Two surprising things happened last week. The A’s won a game, and I saw a good idea on Twitter.
The tweet came in reply to someone else. It got no engagement. I have no memory of how I found it. But it made an excellent suggestion. “You shouldn't be allowed to relocate your team unless you had a winning record the previous season,” wrote someone going by the username @brohubs. “First make a team worthy of moving.”
Such a rule would neatly solve Major League Baseball’s most shameful problem: One-thirtieth of the league is openly mocking other owners, players, fans and the entire history of competition. A’s owner John Fisher wants to move the team from Oakland to Las Vegas, if there’s even a team left by the time he’s done with it. You can’t make us try, he seems to be saying.
Well, actually, the league could, if it wanted to.
A spokesman for MLB did not comment on the idea of a competitiveness threshold for relocation. An A’s spokesman did not return a request for comment.
Instead we are left with this situation: The A’s are chasing the worst record in the history of the sport while Fisher picks fans’ pockets with his middle fingers. The Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum is literally crumbling: In ’13, the A’s and the Twins had to wait three hours to play while crews pumped four inches of raw sewage out of the visitors’ dugout. In ’15, a section of the outfield wall collapsed. Last year, a colony of feral cats took over the ballpark, and an opossum spent some nine months in the press box. And every couple of years, the stadium lights shut themselves off, presumably out of embarrassment.
But surely when he gets to Nevada, Fisher will start pouring money into the team! We will pause at this point to give Las Vegans, those famous baseball diehards, a chance to race to buy season tickets. Indeed, Fisher himself has so much confidence in the locals’ interest that he is reportedly toying with the idea of beginning home games at 4 p.m., so the tourists who accidentally stumble into his new ballpark can still make it to a show afterward.
The irony is that there is actually a fan base that wants to watch this rotting carcass of a baseball team. A group called Rooted in Oakland is staging a “reverse boycott” next week, complete with a crowdfunded giveaway—green T-shirts with “SELL” (as in, the team) emblazoned across the chest—to fill the stands and show ownership that there remains robust local support.
This disaster falls entirely upon the league: commissioner Rob Manfred, Fisher and his fellow owners. Some of them are paying for their inaction: If I were Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, I’d be a little frustrated that my club has to share a division with four other teams that are trying to win while my competition across the country gets to beat up on a group that would struggle against a good Double A team.
But instead of punishing Fisher for singlehandedly calling into question the integrity of the entire season, Manfred negotiated for him to receive revenue sharing, reportedly handed over yet more cash from a discretionary fund and waived the roughly $300 million relocation fee, as long the team can bilk $380 million from Nevada taxpayers. The A’s officially became eligible to receive revenue sharing again on March 10, 2022. As a thank you for their peers’ generosity, the A’s waited three days before they began trading just about everyone who had ever played well. One can only imagine how lavishly they will spend the discretionary money and that $300 million.
It’s hard to fathom why Fisher gets a pass here. This is the man who announced in May 2020 that he would cut off the $400 weekly payments he had pledged to make to minor leaguers. (He reversed course a few days later, perhaps after noticing that Forbes estimated his net worth at $2.2 billion.) He has been a problem for years. Is there no one else who could find a way to make some money owning a baseball team in the sixth-biggest media market in the country, populated by people with a median income 44% higher than the national average?
Oakland has presented problems in the past. At least as far back as 1995, A’s ownership—at that time Steve Schott and Ken Hoffmann—were threatening to leave town. The Raiders and Warriors decamped in 2019, the Raiders to Las Vegas and the Warriors to San Francisco. But that latter move could have served as a model for the A’s: they wanted to move to San Jose, which would have at least kept them within a BART ride of their current fan base. But the Giants, who own the territorial rights, blocked them. Those are the rules, the league said. Sure. But the rules stated that Oakland was ineligible from receiving revenue sharing because the market was too big, until Manfred changed that rule last year.
So, he should change the rule about territorial rights. Or he should listen to @brohubs, and institute an even better rule: If you want to move, you have to have a good reason—and a good team.