The Oakland City Council approved a stadium funding term sheet for the Athletics’ alleged new stadium, and one thing is for sure: Everyone hates it. Not dislikes it in that it’s-a-good-deal-if-everyone-is-slightly-unhappy negotiations bromide, but actively hates it.
Without getting into the tedious details on the greedometer, the basic dynamics are these: The city wants something to say about what goes on outside the stadium confines (i.e., low-cost housing) despite not really having the kind of dough to make such an investment, and the A’s want all the land and all the say and all the money without any of the costs. You know, the usual stupid sociopolitical tug of war between politicians you disdain and rich louts you definitely hate.
But there’s more to this and always has been, and they center around a single hurt feeling that has persisted in this franchise since the Depression: the Athletics’ historical sense of neglect in whatever town they’re in at any given time. They felt unloved in Philadelphia after their last World Series title in 1931 and eventually sold and left. They felt unappreciated in Kansas City when they were the only pro team in town, so they sold and left. They felt so ignored in Oakland that they have seriously investigated moving to no fewer than seven locales since Charlie Finley first arrived in 1968 and immediately declared his decision a mistake. Other than the 15 years of the Haas Family, they have been run by cheapskates and grifters, and their on-field success has largely been achieved despite rather than because of the people who keep the profits.
In exchange, they rarely engaged with the people among whom they lived (and that’s within a 50-mile radius in all directions), and complained that they weren’t treated with love and admiration commensurate with their status when in fact because of their own social ineptitude, that’s exactly how they were treated—commensurate with what their owners gave. The real measure was that the A’s could always be ignored, and were.
So they sat inert, except for those times when they stood and dithered. They waited for several suburbs and then San Jose to love them unconditionally, and then walked away because it didn’t happen immediately. They waited fruitlessly for Bud Selig to schmooze the other owners on their behalf, and then walked away because Selig had other issues than doing their work for them. They waited for baseball to rescind the Giants’ easily rescindable claim to territorial control of San Jose without selling a single owner on why that would be a good idea. They waited for their annual revenue-sharing checks from Major League Baseball to expire before acting like they needed the locals to bail them out, and then got shirty when their offer of “give us all you’ve got” was received with a dumpster full of feh. And they waited and waited and waited for Mark Davis to leave for first Los Angeles and then Las Vegas, and they waited and waited and waited even more for Joe Lacob to figure out how to navigate San Francisco politics and build his own waterfront palace.
And then they tried to annex a junior college property without asking anyone, on the theory that nobody could ever say no to the A’s even though their last century has all been about being told no. And then they settled on this new plan at Howard Terminal near the San Francisco Bay (see? Even the geography is biased), but only if they got everything for free because all the other teams are gone and surely it’s their turn.
Only the facts say otherwise. Leverage isn’t granted, it’s worked for, and the A’s have been content with waiting to be catered to on every ballpark project they have ever suggested. And while the assumption is that they just want to get out of Oakland, the truth is they just want to go to any place where they will receive that catering, financially, philosophically and emotionally.
Their timing, as it always has, blows, starting with the fact that politicians no longer get votes by offering to deliver big-league baseball at extortionate prices. The same fiscal drive that influences cities to turn down the Olympics permits cities to say, “We’ll take an MLS team if you have a spare, and the WNBA looks nice, so maybe one of those as well.” Baseball is just an expensive and unnecessary luxury that the kids pass by on their way to the skate park.
Yet the A’s persist. They talk about Las Vegas when in fact they mean Henderson, which is 20 minutes away from the strip by car and a thousand light years distant by heat, wind, and inconvenience. They talk about Portland and Sacramento and Nashville and Charlotte when the evidence is clearly suggesting that they’ll have to build their own baseball palaces there, too.
And now, the piece de resistance—their tactics. They have tried to bully Oakland even after Oakland told the NFL to take a hike. Owner John Fisher doesn’t exist as an ethereal face of venality without the power to achieve actual evil, and his spokesman, Dave Kaval, is mostly a shouty carnival barker trying to lure people inside his company’s tent with rancid popcorn and flat beer “because we’re us, and you owe us respect.” Fisher is a trout-impersonating failson whose only tactical play in any public situation is, “Yeah, but I’m me, so get lost,” and Kaval is Fredo Corleone with a wind-up toy of a circus monkey playing cymbals where his relatability and improvisational skills should reside. They’re the people in the bar trying to convince you to buy them a drink and then start a one-way conversation with you about themselves even as you’re trying to pay your tab and back out toward the exit.
Neither Fisher nor Kaval are taken seriously on anything because they have never demonstrated any level of competence above the baseball operations level, where they do nearly as well as the Tampa Bay Rays, another team with even more acute problems than the Elephants. They are a repellent operation with two people at the top who either aren’t seen or never heeded, and now they are slowly but decisively boxing themselves into a corner made entirely of trap door.
So despite the fact that the A’s as a concept deserve better, what they have is this. Decades of being the poor relation. Decent, proper, and well-funded ownership for 15 of the past 90 years. An inferiority complex stuffed inside an undeserved arrogance and a fan base that knows it has nowhere to turn but to the fantasy of a new owner who would have to pay upward of $3 billion to buy a team and a new stadium when the franchise is worth a fraction of that. They are what relegation would look like if you could demote teams based on corporate performance rather than standings position.
So, really, they don’t like the deal. And they don’t have an alternative or even a credible threat to said deal. And they can’t figure out why they don’t scare anyone. Now that’s your A’s Replay for today.