I feel bad penning a requiem for the Oakland Athletics in any of the other hypothetical scenarios. There are hundreds of California-based jobs on the line. At this point, with the NBA's Warriors and the NFL's Raiders already outta there, there's an entire community's livelihood at stake. The acreage around RingCentral Coliseum and Oracle Arena will begin to look like one of America's ghostly abandoned amusement parks. Even if the Warriors' move was only 17 miles away, the two organizations left the A's holding the bag. Sure, their owners faced backlash — internally as loud as the outside noise. Then again, they also weren't the last to leave; the ones "responsible" for Oakland having nothing.
Any relocation fallout should not fall on the A's brass, though. They have been playing catch-up on a series of mismanaged events — some of the worst financial decisions made in Major League Baseball history — since Hall of Famer Connie Mack's death in 1956.
It is almost unfathomable today, but the A's are an O.G. of the American League. We're talking 1901 when Cleveland was the Bluebirds and the Yankees were the Baltimore Orioles (no relation to present-day). We're talking all the way back. The Athletics were the pride of Philadelphia up until 1954; Hall of Famer Connie Mack managed them for 50(!) of those years, winning the World Series five times (1910, 1911, 1913, 1929, 1930).
The 1902 club embraced an insulting comment made by legendary manager John McGraw as he exited the "loser" American League forever. On his way out, he told Athletics owner Ben Shibe he "had nothing more than a white elephant on his hands." And thus, an iconic mascot was born. The franchise proved to be anything but. Shibe Park was a cathedral, built specifically for them, and the A's were the darlings of a Golden Age in Baseball — in navy and white uniforms, I might add.
When they got sold to a grifter and moved to Kansas City, however, much of what made the original Athletics great evaporated. So the aura that many think they are trying to preserve in Oakland is about six decades too late.
In 1954, stock broker/industrialist Arnold Johnson desired to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. The club he bought and moved was callously irrelevant; first to seize riches on the West Coast was the primary goal. The issue was getting their directly. Due to business ties in Kansas City, however, Johnson found a landing spot with an escape clause after only three years. And that was the first of many disrespectful moves on the chess board — to both the good nature of the Athletics and the city of Kansas City. Both were pawns in an elaborate layover scheme.
For much of the early 1950s, Johnson targeted all the "second" teams in two-franchise cities. He struck out in his hometown of Chicago, as well as St. Louis. In Philadelphia he found an interesting situation: The A's were the darlings for decades — actual winners and favorite of a vast majority of the city's residents. They were hardly second fiddle to the lowly Phillies and their decades of futility. However, the Athletics were the one without a solid long-term plan for the future (creation of a farm team, appointing a general manager, funding for a new ballpark, etc.). They had somehow deteriorated into the most vulnerable sports team in Pennsylvania. Johnson pounced and convinced a near-bankrupt Mack family to sell in the eleventh hour.
Ultimately, Johnson failed to win the race to California; much like he failed at else he touched with the club. The former landlord of Yankee Stadium spent most of his time as owner sending talented young A's players to his Bronx buddies. John McGraw's "nothing more" insult evolved to now read: "The A's are nothing more than a loosely-controlled Yankees farm club." — Bill Veeck
Empathetically, Johnson had a massive brain hemorrhage in March of 1960 and died down in West Palm Beach, Florida — where the club played its Spring Training games (Connie Mack Field).
As soon as Charlie Finley took over Kansas City Athletics control, they were already being shopped around. Too late to be first in Los Angeles and too late to turn back for Philadelphia, it was an inherited mess and not one he brought upon himself. Finley's best remedy was to cut ties and start fresh. Doesn't that sound an awful lot like the A's current state of affairs — half in and half out?
First it was a proposal to Dallas-Fort Worth in '61 and '62. In 1964, Louisville and Oakland both had relocation agreements get treated seriously enough to go to an internal vote for approval. In between all that nonsense, the team colors radically shifted to Kelly Green and Fort Knox Gold. They even had "Kentucky Colonels" mock-ups made to maintain the new interlocking "KC" on the caps. The spirit of the Philadelphia Athletics was ostensibly erased. So what are we trying to preserve again?
By 1967 — after deals in Atlanta, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Diego, and "a cow pasture in Peculiar, Missouri" all fell through — the relocation list was whittled down to Seattle and a second attempt at Oakland. The latter was approved by the other American League owners on October 18, 1967.
This new A's iteration has been made better by its time in the Bay; it got a chance to shake the cobwebs and reinvent itself after a horrible era. But, let's not get this twisted. It's not like this team hasn't moved before. They aren't the Detroit Tigers. They aren't the Cincinnati Reds. The A's have not been operating in one synonymous location for over a century. Hell, they've not yet celebrated a 55th anniversary in any location. And worse, anywhere they go, their owners seem to grow tired of the situation quickly. That's the slippery slope of moving once; it tends to become easier to do habitually. The repercussions and fan fallout really rolls off the shoulders when you've built up a reputation of "It's just what they do."
In 1980, Finley (who still owned the team) wanted to move them yet again, this time to Denver. Thankfully, Oakland Ring of Honor member Walter A Haas, Jr. bought the team and kept them around. But that didn't change the fact that the A's were still vagabonds in their soul. They always seem be up for adoption and that changes the narrative surrounding this current relocation proposition. It just does.
Ripping this Band-Aid would damage the people of Oakland less than it did Cleveland fans losing the Browns or Baltimore losing the Colts. The A's equivalent to those gut-wrenching stories played out already... 68 years ago. You can't "outhurt" that first heartbreak. Connie Mack's Athletics played in Kansas City in green and gold. That takes the cake. Seeing them in Vegas gold wouldn't hold a candle to that heel turn.
The Oakland Raiders were founded in that town. The Oakland A's don't have a comparable claim to pain. Origin matters. And I'd say the same thing to a fellow Cleveland baseball fan regarding their recent name change. They weren't originally the Indians. There were two versions of this franchise before they wound up on your doorstep. Were they ever really yours?
The whole time in Missouri bastardized a once-proud club. What is amazing, though, is how resilient the club is — how well they can cleave off the bad and bookend their existence with glory and titles (1972, 1973, 1974, 1989).
If any franchise in the sport could be best prepared to do this type of relocation/rebrand again, it is the Athletics. They have a track record of compartmentalizing eras of greatness as their own standalone identities. In one snapshot, they are four-time World Champions as the vest-and-polyester-V-neck-wearing-green-and-gold "Swingin' A's" and "Bash Brothers" of Oakland, California. That is diametrically opposite of their five-time World Champion buttoned-up, navy-and-white elephant Connie Mack A's of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
They are already the most successful chameleons in American sports history. Why would another leg in their journey not be easy to take in stride? To the right PR firm, with the right track record of moving around, relocation to Vegas is merely a new chapter in an epic about a worldly traveler.
So who knows? I still have hope Oakland can retain the Athletics. For no other reason than that Howard Terminal ballpark will be a Top 5 in Major League Baseball immediately — and for decades to come. Only the A's and the '98, '99, '00 Yankees have pulled off the "three peat" over the past 68 years. That's a sad thing to have slip out of the city where such history was made.
As a baseball fan, though, my paramount concern is what is best for the healthy and stability of the league in its entirety. To me, that is in Sin City — something I never ever thought I'd say as recently as ten years ago.
Should the A's leave California, I think the organization will persevere better than a vast majority would. Dave Kaval and Billy Beane may be the brightest executive tandem in Major League Baseball today. That, and the NFL's Raiders moving from Oakland to the very same city helps in the same way a transition to a new school is eased by having an older sibling with you.