Brisbee: Why Giants fans should care about the state of the A’s franchise

On Tuesday night, the literal president of the Oakland A’s spent his night on Twitter pointing out empty seats at Oracle Park. A grown man with an office and nice cars decided that this served some sort of purpose and advanced his interests. Giants fans thought it was tacky. A’s fans thought it was tacky. The whole ordeal was bizarre, and that’s the most charitable adjective available.

However, it’s a great opportunity to remind everyone — Giants fans, A’s fans, Yankees fans, Earthquakes fans, people who have never heard of a rosin bag — that Oakland and the entire Bay Area is better with a successful A’s team. And there’s absolutely no reason why the A’s shouldn’t be that team. Their fans deserve so much more than what they’ve been given over the last few months.

The first claim starts with the obvious: It’s a delight to have an American League team a few minutes away from a National League team. I’m planning to watch Jose Ramírez this weekend, and if the rotation gods are kind, I’ll get to watch Shohei Ohtani pitch next month. Of the two-team cities, only Chicago allows you to hop between leagues quicker, and even then only by a few minutes. It’s a shorter trip than a subway ride from Queens to the Bronx. When I searched Google Maps for a route from Dodger Stadium to Angel Stadium by public transportation, my computer laughed at me for several minutes and then caught fire. The simple existence of the A’s is important for Bay Area baseball fans, regardless of rooting interests.

But it’s not just enough for the A’s to exist. They should thrive. They should have billboards with players you recognize, and they should sell jerseys that aren’t stamped with an expiration date. The Bay Area doesn’t need a perfect 50-50 hat distribution, but it should get a heckuva lot closer to the even distribution of the Mark McGwire/Will Clark years.

And there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that if you take a break from the internet for a bit, you’ll realize that the frenemy-sibling-whatever nature of the Giants-A’s rivalry is a hilarious, special, weird arrangement that usually doesn’t exist in sports . Yes, there are very loud and extremely online fans who wear homemade shirts about territorial rights, and they somehow have harsher words for Buster Posey than you ever did about Tommy Lasorda, but they’re outliers.

In real life, A’s fans and Giants fans get along and work together and barbecue together. They eat ribs together, and then they rib each other, and there’s enough of a buffer to make the stakes exactly as low as they should be. The two teams aren’t jockeying for the same division title, and they’re usually in direct competition only for a small fraction of the regular season. So it becomes the kind of harmless fun that makes sports better. Oh, you’re from the same general area and share a lot of my life’s experiences, but you chose that team? Ha ha, let’s joke about it for a bit and then move on to the Warriors.

In this kind of arrangement, it’s far better when both teams are up. It’s fun to watch a Giants-Dodgers rivalry when both teams are winning 100+ games, but it’s also a very enjoyable kind of fun in the rare seasons when the Dodgers are absolutely lousy. There’s no fun to be found with an A’s team that’s actively alienating their fans, though. The baseball chatter at the barbecue or water cooler isn’t nearly as fun. The Warriors talk starts a whole lot quicker.

A key part of this quasi-rivalry is that the East Bay thinks they’re better than the other parts of the Bay Area (the correct take). However, the rest of the Bay Area thinks they’re better, and they’re so sure of this, they treat it as a given and pretend that the debate doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that the entire Bay Area is approximately 500 times better than anywhere else in the country (also correct), and it becomes an arrogance-and-grievance stew with fantastic flavors, notes and layers. If you want a few thousand words on this topic, I’ve got them, but the short version is that the East Bay freaking loves the East Bay, and they’re desperate for a team of their own that loves the East Bay just as much.

Here’s where the A’s screwed up. It wasn’t enough have a thriving sports team in a rich, vibrant and growing part of the country. They needed that new ballpark money, hopefully with some real estate money thrown in, and they were willing to pretend that the status quo was miserable. They were willing to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, even. It didn’t matter that the Coliseum secretly remained a helluva place to watch a baseball game. Instead of working toward a new ballpark and acknowledging that the present situation was still a fantastic entertainment option — the two aren’t mutually exclusive! — the franchise took a don’t-even-bother approach. They weren’t going to improve the fan experience until a new ballpark happened, and they were going to threaten fans instead of cajoling them.

Maybe it wasn’t feasible to un-Mt. Davis the place and turn the Coliseum back into the glorious ballpark it used to be, a more extreme version of the renovations that made Kauffman Stadium and Angel Stadium so much more enjoyable, but they could have kept doing more than the bare minimum. They could have done more to make the Coliseum their own, especially after the Raiders left. They could have kept acting like a team that still provides an outstanding baseball experience — which they often were — even as they understood that a new ballpark had the potential to be the best baseball experience. They were doing this before the pandemic, with the Treehouse, kids areas and food trucks, and they were using their revenue sharing to help the team in the boom cycles, at least a little bit.

Then the pandemic and it all went away for some reason. Now the A’s aren’t even pretending. As literal masks went on, the A’s owners decided to take their metaphorical masks off.

The current revolt from A’s fans isn’t even about the offseason fire sale. They’re used to a cycle of teardowns and rebuilds, and while it didn’t do a lot to keep attendance steady, the Baseball Phoenix produced results, and this latest version might work, too. No, this effort felt more cynical, more like a middle finger than the natural order of a lower-revenue franchise. This cycle is about having one foot in Vegas, with ultimatums and shakedowns for Oakland at the same time. A normal franchise sets its ticket prices in a way that maximizes profits. The A’s drastically increased season ticket prices before a lockout and a rebuild, while taking away a popular option (A’s Access).

They couldn’t possibly have thought this was going to make more money. It was a calculated decision to … keep fans away and increase their leverage? Prove that baseball wasn’t viable in one of the richest areas of the country, with a fan base that reveled in the kind of regional pride that other franchises dream of?

It was a calculated decision, and I’m too stupid to understand it. The Twitter tantrum referenced in the opening paragraph also seems calculated, and I don’t get it, either. The A’s could have had their cake and eaten it too. They could have passed slices around and announced their plans to get more flour, sugar and eggs for an even better cake. They’ve instead decided to announce that the cake is moldy and that everyone is stupid for wanting some, and also the cake is twice as expensive. Now a feral cat is sleeping on the cake. They’d move him, but he’s bitey.

It suuuuuucks. The A’s never needed a brand new ballpark and a bunch of nine-figure free agents to be a great baseball experience. They certainly could have worked toward that, but baseball in the Bay Area reliably ruled already, even when one team didn’t have a shiny stadium or sellout streak and the other one did. That just added to the underdog vibe that the East Bay specializes in.

Instead, it was all-or-nothing, and A’s fans are furious. Their team president thinks it’s cute to pretend like the story is that attendance is down for every team, even the precious Giants. Everyone knows that’s not the actual issue, though. East Bay fans want a team to love them back, and after the Warriors gave them a wedgie and the Raiders left them dangling from a flagpole, the A’s decided that was the time to throw tomatoes at them.

After all this, the A’s still might get their ballpark, and regardless of the various rich weirdos who will benefit from it, every single Bay Area baseball fan should be rooting for this outcome, Giants fans included. It’s better for the sport, and it’s better for the region. Because, let’s not mince words here, this really is the best place in the country, if not the world. It deserves two teams at the top of baseball, with everyone picking sides and distracting themselves in the best possible way.

A better Bay Area baseball world is possible. Until then, enjoy whatever in the hell the A’s are offering you, because it’s non-negotiable. And if you don’t like it, maybe they’ll leave. It was never about you or Bay Area baseball in the first place, after all. It was always about the whims of a billionaire and a tiny group of others, and don’t you forget it.

(Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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