What’s Going On With the Oakland A’s

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Do you know who owns the Oakland A’s?

No?

Do you know who John J. Fisher is?

No?

He is the son of Gap Inc. founders Donald Fisher and Doris F. Fisher. He is also the Oakland Athletics owner and apparently a big fan of the movie Major League. How do we know this?  Have you seen Major League? Have you been paying attention to what’s going on with the A’s?

No.

Okay. Let me explain.

A Major League Plot

Let’s be clear. The movie Major League is a fictionalized account of the 1989 Cleveland Indians (now known as the Guardians). In the movie, the Indians have a new owner named Rachel Phelps. She is a former showgirl who inherited the ballclub from her late husband. She’s not a fan of Cleveland and wants to move the Indians to the more desirable (in her opinion) Miami. There’s a problem. The Indians have a lease with the city of Cleveland. But, there’s always a but, there’s an escape clause in the lease: if attendance falls below 800,000 for the season the team may relocate.

So, Rachel Phelps does her best to put together the worst baseball team she can so fans will stop coming to games and she can move the team to Miami. It looks like a fail-safe plan. Unfortunately for Mrs. Phelps, it’s not. Don’t worry. This is where the description stops. No spoilers here. Go rent the movie on VHS. Or wait, what year is it?

A Major League Plot in Oakland

Let’s be clear. This writer’s description of what’s going on in Oakland is a fictionalized account (except when otherwise noted) of the 2022 A’s baseball team. The A’s owner is named John J. Fisher (true). Fisher also has stakes in the San Jose Earthquakes and Scotland’s Celtic Football (Soccer) Club (true). We don’t know for sure if he is a big fan of the Bay Area, but he lives in San Francisco (true), so chances are, being that he is well off and can live anywhere he wants, he views the area quite favorably. Going into the 2022 season the A’s were in desperate need of a new stadium (true). The A’s current lease runs out following the 2024 season (true). At which point, they will need a new home (true). They have been trying to find a new home in Oakland, but it hasn’t been going smoothly (true).

There has been much discussion about the A’s moving to Las Vegas as a result of their difficulty finding real estate in Oakland (true). Prior to the 2022 season, Oakland traded away all of their big stars (true). They also have their lowest payroll in twenty years (true). As a result, attendance is very low (true). Oakland averages 8,283 fans per home game, which is last in MLB (true). To give some perspective, across the bay, the San Francisco Giants draw an average of 30,869 fans per home game, which is 12th in MLB (true). The A’s are on pace to draw just under 700,000 fans at home for the season, which would have worked out perfectly for fictional team owner Rachel Phelps (true).

So, John J. Fisher does his best to put a bad team on the field. They are losing and drawing very few fans per home game. Without the fans, there is no reason to stay in Oakland. It looks like a fail-safe plan. Unfortunately for Mr. Fisher, it’s not. This is not where the description stops. There are spoilers here. No need for a VCR.

Oakland A’s Waiting on the Port of the Bay

We don’t really know if Fisher or the rest of the Oakland A’s decision-makers are trying to put a bad team on the field to lower attendance and move the team to Las Vegas. That is all speculation from the mind of someone who has seen Major League quite a few times. What we do know is, as was reported in The Athletic on May 17, that A’s president Dave Kaval said that they are “spending $2 million a month trying to get our waterfront ballpark approved…in Oakland.”

The waterfront ballpark that Kaval is referring to is a proposed plan at the Port of Oakland. The A’s have their hearts set on a site that is currently called the Howard Terminal, which is a part of the Port. The terminal is 56 acres and the A’s hope to build a new stadium there including housing, office space, retail space, a hotel, and a park. Sounds great. Sounds like a solution to the A’s housing crisis.

But, let’s all say it together, “there’s always a but”, the A’s need a two-thirds vote from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission to remove port designation on the Howard Terminal. If they get the vote, great, hooray, they can move forward with the stadium and apply for a permit from the Commission. If they don’t get the vote, the A’s have been looking at sites in Las Vegas where their former city companions, the Raiders, relocated to in 2020. The vote is to take place on June 30th, 2022.

What Is the Meaning of This

There is some question as to why the Athletics ownership didn’t try to field a competitive team. Wouldn’t one want to win and keep fans in the seats? In years past they traded away their stars, but have attempted to bring in cost-effective satisfactory replacements. A prime example of this is the 2012 season. They traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey and fans were in an uproar. The season looked lost, but then they went out and re-signed Coco Crisp and signed Yoenis Cespedes. As a result, they created a win, win, win situation: the A’s saved money, the fans got some hope, and they won the AL West that year. They kept their fans by finding a way to keep good baseball on the field.

Oakland A’s Not Doing Enough

In 2022, true to form, the A’s traded away stars Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Chris Bassitt, and Sean Manaea. Then, not true to form, they turned around and did nothing. Fans waited and waited but still nothing. Then they signed Jed Lowrie and Stephen Vogt, which is not quite Crisp and Cespedes. Some A’s fans are still waiting around for a competitive team to show up, but sadly many of them aren’t. And now there are accusations that Oakland ownership has pocketed revenue-sharing money instead of spending it on players. They have created a lose, lose, win situation: the team loses on the field, the fans lose, and the owner is able to turn a profit. There is bad baseball on the field and no fans in the seats.

While the fantasy of the big bad rich owner trying to take away the beloved team is a juicy story it is not necessarily the case here, at least not that we know of. Hopefully, time will fix the mess that is going on in Oakland and the A’s will stay in the place that they have called home since 1968. But one thing is for sure, we will know where another piece of the puzzle fits on June 30th. It’s not quite Major League, but it reeks of a conspiracy.

Main Photo:

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Players Mentioned:

Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Jed Lowrie, Stephen Vogt