The temptation to link Oakland’s acquisition of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to broader concerns – a 10-year lease with the Oakland Coliseum comes immediately to mind – is grand indeed. The logic of a parade’s power to sway minds and open wallets is a romantic one indeed.
It just flies in the face of reality, is all.
Baseball fans are invested in the A’s as a team, and for good reason. This particular version is closer to being a World Series team than any since the 1990 team that actually was one. Not because the teams of the early and mid-2000s weren’t as adept as this one, but because the field is weaker than those the A’s faced in the last decade. The Yankees and Red Sox are in retreat, the Rangers are injury-riddled, the Angels have a massive bullpen problem, and the rest of the American league is significantly more modest.
In other words, this is more the A’s time than at any time since the last actual World Series team 24 years ago. That is the A’s front office’s perception as well, for if it were not, they wouldn’t have been chasing Samardzija and Hammel in Chicago and Tampa Bay’s David Price so aggressively.
But the stadium? The stadium has nothing to do with the trade, and the trade has nothing to do with the stadium.
Let’s remember that the A’s owners, John Fisher and Lew Wolff (tram president Mike Crowley and general manager Billy Beane also have pieces, but this is a Fisher-Wolff play, and in that order) want exactly nothing to do with Oakland at all. They don’t like the economics, they surely do not like or respect the political structure, and in fairness, the vice is very definitely versa. A stadium in Oakland represents defeat to Fisher and Wolff, no matter how it might otherwise be framed. They want San Jose, and as much real estate around that stadium as they can get.
Let’s also remember that the trade has been at least a month in the making, while the lease wasn’t finally agreed to until the latest hilarious capitulation by the Oakland City Council’s contribution to the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority on Thursday. The A’s might have decided to go all-in on 2014 because this is the open window, or because Fisher and Wolff are thinking of selling and without a new ballpark the best selling point would be a good team run on a tight budget.
The second postulation is entirely speculative, though, and all we really have on the subject is Wolff saying the team is NOT for sale. Of course, the word “yet” is always implied with any owner and any team, but until the team is put up for sale, it isn’t for sale, so we’ll leave that as it lies.
But we’re getting distracted here (well, I am anyway). The truth remains that Fisher and Wolff want San Jose and do not want Oakland. Oakland is a fallback position that frankly depresses them. The second truth is that they are convinced that Oakland politics will never become an organized and cohesive city for purposes of the ball team, and that San Jose will somehow reopen because of Oakland’s general recalcitrance, financial deficiencies and overall incompetence.
This is a gamble in itself because a new baseball commissioner is supposed to be replacing Bud Selig in January, and the fight for that commissioner is really a fight for which set of owners control the sport. If there is a movement afoot among the Major League Baseball hierarchy to settle the Bay Area baseball conundrum, the choice of commissioner will help indicate its existence and strength. For the moment, the owners don’t much care about anything except not dealing with San Jose because of the city’s lawsuit against MLB.
And finally, and most importantly, Oakland has no money to chuck into a new stadium, some of its politicians still benightedly think that the Raiders are a more attractive tenant if a stadium must be built, and its resentments with the A’s over these years of protracted and bitter negotiations and non-negotiations aren’t going away just because of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
In other words, this was a baseball trade, one which may make the Cubs better in the long run but should enhance the A’s chances of winning a fifth World Series in the shorter term. It might make A’s fans feel good, and it should given what it implies, but it doesn’t make a stadium any likelier – not even if that World Series is actually delivered.
And there’s one other notion, entirely unproven but my own suspicion -- that the Oakland pols think that if a vote were taken by only Oakland residents that the Raiders would end up a far more popular team than the A’s. No plebiscite is planned to settle this burning issue, but if you tied every Oakland politician to a chair and filled each one with sodium pentothal (an appealing notion in any event, but we digress), you would probably get most of them to prefer the Raiders, even if only on ease-of-reelection grounds.
The Raiders were the first Oakland franchise, its fan base is younger by virtue of having had to rebuild it in the mid-‘90s, and it is more passionate, even in the face of 20 years of mostly miserable results, and the A’s attendance difficulties suggest that theirs is a less devoted fan base.
A new stadium in Oakland must therefore overcome location issues, financial issues, trust issues, political issues, and the fear of losing the Raiders again. That last one is probably a fait accompli, as Mark Davis is in far more of a money squeeze than Fisher and in any event, the Raiders will have a place to go – Los Angeles – while the A’s may never have an alternative to where they are right now.
Against all that, a parade doesn’t stand a chance at moving hearts or minds. It beats not-a-parade six ways to Sunday, but it doesn’t get a stadium planned, funded or built, and it doesn’t make politicians and team owners any more eager to cooperate than they already are, which is essentially as little as possible.
So cheer the A’s on through the end of October as you must, with the blessings of all right-thinking people. Twenty-five years without a ring is a sizable enough elephant.
Just don’t think it does anything for the far bigger elephant in the room, which is making the A’s truly Oakland’s team, and Oakland truly the A’s home.