Jonah Bride, Seth Brown, Jace Peterson, Esteury Ruiz and Ramon Laureano of the Oakland Athletics celebrate after a 4-3 win against the Tampa Bay Rays at RingCentral Coliseum on June 12, 2023 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
OAKLAND, Calif. – If you’ve been paying attention – and judging by the attendance, you haven’t – the Oakland A’s are suddenly, and unexpectedly, hot.
A 4-3 win over baseball’s best team, the Tampa Bay Rays, extended the team’s winning streak to six games and drew 4,848 to the RingCentral Coliseum, well below the team’s 2023 average attendance of 8,555.
But tonight, a random Tuesday in June, will be different.
Diehard fans of the A’s (18-50) plan to pack the RingCentral Coliseum, the A’s cavernous, circular, concrete home for 56 years, in a “reverse boycott,” hoping to send A’s management and ownership a simple message: We’re not the problem. You are.
Over the past 20 years, no less than six different sites have been proposed for a a stadium to keep the A’s in the Bay Area, none of them coming closer to fruition than a plan that would put a new $1 billion ballpark with 37,000 seats at Howard Terminal, an area on the water near downtown Oakland’s Jack London Square. That plan fell apart when the A’s announced that they had reached a deal to buy land in Las Vegas with the intention of moving there as soon as possible.
The announcement blindsided Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, who had been in negotiations with the team right up until the announcement was made. She announced the city wouldn’t negotiate further with the A’s regarding the proposed Howard Terminal ballpark.
“We want the Oakland A’s here. I’m fighting for the Oakland A’s. The fans are fighting for the Oakland A’s,” Thao told Bay Area ABC affiliate KGO last month. “And why not here in Oakland where it’s diverse, one of the most diverse cities in the nation? And I know MLB has this great concept of wanting to diversify.”
Since the A’s and the City of Oakland couldn’t get a deal together to build a ballpark at Howard Terminal in the Jack London Square section of the city, the A’s have sought a new home in Las Vegas, though their first plan for a ballpark in Sin City already fell through and the Nevada Legislature has yet to approve $395 million in public funding for a proposed stadium.
The first proposed stadium in Las Vegas, on 49 acres owned by Red Rock Entertainment, quickly fell through, and the second proposal would put a new ballpark on the Las Vegas Strip on a portion of the Tropicana Hotel and Casino property.
“We are excited about the potential to bring Major League Baseball to this iconic location,” A’s president Dave Kaval said in a statement announcing the deal last month. “We are thrilled to work alongside Bally’s and GLPI, and look forward to finalizing plans to bring the Athletics to Southern Nevada.”
On Friday, the exclusive agreement between the A’s and the Port of Oakland expires. Should the second proposal in Las Vegas not come together, Thao and Oakland are likely willing to try again with the A’s – especially if Fisher decided to sell the team.
“If someone wants to buy the A’s, and that happens, we are very close to a deal,” Thao told KGO’s Casey Pratt last week. “So, I would say that we would be able to break ground as soon as possible, in regards to the process after in having that deal, whatever that looks like. It could be two years.”
“And if we do have a deal, this is something that I would want to expedite because it will be great for the city, it will be great for not just the fan base but for our economic potential as well.
Meanwhile, the fans hope the reverse boycott will send a message to ownership and Major League Baseball. Thousands of kelly green shirts with the word “SELL” screened on the front will be distributed at tailgates in the Coliseum parking lots and on the bridge that links the Coliseum BART Station to the stadium on Tuesday night.
A’s owner John Fisher and president Dave Kaval slashed player payroll while the team seeks financing for a new stadium. According to Spotrac, the A’s total payroll for 2023 is $59,630,474 – the lowest in the Major Leagues by close to $6.5 million. The Baltimore Orioles are 29th in total payroll with a roster that cost $66,424,863, the Pittsburgh Pirates are 28th at $75,336,614.
The Tampa Bay Rays, baseball’s best team and the A’s opponent for this four-game, midweek series, have a total payroll of $76,932,532. The Rays, similarly, have had difficulty finding a new home in the Tampa Bay area, but have been innovative in using analytics to find ways to compete while keeping player personnel costs low – the same way the A’s did in the early 2000s under then-General Manager Billy Beane, who’s efforts were chronicled by Michael Lewis in his book “Moneyball,” which was later made into a feature film starring Brad Pitt, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill.
Fans who come out to the game Tuesday plan to chant “Sell the team!” during the top of each inning, and “Stay in Oakland” during the first at-bat in the bottom of each inning, according to the twitter account @OaklandRooted, which is one of several fan accounts that has organized the reverse boycott.
On Monday night, the sparse crowd was largely sedate. It’s hard for slightly less than 5,000 people to make a 46,847-seat ballpark feel loud, even when Shea Langeliers ripped a three-run double to center field in the bottom of the fifth, and Ryan Noda added an RBI single that gave the A’s a 4-0 lead. They held on to win 4-3.
Tuesday should be different.