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A few thoughts about how Rob Manfred is handling the A’s move to Las Vegas

NARRATOR: “Not very well.”

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Al Yellon

This morning in Outside The Confines, Ashley posted a number of links having to do with the Nevada legislature’s approval of money for a stadium for the Athletics to move to Las Vegas, and you can get the basic outline of the story there.

I’ve been on record as saying that I didn’t think this was going to happen, and who knows? It still might not. All we have re: the stadium is a few renderings. There’s no timeline on when this will be built, or even whether, because although there’s now some money from the state and county available, that’s still not all the cash that will be needed for John Fisher to uproot his team from Oakland and move it to Las Vegas.

I continue to think this is a bad idea. They’re giving up a share of the No. 10 TV market to move to the No. 40 TV market — which would be the smallest in MLB. They’re making pie-in-the-sky predictions about attendance which, based on their estimates, would require selling out nearly every game. And even if they broke ground today — which ain’t happening — they’d still have to either a) play a couple of years in a lame-duck market in Oakland or b) play outdoors in 110-degree weather for three months in a minor-league ballpark, again every year for a few year.

Let’s make it clear here: This is all on John Fisher and his attempt to squeeze every last dollar out of his franchise so that he can, potentially, sell at a profit. The A’s were contenders as recently as 2019 and drew 1.6 million fans that year. That’s not great — it ranked 23rd in MLB — but the A’s were a very good team that won 97 games and had a solid, loyal fanbase that didn’t attend games in larger numbers mostly because the stadium was 20 years past the end of its useful life.

Then Fisher systematically dismantled the team, trading away all its good players so that they currently stand 19-55, a .257 winning percentage that would equate to 42 wins this year, the worst season since the 1962 Mets. The A’s recently had a nice little winning streak of seven, including sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee, but their elimination number for the A.L. West title is 64 (and it’s just mid-June!) and they stand 18 games out of FOURTH place with the worst record in the major leagues.

Even so, 27,759 showed up at the Oakland Coliseum for a “reverse boycott” evening last week, to show that there is still a fanatically loyal fanbase in Oakland that would indeed come to games if ownership showed any interest in them.

That’s what I want to talk about today — Rob Manfred’s sarcastic dismissal of those fans. At a news conference last Thursday, here’s what he said about that game:

“almost an average Major League Baseball crowd.” I mean, seriously, could Manfred have been any more condescending? It’s a toss-up as to whether that statement, or Manfred’s “piece of metal” comment a few years ago when discussing the Astros cheating scandal, was a worse kiss-off of baseball fans. “Tone-deaf” doesn’t begin to describe it. I called it “sarcastic” — maybe Manfred didn’t intend sarcasm, but guess what, Rob? It sure came across that way.

Manfred then doubled down on that tone-deafness:

It’s absolutely clear that public money given for stadium construction does not generate significant local economic growth. This has been proven over and over and over. Sure, there’s been a retail/business area built around Truist Park in the Atlanta area. All that accomplished is shifting spending from one part of the metro area to another. It did not generate actual growth. For more on all this you can check out the great Field of Schemes website, which chronicles this sort of thing.

Then Manfred turned his attention to Oakland and said, essentially, that they had not made an offer for a stadium there.

Well, that’s not true:

Game, set, match to Oakland there, I think.

The endgame of all this was always moving the A’s to Las Vegas, and Manfred, Fisher and the other MLB owners were likely going to do this no matter the costs, or pissing off fans, or whatever. They literally do not care what baseball fans think. I think this has become blindingly obvious over the near-decade of Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner. Yes, I understand that Manfred’s job is to make owners money and he has done a very good job at that — but he has also alienated quite a number of baseball fans in the process, and in the end, that is going to cost the sport money. This article by Evan Drellich in The Athletic sums this up well, and concludes:

Baseball’s commissioner should be better at this. Manfred would earn more trust from fans and stakeholders if he didn’t make comments like the one Thursday. If you were to draw up a commissioner from scratch, you absolutely would not choose this one’s public relations skills.

Now, if you asked me whether I’d want Rob Manfred to say something different, I would say, emphatically, yes — but only if he believed it.

As a reporter, and even as a human being, I want people to be candid. I don’t want to encourage someone to behave in a way outwardly that is, essentially, a mask. “Do a better job lying to me,” would be a really weird request for anyone to make, but particularly for a reporter.

What would be best is if the sport’s commissioner addressed the reverse boycott differently not just for the sake of PR, but because he actually believed it.

That could be really great. It could be great to see almost an average level of empathy for once. That’d be a great thing.

Here is more from a long-time, well-respected baseball writer who has covered the sport in the Bay Area for many years, in response to the tweet above regarding the A’s fans’ reverse boycott:

Andrew Baggarly sums it up perfectly. And if you think that doesn’t affect fans, look at what one fan who’s dedicated quite a bit of his life to baseball said:

There are times it’s hard to be a baseball fan because of things like this. I’m not going to walk away because there are many things about the sport I still love, and having dedicated quite a bit of my life to it, and made lifelong friends because of it, I won’t do that.

But I can understand the feeling. And if Rob Manfred and team owners don’t think that’s out there among baseball fans, they are fooling themselves.