A’s on the Move

The last major league team in Oakland finalizing move to Las Vegas, leaving Capital Region fans bereft

Back Longreads Aug 2, 2023 By Steve Martarano

This story is part of our August 2023 print issue. To subscribe, click here.

Fans filed into the RingCentral Coliseum for a late June day game, less than 15 hours after New York Yankees pitcher Domingo Germán no-hit the A’s to become the 24th pitcher in MLB history to toss a perfect game.

At first glance, the pending June 29 contest appears to be just another day in Oakland’s colorful 55-year history, known for Charlie O’s donkey, Billy Ball, Moneyball, the Bash Brothers, four World Series championships and for being Reggie Jackson’s first team. 

But those hoping to catch an upcoming game at the ballpark in Oakland, which is easily accessible to Sacramento by less than 90 miles of Interstate 80 or a convenient Amtrak rail line, need to act fast.

After years of fruitlessly discussing building another ballpark with city officials to replace the current aging structure — considered by many to be the worst stadium in professional sports — a move seems imminent after the mid-June actions by the Nevada legislature and Gov. Joe Lombardo, which approved $380 million in taxpayer money to help build a $1.2 billion stadium on the Las Vegas strip. MLB owners are expected to approve the move, possibly later this year.

If the A’s leave town, the city, which took in the A’s from Kansas City in 1968, will be without a major league franchise for the first time since 1960. 

Not surprisingly, it has been a disastrous 2023 season for the decimated, once proud champion A’s — a playoff team as recently as 2020. The team on Aug. 1 was at the bottom of the MLB in both wins  and attendance. Fan support has crashed after numerous promising players were traded away, including 2023 All-Star selections second baseman Marcus Semien (Texas), pitcher Sonny Gray (Minnesota), catcher Sean Murphy (Atlanta) and first baseman Matt Olson (Atlanta). 

“It’s very disappointing to see what’s happened to the A’s,” Luis Ahumada, a Sacramento resident, says in the parking lot while tailgating with friends before the June 29 game. 

“If the As were competitive, the fans would support them.” 

Most of the blame has gone to owner John Fisher, with fans calling on him to sell the team instead of moving. Fisher bought the A’s in 2016 for $180 million, and its current value is reportedly almost $2 billion. 

“The biggest crime of it all to me is going to be when he (Fisher) sells the team,” says Sacramento resident Steve Kennedy, who grew up in Berkeley. Kennedy worked at several newspapers in Berkeley and Sacramento, covering all of the Oakland teams. “He’s going to make a whole bunch of money, and he’s done nothing to make the franchise better.”

The Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Complex once stood tall in the world of major league professional sports beginning in 1966, hosting four teams representing all four major professional leagues. They all played at the 120-acre arena/stadium complex, with championships a regular occurrence. 

But one by one teams left the beleaguered East Bay city, leaving just the A’s. The NHL expansion Oakland Seals moved in 1976, the NBA Golden State Warriors to San Francisco in 2019, and the NFL Oakland Raiders went to Las Vegas in 2020. The Warriors won five NBA titles while in Oakland and the Raiders two Super Bowls, plus an American Football League title in 1967 before the NFL/AFL merger.

The enduring A’s, the Sacramento River Cats’ Triple-A affiliate from 2000-2015, have experienced some of baseball history’s most captivating moments, with a surprising three straight titles from 1972 to 1974. Oakland is the only team other than the New York Yankees to win three consecutive World Series. The A’s won again in 1989, sweeping the San Francisco Giants in the Bay Bridge “earthquake” series.

While the A’s didn’t win it all in 2002, they did make history. Oakland’s 20-game winning streak under the analytical-driven general manager Billy Beane led to Michael Lewis’ 2003 book “Moneyball” and the 2011 movie with the same name, starring actor Brad Pitt as Beane, who is still with the A’s as a special advisor.

Meanwhile, fans of diminishing numbers still trudge out to the Coliseum, perhaps to remember better days. The June 29 game drew an announced crowd of 14,718 — bettering their league-worst per-game average of about 10,000 — as the A’s were pounded 10-4 by the Yankees. The top crowd of the season was the “reverse boycott” night on June 13, when almost 28,000 fans turned out to boisterously protest the pending move.

With the current lease on the Coliseum expiring Dec. 31, 2024, the A’s are reportedly looking at other options to play elsewhere before the ballpark in Las Vegas is completed once owners approve the move.

“Yeah, we have to fix the bad vibes,” says one longtime fan, sitting by himself in an upper-level seat behind third base. “It’s sad. I know.”

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