The A’s might be going, going, gone, but Major League Baseball could return to Oakland before long.
MLB owners will vote in November to give A’s owner John Fisher final approval to move the club to Las Vegas, an industry source confirmed to the Bay Area News Group on Thursday. The A’s would need 75% approval to complete the relocation.
But hope emerged this week for Oakland baseball fans: USA Today reported that the city could join Nashville, Tenn., as a top candidate for expansion teams in the next five years.
For that to happen, though, a wealthy ownership group needs to emerge immediately. It also needs the wherewithal to pay the expansion fee, estimated at $2 billion, and build a ballpark.
“If there’s an ownership group that wants to try to get a team in Oakland, they should voice themselves now and arrange meetings with the commissioner and show why Oakland is viable for an expansion team and what they plan to do as an ownership group,” former A’s star Dave Stewart said by phone this week.
“That’s what needs to happen. Expansion is moving. It’s not going to wait for a group out of Oakland to show themselves in 2025. It’s my belief by 2025, expansion will be down the road and Oakland will have missed out.”
Oakland mayor Sheng Thao told The Athletic in July that she would welcome an expansion team.
Stewart has a dog in the fight, but it’s not his native Oakland. For the past four years, he has been leading a group trying to bring baseball to Nashville.
It has been Stewart’s dream to lead MLB’s first majority Black-owned club and bring diversity to baseball front offices.
Any talk of Oakland getting an expansion team is no longer on Stewart’s radar.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’m not against them, but I’m not rooting for them,” Stewart said. “I think there are a lot of issues that need to be solved politically for expansion to come to Oakland. And if John Fisher is gone to Las Vegas, who do you blame now if things don’t work out?”
Baseball hasn’t expanded since 1998 when Arizona and Tampa Bay were added. Commissioner Rob Manfred said in July he’s ready to add two more teams once Tampa and Oakland resolve their ballpark issues. Through a spokesperson, Manfred declined to comment on Oakland being a possible expansion city.
Stewart still believes Oakland is a baseball town and that it will fill any stadium when the team is winning. He said he’s hurt that the team plans to leave for Vegas. But Stewart doesn’t entirely blame Fisher for the A’s inability to get a stadium deal done.
“I’m a strong believer that when things don’t work it’s because of two, not one,” he said, indicating that the city of Oakland should be partly to blame as well.
There is precedent for a city getting its team back via expansion after losing it to relocation.
The Milwaukee Braves left for Atlanta in 1966, but the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee in 1969. Then in 1977, the Seattle Mariners were added as an expansion team.
Kansas City lost the A’s to Oakland in 1968, but received the Royals as an expansion franchise in 1969.
And in Washington, the Senators moved to Texas to become the Rangers in 1971, but then received the Nationals in 2004 when the Montreal Expos relocated.
Both Kansas City and Seattle were granted expansion teams after filing lawsuits against baseball in an attempt to challenge MLB’s antitrust exemption. East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee and fellow Rep. Mark DeSaulnier hinted in June about challenging MLB’s anti-trust exemption over what they perceived as baseball “actively incentivizing” the A’s to leave Oakland.
Victor Matheson, a sports stadium expert and sports economics professor at the College of Holy Cross, said that for an ownership group to emerge for an expansion team in Oakland, it would need to have plans for a new stadium that don’t lean as heavily on the taxpayers.
“We don’t have a lot of evidence that professional sports make the regular taxpayer rich,” Matheson said. “California in general, not just the Bay Area, other than in Sacramento, has done a good job holding the line that we shouldn’t dump a bunch of money into private businesses other than infrastructure.”
Matheson is concerned that there’s been a resurgence in enormous public funding for new stadiums. A lot of the stadiums that signed 30-year deals in the 1990s will soon see those deals expiring, prompting teams and cities to have what he calls “stadium envy.”
Andy Dolich, a former A’s vice president in the ‘90s who now runs his own sports consulting firm in the Bay Area, believes the Bay Area should be a two-team town, and with public transportation already in place for the Coliseum site, it could lure an ownership group to Oakland.
But it won’t be cheap.
“For the expansion opportunity you’re talking about a $2.2 billion fee, that’s the number that the commissioner has talked about,” Dolich said. “You’re going to ask for $2.2 billion just to sit at the table as your ante. That’s got to be one of the largest antes in a card game ever. Then you have to build a ballpark, most likely, and in some instances level a ballpark, like in Oakland, and build a new one. You have to build an infrastructure. It’s a lot more than $2.2 billion. Who is writing that check, in any place?”
Dolich suggested one person: Joe Lacob, the majority owner of the Warriors, who told the Chronicle in July that he’s made offers to buy the A’s with the aim of privately financing a new stadium in Oakland. But Fisher has rebuffed those offers and, as the A’s track record has proven, building a new home in the East Bay is no easy task.