November 30, 2023 [LINK / comment]

MLB owners approve relocation of Athletics

As had been expected, on November 16 the owners of Major League Baseball franchises jointly approved the relocation of of the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas. This was about seven months after the team owner John Fisher acquired land in Las Vegas for the purpose of building a new stadium. (See my April 30 blog post.) Their initial site plans were later changed, and they now hope to build a stadium northeast of the downtown "Strip." I was somewhat surprised that the MLB decision was unanimous, but I suppose the owners agreed behind closed doors to express unanimous consent for the sake of appearances, even if some owners had their doubts.

The tentative deal includes $380 million in funding from the state of Nevada (which is being challenged in court, by the way), with the total cost of a new retractable-roof stadium being $1.5 billion. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged that it was a "terrible day for fans in Oakland," and said that everything possible had been done to avoid relocation. (See the Washington Post.) In that article, Chelsea Janes pointed out that the owner of the A's, John Fisher, had been skimping on his team's payroll for the past several years, contributing to the decline in attendance.

For some background on the political situation in Oakland when the news broke about the Athletics' plans to move to Las Vegas, see the press conference by Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao on youtube.com. She said that the city negotiators had been "blindsided" by A's President Dave Kaval's last-minute notification about the land deal. She said that the city of Oakland had been earnestly negotiating with the team, and that they were very close to a deal. Thao began serving as mayor last January.

It is important to remember that the relocation is not a done deal, as many fine points need to be worked out. As older Washington baseball fans recall, even after the relocation of the former Montreal Expos to Washington was announced in late September 2004, prolonged, tortured negotiations were necessary before a deal was finally reached three months later to finance the construction of what eventually became Nationals Park. (And even after that, there were a few hitches in the early months of 2005.) If the move is finalized in the next few months, the A's will have to decide where to play their games after the 2024 season, which is when their lease on Oakland Coliseum ends. They could stay another two years in their current home, as long as the city of Oakland agrees, they could play in Oracle Park as tenants of the San Francisco Giants, or they could play at the Las Vegas Ballpark where the Athletics' AAA affiliate the Aviators have played since 2019. (The A's are scheduled to play two preseason games there next March.) The Aviators' previous home was Cashman Field, where the A's played a few games in April 1997, while construction on the expanded version of Oakland Coliseum was being finished.

I am personally very sympathetic to Oakland fans, since I know what it's like to live in a big city that had been "robbed" of its major league team. But at the same time I recognize that lagging attendance in Oakland, which actually goes back many years, raised big questions about the long-term financial viability of the Athletics. It's a sad, familiar story, as baseball fans in Montreal know all too well. (See the Baseball cities page, which shows attendance and population data.) I have been told that the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area (with about 4.7 million people) is really not big enough to support two MLB franchises. If you include San Jose, roughly 40 miles to south, that adds about 2 million more. In the Washington area, the Nationals can count on 6.4 million population as a potential fan base, whereas the Baltimore Orioles' local area population is just under 3 million. Perhaps the move to Las Vegas (only about 2.3 million) will turn out to be a sound decision, but as Bryce Harper noted, there are a number of reasons to question whether Las Vegas is a suitable place to put an MLB franchise. It's very hot in the summer, and there aren't as many tourists, who are supposedly being counted on to fill the stands. We'll see about that.

One final thought: If this turns out to be one of those bogus fast-buck franchise relocations, such as when Bob Short cashed in by selling the Texas Rangers within a couple years of moving the former Washington Senators there, there will be hell to pay! MLB apparently has rules in place to levy some kind of penalty on owners who sell a franchise within a certain number of years after a relocation takes place, but in this case there ought to be a BIG lawsuit.

The following photo of the stands in right field is a cropped version of a photo which can be found on the Oakland Coliseum page:

Oakland Coliseum RF protest signs closeup

Many Athletics fans put up signs to protest the anticipated relocation of their team to Las Vegas, in right field at Oakland Coliseum. The people being refered to are (left to right):

Dave Kaval, president of the Oakland Athletics.

Catherine Aker, vice president of marketing for the Oakland Athletics.

Rob Manfred, Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies), who said his home town of Las Vegas is not suitable for MLB.

John Fisher, principle owner of the Oakland Athletics.

(Photo taken June 18.)

So if the Athletics do indeed depart from Oakland, that city will be left without any major professional sports teams. The NBA Golden State Warriors moved across the Bay to San Francisco a few years ago, and the NFL Raiders moved from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020.

Oakland

Some scenes from around the city of Oakland Coliseum, on June 20. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Alameda County Courthouse; Lake Merritt (which is actually an ocean inlet); the downtown Oakland skyline; and the clocktower atop the old Oakland Tribune building. This composite photo was previously shown (but not identified) on June 30.


Rangers win their first World Series title!

Four weeks ago, on the first day of November, the Texas Rangers finally had their long-awaited moment of glory in Game 5 of the 2023 World Series. After taking a 1-0 lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks on an RBI single in the top of the 7th inning in a superb pitchers' duel, they tacked on four more runs in the 9th inning to grab a decisive 5-0 victory. Their starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, who signed with the Rangers as a free agent in December of last year, went six full innings and got the win, his fifth postseason win this year. Corey Seager, who homered in Game 1, Game 3, and Game 4, was named World Series MVP.

The Rangers' path to the championship was a strange one, as the entered the 2023 postseason as the 5th-seeded team in the American League. Then they broke all the records by winning 11 consecutive games on the road, sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles, and then edging their cross-state rivals in Houston 4-3 in the ALCS. (Failing to win any of those games at home was just like what the Washington Nationals did to the Astros in the 2019 World Series, but it also raised questions about whether the Rangers could do better at home against the D-backs.

It served to "ease the pain" felt by Rangers fans after the St. Louis Cardinals eked out a comeback win in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, when the Rangers were one out away from their first World Series win. (October 27, 2011.) Much like the 1987 World Series (from the Red Sox point of view), an awful turn of events in Game 6 paved the way for doom in Game 7. The Rangers now have one World Series victory and two World Series defeats (2010 and 2011).

Much credit also goes to the Diamondbacks, both for playing well and for drawing huge crowds to Chase Field, which was virtually full (48,000+ fans) at all three World Series games played in Phoenix. They bounced back from a disheartening extra-inning loss in Game 1 (the only extra-inning game of the entire 2023 MLB postseason) with a crushing 9-1 victory in Houston for Game 2. But they just couldn't manage to win at home, and all those fans went home disappointed.

No-shows at The Trop

NOT-SO-FUN FACT: Attendance at the two ALDS games at Tropicana Field was only 19,704, the lowest for any postseason game since the 1919 World Series in Cincinnati. St. Petersburg, we have a problem! Ironically, the Rays just announced a preliminary deal to get public funding for a new stadium on the east side of Tropicana Field, but their consistent poor attendance record throughout the 2023 season makes you wonder if their home city can really support the team. It's really sad, as the Rays have been one of the most successful smaller-market MLB teams over the past decade or so. Somehow they continue to recruit and develop top-notch talent and win games in spite of their meager financial resources.