You keep staring at the flaws and kinks and oddities until your eyeballs start to burn, as if happening upon a nuclear waste site. Most stadiums have a wow factor in these advanced architectural times. O.co Coliseum has a WTF factor, a hold-the-nose component even when the sewage isn't overflowing.
How did a ballpark that once was so cool become so damned cold? Could there be a darker, more depressing entrance to a sports venue than the back of Mount Davis coming off the BART pedestrian bridge? Does Billy Beane really work his shrewd deals in an office across the way … inside Oracle Arena? Who knew a flashlight was necessary to navigate the corridors to the concession stands? Aren't the green upper-deck tarps sadder than the empty sections ever were?
And the configuration of the baseball field? What have they done to desecrate the game? Foul territory is wider than Kim Kardashian's tush. Some seats down the foul line are closer to Jack London Square than home plate. Across the Bay, the Giants proudly conduct $22 fan tours at gleaming AT&T Park — “baseball's perfect address,” as the team calls it. The A's have to beg any “interested media” to show off new scoreboards and ribbon boards that other parks had years ago. Aesthetically, the Coliseum is an ode to concrete, concrete and more concrete — and a symbol of what happens when politics and greed ravage a view that used to be quite lovely, back when the Oakland hills rolled high beyond the outfield.
This is written not to pick on the place but as a call for help. I happen to like the A's and admire how they've continued to reach postseasons despite limited means. I happen to be a fan of Beane, who has accomplished more with scant budgets than industry detractors — and there are many — who get little done with larger resources. The legacy is “Moneyball,” but given the state of the Coliseum, isn't “Major League” really the operative Hollywood theme?
Still, don't make the mistake of thinking Lew Wolff is Rachel Phelps. In the movie, Phelps wanted to finish in last place so she could move the franchise out of Cleveland. Wolff just wants a new stadium built in the Bay Area, and this week, after being burned for several years by a lollygagging Bud Selig — who only was his fraternity brother at the University of Wisconsin — the team's co-owner finally is vowing to stop chasing San Jose and other options so he can focus on a future in Oakland. That's right, Wolff is taking the high road this time, unlike his alma mater's basketball coach.
“We are going to be here for a lot longer than anyone thinks,” he told KPIX (Ch. 5). “Every article I read says I can't wait to move to San Jose, and that's not true. What I can't wait for is a new venue.”
The A's are worth saving. If Beane can achieve what he has in the Coliseum, imagine what he and his heir apparent, David Forst, might accomplish in a new baseball-only venue. Such a site would have been perfect in Silicon Valley, where tech money would have transformed the A's into a big-market franchise instead of their current lot as a small-revenue franchise in a big market. Perhaps gaining revenge for some toga party gone awry, Selig didn't help, preferring to protect baseball's antitrust exemption — question to Supreme Court: why is baseball, a fraudulent sport in the Steroids Era, still accorded these sacred advantages? — and allow the Giants to maintain what they claim are their territorial rights. Once Selig appointed one of his infamous blue-ribbon panels to study the situation six years ago, you knew it was going nowhere and that Wolff and A's ownership would have to fend for themselves.
But now, with the troubled Raiders considering a return to Southern California, there is legitimate hope the A's will be the last franchise standing in Oakland. Forget the idea of two new stadiums in a Coliseum City complex; the area isn't large enough to accommodate both. And at some point, the new mayor, Libby Schaaf, will come to her senses and realize 81 home baseball dates (plus the playoffs) every year is smarter city business than eight home NFL dates (and no playoffs). In no political scenario should the Raiders, who are abysmal on the field and saddled with a polarizing identity crisis, be favored over the A's, who are pursuing their fourth consecutive postseason berth. Who cares if the Raiders personify the grit of the Black Hole? That is not an image that works anymore, as the NFL knows, and with owner Mark Davis showing no wherewithal to fix lowly results and front-office mismanagement, the Raiders may as well take their eyepatches to Carson.
At least Selig's successor, Rob Manfred, is involved. When he visited A's camp in Arizona last month, he said, “When I think about the five longer-term issues that I feel need to be resolved, the stadium situation for the A's is right at the top of that list. I've talked to Lew extensively. I've had conversations with the new mayor, and [I'm] really focused on finding a solution.” The problem is that Wolff, without San Jose or Santa Clara or any viable local option, doesn't have leverage upon which to threaten Oakland. He is finished with the San Jose fight, telling the TV station, “It's not worth a nasty battle, in my opinion.” As for a city beyond the Bay Area, where? Las Vegas? If the NHL is headed there, might Wolff consider it if he strikes out again in the East Bay? Oakland said it isn't paying a penny for anyone's stadium, understandable with so many issues in the city. Maybe there can be a 80-20 compromise. Or 90-10. Lew?
“We are open for a deal to get us a new venue,” he repeats. “Whether we build it here or there or Mars.”
The Mars A's. Damn, if only Rickey Henderson were still around.
With the Giants and their aging starting rotation seemingly headed for a tumble, the A's could be the hotter story all season. Sonny Gray nearly stole headlines from Madison Bumgarner and the Champs on Opening Night, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning and nearly joining Bob Feller as the only pitchers to throw no-nos on the season's first day. This remains a serious operation, despite Beane's radical offseason roster overhaul. He went all-in last summer in acquiring Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija and trying to win his elusive World Series. When the idea flopped — the offense went flat without Yoenis Cespedes — Beane responded to the heartache with a crazy series of salary dumps that returned the A's to their usual underdog place. We've learned not to doubt him, and, if nothing else, it will be fascinating to see if the latest plan works with classic Beane finds such as Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist and Billy Butler, not to mention talented young pitchers and a local kid, Marcus Semien, at shortstop.
For every Neiman Marcus, there must be a Target. If the average cost of a Giants ticket has soared to $33.78, the A's are more affordable at $24. They can be here for generations to come, connected to millions by a rapid transit stop, if the Oakland people simply would accept Wolff's olive branch and hammer out a deal with him.
This should be done for no other reason than to give Billy Beane an office he deserves, one that isn't inside a basketball arena. Build him a statue while they're at it.