The A’s will be a mystery to Japanese fans when they open the regular season against the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo this week. But then, they’ll also be a mystery to Oakland fans when they have their opener at the Coliseum on April 6. We know only one thing: They won’t be contenders.
In the 2000-2006 period, the A’s were in the playoffs five seasons, had two seasons with more than 100 wins and set an American League record with 20 straight wins in 2002.
Then, Lew Wolff and John Fisher bought the team. They inherited the 2006 team from Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann, but since then, there’s been one team which finished at .500 and four others which finished below .500. None have been contenders.
Wolff likes to blame the stadium, but the Tampa Bay Rays, who have an even worse stadium and are in a division with the powerhouse New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, have been in the playoffs three times in that period, once in the World Series, and have been in the playoffs the past two seasons.
The difference? The Rays have continued to invest in their farm system, so they keep bringing up good young players. A’s general manager Billy Beane admitted the obvious after last season, that the A’s minor-league system had fallen far behind, and he had to trade his two top starters and his closer to get prospects from other teams.
Wolff, who has never stopped trying to move the team to San Jose, had his PR department put out a release recently saying that then-A’s owner Walter Haas had given the territorial rights to the area in 1990 to Giants owner Bob Lurie, so Lurie could try to get a park built there. (Two proposals were voted down.)
But you can’t give away something you don’t possess. Neither team had territorial rights then. The current Giants’ rights stem from the negotiations by the current ownership in late 1992 to buy the team from Lurie, who had a conditional agreement with Tampa Bay businessmen.
I followed that situation closely, talking to all the principal players, from Walter Shorenstein on down. I covered the National League meeting in St. Louis which was ostensibly to approve the sale to Tampa Bay, but during which league president Bill White delayed, so the San Francisco group could get everything in place. While I was there, I talked with White and league owners.
From that, I learned that MLB would require the new owners to get a new park built. In return, the Giants would get territorial rights to the Peninsula and San Jose-Santa Clara. The Giants fulfilled their part of that bargain. Now, they’re holding MLB to their commitment.
This year, the A’s have agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract for Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes, who should be a good attraction, but they’re still short of power, and who knows what their pitching will be like.
Meanwhile, despite all the bluster from San Jose, the A’s will remain in Oakland. Don’t feel sorry for Wolff and Fisher. They’ve made money every year because of revenue sharing. It’s only the fans who have been shortchanged.