OAKLAND — In a town that gradually lost trust in the Oakland A’s — as residents, elected leaders and even baseball fans became increasingly jaded toward the franchise — nothing seemed to faze former Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Through her waning days in office last year, Schaaf campaigned with unending optimism for the team to build a new ballpark and remain in the city they’d called home for five decades. But that dream has mostly evaporated after Major League Baseball owners this week approved the A’s relocation plans to Las Vegas.
The outcome of the vote was widely expected, but Schaaf and other fans, business owners and officials around Oakland see it as emblematic of what wealthy baseball owners really think of their communities — they don’t.
“They’re going to act in their own self-interest to support one of their own,” an unsurprised Schaaf said of the owners’ vote. “Everyone knows, including (MLB Commissioner) Rob Manfred, that Las Vegas would’ve been a very good expansion city for the MLB,” she added. “But to rip the hearts out of Oakland’s suffering sports fans was beyond demonic.”
It is a tone that belies the beaming optimism that Schaaf once displayed — even in her final news conference — toward a possible new waterfront A’s ballpark and housing village at the Oakland port.
Indeed, in the months since the A’s first announced a land deal in Vegas in April, some around town have hardened to the grief of losing Oakland’s last major professional sports franchise.
Fans who packed the stands during certain summer games to urge owner John Fisher to sell the team are already planning an Opening Day boycott. This time the plan is to fill the Coliseum’s parking lot, but not actually enter the stadium.
Coliseum officials have begun planning for a future without the A’s, discussing an expansion of concerts at the ballpark, while the Oakland Roots and Soul soccer franchises are negotiating to begin playing games on an adjacent lot in 2025.
“Nobody from the A’s has reached out to us,” Henry Gardner, the Coliseum board’s executive director, said in an interview. “In the meantime, we’re marketing the facility for anything that will bring us more dollars.”
The MLB vote is not the final straw. The A’s still need to complete the logistics of building on the Las Vegas strip and numerous additional hurdles stand in the way, including a lawsuit by one of Nevada’s largest teachers unions, which is also trying to force a third of $380 million in state funding onto next year’s election ballot.
Chris Daly, a former San Francisco supervisor who now lobbies for the teachers union, said in an interview that the group had “always felt that we were the bigger obstacle for the A’s than the owners’ vote.”
If the union succeeds in getting a third of the state’s guaranteed money for the ballpark on a ballot referendum or kills the entire spending package in court, then Daly and other union officials are confident that Fisher won’t find the financing he needs to complete the ballpark.
The A’s could not be reached for comment.
Schaaf, who served two terms as Oakland’s mayor, said during this week’s interview that she’d hoped Fisher would settle for a short-term stadium deal at the Coliseum while the team and city officials worked out the fine details of the proposed development at Howard Terminal.
But when the pandemic drove up costs, Fisher could no longer stomach the risks of such an ambitious stadium-and-village package, so he opted for an easier — if ultimately less lucrative — venture in Vegas, Schaaf said.
Still, she believes the legal and regulatory hurdles cleared by Oakland to support a Howard Terminal development have left the site ripe for “someone else with better luck and more cojones” to benefit from the investment.
Die-hard A’s fans have followed the stadium saga closely for years; the drama has stretched on for so long that it often has overshadowed the actual baseball.
But for Tony Duncan, who grew up an A’s fan and now owns multiple bars in Oakland — including 2101 Club, a prime spot to watch the team’s games — the sports aspect of it all still resonates strongly.
The mere recall of Mark McGwire’s walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series, or Ramon Hernandez’s clutch squeeze bunt in 2003, is enough to give Duncan chills.
A more recent memory: when the A’s in 2020 eked out a Wild Card win over the White Sox, and the crowd gathered outside Laurel Lounge, another of Duncan’s bars, “went nuts, just absolutely crazy.”
It was a rare moment of collective joy during the pandemic, but one that was short-lived. Not long afterward, A’s management began trading away most of the team’s promising talent to save costs.
“Oaklanders are very proud people,” he said in an interview. The A’s “wanted all of our dollars, but in the end, when we’re the ones who get hurt, they don’t turn around.”
Around the city, whether it’s those who barely care about the A’s or those who watch every game, the descriptions reserved for the franchise ring similarly.
“They’re an old-boys club,” Councilmember Dan Kalb said in an interview. “They care about sucking us dry the best they can.”
But for Oakland natives like Alexis Gray Lawson, who appreciate the unquantifiable value that sports can bring a community, the loss would be incalculable.
“Growing up here, being able to see professional athletes made you want to aspire to something greater,” said Lawson, who played multiple seasons in the WNBA and now teaches youth sports at Oakland Tech High.
“These kids see Marcus (Semien) or Marshawn (Lynch), they want to play for their town and represent it,” she added. “That’s what sports provides.”