Amid constant stadium-related drama, it finally seems like the Oakland A’s may be on the move as MLB has offically informed the franchise that they may begin exploring a move out of The Bay. All things considered, moving the Oakland A’s to Portland, Oregon makes entirely too much sense, and that’s why it will probably never happen.
The Traveling Circus
The A’s have been embroiled in ownership and stadium controversy for, well, basically their entire franchise history. The origin of the Athletics franchise began in Philadelphia over 140 years ago. The A’s didn’t become a Major League Baseball team until 1901, however, but once they joined the league, they enjoyed an intense cross-town rivalry with the Phillies. After winning a couple of World Series titles and adopting an Elephant as their official mascot, ownership drama and money woes caused their 54-year run in Philly to end after the 1954 season.
From there, the franchise moved on to Kansas City, where their new owner immediately began trying to flip the team for a profit. Kansas City is where the team also adopted its now-iconic green and gold livery. After numerous publicity stunts and grandstanding, ownership finally gave Kansas City the bird and moved the team to Oakland, California before the 1968 MLB season. Famously, spurned Missouri senator Stuart Symington ripped the A’s owner on the floor of the U.S. Senate and called Oakland “the luckiest city since Hiroshima.
The A’s arrived in the Bay Area in the late 60’s after having signed a lease to play at the newly-completed Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where they still play their games today. Despite the team almost immediately becoming an American League powerhouse, the A’s have become more known for their penny-pinching than their numerous World Series titles and legendary characters. And therein lies the problem for the franchise: while the Oakland A’s have appreciated in value considerably over the years, the team’s facilities have not.
Like it or not, the life span of a modern sports facility is approximately 25 years. Sure, there are exceptions, like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field (both completed in 1912, albeit with significant modern upgrades), but for every one of those living museums, there’s a nearly-new facility that’s already on the way out. The Atlanta Braves moved from Fulton County Stadium into Turner Field for the 1997 season, but they’ve already moved on: the Braves now play in Truist Field, which opened in 2017!
New purpose-built stadiums are beneficial for teams in numerous ways: they provide players with incredible amenities (thus attracting free agents), they provide better fan experiences, but most importantly, they bring in PILES of cash for the ownership group. In an ideal world, the front office will spend that money on the on-field product, but that’s not always the case. The A’s, despite their team value QUADRUPPLING from about $300 million in 2011 to $1.2 billion in 2021, the A’s continue to have one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball. The A’s, of course, are quite (in)famous for their thrifty ways; perhaps you have heard of the awesome Academy Award-nominated film Moneyball and the incredible book it was based on?
The A’s are no stranger to playing the role of the beggar, and now their stadium dispute is front-and-center in the narrative.
As was reported in numerous outlets in May, Major League Baseball has given the A’s permission to seek relocation to a new city. This sea change comes amid a push for the City of Oakland to approve the team’s bid for a stunning new Bjarke Ingles-designed waterfront stadium:
The City of Oakland, however, is balking (pun intended) at the cost of such a venture.
Show (The TaxPayers) The Money
More often than not, tax payer-funded stadiums are a get-rich scam perpetrated by billionaires to avoid paying their own way. The sales pitch to the city or county or state is always something like “our team brings countless jobs and dollars to this town; an entire downtown entertainment infrastructure is build around our team, and if you don’t help us fund half of this stadium with tax-payer money, we’ll move elsewhere and you’ll lose out on all the dollars we bring to town.”
The argument isn’t necessarily untrue, but it is a bit of a scam: while the team only has to pay for half of the stadium, the owners also benefit from 100% of the appreciation that a new facility brings. And besides, there are some questions about how much value a sports franchise actually brings to a city.
This is the dance the Oakland A’s are locked into now, but it takes two to tango, and the City of Oakland doesn’t really like to dance. Having recently let both the Golden State Warriors and the Oakland Raiders leave town, the A’s are partaking in some Risky Business.
So what should they do?
Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now?
Many rightfully see MLB’s extremely public announcement that the A’s can court other cities as a pressure tactic; baseball is calling the city’s bluff. Tactically, it makes a ton of sense: if the city lets it’s last remaining team walk, the politicians that run the place risk their seats in office. If they stamp the A’s plan, they cost the taxpayers money. Either way, the Athletics are going to be playing in a new stadium by about 2026. But where will it be?
All this talk isn’t idle; MLB has long dreamed of expanded to 32 teams, much like the NFL, and realigning the divisions. Adding two more teams to the league would added untold value to baseball as a whole while also making the division matchups more palatable and the playoffs more exciting. MLB hs commissioned studies to assess the viability of potential host cities, and as The Athletic‘s Eno Sarris recently wrote in an incredible piece (subscription required), the most attractive cities for a Major League franchise are Portland, Nashville, and Charlotte. I say, Por Que No Los Tres?
The Oregon A’s
Move the A’s to Portland, Oregon, and then add expansion teams in Nashville and Charlotte is a win-win-win.
Delving into expansions in Nashville and Charlotte will be for some other time; instead let us focus on Portland here, rather than some lame place like Las Vegas or Monterrey, Mexico. Portland is an incredible city with a highly-walkable urban area that is home to a metro-area population of 2.4 million people. The City of Roses is also already host to three viable professional sports franchises already (Trailblazers/Timber/Thorns), and they’ve already got a rich history of baseball:
Additionally, the “Oregon A’s” has a very nice ring to it, and most fans wouldn’t even have to change their color scheme.
It occurs to me, as a Texas Rangers fan, that I should probably be rooting for the A’s to stay in the cellar; I should probably wish failure on them, and do everything in my power to make sure that their players have to wade through literal human waste to take the field. But, as a fan of baseball, I admit that I’m rooting for the team to move to a place that wants them – I’d like to see MLB expand to the state of Oregon simply because it will bring new fans to our game. Ultimately, I figure this is all lip service City of Oakland will balk, but there’s too much symmetry thinking about bringing a quirky baseball team to the City of Roses – like Billy Beane said in Moneyball:
How can you not be romantic about baseball?