The Oakland A’s just completed their 55th season in the East Bay, which is one more season than they lasted in Philadelphia, their original home. There was a stop in Kansas City in between, which makes one wonder, given the relative stability of the Royals, if Charlie Finley ever had second thoughts about moving out of the Midwest. But that’s all hindsight.
Finley wasn’t alone. There was a point in the early 70s when Oakland had franchises in all four major sports. The NHL California Golden Seals relocated to Cleveland, of all places, in 1976, then the Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1981. Since then, the city has been in pretty much nonstop negotiations with all of its franchises, but the magic potion of new facilities has never been forthcoming. The result has the Warriors moving across the Bay to San Francisco, followed by the Raiders leaving town once again, this time for Las Vegas.
It is a matter of time for the Oakland A’s
That leaves the A’s, at least for now. I saw my first baseball game in 1969, which means that for my entire life as a fan, the A’s have been an essential part of baseball. There were the three straight titles in the 70s. Rickey Henderson setting the stolen base record. The Bash Brothers in the late 80s. The Moneyball teams at the start of this century. Despite all that success, Oakland has been near the bottom in attendance for the vast majority of their stay, finishing in the bottom five in the AL for 37 of those 55 years, including dead last with average attendance under 10,000 for the past two seasons.
The other common thread during the A’s stay in Oakland has been rumors about a move. If not by the A’s, then by the Giants across the bay, who were almost signed and sealed for Tampa Bay in the early 90s. Even with the boom in Silicon Valley, there have been very few years when both franchises drew very well. San Francisco was granted a reprieve from relocation rumors when 3Com Park opened in 1996, but the A’s are still playing in the same stadium that they occupied when they arrived in the Bay Area.
What comes next? The team is playing a game of chicken with the city over a new stadium, and it remains to be seen whether the recent elections will change the calculus of that. Las Vegas has been mentioned as a relocation option but has also balked at various proposals for a publicly funded stadium. There are a number of cities with franchises in other major sports but no MLB team: Charlotte, Nashville, New Orleans, and Indianapolis. Plus, Montreal still has a legitimate grievance about losing the Expos fifteen years ago. Bottom line: if the Oakland A’s decided to aggressively pursue relocation they would have a long line of suitors, and little competition as long as MLB defers expansion.
It still feels like it should work out in Oakland, but history tells us that the longer a stadium issue goes unresolved, the more inevitable a move becomes.