The Oakland Athletics are already two games to the good in their Low Payroll World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, winning again Tuesday night in a taut 2-1 thriller that pulled them into a first-place tie with the Angels in the AL West. And you can tell that the vibe in Oakland is a happening one, because no fewer than 3,748 people crammed the Coliseum to see the much-anticipated Chris Ellis–Cole Irvin showdown.
And when we say crammed, we mean stuffed to the rafters with empty rows. Thirty-eight people per seating section not including suites or bleachers, which means that you could not only have taken a clandestine date to the game, you could have brought his or her extended family and work colleagues and still remained free of public scrutiny. Now THAT, kids, is customer service.
It would certainly be the only evidence of said customer service, as reports from Monday’s home opener, which drew a miserable 17,503, were that concession lines were long because the concessions areas were both few and understaffed, and even the Kids Club booth allegedly had only one sad person in it telling people there was no more Kids Club, and the only information on the team’s web site is that news on the Kids Club is “coming soon.” When, May? October? 2027? By then, presumably all the kids in the world will be adults, and there won’t be any reason to have a Kids Club at all. It’s a wonder the media guide doesn’t carry the motto, “A’s Baseball: Go Away.”
And the game itself? Know only this: The lowest 26-man payroll in the game beat the lowest 40-man payroll in the game by a single run, which is probably as it should be. When you’re only spending about $300,000 over the minimum salary per player, one or two runs is all you really deserve.
As is well understood in these parts, the A’s are trying to make themselves the sporting equivalent of a poison mushroom in hopes of stirring Major League Baseball’s other 29 owners to declare them functionally indigent and allow them to move to another city which, as of this writing, has yet to reveal itself. Current owner John Fisher is the architect of the plan to be as aggressively negligent as possible, and by all available evidence in this admittedly short season, he is succeeding tactically, though not yet strategically. After all, he’s still in Oakland after 17 years of slumlording, so his lack of work is not yet done.
You see, demonstrably chasing away potential customers does not guarantee relocation because none of the other owners who have to approve a relocation really care about Oakland’s fate, or more specifically Fisher’s. He is rapidly becoming viewed across the industry as the new Jeffrey Loria, the former Miami Marlins owner who intentionally distressed that franchise so much that it is still a heap of tangled wreckage looking for a benefactor. Fisher may even be the next Charlie Finley, the former A’s owner who was correctly perceived to be so repellent that his first Opening Day in Oakland drew 50,164 and the next night attracted 5,304. He spoke almost immediately of relocating the team again, which set the franchise off on the right hoof.
But 55 years ago isn’t quite so relevant now except as a comparison point. Finley made himself actively detestable while running the team from his home office in LaPorte, Indiana, while Fisher makes himself barely more visible at the park while living in San Francisco. The message, though, is the same for both men: fans are an impediment to joy, and to prove it, Fisher will chase every living thing away except a growing army of feral cats who may relieve themselves on the infield but never complain about a gutted roster or lousy service.
Fisher’s reasons for still owning the team are his own, but center around the fact that he makes regular money with this Mardi Gras of sabotage. His last public appearance was to walk back a stated plan not to pay the team’s minor league players their $400-a-month salaries in 2020, when MLB was under an attendance ban because of the pandemic. The team was just reinstated on MLB’s revenue-sharing list after being excluded for making no progress on a stadium for the life of his ownership, and between that and the windfalls of television and MLB Advanced Media money, Fisher doesn’t actually need fans in the ballpark at all. So he doesn’t bother.
In fact, Fisher is now being called out by Sam Stejskal in The Athletic for the same monomaniacal neglect of his MLS team, the San Jose Earthquakes, another low-win, low-attendance, low-relevance extravaganza only with a newer stadium that is almost entirely cat-free. The only reason his other holding, Celtic of the Scottish Premier League, is succeeding both financially and competitively is because he only has a small piece of that club and therefore cannot turn it into an artistic abattoir as well. Being surrounded by investors who like what they buy can be such a drag.
In other words, what you see is what he is, and A’s fans have decided to wait him out while knowing that strategy might well fail in the end. They do, however, take continued hope in the knowledge that no other city is showing any eagerness to take on him, his team, and his demand for a publicly funded ballpark, so this is now officially a game of inertial chicken.
In the meantime, we leave you with this table from Baseball Reference showing the 1979 A’s, who lost 108 games and drew 306,763 fans, including 53 games in which they drew fewer people than they did Tuesday night and two when they couldn’t even clear a thousand. There was good news that year, though: The virulent disinterest eventually drove Finley to sell the club in 1980 to the only good owner the team has ever had, Walter Haas of Levi’s fame. The key date for you to remember is April 17, when the team drew 653 fans for a win over Seattle. If the same tactic that eventually defeated Finley can work again, this is the new target for a fan base already accustomed to staying at home with a vengeance. They live in absentee hope.