The ownership of the Oakland Athletics does not really want fans to come to the ballpark. There is no other way to explain the systematic downgrading of the experience of attending a game and the As' refusal to provide the amenities that fans of every other team take for granted.
Since they came to Oakland in 1968, the Athletics have won four World Championships, have been in two other World Series and have been in the playoffs several more times. During the late 1980s, when the Bash Brothers As were in three straight World Series and four straight playoffs, attendance was over 2.5 million for three straight years and over 2 million for six straight years.
No one ever confused the Oakland Coliseum with Fenway Park, but it became an enjoyable place to watch a game. In 1983, Roger Angell described it in glowing terms in a New Yorker article about baseball in Oakland. The As led the way in the Bay Area with varied food, particularly Saag's sausages, that was way ahead of the rival Giants' offerings at Candlestick Park.
But then, In 1995, after the death of owner Walter Haas, the team passed to some local home builders and then to Lew Wolff, a hotelier who is the present owner. Lew Wolff does not want to own a team in Oakland, home of the Bloods and the Crips and police murders. He wants to own a team in San Jose, gateway to Silicon Valley.
So while making a passable effort to put a decent team on the field, Mr. Wolfe has set about to publicly denigrate baseball at the Coliseum and is apparently happy to have the ballpark fall down around everyone's ears. He called the stadium "despicable" when he bought the team, even as he claimed to want to stay in Oakland, and has continued to bad mouth it and let it rot ever since.
Wolff shows nothing but contempt for Oakland's present fans as he eyes the golden wallets of Santa Clara County. The Coliseum has always been a mass of grey concrete (Sal Bando called it the Mausoleum), but there were TV screens at the concession stands and reasonably modern scoreboards. No longer. The TVs are few and far between and you cannot see the field while you wait. Combined with the indifferent "service" from the food servers, you can stand in line for two claustrophobic innings and not see a pitch or even hear a broadcast.
And the food is awful, particularly in comparison to the offerings at AT&T Park across the Bay. It is embarrassing to bring a Giants fan to a game. The staple is doughy hot dogs wrapped in tin foil. There are some specialty foods, but they taste like rubber. The only bright spot is some decent beer.
All the while, Wolff denigrates the place and drives people away. Recently, in a press release, he referred to the Coliseum as "an aging and shared facility" and provided the following upbeat description of baseball in Oakland:
We understand the facility continues to cost the city of Oakland and Alameda County millions of lost dollars per year. Sadly, the business and corporate base of the city of Oakland was very limited when we purchased the team and has eroded since. Our attendance and low number of season ticket holders (both one of the lowest in Major League Baseball) also continues to decline; even when our on-field performance produced play-off participation.
Of course, the As have been nowhere near the playoffs the past two years, but the fact is that if the As put a little effort into the ballpark, maybe got on a radio station that fans actually could hear and cultivated the fans in the entire East Bay, including prosperous Contra Cost County immediately to the east, this team could be a success. This would require investing money in a stadium that is owned by Alameda County, but the As rent it for peanuts and could put a shekel or two into the place.
Don't get me wrong, Oakland officials, and particularly former mayor and life-long baseball hater Jerry Brown, have a lot for which to answer. But Lew Wolff is the one who is destroying Oakland baseball right now.
(UPDATE: Ray Ratto in the S.F. Chronicle tells Wolff that a vow of silence should last more than a week)
Soon we will be back to the days of Charlie Finley, who owned the team for five straight playoffs and three straight World Championships. He had a bare bones staff and offered a total lack of amenities. In 1974, the year of the As third straight World Series victory, the total attendance was 845,693.
It will be difficult for Wolff to reach this goal, but if he fails, it will not be for lack of effort. Not a fun day at the ballpark
Photos by Stephen Kaus