Everybody Has A Hand In Athletics Rotten Attendance

Two weeks ago, Matt Chapman, third baseman for the then-AL-West-leading Oakland Athletics pleaded with fans to come to the ballpark. “All the fans and support we can get, we’d really appreciate it.,” he told the television audience watching NBC Sports Bay Area after a game.

The attendance a week later? 11,579.

That’s fine for a USL Pro soccer match. Not so hot for a Major League Baseball team.

So what happened first in this diseased-chicken, sulfurous-smelling egg problem that is the A’s product on the field and A’s fan apathy off it?

First, there’s the problem of the San Francisco Giants, say A’s fans. The Giants arrived in the Bay Area a decade before the A’s arrived and people have never really embraced the uglier, cheaper little sister, unless, of course, she’s winning a pennant. Then maybe they’ll show up for her birthday party.

One problem with that argument: The Giants’ attendance has also been horrific at times over the years –pre-AT&T Park. How much were the Gigantes loved in August 26, 1975? All of 1,795 people showed up at Candlestick Park to witness the Giants/Expos. Not 17,950. 1,795.

It seems love in the Bay Area is fickle on both sides of the water.

There’s also the frugal factor. Even though there were three World Series wins in the early 1970’s, owner Charley Finley’s penny-squeezing nature allowed future hall-of-famers Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter to leave. The loss of star talent and the terrible play immediately following soured A’s fans who, rightly so, declined to reward a franchise that wasn’t trying to put a good team on the field.

That left Oakland with its first generation of really bad teams. Twelve years of bad teams, which were only briefly interrupted by Vida Blue’s struggles with cocaine and Billy Ball.

Billy Ball consisted of Rickey Henderson getting on base, stealing second and watching Billy Martin getting tossed out of a game every week or so. For a 10-year-old kid, it was great watching a grownup getting away with acting like a moron while being cheered in the process. Occasionally, there were wins and a playoff appearance in the strike-shortened season of 1981. Nice timing. Strikes always make the fans come out.

There’s also the roller coaster. General Manager Sandy Alderson arrived with statistics and a plan and they went on a run, won a World Series, too. But then it turned out that was tainted. Steroid king Jose Canseco (don’t forget twin brother Ozzie!) hit 40 bombs and swiped 40 bases while manager Tony LaRussa looked the other way (the ball was juiced!) But then came six years of wretchedness and another strike, the worst one ever. No World Series. Great for attendance.

There was also a .400 season in there, not someone hitting .400, the team winning .400.

Then came the Billy Beane years, which have consisted of more ‘roids, Jason and Jeremy Giambi and Miguel Tejada, and a nice eight-year run, but then a hangover with the Mitchell Report and an awful five-year drop off. Then, more acquisition of talent, two good years, then more jettisoning the best players in trades for wiffle balls and snow cone holders.

Up. Down. Up. Down. But, they haven’t been able to win a playoff series in the up years and the down years have been soooooo down.

There’s also the, “You aren’t trying. Why should I?” factor, known in some cities as, “rebuilding.” But the team never announced that it was. People don’t like being toyed with, or lied to. And that’s what the last three years have felt like. Josh Reddick? Gone. Josh Donaldson? Gone. Yoenis Cespedes? Gone. Why? Former owner Ziggy Wulf had a team payroll of $70 and a box of donuts. The fans knew the team could have been…should have been better. So why support a club that repeatedly tries to put the cheapest, best team on the field instead of just the best team on the field?

Of course, it’s not all on the ownership. Team attendance has never been great. Even in the best of years, attendance hit 2.3 million people. Last time the LA Dodgers drew that many? The strike year of 1994.

Moment of clarity: Maybe the A’s should move. Let’s get this straight. I don’t want them to move out of Oakland but the fan base, which is fickle at best, can’t seem to be bothered to turn out for team that’s been the best team in baseball since late June.

Back to the excuses: There’s also the need for a new park. “Need” being a word that my old editor would argue with. But, everyone says O.Co Coliseum is a dump and maybe they’re right. But the park itself is not atypical of most any other baseball park. Lotta concrete, T-shirts, carts, vendors and a giant upper deck that’s walled off with tarp named after a dead man. OK there’s a little bit of a difference. Still, the sight lines are good and the tickets are cheap.

Amazingly the A’s are actually saying they want to build a baseball stadium in Oakland which is kind of funny because one of the reasons everybody gives for not going is because the A’s share the stadium with the Oakland Raiders. But that’s going to be solved when the Raiders go to Las Vegas.

Question is, even if the A’s did move where would they go? Portland? Maybe San Antonio? Maybe Sacramento, which occasionally makes noise about bringing the A’s to town. Sure, that might work. Sacramento has the Giants AAA club. The A’s might draw…about as well as the Rivercats are drawing now.

Maybe there’s hope to stop these cycles. John J Fisher is Major League Baseball’s 15th richest owner. The A’s have been the hottest team in baseball. They have young pitchers, free-agent mashers, cheap tickets, and Fisher has pledged to build a stadium.

Hopefully it’s quick and hopefully the park is awesome and a draw during the inevitable down years the franchise will suffer.

The team needs something. Because so far, 50 years of history, four World Series titles, Reggie, Catfish, Rickey, Charlie, steroids, Billy, Al Davis, and bad news on trade day have added up to…11,579.

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