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MLB instructs Oakland A’s to explore relocation options amid slow progress on ballpark

Rooted In Howard Terminal

Orange County Register Archive Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

We’ve reached the point in the Oakland A’s ballpark project cycle where the threat of relocation gets floated, and just like everything else in this latest iteration of the team’s recurring storyline, this time it feels slightly more real.

Major League Baseball has “instructed the Athletics to explore other markets” amid their ongoing quest for a new ballpark at Howard Terminal, per a league statement on Tuesday, first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN.

The full statement makes clear that the league doesn’t see the current Coliseum site as a “viable option” moving forward:

“MLB is concerned with the rate of progress on the A’s new ballpark effort with local officials and other stakeholders in Oakland. The A’s have worked very hard to advance a new ballpark in downtown Oakland for the last four years, investing significant resources while facing multiple roadblocks. We know they remain deeply committed to succeeding in Oakland, and with two other sports franchises recently leaving the community, their commitment to Oakland is now more important than ever.

“The Oakland Coliseum site is not a viable option for the future vision of baseball. We have instructed the Athletics to begin to explore other markets while they continue to pursue a waterfront ballpark in Oakland. The Athletics need a new ballpark to remain competitive, so it is now in our best interest to also consider other markets.”

A’s team owner John Fisher also made a statement, per Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle:

“The future success of the A’s depends on a new ballpark. Oakland is a great baseball town, and we will continue to pursue our waterfront ballpark project. We will also follow MLB’s direction to explore other markets.”

And finally, the team itself sent the following email to fans:

A’s Fan,

Today, Major League Baseball instructed the A’s to begin exploring other markets while we continue to pursue the Oakland waterfront ballpark project. This is not an easy directive for our fans to hear. We believe in the vision we have presented for a waterfront ballpark; it is a project that will create jobs, housing, open parks, and countless community benefits for Oakland residents, and it will set the stage for more World Series titles for our fans. After four years of work, MLB is concerned with the rate of progress with local officials and other stakeholders on our new ballpark efforts. The time is here for a decision on our future, and it is unclear to us and MLB whether there is a path to success for the A’s in Oakland.

A new ballpark is needed for the A’s continued success. We agree with MLB’s position that the Coliseum location is not a viable option for the future of the franchise. While we remain committed to succeeding in Oakland and will continue to work toward our waterfront ballpark, we will also follow MLB’s direction and immediately begin the process of exploring a new home for the A’s.

Please know that one of our top priorities is continuing to create the best experience possible for our fans this season and beyond. We have the best fans in baseball. Your passion for this franchise is truly unmatched, and we are deeply grateful for your continued support of our organization.

Play ball,

Dave Kaval

After multiple unsuccessful attempts at building a new stadium in the Bay Area, the A’s unveiled plans for a new waterfront park at Howard Terminal in Nov. 2018, with a goal of opening in 2023. We’re now partway through 2021, and progress has not kept up with that timeline, between opposition obstacles, political complications, and further effects from the coronavirus pandemic.

In February, the City of Oakland released a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the project, a major step we hadn’t seen in previous ballpark pursuits. But by the end of April the team was still waiting for the city council to take a vote on their proposal, and the city reacted negatively to pressure. While the stadium itself would be privately financed, the overall project would include public contribution from taxpayers.

If moving does become the next step, then Passan suggests Las Vegas as the likeliest destination, while noting that MLB has also considered cities including Portland, Vancouver, Nashville, Charlotte, and Montreal.

Analysis: Now the whole thing comes to a head. We’ve seen ballpark plans before, and periodically we hear the idea of relocation floated. None of this is new in concept.

But this current project, while far from complete, has made it further than any of the past ones, and exploring relocation is usually more of a talk-show topic and has now advanced to the level of an official league directive. Could they actually leave? That depends what you think the chances are of Howard Terminal working out. If that plan falls through, then maybe the conversation actually starts about the VegA’s.

An alternate headline for today could be, MLB tells Oakland City Council to take a vote already. If they’re gonna do this thing, then get on with it. If they’re not gonna play ball, and they’re willing to let their third and final pro sports franchise walk away in the span of less than a decade following the Warriors and Raiders, then get on with that. But no more sitting around thinking about it while the 55-year-old Coliseum continues to fall apart, and no more blue-ribbon committees.

Meanwhile, the first-place A’s open a series in Fenway Park tonight against the Boston Red Sox, if anyone is interested.