Magazine Sport Volume 71, Issue 1

Oakland Baseball and the Legacy of Unsureness

Written By Brennan Dumesnil-Vickers

Graphic By Abby Halverstadt

Recently, the Oakland Athletics have taken the phrase “Rooted in Oakland” and run with it; odds are any sort of promotion for the team has the word “rooted” somewhere. Baseball historians may disagree, as the A’s were founded in Philadelphia and had a brief spell in Kansas City before settling in the town. So, in a literal sense, they’re rooted in Philadelphia. However, when you consider their legacy and ever-changing future in Oakland, the statement makes a lot more sense.

When the A’s began the 1968 season in Oakland, they joined the Raiders at the brand-new Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with the Warriors’ equally new Oakland-Alameda County Arena right behind it (generally referred to as “the coliseum” and “the arena”). This was also right around the time that construction of BART, a public transportation light-rail system, was wrapping up. A new age of the Bay Area was on the horizon, and Oakland was right in the middle of it.

Oakland baseball got off to a hot start as the A’s won the World Series in 1972, ’73, and ’74. To the ultimate dismay of Oakland fans, the Raiders were moved to Los Angeles in 1982 in search of more financial flexibility. However, it did mean that the A’s got the Coliseum to themselves at a time when two-sport stadiums were still the norm.

Despite the loss of Oakland football, the Bay Area sports connection was never stronger than during the 1989 World Series, when not only were the A’s and Giants facing off for the Trophy for the first time since ’68, thirty minutes before Game 3 began on October 17 with over 60,000 electrifying San Francisco’s Candlestick Park . . . the Loma Prieta Earthquake shocked a Bay Area already jolted by the Series, the most devastating local quake since 1906.

Lifetime Bay Area resident and Giants fan Paul Dumesnil was at this game. He said, “I took my 13 year old son to the game as a special treat…We were seated in the upper right centerfield section. When the earthquake hit it was clear this wasn’t a mild earthquake. The upper deck rocked back and forth and with each move forward I wondered how long the stadium would hold together. There were shards of concrete flying over our heads that were breaking loose from the overhanging.” Powerful words about a powerful moment in Bay Area history.

After a 10-day hiatus dedicated to recovery, the A’s swept the Giants and won their fourth World Series as Oakland’s team.

The A’s thrived during the steroid era with the likes of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco electrifying not just Oakland but baseball in general with their power, and in 1994, Oakland opted to move the Raiders back to the Coliseum at a time when other two-sport stadiums were starting to phase out. Despite unwavering fan support, the Oakland market simply didn’t give the Athletics enough money to be as sustainably successful as they were in the ’70s and ’80s, which led to the initiation of Moneyball.

After another early playoff elimination in 2001, general manager Billy Beane famously revolutionized player scouting for the 2002 season (i.e. Moneyball). After a book published in 2003 and a movie released in 2011 starring Brad Pitt as Beane, Moneyball became public, and the concept was adopted by teams league-wide. Despite continued regular season success since 2002, the A’s have still failed to make it far in the postseason, as they have made it into the postseason nine times but have only made it past the ALDS (quarterfinals) once, in 2006, where they were swept in the ALCS (semifinals).

Today, the Warriors and Raiders play in brand-new stadiums in San Francisco and Las Vegas respectively. The Coliseum is the only stadium left in MLB that was originally built to house two sports, as it shows clearly with its massive foul territory and seating capacity of 63,132 including the huge expansion of seats above center field, originally built for Raiders games but almost always covered by a tarp nowadays. Longtime A’s fan and WCI teacher Susie Reisfelt said, “Before [former Raiders owner] Al Davis ruined the Coliseum, it was lovely to see the bed of pink blooming ice plant above the outfield.”

As the Coliseum celebrates its 55th birthday, talks to move the A’s to a brand-new ballpark at Howard Terminal (near the Port of Oakland) are at an all-time high, but so are talks of moving to Portland or Las Vegas. Regarding this, Reisfelt said, “I think Oakland is very shortsighted if they allow them to go. The data on what a waterfront ballpark does for a city is staggering.”

Currently, from a baseball standpoint, the A’s are a few games out of a playoff spot. From a location standpoint, team president Dave Kaval said in a San Francisco Chronicle article that it’s “hard to say” when the A’s will choose what to do.