Every season it seems, an article appears on a popular sports or baseball-related website concerning the Oakland Athletics and the possibility of the team leaving Oakland for more viable and lucrative pastures. Why might this occur? Well, first, Oakland sits just across the bridge from San Francisco, which touts a higher per capita income ($45,478), and a more cosmopolitan atmosphere than its Bay Area neighbor Oakland. Oakland/Alameda County sports a per capita income of $33,961 and has been consistently marked as one of the nation's most violent major cities.
So, Oakland isn't nearly as nice as a place to live as neighbor San Francisco, but the Athletics have done quite well for themselves in the winning department. Since moving from Kansas City to Oakland, the Athletics franchise has won four World Series titles, two more than their original intra-city rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. Include the titles the franchise has won since its inception and those four titles become nine.
Don't forget, the Athletics have been one of the most talked about franchises since Michael Lewis released his book "Moneyball" in 2003, and then when Columbia pictures released the subsequent movie of the same title featuring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. A's General Manager Billy Beane is the longest tendered GM in baseball, serving since 1998, and his early and consistent embrace of innovative concepts like the application of sabermetrics and other types of statistical analysis has made him a household name in most baseball households. In fact, Beane's openness and approach towards crafting both MLB and MiLB rosters has helped the A's reach the playoffs 6 times since the year 2000. The A's rank 16th in hitting fWAR in MLB since 2000 and 4th in pitching fWAR in that same time span, despite ranking on average 22nd in the league in team spending.
He's constructed all of this despite having little financial flexibility in roster construction. Oakland consistently churns out 25-man rosters that have an overall payroll in the bottom 10 in all of Major League Baseball. If not for Beane's ingenuity and dedication, the A's would most assuredly constitute cellar dwellers on an annual basis.
So, to sum it all up, the A's play in a tough town with a high crime rate, which wouldn't be as noticeable if not for safe and prosperous San Francisco sitting just across the Bay Bridge. In addition, the Athletics play in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, a worn football stadium the team shares with the Oakland Raiders, and one that rarely sells out, and has little charm.
Given all of this information, it isn't unreasonable for a franchise like the Athletics, one that has moved twice in its history, to want to relocate. MLB franchises, rich owners or not, are tied to their location. Take, for example, the Miami Marlins or the Atlanta Braves. Each team plays in what is considered a big market, but neither team, despite winning three combined World Series since 1995, produces sellouts like their counterparts to the north or west. Franchises that attract fans, win or lose, continue to rake in the money and return the favor by producing top-quality talent on the diamond. Oakland has continued to win, but fails to attract fans to the Coliseum, and more importantly, doesn't make close to the profit that the other four California baseball franchises do.
So, every season, like a coo-coo clock chirping on the hour, an article surfaces concerning the A's and a possible relocation. Most recently, those pieces have focused on one city in particular: San Jose. San Jose, the 10th largest city by population in the United States, and the third largest in California, surprisingly has only one major sports franchise. The San Jose Sharks (NHL) continually produce above-average clubs that sell out the "Shark Tank", an impressive feat given that California sports only three hockey teams in comparison to five baseball teams.
San Jose, home of Silicon Valley, has everything Oakland does not. It continually ranks as one of the safest cities with more than half a million citizens, has a relatively high median income for a city with more than half a million citizens, and sports hundreds of thousands of jobs due to the tech boom and nearby Silicon Valley. Stanford University, The University of California, Berkeley, and Santa Clara University, among others, all reside near San Jose, buttressing the population with a significant youth population. Overall, San Jose seems prime to support an MLB franchise.
So, the question remains, why have the Oakland A's not taken the reasonable plunge and moved to San Jose? Well, the San Francisco Giants lay claim to the area south of the bay, and they would hate to relinquish any of it to the Athletics. In a piece for ESPN in 2011, Howard Bryant summarized the trouble:
For 13 years, the A's have wanted to move to Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, the city of San Jose and some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. And for each of those years the Giants -- because of a loose, gentlemen's agreement between the two teams 20 years ago allowing the Giants rights to the territory for a ballpark that was never built -- have maintained that Major League rules prohibit any major league club from moving into their territory.
Bryant goes on to say that it is the commissioner's decision, and his alone to allow the A's to move to San Jose, but the pressure that the lucrative Giants place on Selig to not allow or indefinitely stall a move from Oakland to San Jose has caused this issue to become almost inert. The Giants claim that when deciding on marketing and sales strategy, the team always assumes that Santa Clara County, San Jose and the surrounding area, remain part of the Giants' domain, and to remove that aspect by relocating the A's to San Jose would sabotage that long thought out scheme.
Basically the Giants, rightfully so, do not wish to part with one of the most lucrative fan bases in California. On the other hand, the Giants recently won two World Series in three years and signed franchise player Buster Posey to a long-term extension, solidifying their fan base for at least the next two decades, so why not let Oakland move to San Jose and consequently capture the Oakland/Alameda market as well? Simply put, the Giants continue to be afraid of the competition the A's might pose if they were to gain the San Jose fan base and its money.
Most recently, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed sent a letter requesting a meeting with MLB commissioner Bud Selig to discuss the possibility of the A's moving to San Jose. The city has previously shown extreme interest in acquiring the franchise, showing plans to build a new ballpark as well as other economic models portraying San Jose as a viable destination for an MLB franchise. On the topic of his requested sit down with Selig, Reed said that such a meeting would "resolve any lingering issues about our commitment to having the A's home plate be located in San Jose."
Selig had set up a committee to research the matter, but nothing has come of it, a typical result when discussing the Athletics possible migration. Overall, Selig doesn't want to, pardon my tone, piss off the Giants. In addition, while A's owner Lew Wolff has spoken publicly in favor of a move to San Jose, he has not used any of his political influence as one of MLB's owners, or attempted to utilize the media in stirring up support for this cause.
Personally, I'm sick of all of it. The Athletics deserve the opportunity to flourish like every other MLB franchise. Given their knack for winning despite low payrolls and daunting opponents, and the publicity the team has created for the game in the last decade, the A's, yes even more than the Rays, deserve a get out of jail free card. Unfortunately, until Selig retires, which he has said he will do after the 2014 season, or the Giants miraculously back off, the A's will remain in Oakland.
Is it right? I don't think so, but this is a divisive issue, and one that not enough MLB fans are aware of. Look at the Washington Nationals, favored to win the 2013 World Series, who moved from frigid Montreal to Washington D.C. and have been reborn. Don't the Athletics deserve that chance?
Food for thought:
What are your thoughts on this situation? Who's at fault, the A's, the Giants, the owners, Selig, or a combination? Do the A's deserve to move to San Jose, or should this matter be dealt with within Major League Baseball in due time?