When you are a baseball fan, spring is a time of hope and delusion. This year, if you are an Oakland A's fan, you can imagine that the A's will be fun to watch, if not a contender against the loaded Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Despite a fire sale of pitchers over the winter, there are still some creditable arms, and the acquisition of Manny Ramirez (who will be available after he serves his most recent 50-game drug suspension) and Cuban refugee Yoenis Cespedes, who homered in his first exhibition game, could provide some pop.
I am looking forward to our season ticket draft and to going to some games. Unfortunately, after a concerted five-year campaign by the existing owners to degrade the experience at the Oakland Coliseum and discourage people from attending, I will be pretty lonely and feeling a bit like a chump.
Attendance has declined every year under the present ownership of John Fisher and front man Lew Wolff. During the five years before Fisher-Wolff bought the A's, the average annual attendance was about 2.1 million. The average of about 26,000 a game was in the middle of the pack in the American League.
Since 2006, the first year of the present ownership, attendance has declined steadily to under 1.5 million or about 18,000 a game, many of whom to my eye were dressed as empty seats. Attendance was last in the A.L. in 2009 and 2011 and second to last in 2010.
It is a sorry situation. Fans are depressed and determined, not happy and hopeful. there are few young people, as there are at AT&T.
Wolff has made a career of saying that baseball cannot succeed in the Coliseum. This, along with the failure of the ownership to invest in the plant, has been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such gloom is wrong and I am going to discuss the myths and the solvable problems. I have some basis for an opinion as I have been attending regularly since 1972.
Myth No. 1: "The modifications of the stadium for the Raiders have made it worse for baseball." This is 100% nonsense, propagated by people who have drunk the ownership's (and the Giants') Kool-Aid. The most annoying to me is Peter Gammons, who was fond of badmouthing the Coliseum during his sporadic Friday morning calls on KNBR. The true fact is that the large football seating structure in the outfield blocks the wind and raises the cool nighttime temperature. The supposedly wonderful former view that is now blocked by "Mount Davis" was totally uninteresting: nothing to see at night and a hazy view of scarred East Bay hills in the daytime. No one noticed this vision until it became fashionable to complain that it was gone. The jagged shape of the outfield wall causes interesting plays and the individual outfield seats are higher and better. The only real problem is that the A's sell boxes in the outfield from which one needs a TV to follow the game.
Solvable Problem #3: Lousy scoreboard. The scoreboard is fifteen years old and not up to snuff. We have all been to AT&T and know this. The pictures are not HD and they are too small. It would be better if they were not situated for football, but the main problem is that they are archaic. Minor league all the way.
*updated to reflect 2011 numbers from Forbes.
Follow Stephen Kaus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stephenkaus