LAS VEGAS — It was 1955 and Walter O’Malley was looking for a solution to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn.
He offered the idea of building a domed stadium downtown, a couple of miles from Ebbets Field where ironically, a sports arena — the Barclays Center — now sits and is home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
The city of New York, through Robert Moses, commissioner of the planning commission, offered an alternative site — in Queens, in the proximity of where Citi Field, the current home of the New York Mets, resides.
We all know the outcome. After two years of failed negotiations with Moses and the city, O’Malley brokered a deal with officials in Los Angeles, moved the Dodgers to California for the 1958 season and eventually got his ballpark built in Chavez Ravine and opened in 1962.
Sixty-plus years later, Major League Baseball is watching history repeat itself. This time it’s the Oakland Athletics who have spent the past few years trying to get the city of Oakland to build them not only a new ballpark, but a multi-use project that includes shops, restaurants, bars, a hotel and residential housing. Price tag? Approximately $12 billion.
And while O’Malley tried to keep the Dodgers’ move to California hush-hush, John Fisher, the A’s current owner, has been an open book about his intentions. With team president David Kaval doing most of the legwork, he has been courting Las Vegas with the full written consent of Major League Baseball, to get Oakland to remain in love with his team and keep the marriage intact.
My opinion hasn’t changed since I wrote about this a couple of months ago. The A’s should stay in Oakland. There should be no public funding devoted to building a ballpark in Las Vegas. And if Fisher wants help, let him find some private investors, preferably ones that would allow the A’s to put a competitive ballclub on the field instead of the disgrace of a product they currently foist upon their dwindling yet loyal fan base in the Bay Area.
According to Spotrac, the A’s payroll at the end of last season was $48.44 million, second-lowest in all of baseball in front of Baltimore, which spent $44.88 million. The A’s projected payroll for this coming season is currently $37.9 million, the lowest in the majors. That’s less than the individual salaries of Mets pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon and slightly more than Angels outfielder Mike Trout.
There have been some developments in this sad money-grab of a saga since the calendar flipped 19 days ago. There’s a new mayor and city council in Oakland. Currently, there is no $182.9 million in grant money from the federal government’s Department of Transportation as part of a $320 million package the city was counting on to help fund the project for the infrastructure around the ballpark site at Howard Terminal, though the grant can be rewritten and resubmitted, which could ultimately get it approved.
Phil Ruffin, who owns Treasure Island Hotel-Casino on the Las Vegas Strip and owns the Las Vegas Festival Grounds near East Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, apparently is no longer engaging the A’s in talks to sell them the land to build a domed stadium on that site. That means unless the team pivots and Kaval decides to look elsewhere, the landing site for the Las Vegas A’s would be adjacent to the Tropicana Hotel and casino on East Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, smack dab in the middle of the resort corridor which has T-Mobile Arena, the MGM Grand Garden, Michelob Ultra Arena and Allegiant Stadium within its parameters.
It takes most fans who leave Golden Knights game a good 30-40 minutes to leave the various garages adjacent to T-Mobile Arena most nights. Can you imagine the congestion trying to park near an A’s stadium on the Strip and trying to leave after they play the Yankees or the Red Sox?
God help us.
But it may not come to that here in Las Vegas. My gut is telling me the A’s are staying in the Bay Area. Of course, I could be completely wrong and in three or four years I’m watching the A’s in their new Tropicana Ave. yard with a retractable roof. Yet if they were moving, why haven’t they done so? Why keep dragging this out for yet another year?
The Dodgers didn’t take this long to leave Brooklyn for Los Angeles. Neither did the Giants, who announced they were moving to San Francisco following the 1957 season, despite the pleas of fans holding up a sign at the dilapidated Polo Grounds saying “Stay Team Stay.”
Hey, business is business, the fans be damned. Of course, it took a couple of ballparks and 40-plus years for the Giants to get their accommodations right with the move to China Basin and they currently play in one of the best ballparks you’ll find anywhere (RIP Seals Stadium and Candlestick Park).
Obviously, business is a little more complicated in 2023 than it was in 1957. The Dodgers and Giants didn’t have to deal with a worldwide pandemic that hit the U.S. hard the way the A’s did which set the project back a couple of years. Inflation also has crept its way into the situation so the city has to get creative to come up with its share of the loot for the project along with Fisher and the A’s as the cost of construction will undoubtedly go up.
Still, you can’t help but wonder where is this all leading to? The A’s have turned being coy into a true art form and the politicians in Oakland must be wondering if this is worth all the ups and downs on this roller coaster ride the baseball team has taken them on for the past six, seven years. Does there come a point where Sheng Thao, the new Oakland mayor, and her city council, just cut bait from everything and let the A’s do whatever they decide to do? They must feel like they’ve been played for chumps for the past few years and there doesn’t appear to be a Robert Moses in Oakland that can tell the A’s: “Here’s the deal, take it or leave it.”
Who’s to say the new city council and mayor are going to honor the commitments made to the A’s by former mayor Libby Schaaf and her council? Perhaps they do. But maybe they don’t. Maybe everything gets re-negotiated.
Let’s remember the A’s have been seeking a new home for quite a while, going back to the 1990s. Former owner Lew Wolff was looking to San Jose and Fremont as potential landing sites to build a new ballpark. But for whatever reason — financial, political, environmental — it never got done. The A’s are still in a subpar facility in Oakland and they still don’t have a deal yet that’s signed to allow them to move.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said this can’t continue, that a decision on the A’s must be made once and for all. The team’s lease at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland expires after the 2024 season so there is enough urgency to get this resolved. Whether the A’s stay in Oakland, move to Vegas, or some other locale (Hello, Nashville?), it’s time for the merry-go-round to stop. Enough is enough. Make a decision, one way or the other.
Brooklyn survived without the Dodgers. Upper Manhattan learned to live without the Giants. I’m sure the East Bay and Oakland can continue to exist with or without its baseball team, though I hope the A’s will stay put.
I guess we’ll have to continue to wait to find out if that’s the case.