Despite stadium woes in Oakland, the commissioner has given people hope
Some events from the past week may have pried open a very tiny crack in a very old and very stuck door, allowing a teeny tiny sliver of light to shine through as a glimmer of hope for fans of the Oakland Athletics.
After 20 years of talking aimlessly about the team moving away or about getting a new stadium (one preferably NOT shared with a football team) there is finally a place to start that could potentially be in sight.
It sounds far fetched doesn’t it? That fans might be happy to know that, well there isn’t a starting point yet, but after two decades there’s a chance that the team’s ownership might be forced to well, at least find a starting point.
Yet that is what’s supposedly been going on in Oakland for much too long. For the fans any real hope, even hope of potential hope, is something.
That’s sort of what happened this week during MLB’s annual all-star break. Commissioner Rob Manfred was speaking at a Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) luncheon when he started getting the usual questions from Bay Area writers, like the San Francisco Chronicles‘ John Shea, who wanted to know about the stadium situation in Oakland.
This time while part was the same old song and dance that they get every year, Manfred said something that Bud Selig had never said during his tenure as MLB’s commissioner, “I am committed to Oakland as a major-league site.”
Selig used to deliver the same message, in the same almost condescending way each year by simply telling the media, “It’s complicated.”
Of course the situation is complicated, the fans are smart enough to see that. However, Manfred went on to talk about the how the economic growth in the entire Bay Area has been continuing to rise. With the growth in San Francisco, Oakland is quickly becoming a hot spot to live and the growth within the next couple of years is should continue to be tremendous.
Manfred told the BBWAA members that if the team were to leave the city (or “The Town” as locals like to call it) that MLB would look back ten years from now and regret having moved the team, realizing they had made a terrible “mistake.”
He went on to say that the A’s cannot and should not wait on the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to decide where their new long-term home should be, and simply proceed with finding a location for their new ballpark.
“I see the football issues as separate,” Manfred said. “Baseball should go ahead. Baseball is the best economic investment for a city because of the number of home dates it drives. Football will do what football’s going to do. We need to get a baseball facility in Oakland.”
As if that was not exciting enough to hear that the team was staying in the city after years of “it’s complicated,” well, it turns out that that could just be the beginning, if everything from here on out go smoothly and in the right direction.
Scott Ostler, also of the San Francisco Chronicle, then put out a story on the situation that was a reminder that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expires at the end of this year and the two parties will be negotiating a new deal.
Depending on how that negotiation goes, rules could change. Currently the 15 biggest-market teams collect revenue sharing. Under a new CBA those teams may no longer will be eligible for revenue sharing. The A’s are on the list to get shut out.
They currently are taking in around $34 million in revenue sharing each year and no one is policing them to make sure current owners, Lew Wolff and John Fisher, are actually investing that money into a good team on the field and to work on a new ballpark location.
Are the A’s a team in a big market even when they appear to be more like a small market team? Yes. Yet their payroll was the 27th lowest out of all 30 teams coming in at $101 million according to Sportrac.com, while the San Francisco Giants are spending more like a big market team. They ranked number six of 30 in 2015 coming in at $178 million.
So where’s that money really going? All we really know is that by keeping fans away from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is actually making more money for Wolff and Fischer, taking away from their incentive to build a new ballpark and field a World Series caliber team. Doing both those things would greatly reduce the profit made by the owners.
The fans have dwindled over the years of waiting, the years of trading away superstars and fielding competitive teams but not ones competitive enough to take it all the way. Vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and company have done well with the little they’ve been given to work with.
The A’s have gone to the postseason eight times in the past 16 full seasons that have been played this century – only three other teams can say that: the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. Those three ball clubs all have significantly higher budgets than the A’s. Beane can field a Word Series Championship team but he needs the tools to do it with.
However, the clause that the 15 largest market teams may not receive revenue sharing may make it impossible for Wolff and Fisher to continue making money without large attendance numbers. Thus forcing them to sell the team or to build a ballpark and field a real contending team.
Everything depends on how the negotiations go for the new CBA agreement. Under the current rules the A’s can be considered exempt from getting cut out of revenue sharing because of their ballpark situation.
Yet that is just how the agreement is structured now. Now the fans know that there is a chance, albeit a slim one, that under the new CBA there’s a possibility that the A’s exception from the Fifteen Rule could be changed, making them eligible to be part of the 15 teams that cannot receive revenue sharing.
There are no guarantees that will happen but if it did it would mean the that even far off in the distance there’s a bit of hope that the team will find a starting point. After two decades of waiting for a ballpark and a championship caliber team the fans truly do have hope.
Wolff and Fisher will be forced to find a venue, build a stadium and field a competitive team in order to make a profit or they cute their losses and sell, if they no longer receive their $34 million in revenue sharing. This is huge news to the Oakland community.
It’s a community that is very clear about its identity and the A’s are a very large part of Oakland’s identity, with their three straight World Series Championships in the 1970’s to their win over the Giants in 1989 to their green uniforms and white cleats, the Oakland A’s have never been your average ball club. Oakland is not your average town. A’s fans are not your average fans.
Even though there are no guarantees of this all happening it’s incredible what a teeny, tiny little sliver of hope can do. The people of Oakland will not only get to keep their team but perhaps even get a new ballpark. That should at least raise the spirits of the people in the East Bay and turn more eyes towards the team.
It is quite like Ostler wrote,
“If you’re an A’s fan and you’re a crazy dreamer — you can’t be one without being the other — here’s a dream to dream.”
And it is one that is based in reality.
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