OAKLAND, Calif. – This is the other side of the Bay, the other side of baseball. This is where the Oakland Athletics perform in virtual anonymity, a team caught between an owner’s dreams and the reality of too many empty seats.
The Toronto Blue Jays were here Tuesday night. As usual the fans were not.
Attendance was announced as 10,875. That may not be a lie, but neither is it the truth. The crowd, using the loosest definition of that word, more likely was around 6,000.
It didn’t matter if it was a rare, pleasant Bay Area evening, 65 degrees at first pitch.
It didn’t matter if the A’s came in with a winning record, which they would keep when Brandon Inge, the guy Detroit didn’t want, hit a walkoff grand slam in the bottom of the ninth for a 7-3 victory.
What matters is Lew Wolff, the A’s managing general partner, wants to move the club to San Jose, about 35 miles south while Major League Baseball will not allow that move because under an agreement San Jose is the territory of the San Francisco Giants.
And so, what fans there are watch the battle from afar but only rarely watch the A’s in person.
This necessitates a charade conducted daily at the Coliseum, where the NFL Raiders also play. The A’s order the seats in the Coliseum’s upper deck covered by tarpaulins, in theory reducing capacity from some 42,000 to 35,000. No one is fooled. We know what’s there. And who’s not there.
The A’s are not so much a small market team – the region’s population is more than seven million – as they are a small revenue team.
Without fans there is no income. Without income there is no way to retain would-be stars. Without would-be stars there is way to lure fans. The cycle is endless but not painless.
Wolff keeps hoping his fraternity brother from the University of Wisconsin, Allen Selig, who also happens to be the commissioner of baseball, will award him the territorial rights to San Jose. He’s been hoping for years.
Now there is talk of the city of Oakland building a new stadium, which never will happen. Now there also is talk of a new buyer for the A’s who would finance a new stadium, which probably will not happen but might. Oh yes, the great unknown.
Which could be a description to be applied to Don Knauss, CEO of Clorox, one of the few corporations based in Oakland. Out of nowhere he stepped forward to announce, with the assistance of Safeway, Kaiser, Dreyer’s ice cream and other groups also headquartered in Oakland, he wants to buy the A’s, keep them in Oakland and erect a new ballpark.
To which the response might be, “Where have you been all this time?’’
Where the A’s have been, of course, is in limbo, as well as in the shadow of the Giants, who sell out every game at their facility on the dock of the bay, AT&T Park.
Not all that long ago, it was the A’s, under the ownership of Walter Haas, who filled the Coliseum while the Giants, stuck in depressing, wind-swept Candlestick Park, drew the four-digit crowds. Knauss and his group are looking to the past as they contend they are seeking the future.
“If the current ownership can’t commit to Oakland or doesn’t want to commit to Oakland,’’ he said, “we’re confident we have identified a new group of owners who would keep the team here and get a new stadium built as well.’’
A proper amount of skepticism is permitted, and Wolff has given no indication he would be willing to part with the A’s. But when he was chief executive of Minute Maid, Knauss was involved in the effort to construct the Houston Astros’ downtown stadium, known not surprisingly as Minute Maid Park.
C.J. Wilson, now with the Angels after seasons with Texas, said last year he hated pitching in Oakland. “There are no fans there,’’ he explained. “It’s too bad, because the fans that are there are really stoked ... but there’s 6,000 people, and it’s kinda sad because it’s a major league team and there are guys who are pretty good players.’’
But all they can do is perform, whether in front of 6,000 or 36,000.
The A’s always have been at a disadvantage, coming to Northern California from Kansas City in 1968, 10 years after the Giants moved to San Francisco from New York; being based in the less glamorous city, at the wrong end of the Bay Bridge according to the critics.
A correction is required. A change is necessitated. A game which became as dramatic as Tuesday night should never be played in front of only 10,785. Or was it really only 6,000?