Nevius: A’s may not be bluffing on relocation this time
Apparently, I have the story all wrong about the Athletics’ attempts to build a ballpark at a downtown Oakland waterfront location.
The prevailing narrative seems to be that the A’s are trying to bumrush the city and City Council into a shady deal that will cost hundreds of millions and — by the way — at a site that won’t work anyhow.
And now, it is said, the A’s are pretending to be interested in a move to another city, like Las Vegas or Portland. It is the old threaten-to-move-to-get-a-new-facility ploy.
I disagree. I think the A’s are dead serious.
And they should be. Let’s review.
First, the Howard Terminal concept didn’t pop up on a cocktail napkin over the Christmas holidays. The team presented the plan, with great fanfare, in 2018.
There were lovely renderings of the proposed park, with lots of views. All that was needed was to work out some environmental reviews and get approvals from the City Council.
And that’s when everything went into slo-mo. The council dillied. It dallied. It filed a lawsuit.
It was around then when Councilman Dan Kalb issued his infamous “It’s going to be done on our timeline, not the A’s timeline.”
Exasperation grew. And not just from the Athletics. In 2019, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred flew to Oakland. Ostensibly, he was there for the play-in game, but there was more.
Manfred met with Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Council President Rebecca Kaplan and “He kind of laid down the law,” according to Councilman Larry Reid.
“I made it clear that it’s time for the city of Oakland to show concrete progress on the stadium effort,” Manfred told reporters. “It’s gone on too long and things need to fall into place to get a new stadium here.”
Schaaf said he also mentioned that the A’s, like the Raiders, might consider a move to Las Vegas — clearly giving relocation his blessing.
Manfred was particularly upset about the surprise lawsuit the council filed in October 2019, to hold up the sale of the Coliseum site on a legal technicality.
Perhaps realizing that they’d gone too far, the council withdrew the suit a month later.
All of which bring us to now, where posturing and bickering continue. The council recently issued a letter saying “it is entirely false that the City Council is delaying or refusing to consider the A’s proposal.”
To which MLB replied that it is “concerned with the rate of progress on the A’s new ballpark with local officials and other stakeholders.”
So to suggest that the A’s are trying to rush this through is rich. This has been going on for years. The council can say it isn’t delaying, but there has been a delay. Even professional baseball is calling them out.
Now, to be fair, they don’t want to be taken to the cleaners. They’ve been there, done that with the ill-fated Raiders renovation, which they are still paying for.
But this is go time. A vote is scheduled at the council on July 20, and if this turns into another dither-athon, I’d stop laughing off the possibility of the team moving. It might happen.
And about now is when someone says: “Well why can’t we just renovate the Coliseum?”
Let us count the reasons.
First, it is a lousy site. The new, modern idea of a ballpark is to renovate urban areas, bringing in housing, retail and life. The A’s have played there since 1968. The Raiders and Warriors were there too.
And the neighborhood is still a collection of warehouses and manufacturing. The big appeal is that it is on the freeway, but if you want a freeway there’s probably some open space near Fresno.
Also, the A’s have said categorically the site is a non-starter. Even MLB says the Coliseum “is not a viable option for the future vision of baseball.”
But in a here-we-go-again moment, the City Council says that view is “unsupported.” OMG, surely you are not going to take another trip down that rabbit hole.
Remember this project is privately funded. We can’t tell them where to build. Oakland will need to provide infrastructure, which could run over $800 million. But that’s to get a huge project valued in the billions. And the taxes from the development go to paying off that investment.
And finally, the wails of concern about abandoning Athletics Nation are overwrought. As we know, year after year the A’s have some of the lowest attendance totals in the game. As Manager Bob Melvin once noted, the fans come out for “playoffs and fireworks.”
You can’t blame them. The Oakland Mausoleum is the worst facility in baseball, maybe in sports. It’s not even a ballpark. It’s a football stadium where baseball is played.
A new, downtown waterfront ballpark would change everything. Really, you say. Have any proof?
The Giants suffered in icy isolation at Candlestick Park for years. They didn’t draw enough fans to hold a tailgate party. In 2000 they built a privately funded jewel of a ballpark right on the bay.
Attendance skyrocketed. The team took off. They began to win, even earning three World Series trophies.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Over the years there were threats to move. Maybe to San Jose or Montreal. We actually said goodbye at one point, sure they were going to Tampa Bay.
But everyone worked through it. A stadium was built. The fans arrived. A new urban neighborhood was created.
And that has made all the difference.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius