In 1992, the San Francisco Giants signed a deal which would have had the team move to Tampa Bay. Supposedly, ownership chose to make the move due to their frustration with the inability to move out of the old and inconvenient dual-use stadium Candlestick Park which they shared with the 49ers. They simply weren’t able to compete with the more-popular Oakland Athletics. Luckily for the City of San Francisco, National League owners voted to block the deal. And then new owners decided to make a huge investment in Barry Bonds. The rest is history.
Others have done a good job at dispelling the notion that Oakland A’s fans just wouldn’t show up to games. Crap stadium, openly disdainful management, and most importantly, the decades-long practice of shipping off any player the moment they showed themselves popular basically trained the Oakland population to not be invested in the on-field product. The picture above is from a game I went to in 2011, not too long ago–so what happened?
I would love to place the entirety of the blame at John Fisher’s feet, but he continued a trend from Steve Schott’s ownership. The Moneyball movie was based on the 2002 season–before Fisher took over. And shortly after that season, their MVP-winning shortstop Miguel Tejada said that he would take less money to stay in Oakland, and the ownership didn’t even bother making an offer. But the churn reached a hyperdrive when Fisher took over. Barry Zito may have been the last star to remain any meaningful time. The A’s 2023 payroll of $43 million is lower than it was 20 years ago.
When Fisher took over, the A’s already needed a new stadium and he was openly talking about moving. To San Jose, to Fremont, to another state, to a new stadium in Oakland–it was a never-ending news cycle that ground and ground, placing A’s fans in a constant state of purgatory. And in the meantime, the A’s playoff runs were fueled by utility heroes like Jermaine Dye, Bobby Kielty and Coco Crisp. And then Fisher started deliberately trying to reduce attendance by increasing prices, gutting the roster and reducing gameday events. The intent was obvious.
As a lifelong East Bay/Oakland sports fan, and with my favorite being the A’s, the move to Vegas is the end of my interest in professional sports. Obviously, sports teams are for profit businesses. But the main reason anyone cares about teams is regional connection. And to those owners, the desire of the regional connection is some combination of an asset to squeeze and a political annoyance. These are status symbol toys to own and play with. When a team states its geographical location in its, name, this should be taken as simply a fact not a statement of identity.
Of course, there is the possibility that 1992 plays out again and the owners reject the A’s relocation. But the political climate is one where billionaires are much more likely to let a destructive move happen to send a spiteful message about their omnipotence. This is why Rob Manfred, the representation of MLB Owners, feels free to openly mock the Oakland fans that came out to the remarkable reverse boycott. And if some miracle did happen and the A’s move to Vegas busted, I wouldn’t feel good rooting for them until John Fisher’s gone.
At least there’s college baseball.