THE OAKLAND A'S are the last mom-and-pop shop in the majors. The equipment manager, Steve Vucinich, has been with the team since it moved west in 1968, when Joe DiMaggio was a coach there. The director of team travel, Mickey Morabito, was brought to Oakland from the Yankees in 1980 along with manager Billy Martin.
Players scrounging for quarters to use the soda machine, as depicted in the movie Moneyball, is a Hollywood embellishment. But no MLB team enjoys fewer corporate benefits: meager TV money; increasing pressure to produce revenue from the creaky Coliseum, which is the second-oldest unrenovated ballpark in the American League behind Fenway Park; little air to breathe in a market it shares with the muscular, suddenly champion (again) San Francisco Giants. Oakland is the only team in baseball that still shares its home field with an NFL team. Visiting clubhouse manager Mike Thalblum starts his day at the Coliseum by checking the ceiling for leaks.
The A's have nothing going for them. Nothing, that is, except a history of resilience. They are a charter member of the AL, established in 1901, still alive after stints in Philadelphia and Kansas City, direct descendents of the original roots of the game. Historically and today, from Foxx and Grove, to Reggie and Catfish, to Giambi and Zito, A's talent eventually migrates to the big-money teams. Still, in the Junior Circuit, only the Yankees have more than Oakland's 15 pennants and nine World Series titles. The Rangers and Angels each reportedly scored $3 billion TV deals recently, but it was the A's who won the division last season.
Yet for all of this history, the powers at MLB have rewarded the franchise by leaving it in helpless, hopeless suspended animation. For their next rebirth, the A's say they have the resources and political support to build a stadium in San Jose, where they could better compete for the rich fans and sponsorship dollars in Silicon Valley. (Google, Apple, Facebook and Oracle all reside between San Jose and San Francisco.) Owner Lew Wolff insists he could put a shovel in the ground now. The A's say such a move would make them contributors to the game's wealth instead of charity recipients; they receive tens of millions a year in revenue sharing from richer teams. Not coincidentally, Wolff says he has the support of a majority of fellow owners to leave Oakland.
Bud Selig's answer to reviving one of MLB's oldest franchises has been a stonewalling maybe. A dozen years ago, the commissioner, in what was an effort to force municipalities to build new stadiums, threatened to eliminate the A's altogether. He even called the Coliseum "unfit" for baseball. Then, in 2009, a few years after his old college fraternity brother Wolff took over the team, Selig created a committee to consider the situation in Oakland. But it has been considering for four years now and counting. (The A's have been trying to find a solution to their home-field dilemma for even longer than that -- ever since 1995, when the city and Alameda County ruined their park to accommodate the Raiders' return.)
The big holdup is the Giants, who say they own the San Jose territory and will fight for it as if it were the Alamo. As it stands now, they are financially positioned to be a singular power in the region; the franchise has two World Series titles in the past three years and also owns developmental rights to lucrative parcels of land in China Basin. You don't have to be Lex Luthor to understand the value of California real estate and why the Giants don't want the A's encroaching on their slice of it. That essentially leaves Selig with three options: Figure out how to buy the Giants off, call their bluff and potentially create a street fight between two of his franchises, or stall for time.
Right now he's stalling. While he does, the A's are frozen. Baseball boasts huge financial success, $8 billion in revenue. Selig, in legacy mode, is proud of a growing World Baseball Classic, an unprecedented era of labor peace and stadium construction, as well as memorable championship baseball. But when it comes to Oakland, the showdown with the Giants can't be avoided forever. Selig must confront. Until then, as baseball plots grand visions of global expansion, one of its most historic and successful franchises goes deprived here at home.