Baseball's vagabonds might be on the move again.
Tuesday's news that the Oakland Athletics have received MLB's blessing to begin exploring options for relocation doesn't necessarily mean that the A's stay in Oakland is coming to end. It does mean that it has gotten to the point where the franchise feels the need to have an exit strategy. Apparently, commissioner Rob Manfred feels the same way.
This could very much be a ploy to entice the city of Oakland to sign off on publicly funded infrastructure investments the team says it needs to make its plan for a new, privately financed ballpark development at Howard Terminal a reality. It could be a ploy to silence some highly vocal local activist groups opposed to the Howard Terminal plan, such as the East Oakland Stadium Alliance, which wants the ballclub to build a new ballpark at the site of its current venue, RingCentral Coliseum, where Oakland has toiled for its entire stay in the Bay Area.
Whatever the motivation actually is for the A's, owner John Fisher and the MLB league office, one way or another it's time to get Oakland's long stadium limbo resolved. RingCentral, formerly known as Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, among other things, was once a nice place to catch a ballgame. But beginning with the horrific addition of Mount Davis -- the view-wrecking, towering edifice of seats built to appease the since-departed Raiders of the NFL -- the stadium has gradually descended to the bottom of baseball's stadium rankings.
The problem is more than aesthetic. Despite fielding many excellent teams over the years, the A's haven't ranked higher than ninth in AL attendance in any season since 2005. In 2018 and 2019, both seasons in which the A's won 97 games, they finished 13th and 10th, respectively. According to Cots Contracts, the A's haven't ranked higher than 17th in Opening Day payroll in any season this century and usually rank in the bottom eight or worse.
Thus, whether it's from owner-related austerity or genuine revenue shortcomings, the history of the A's has always been one of building up a powerhouse team only to see that team dismantled because of money issues. In its travels from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland, and despite featuring all-time greats through history like Eddie Collins, Lefty Grove, Reggie Jackson, Jimmie Foxx and Al Simmons, the Athletics are the only one of the 16 traditional big league franchises that has never had a Hall of Fame player who spent his entire career with the team.
Whether it's finding a way to stay in Oakland or a new city in another region, it's beyond time that the A's settle their long-term situation. Their current lease runs out at the end of the 2024 season, which is not very far away. With the Howard Terminal Project moving at a snail's pace, the team needs to have options.
When the A's hit the West Coast in 1968, their travels seemed to be at an end. Like Dean Moriarty in "On the Road," the bay was as far as they could go because there was no more land. Or so we thought.
If the A's do move, where could they go?