oakland. A move to San Jose would not only sell the Athletics’ heart and soul; it would miss the chance to capitalize on the existing A’s fan base, the existing Oakland infrastructure, and the revitalization and economic growth happening in the East Bay.
The best choice for the owners and for Major League Baseball is to renew their commitment to Oakland and, by extension, the true spirit of the Athletics and everything that is sacred about baseball.