Padecky: A's fans are pros at social distancing
Unless you have lived in a bomb shelter for the last three months with a blindfold and ear muffs, with no television or internet, you know social distancing and shelter-in-place are all the rage. Literally. We humans are herd animals and the herd is restless, if not downright crabby and armed. The idea of being apart from one another has never appeared so counter intuitive, unless you count 49er fans wanting nothing to do with Cowboy fans.
Our capacity to handle isolation is greater than you might think. In fact, we have an excellent example of that in our own backyard.
Oakland A’s fans have been practicing social distancing for years, decades even. You don’t hear grumbling or the throwing of a hot dog if someone is snoring too loud. A’s fans are amazingly tolerant of their distant brothers, even to the point of sharing their blanket.
On April 17, 1979, the A’s fans set the benchmark for social distancing. The announced paid crowd to see the team play Seattle at the Oakland Coliseum was 653. The actual crowd was 250. Or was it 251? Not sure. I was there and I counted the “throng” a number of times, never quite sure of the number because some of the guests may have been availing themselves of the restroom. I gave up because I felt like a Peeping Bob watching everyone leave their seat. In fact I got anxious if they got up just to stretch. Could they be leaving? Would I ever see them again? Isn’t there some medication I could take for this?
It was the smallest crowd to see a MLB game in the modern era. Wasn’t like the game distracted me. The A’s in 1979 would go 54-108. They committed the most errors in the American League, had the lowest batting average. Even though Rickey Henderson would debut his Hall of Fame career later that summer, the A’s averaged only 3,787 fans a game. Truck pulls drew more.
The Coliseum was so quiet that night A’s players would call up to the upper deck and asked a handful of people to come to sit behind the dugout. The players saw advantages: They said they could see who was hitting on their wife or girlfriend in the stands. After the game — a game with nine errors — they went into the stands to thank the fans who did show.
The fans had their perks too. Traffic was not a problem. Fans breezed into the parking lot, many felt they had their own personal valet ushering in to their parking spot. No waiting for the restroom. No wait for food at the two concession stands that were open.
Although, to be fair, there was not a rush to get there — hot dogs, coffee and Coke were the only things on the menu, if you call it a menu.
Owner Charlie Finley had gutted the team and lost all interest in running the A’s. He never attended one A’s game that year, even when Oakland traveled to his hometown Chicago to play the White Sox.
To be there, to see 46,867 seats with 250 or 251 of them occupied, to hear the snoring, I never thought I’d never see the like of it again.