Welcome to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It’s a realm apart in the kingdom of baseball—a place where things fail to add up.
The Coliseum’s tenants, the Oakland A’s, are leading the American League West. They finished the first half by winning six straight series, including matchups against the Cardinals, Pirates and Red Sox.
Despite the surge in the standings, the team is only 23rd in average attendance out of 30 major league teams.
And when you talk attendance, you get to the major subplot of the A’s story — the condition of Oakland Coliseum, and what needs to be done about it. Davoud Eskendari assesses the park in its current state.
“It is the penitentiary of the league. It’s a big cement edifice. No charm. It’s a giant mountain of cement that looks more like a California correctional facility than the baseball park warmth that it used to have—it really did,” Eskendari says.
Fellow A’s fan Suzie Reisfelt knows how it got that way.
“When it had the iceplant and the views, it was gorgeous,” Reisfelt says. “Then they came in and built Mount Davis and ruined the stadium.”
Mount Davis refers to the soaring, concrete grandstand built by late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis when he brought the team back from Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. If there’s an A’s fan anywhere who likes the way the stadium changed, he or she has yet to speak up.
But the Coliseum’s got other issues, too. It’s baseball’s fifth-oldest ballpark. Once in a while, the facility acts up, as it did after a home game in June.
On Sunday June 16, a sewage pipe backup at the 47-year-old O.co Coliseum forced the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners to vacate their clubhouses.
San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo is not a plumber. But he cited the clubhouse sewage spill as his clinching argument for an A’s move from Oakland to his city.
“Nothing sings ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’ like backed-up sewage,” Liccardo said.
Liccardo’s strange Dionne Warwick reference came during a press conference to announce the city was suing Major League Baseball for refusing to allow the A’s to leave Oakland for San Jose.
The A’s lead owner, Lew Wolff, says building a new stadium in Silicon Valley will solve the Coliseum mess, and guarantee the team an affluent fan base.
The San Francisco Giants have blocked that move for four years, refusing to give up their territorial rights to the Bay Area’s biggest city.
But now, San Jose alleges that the failure of Commissioner Bud Selig and the team’sowners to make the move happen violates federal anti-trust law. Joe Cotchett is the city’s lead attorney in the case.
“We’re going to ask Commissioner Selig to come to a federal courtroom and explain why he and his 30 owners have constantly stopped the 10th largest city in the nation from being competitive with other cities. This is not really a legal issue—this is a moral issue,” Cotchett said.
Baseball’s exemption from anti-trust law is nearly as old as the major leagues themselves, and legal analysts don’t give the city much of a chance of winning its case.
The outlook for a new ballpark in Oakland? Not brilliant. The city has struggled to come up with a viable site in a waterfront neighborhood called Jack London Square.
Back at the Coliseum, fans say something’s got to give. Let the team move to San Jose. Let it stay in Oakland. Either way, do something about the stadium. Long-time Athletics partisans Steve Miller and Chris Giotta:
“I do agree they need a new stadium, but at the same time I agree they need to keep that loyal emotional fan base and that’s more important in sports than a multibillion dollar stadium in my mind,” says long-time Athletics partisan Steve Miller.
Fellow A’s fan Chris Giotta agrees. “ Somebody in Oakland that’s got a whole lot of money, and there’s a heck of a bunch of you guys out there, build that park at Jack London Square, and stop this,” Giotta says. “Do not let the A’s leave Oakland!”
Whatever happens in court, in Major League Baseball’s New York offices, or on the field, the A’s won’t be going anywhere for a while. The team’s negotiating a Coliseum lease extension through 2018. Maybe by that time, they’ll have found a reliable plumber.