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An update on the Oakland Athletics 2023 season and their proposed move to Las Vegas

What does the A’s going to Las Vegas means for other teams looking for a new stadium?

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A very small crowd at the Oakland Coliseum in September 2022
Al Yellon

This week, the Oakland Athletics were mathematically eliminated from postseason consideration, the first such team to do so in 2023. Of course, they were basically eliminated back in April, when they were 6-23 at the end of the month and already 11½ games out of first place.

Where do these A’s stand historically?

They are 37-91, which is a .289 winning percentage. If they continue to play at that percentage the rest of the year, they’ll finish 46-116.

Since 1962, when the Mets established a Modern Era record with 120 losses, there have been just two teams that have lost 115 or more games: the 2003 Tigers, who went 43-119, and the 2018 Orioles, 47-115.

Of the A’s 34 remaining games, 18 are against teams with winning records.

The A’s would have to go 5-29 to lose 120 games, so that doesn’t seem likely, but it’s certainly not impossible. That’s a .147 winning percentage. The A’s had a 4-22 stretch in May (.154), so... it could happen, especially since they continue to give up runs at an alarming rate. The other two 115-loss teams since 1962 noted above allowed 850 runs (Tigers) and 825 runs (Orioles). The A’s have already allowed 762 runs, which is 5.95 per game. That’s a pace for 964 runs allowed. which would be among the worst over the last couple of decades. Further, they’ve scored just 461 runs, 3.6 per game, a pace for 583 runs, which would be close to the bottom of the list for any full season in the Modern Era. That would also be a run differential of -381, which would shatter the current record (-349, set by the 1932 Red Sox).

Yikes, that’s bad.

Incidentally, both of the previous 115-loss teams since 1962 returned to winning records very quickly. The Tigers were in the World Series by 2006 and the Orioles had a winning record in 2022 and seem headed for the postseason this year. So there might be hope for the A’s — if they were well managed, which they don’t seem to be.

The other thing I wanted to touch on here regarding the A’s is their proposed move to Las Vegas, and I say “proposed” because it has not yet been approved by other owners, nor do they have a specific plan for building a stadium in Vegas — all they have is a piece of land and some renderings.

Recently, several other teams have let it be known that they could be looking for new stadiums — the Brewers, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Rays, Orioles and Royals have all either put out feelers, or said their current parks aren’t suitable, or have (Royals) actually posted renderings of possible new ballparks.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Scott Ostler writes that what’s really happening here is a shakedown (article’s paywalled, but I’ve excerpted some of it below):

Commissioner Rob Manfred now can point to the A’s and say to those six stubborn cities (and others), “See what happens when you don’t play ball?”

It’s almost as if Major League Baseball has launched a mass taxpayer shakedown, with Manfred as attack dog, shaming cities for their reluctance to pony up. His attacks lack nuance and fact-checking, but …

“All evidence continues to be that Manfred is very bad at this, but also that he doesn’t have to be very good at it to be successful,” said Neil deMause, whose website throws shade on pro sports teams raiding public coffers.

Incidentally, Neil deMause’s website is well worth your perusal and he wrote a 2008 book on this topic with the same title.

It’s been proven over and over and over that public money for baseball stadiums does not produce the economic impact teams claim it does. Sure, it creates construction jobs in the short run, but in the long run these stadiums only shift spending from one part of a metro area to another. They don’t generate any additional income for cities, counties and states. For example, Field of Schemes wrote last year that residents of Cobb County, Georgia are actually losing $15 million a year on Truist Park.

The rest of Ostler’s article focuses on the A’s. Here’s the money quote from deMause:

“The Howard Terminal private development piece was always kind of a black box, with no clear sense of what Fisher’s business plan was, other than, ‘Get a pile of infrastructure money from Oakland and the state, and hope everything else pencils out,’ ” deMause said.

He added that the Howard Terminal project, along with the A’s pending Vegas plans, “both look like situations where an owner was more invested in what he could get as tribute from the local government than whether the project made any damn sense in the first place. Which is classic failson thinking.”

That’s all this is, absolutely, and the folks in Las Vegas and Nevada fell for it. They shouldn’t have, and Ostler writes there’s still a chance that deal falls through:

The team’s lease on the Oakland Coliseum runs through next season, and they might try to extend that lease another two or three years. Plus, the A’s ballpark plans in Vegas seem as solid as your uncle Fred’s blackjack system.

So it’s at least possible that the A’s will crap out and come back to Oakland.

That might be why the A’s are continuing their purchase of Alameda County’s 50% interest in the Coliseum site, a half-ownership that opens a can of worms.

This sort of thing is exactly why the localities for the other teams noted here (White Sox, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Rays, Royals and Orioles) should go tell teams where to shove it when they come asking for a handout, or in some cases a second or third handout to build a stadium. What most of these team owners want is a real-estate play, such as happened in Atlanta around Truist Park. They aren’t really interested in building a new stadium for a winning team; all they want are profits from what they can build surrounding that new stadium.

Ostler concludes:

Though the A’s seem to be making it up as they go, it’s working. And once they pull off their move, and the Rays either move or get a new ballpark, MLB will proceed with expansion by one or two teams, thus greatly enriching the fraternity.

One challenge will be finding one or two more cities capable of supporting a big-league expansion club. Vegas, the top candidate, is now off the table. Others, like Nashville and Portland, are risky.

Maybe these other cities should just say, “No, thanks,” when approached by MLB owners for hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies for stadiums. If the billionaire owners want new stadiums, they should finance them, as the Ricketts did in spending $750 million on Wrigley Field renovations along with, yes, real estate plays in Wrigleyville.

The era of public money for stadiums should end. It benefits no one except team owners, who should already be able to afford to do it alone.

As always, we await developments.