Oakland Teams Find There's No There There

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OAKLAND, Calf. – She didn’t mean what we thought she meant. Gertrude Stein’s infamous quote about this town, “There is no there there,’’ was misinterpreted. The intent of teams that, like Stein, called Oakland home is well understood, however.

They can’t wait to get out.

Stein, the poet, author and art collector, in truth was born in Allegheny, Pa., resided in Baltimore and briefly in the late 1800s moved to Oakland.

The rest of her life – she died in 1946 – was spent in Paris, but in the 1930s she returned to visit California. Not able to locate her childhood house in Oakland, which had been razed, she penned that most memorable and unpunctuated of observations, to wit:

“What was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yet write about it if I like or anything but not there, there is no there there.’’

Shortly, there may be no Oakland A’s there, no Golden State Warriors there, no Oakland Raiders there, if the franchise owners, for diverse and sundry reasons having to do with money – naturally – or prestige have their way. Which they may or may not.

Oakland? A tough town, with a bad reputation, not all undeserved, that had the geographical mistake to be located across the bay from “everyone’s favorite city,’’ San Francisco. The slogan is the creation of San Francisco, naturally, but not terribly inaccurate.

Sure, Oakland has sunshine to San Francisco’s fog; and redwoods growing in the hills; and is cheek-to-jowl with Berkeley, as in the University of California, where it’s easy to start a protest movement but excruciatingly difficult to get to the Rose Bowl, the Golden Bears last having appeared in the game on Jan. 1, 1959.

At least Cal since its founding in 1868 has been content not to change locations.

The A’s showed up 100 years later, 1968, coming from Kansas City, after starting out in Philadelphia. Oakland, the team, was baseball’s last dynasty, winning three consecutive World Series, 1972-73-74. But Oakland the city didn’t get much reflected glory or after the temporary savior, Walter Haas of Levi’s fame, sold the team, much attendance.

They have always played in the Coliseum, the last multipurpose stadium in use for both football and baseball, which was reconstructed – A’s fans, few that there are, say ruined – when the Raiders returned from L.A in 1995.

There’s this charming, waterside ballpark across the bay where the Giants play and there’s this huge sporting palace with the upper deck seats covered by tarps, where the A’s play.

So, the owners of the A’s, Lew Wolff – a fraternity brother of baseball commissioner Bud Selig – and John Fisher want to haul off to San Jose, 40 miles down Interstate 880, because that’s Silicon Valley territory and because they’ve been promised a new ballpark.

Of course, after the fire-sale trades of the last few days, the A’s, with the “Moneyball’’ guy Billy Beane pulling strings, exchanging top pitchers, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and finally Andrew Bailey – All-Star choices all – for prospects, cannon fodder if you will, who needs a new ballpark?

The A’s could shift to a muni stadium in San Jose where the San Francisco Giants’ Class A team plays.

The connection is that the Giants, the major league Giants, own the territorial rights to San Jose and environs, and former Giants managing general partner told the San Francisco Chronicle the Giants won’t relinquish those rights.

The NBA Warriors, once the San Francisco Warriors, again could be the San Francisco Warriors. The “Golden State’’ label was adopted in 1971 when the team scheduled a few home games in San Diego, after the Rockets shifted to Houston. Maybe it’s the earthquake faults under California which keep everything unstable.

The two guys who bought the Warriors 14 months ago, movie exec Peter Guber, dot.com venture capitalist Joe Lacob, would prefer a San Francisco address.

Oakland? Chaos-ville, with a mayor, Jean Quan, preoccupied with the Occupy movement. She did toss out an idea for a new stadium and arena, Coliseum City, to retain the three teams, but in this economy it doesn’t have a chance – not that San Jose’s grandiose plans to build the A’s a park are certain to be realized.

The Raiders, the only one of the three teams to have started in Oakland, in 1960, with the beginning of the AFL, already have changed locations, to Los Angeles. Then against all logic, because the late Al Davis, in command wasn’t ever concerned about logic, they moved back to Oakland.

Now? Davis died in October, and with Los Angeles announcing it would build a new football stadium, the possibility is the Raiders could retrace their last voyage and – heaven help us – return to L.A.

“The city,’’ read one article about Oakland’s assets, “is a transportation hub for the greater Bay Area, and its shipping port is the fifth busiest in the United States.’’

For the teams, it could be a case of shipping out instead of shaping up.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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