Author: Benjamin Hoffman
Publish date: 2023-05-26 10:10:39
It was announced this week that the Athletics, at long last, had come to an agreement with a group of politicians to build a new stadium for the club, which has been stuck in an outdated facility for years.
If that sounds familiar, it is because the same situation, with the same reasoning, has been playing out for more than 100 years. The Athletics, a vagabond franchise that originally hailed from Philadelphia before moving to Kansas City, Mo., and then Oakland, Calif., have never seemed content with where they were.
From a stadium limited by prohibitive blue laws in Philadelphia to a hastily rebuilt minor league park in Kansas City to a Brutalist concrete palace in Oakland, they have always had their eye out for something better. They explored Denver, they poked at San Jose and Fremont, they had multiple sites picked out in Oakland. But now, in an agreement announced by Nevada’s governor that still faces several hurdles, they want to build a stadium on the Las Vegas Strip that would theoretically be ready for the 2027 season.
It is a situation causing optimism in Vegas, heartbreak in Oakland and undoubtedly some eye-rolling everywhere else. The A’s, with nine World Series titles and 17 100-loss seasons, have seemingly been on the verge of a move for most of their existence.
“It’s possible that a relocation vote could happen as early as June,” Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters on Thursday when asked about the Las Vegas deal. But in keeping with how far the plan has to go, and how much it has already changed in the last few weeks, he cited a previous location for the stadium, rather than the team’s current plan to build on the site of the Tropicana Las Vegas.
The team’s reputation for restlessness is earned. The Athletics are tied with the Braves (Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta) and the Orioles (Milwaukee, St. Louis and Baltimore) for the most traveled franchises. But in a strange enough quirk, the A’s have had only four stadiums in their 123 seasons of play — fewer than all but a handful of teams.
Unfortunately for the A’s, none of their four parks would get confused for a classic like Boston’s Fenway Park or a modern marvel like the Rangers’ Globe Life Field.
A look at those four stadiums makes it clear why A’s have had a perpetual wandering eye.
1901-1908 | World Series titles: 0
Top Player: Eddie Plank, P, 51 wins above replacement
Built for a new team in a new league in which no one knew what to expect, Columbia Park was immediately too small. It had a capacity of 9,500, although more people watched from nearby rooftops. The team tinkered with it, but even at its peak it held fewer than 14,000 fans.
The stadium’s most notable moment, at least in terms of absurdity, came in the 1905 World Series when Connie Mack’s Athletics and John McGraw’s New York Giants conspired to fake a rainout to avoid playing to a sparse crowd.
As recounted in The New York Times, Game 3 was scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 11, but with a crowd of around 4,000 people, and pay for the clubs being entirely dependent on ticket sales, the managers agreed to pretend that a light drizzle earlier in the day had made the field unplayable. Sammy Strang, a utility player for the Giants, helped sell the ruse, with The Times saying, “A typical pantomime was that of Strang, who jumped under the stand, and, looking to the sky, stretched forth his arms and beckoned to the moisture to let itself fall.”
The gambit worked. The teams played Game 3 the next day, with a reported crowd of 10,991 that nearly tripled Wednesday’s gate.
The Athletics played three more forgettable years at Columbia and within a decade of them leaving, the stadium was torn down and replaced with housing.
1909-1954 | World Series titles: 5
Top Player: Lefty Grove, P, 68.4 WAR
Hoping to capitalize on his team’s popularity, Charles Shibe, the primary owner of the Athletics, built baseball’s first steel-and-concrete stadium, beating Fenway Park by three seasons and Wrigley Field by five. The decision paid off, with The Times reporting that Philadelphia’s first game of the 1909 season was attended by a record 30,162 fans. The Athletics led the A.L. in attendance for three straight years.
Shibe Park was home to some great teams, with the Athletics winning nine pennants and five World Series titles there, but ownership routinely cited the state’s restrictive blue laws for limiting their ability to play home games on Sundays, putting the club at a disadvantage to other teams. The team, desperate to raise money, also alienated fans by blocking the nearby rooftop bleachers with a 34-foot wall that was nicknamed Connie Mack’s Spite Fence.
As Shibe Park started to wear down, the Athletics never recovered from selling off the 1930 champions. They finished in last or second-to-last place 14 times in a 20-season period from 1935 to 1954, drawing only 304,666 fans in their last season in Philadelphia — fewer than they had in all but one of their seasons at tiny Columbia Park.
A fire was set in the stadium in 1971, destroying most of it. “Fire ravaged Connie Mack Stadium the other day,” Arthur Daley wrote in The Times, referring to Shibe under the name it used in its later years. “If nothing else, it lit some pleasant memories.”
The stadium’s famous corner tower, with Mack’s original office, was demolished in 1976. A church built a sanctuary on the site.
1955-1967 | World Series titles: 0
Top Player: Ed Charles, third base, 14.4 WAR
George E. Muehlebach deserves some credit for predicting that the stadium he built in 1923 for his minor league team, the Kansas City Blues, might one day be the home of a major league squad. In fact, it was all along: the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro leagues were tenants of the stadium. But with his eyes on a National or American League team, Muehlebach designed the stadium with large footings to allow for expansion. Unfortunately, when Arnold Johnson purchased the Athletics and moved the team to Kansas City in 1955, it was found that the footings, and nearly the entire stadium, needed to be rebuilt.
Cost overruns resulted in the stadium’s capacity being far lower than expected, and the park was barely ready when the season began.
The A’s finished sixth in their first season in Missouri and wouldn’t get that high again, ending their 13-season run there with a record of 829-1,224 and no postseason appearances. Attendance at Municipal Stadium was in the A.L.’s bottom three in all but one of the team’s seasons.
It wasn’t all bad. Charlie O. Finley bought the team in 1960 and, amid various shenanigans, he presided over an incredible accumulation of talent, with the Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter beginning their careers in Kansas City.
The stadium was demolished in 1976. A garden with a plaque sits on the old site, surrounded by a housing development.
1968-Present | World Series titles: 4
Top Player: Rickey Henderson, left field, 72.7 WAR
Built in the multipurpose stadium craze of the 1960s, Oakland Coliseum was quirky from the start. Its circular design gave the Coliseum by far the most foul territory in baseball. It was dug into a hill, putting its playing surface 21 feet below sea level. Feral cats, leaking sewage and a possum that lives in one of the television booths wouldn’t come along until later.
The A’s had multiple eras of dominance in the park, winning three straight World Series titles in the 1970s and going to the Series in three straight years from 1988 to 1990 (winning once), but attendance varied wildly, dropping as low as 306,763 (3,787 per game) in 1979 and reaching a peak of 2.9 million (35,805 per game) in 1990.
Unpopular changes to the stadium at the behest of the Oakland Raiders of the N.F.L. made a boring stadium incongruous and ugly. The maintenance of the park became unmanageable, and the team’s various owners consistently complained about the lack of amenities.
An aggressive sell-off of promising players over the last few years, combined with the team’s obvious preference for Las Vegas, resulted in a huge fan backlash. The team averaged only 9,849 fans a game last season, and things are even worse this year, at 8,695. It doesn’t help that the team, at 10-42 through Thursday, was on pace for the worst record of baseball’s modern era.
With the Raiders already having left for Las Vegas, the Golden State Warriors having moved to San Francisco and the A’s lease expiring after the 2024 season, the Coliseum complex may soon have no permanent tenants. It would then very likely be consigned to a similar fate as the A’s three previous parks, none of which left more than a plaque to remember them by.