Clem's Baseball home

Oakland Coliseum*
Home of the
Oakland Athletics
(1968-)




Oakland Coliseum
Key

DYNAMIC DIAGRAM:
Mouse rollover.

football 1966

1968

1969

1996

combined

football, 1996 ~ (alternate)

football, proposed



* also known as "Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum" (1966-1997, 2008-), "Network Associates Coliseum" (1998-2004), "McAfee Coliseum" (2004-2008), and "Overstock.com Coliseum" or "O.co Coliseum" (2011)


Vital statistics:
Lifetime Seating capacity Outfield dimensions (feet) Behind home plate Fence height Territory
(est. sq. ft.)
Seating rows
(typical)
The Clem Criteria:
Built Status LF LC CF RC RF LF CF RF Fair Foul 1st deck 2nd deck 3rd deck Field
asymm.
Arch.
design
Seat
prox.
Loc. Aesth. Overall
1966* BLEAK 35,067 ++ 330 362 400 362 330 (53) 8, 15 8 15, 8 107,900 40,700 35 16 16 4 (+) 5 3 4 4 (-) 4.0

* The Athletics arrived two years after it was built. ++ Capacity including third deck: 43,662.       (Backstop distance is an estimate.) The asymmetry factor increased after 1996, while the aesthetics declined.

ALL STAR GAME: 1987 WORLD SERIES: 1972, 1973, 1974, 1988, 1989, 1990

With a circular design that was clearly intended for baseball use just as much as for football use, this could be considered as an "on-speculation" stadium, i.e., one that was built with public funds for the express purpose of luring abaseball franchise to relocate from another city. With all of the seats being aligned in one big circle and oriented concentrically, the design resembled Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, with huge foul territory that favored pitchers and penalized fans by making them sit far from the action. The obvious difference from Atlanta Stadium was that the upper two decks only extended for about 255 degrees (71 percent) around the circle; this was the same setup as at Shea Stadium and (until 1989) the Astrodome.

The seating reconfiguration at Oakland Coliseum scheme was rather unique. There were only small movable sections that filled either the "notch" behind home plate and at the foul poles (for baseball games), or the "notches" at the corners of the end zones (for football games). When the A's first played there (in 1968), the backstop distance was about 74 feet. (I disagree with other sources that indicate it was 90 feet.) This was reduced to 60 feet after the first year, as the fences in center field and the power alleys were brought in about ten feet as well, widening the gap between the fence and the bleachers. Most of the bleachers were movable, for use during football games. Fans using those bleachers entered via the wide concrete stairs at either end of the lower deck, an odd anomaly. To get to the upper deck, fans use stairways from the rear of the second deck to the front edge of the upper deck, passing in between the (rather cramped) luxury suites. Another odd feature of the Coliseum was that players accessed the dugouts via ground-level passages along the "cutouts" behind home plate, rather than via a tunnel as is the case in most stadiums. Several years later, scoreboards were added under the light standards; the 1969 diagram above reflects this minor change. The outfield fence was apparently moved in a few feet in 1981, and then moved back in 1990.

Although Oakland Coliseum is triple decked, the top level is smaller than in most other stadiums. The stadium is built on a slope such that ground level in back is about the same height as the upper concourse level; the same thing is true of Dodger Stadium. It is conveniently located with a rapid transit train station just beyond center field. Oakland Coliseum stood out in being one of the few baseball stadium to lack any roof; the only other such stadiums during the 1970s were Memorial Stadium (in Baltimore), Metropolitan Stadium (in Minnesota), San Diego (later Jack Murphy) Stadium, and Jarry Park in Montreal.

thumbnail The Athletics had been a mediocre team for several decades, in both Philadelphia and Kansas City, but they finally "struck gold" after moving to California, at least in terms of success on the field. Indeed, the A's became one of the dominant teams in baseball in the early 1970s, winning consecutive World Series in 1972, 1973, and 1974. They had trouble drawing fans, however, and only in one of those years (1973) did total attendance exceed one million. Years before he became known as "Mr. October" while wearing Yankee pinstripes, Reggie Jackson proudly wore the yellow and green uniform as the Oakland A's number one star. In his peak-performing year of 1973 he was the American League champion in both the home run and RBI categories, two thirds of the Triple Crown. The new era of free agency ruined franchise owner Charley Finley's hopes of making a profit in a small-market city, and he just cashed in his chips. After Reggie left town in 1976, the A's became cellar-dwellers again, and attendance plummeted drastically.

Under new ownership during the 1980s that the A's underwent a resurgence in fan popularity, and they even won the American League pennant three more times: in 1988, 1989, and 1990. The 1989 episode was made famous by the major earthquake that shook the whole Bay Area just before Game 3 of the World Series, played in Candlestick Park. After the series resumed, Oakland ultimately prevailed over the Giants and became world champions for the first time in 15 years. This was the era of sluggers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the "Bash Brothers."

CINEMA: Oakland Coliseum was featured in the movie Moneyball (2011) starring Brad Pitt, and "played the part" of Anaheim Stadium in the movie Angels in the Outfield (1994), starring Danny Glover, Tony Danza, and Christopher Lloyd. [[[Jerry Maguire??]]]

Oakland Coliseum was home to the Oakland Raiders football team before the A's even came to town, but in 1982 the Raiders moved to Los Angeles, and for the next 15 years the A's had the house all to themselves. In the same year as the Rams moved out of Los Angeles in 1995, the Raiders did likewise and returned to their previous home in Oakland, after working out a deal to get funding for an expanded stadium. The center field bleachers were demolished in 1995, temporarily reducing the baseball capacity from about 48,000 to about 42,000, and construction on "Mount Davis" began in November. The capacity for football games is now about 63,000, compared to about 54,500 during the "original" (1966-1981) era. One notable feature of the Coliseum is that the football gridiron can either be laid out sideways (from left field to right field) or "vertically," from home plate to center field. (Note the new "alternate" diagram version above.) The latter option is used for practice games during August, to avoid going to the trouble of pulling out the expandable seating sections in "Mount Davis."

As for the A's, however, the 1996 expansion significantly degraded the baseball experience. It replaced the nice wide-open view of a grassy slope and trees beyond the outfield bleachers with an intimidating and claustrophobic ambience, as the field is now dominated by thousands of empty seats in plain view in center field. On the plus side, the outfield fence did acquire some interesting angles with a high (15-foot) section in the power alleys where the out-of-town scoreboards are. The 362-foot distance to right center field "power alley" is shortest of all current Major League stadiums, by the way, while two stadiums -- Sun Life (Dolphin) Stadium and Minute Maid Park -- have virtually the same distance to the left center field power alley. The new upper-deck outfield seats added for the Raiders in 1996 are not normally sold for baseball games and are thus excluded from the "normal" capacity figure, but these seats are made available for postseason games when attendance surges. New upper-level concourses and exit ramps were part of the 1996 expansion, and fans were able to enter the upper deck along a level surface rather than the stairways. (Those stairways remain intact behind the sections of the upper deck near the respective foul poles.) Finally, a few extra rows of box seats were installed behind home plate and between each dugout and respective bullpen. Foul territory remained enormous, nevertheless.

In late 1997 this facility was renamed "UMAX Coliseum," but a legal dispute annulled the naming rights contract only a few months later. Beginning in 1998 it was formally known as "Network Associates Coliseum," and in late 2004 it was changed again to "McAfee Coliseum," reflecting the change in the corporate name of that software maker. Prior to the 2006 season, the A's announced that the entire upper deck of the Coliseum would be closed for the 2006 season, covered with a huge olive green tarp that shows yellow Athletics logos. This modification artificially reduced its capacity for baseball games from about 44,000 to about 34,000. The five-year naming rights contract with McAfee expired in September 2008, and for a while, the original name was back in use. To cap the absurdity, in March 2011 it was renamed "Overstock.com Coliseum," or just "O.co Coliseum" for short.

Desperate to restore his team to its former glory, the Oakland A's lead owner Lew Wolff has been trying to get a new stadium deal elsewhere in the Bay Area, where the demographics are more "upscale." In November 2006, he reached a tentative agreement with the city of Fremont, but the "Cisco Field" proposal encountered repeated obstacles and died in early 2009. Since then, they have been negotiating with the city of San Jose, even farther to the south, but the shaky economic situation has made progress on that front agonizingly slow. And so, the Athletics linger in a facility that offers very little hope for the future. Likewise, the Oakland/L.A./Oakland Raiders wonder how long they can compete in an aging stadium. Across the Bay, the San Francisco 49ers will finally get a new home, thanks to a deal with the city of Santa Clara. Perhaps the Coliseum in Oakland could be upgraded, as suggested in the proposed alternative diagram above.

SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Rosen (2001)

WEB LINKS: maps.google.com, stadiumsofnfl.com


Oakland Coliseum pan

Photo courtesy of Leon Spath.


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