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Field Of Dreams: The Ultimate Gamble

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“Sorry we couldn’t quote one of your movies, Bill.”
Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

“If you build it, they will come.” This line is not from a Pierce Brosnan movie where the protagonist, captivated by the breath-taking beauty of Yosemite, walks into forbidden regions and leaves with multiple citations. “Bond,” the protagonist coolly proclaims. “Bail bond!”

No, this movie centers around the premise that if you build the ballpark, teams and fans will follow. Just put the horse before the cart and sit back while fate charts its course. And if you have a couple billion dollars sitting around burning a hole in your rather large pocket, really why not?

Enter Joe Lacob, cast in my fantasy movie as a gambler to match all gamblers. Here’s a “what if” that’s so crazy it just might work — so long as Lacob is willing to push all his chips to the center before knowing exactly what hand he has or even which game he is playing.

Here’s the premise: just build a stadium in Oakland as if the A’s are staying, and hope that in the process you are helping to make it so. Lacob has not one but two options. There’s the Howard Terminal site that has cleared key hurdles, gained support of city officials, and secured more than enough grant money, to get the project off the ground right now. Alternately, there’s the “quick and easy” rebuild on the Coliseum site that always could have been completed within 2 years of starting because it is already zoned, permitted, and ready for building.

The idea is that you are creating two true “parallel paths”: You are building a home for a big league baseball team that you hope will be the Oakland A’s, while the Clown & Klown show that is Fisher and Kaval are bumbling their way to trying to build a stadium in Las Vegas despite having too little land, too little money, and even less business acumen.

You build in Oakland gambling that at some point between now and 2028 something is going to go terribly wrong in Las Vegas. Perhaps it’s as soon as 2024, such as the chance that step 1, Bally’s tearing down its casino to make room for the stadium, stalls because the presence of asbestos leaves the demolition cost too high and no one can agree who will pay for the actual price tag. Or when a billionaire with actual capital tells Las Vegas, “I can build this thing in a year but it will have nothing to do with baseball, just concerts,” and Las Vegas says, “That’s all we really ever wanted!” and tells the A’s to take a hike.

Maybe it’s 2025, when a referendum vote could just have passed that renders the essential $380M of public money not eligible to support the cost of building a stadium. Or when the A’s still have nowhere to play host for the next 3 seasons and the mayor just won’t budge on extending the Coliseum lease. Perhaps it’s 2026, when the projected $1.5B meets reality and a new estimate comes out which starts with a “2”. Or maybe it’s 2027, when Fisher runs out of money, can’t pay the next invoice and construction screeches to a halt.

Right now none of these things have happened, but the time to start building a stadium in Oakland is now. Now because Mayor Sheng Thao is all in to make it happen and now because you want the stadium to be ready when the proverbial s*** hits the fan. So that your response to trouble in paradise isn’t “We’ll build one” but rather “We have one.”

So you start building a beautiful new stadium, either at Howard Terminal or the Coliseum, just going about your business as if “they will come”. And you make it so because one fine day, in 2024, or 2025, or 2026, or 2027, things go terribly sideways in Vegas and suddenly — well, only suddenly to those who listened to flapping gums instead of studying the facts — you have the opportunity to announce, “Well here’s the darndest thing...”

Now this may seem far fetched and it is, in that rarely do billionaires put up a couple of those billion on a gamble or a hunch. But here’s the remarkable thing: this gamble only really requires one thing to happen and that is that things go sideways, at some point, in Vegas over the next 4 years.

Because if they do you not only have on its way a beautiful new stadium, one that is being built precisely for a major league baseball team, more specifically for the Oakland A’s, but you have a mayor who says, “Until that stadium is ready the A’s can play at the Coliseum.” And if Vegas goes south, with the A’s not having even begun conversations anywhere else, a brand new stadium on its way and a place to call home in the meantime, becomes — even in the eyes of a Manfred or a Fisher — the best option when it’s really the only option.

So you’re Joe Lacob, betting on Vegas to implode and Fisher to be forced to sell to you and the “parallel path” you broke ground on with real money and a real plan. What if you’re wrong and the A’s somehow make it all work at the Tropicana site?

Your fallback plan becomes to try to bring the next expansion team to Oakland’s new ballpark, with the leg up of having a stadium to go with the media market and the track record as a “willing to spend, committed to winning” owner of the Warriors.

Really, though, you’re betting on the failure of an owner who has put all his eggs into one basket and then realized that the only basket he can afford is a wet paper bag. If you’ve ever carried too many groceries in a bag whose bottom is straining from the weight, you know that it’s not a matter of if all the groceries are going to come crashing to the ground, but rather when.

If you’re Lacob here, you’re not wondering if things will go south in Vegas in one of the years 2024-2027. You’re just wondering which year it’s going to be. And whichever one it is, whatever derails the project and plan, the ending is the same: I built it. They came.

In the words of Clint Eastwood, from a whole ‘nother movie: “Ask yourself: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?”