Hi there! It’s been a very long time since I’ve written a front page story for AN. So you might not even remember me at this point, but I’m the founder of this little blog. I started this site on November 6, 2003. This November, this site will celebrate 20 years in existence and I was actually really looking forward to it. I planned on reaching out to the A’s and asking for something similar to what I did when the site turned 10 years old (I’m trying to find the celebration video we did back in 2013 but it’s been challenging - I may edit to include it later). That will no longer happen.
As of today, I’m no longer an A’s fan. I truly never thought I would get to this point, considering I was about as diehard as they come with regards to my baseball team. But this is what A’s owner John Fisher and henchman Dave Kaval wanted, so here we are. It’s been a long, slow and painful death march to get to this point and I’ve waffled between all the stages of grief since I saw the news on Twitter last night. I’ve been angry. I’ve been in denial. I’ve shed tears. Though I still haven’t found the acceptance portion yet. That may come by the end of this post.
Starting Athletics Nation was one of the greatest joys of my life and led to the creation of SB Nation which eventually spun into the digital media behemoth Vox Media. But when I started AN, I had the naive view, I suppose that the Oakland A’s would be forever. Pledging my love for a professional sports franchise so publicly, so fervently had no risk whatsoever because even though the A’s have always been a transient franchise (everyone remember they started in Philadelphia and moved to Kansas City before Charlie Finley moved them to Oakland), they had found their forever city. Los Angeles and San Francisco also scored their teams from the East Coast and look at them now? Could baseball ever exist without the LA Dodgers and the SF Giants? Doubtful.
I viewed the stadium issue as the one thing standing between the A’s and immortally Oakland. Turns out the Oakland A’s were very, very mortal. They will now be the Las Vegas A’s, transforming from quirky, plucky, left field drummers, white shoes, a mule for a mascot (bad choice, Charlie), mustaches, the Bash Brothers, the Big Three, Rock Star G, Miggy, massive foul territory, dollar dogs for soulless, retractable roofed, gambling-hangover-addled crowd, mostly made up of out-of-towners who want to see the Yankees or Red Sox or Mets when they go on vacation to play the slot machines and blackjack table. Maybe it’s a win for the rest of the country who have been itching for that trip to the desert to take their chance with lady luck. Canadians fly into Vegas, catch the Jays and Las Vegas A’s during the day with the roof closed (it will likely be 118 degrees that day - remember the Raiders play during the fall season, not in the heat of summer) and then play five-card draw all night. The A’s might’ve been rooted in Oakland, but turns out those roots were never firmly in the ground. Twas easy enough to tug that tree, knock it over and put it on a Mayflower moving van and set up shop in a terrarium in Vegas.
I grew up in Boston and much to my father’s chagrin, I never rooted for the home team. I had four brothers, one of whom wasn’t really a “sports” guy, but the older three all just LIVED for Boston sports. Roger Clemens was a walking god to them when I was a kid. Ray Bourque, the Bruins defenseman, was going to bring a Cup to Boston. I always viewed sports fandom as a choice, not something you were born into. I hated baseball growing up as I played football mostly and a little hockey (I was a terrible skater despite all the lessons). Baseball to me was boring, slow, hot and Fenway was old and decrepit. I didn’t buy into the Boston was the greatest city in the world thing. I figured I’d barely seen any of the world, how can I just make that declaration with any sense of certainty? So I decided I would choose my teams I would follow. I essentially picked teams based on uniforms, mostly. My Dad split a partial season ticket plan to Fenway with his brother so he took me on occasion. We wound up seeing the Oakland A’s in person a few times. I loved watching Jose Canseco play baseball. He played it like a football player in a baseball uni. He made a huge baseball bat look like a toothpick the way he would wave it around so effortlessly (we later found out why). I kind of half watched the A’s from a distance. It was much tougher to be an out of market fan back when I grew up.
Yet I persisted and when I moved to Sacramento in 2000, my friend Markos suggested we take in an A’s game. Remembering my love for Canseco and those beautiful uniforms back in the day, I agreed. Turns out it happened to be fan appreciation night at the Coliseum against the Yankees. We bought nosebleeds in the third deck for like $26 each (don’t remember the exact amount), but the game was one of the most intense sporting events I’ve attended (eventually surpassed this year by a November regular season hockey game but I’ll spare you those details), ending in Jason Giambi hitting a walk-off home run against Mike Stanton. I was instantly hooked in a way that drove me to obsession. I began going to as many A’s games as the I-80 would allow and a still somewhat young marriage would allow. I talked my wife’s ear off about the team, changes they should make, trades, etc. And then Moneyball released and it took an already unhealthy obsession to Defcon-1. The codes had been entered and the Cold War between my free time and seeking out coverage of the Oakland Athletics had gone nuclear. But I found they were a second-rate team in the Bay Area. Sports talk radio ignored them. Newspapers barely acknowledged there was a team there, outside of the outstanding Susan Slusser.
Eventually my buddy Markos, probably tired of hearing me talk about the A’s and also have an ulterior motive of starting a sports company, suggested I start a blog. He had a tech platform that he could eventually lend me if I liked doing it. I loved writing. I had a background in sports journalism, covering hockey for independent magazines and high school sports for the Orange County Register as my first job out of college, so I jumped in with a test blog on Typepad. It was essentially a Blogger competitor but they gave you a free trial month. I did it for a month, fell in love with writing on the Internet and then started AN in 2003.
The site took off pretty damn quickly. Way more quickly than I could’ve imagined. Turns out that I wasn’t the only A’s fan that wanted to obsess over the team 24/7/365. The audience was there and wanted to talk A’s whether it was the season...or the offseason. Actually more people landed on the site during the offseason because sports was an obsession whether your team happened to be playing games or not. In fact, many people are more obsessed with their team during what I call “hope time” which is when the product isn’t actually proving itself during games. Every sports-crazed fanatic believes their team can make some savvy moves and be right in the thick of a championship because even though I never followed my Dad’s Bostonian teams, he did teach me one essential fact to sports fandom that I’ve carried with me to this day. You live and die with your team through good times and bad because the bad times can make the good times sooooo much more rewarding.
But this is where I draw the line. The A’s have slowly and methodically worked to kill my love of baseball. I interviewed Lew Wolff in my home in Orange way back in 2005. I was very hopeful, perhaps very naively so, that Wolff would eventually get the A’s the new stadium they long desired. San Jose, Fremont, wherever, it just needed to be in the Bay Area in California. Obviously that eventually fizzled out and Wolff did his best to start the alienation of A’s fans, with the tarping of the third deck that so many people loved and was where I sat for my first A’s experience live in Oakland. I tried hard to see the logic in it all, believing fundamentally that Wolff was doing what he could to make the team viable in the Bay Area. He did complain to me loudly and often about the problems with getting things built in California, but I always figured smart and driven rich men who understood real estate would eventually succeed. I believed, again, naively, that when there was truly a will, there would be a way.
And then Wolff eventually stepped aside for Fisher and hired assassin Dave Kaval, who was beloved when he first entered the chat. The belief was that Kaval would eventually figure this stuff out because he was smart, driven and said a lot of right things publicly. The Rooted in Oakland campaign appeared like a genuine effort to make it happen. The Laney College efforts appeared real. But those also eventually got shuttered like Fremont and San Jose long before that.
And Howard Terminal appeared like it would eventually happen. The City had the motive, the leadership in Mayor Libby Schaaf and the will to stop Oakland from losing a third sports franchise. The timing, the lawsuits, the public outcry from people not wanting to subsidize billionaires play toys, it was just all too much. Eventually Schaaf’s time as mayor was up, the will appeared to fizzle, Kaval went into hiding and the momentum had grinded to an unceremonious halt. The Oakland A’s, proud owner of four championships in the Bay Area, three of which when I was under three years old, would eventually become a thing of the past.
The team on the field should’ve sent the message to all the fans that this was a full-blown, Major League-movie-style mess that was firmly making an effort to get the squad relocated. Don’t know if Kaval or Fisher was playing the part of the owner, but don’t know if I even want to think about it, to be honest.
For me, the last straw was Matt Olson getting traded to the Braves. I’d seen Billy Beane do teardowns before but I just wasn’t convinced the team would come back from this one. Olson was so young, so good and I was tired of only having my favorite players for just a few short years. The timetable on the teardowns had been accelerated and my passion waned.
Beane was and still remains a hero of mine. I wonder how he feels about all of this. He loves the Bay Area. He loved his home there. He loved the lifestyle, the casual nature of the A’s and the challenge of building a team with a limited payroll. It was something I loved about rooting for this team. His uncanny ability to reload on the fly. Find value where others didn’t. And to make a team just good enough to keep us all fully invested. He was also so good to me, personally, that my love for the team became fully merged with my appreciation for someone who became a close friend of mine. He appeared at AN Day in 2006, sitting alongside the legendary Ken Korach, to field questions from AN readership in the club level of the stadium. It was a highlight of my life. My daughter was only one and a half. She’s now graduating high school this year.
That’s me, sitting to Ken Korach’s left. Billy Beane did this on TRADE DEADLINE day. Yeah, supposedly the busiest day of a GM’s year. Here he was taking time out of his schedule to take questions from his hardest of hardcore fans. He understood how to engage with the people who were helping form opinions around the Bay Area about the green and gold. Those who had A’s tattoos, followed the team since Rickey, Reggie and Rollie. The effort to embrace the hardcore was unlike anything any other team did. And it helped make AN the best place to experience A’s baseball online. Michael Lewis, who wrote Moneyball, once told me that he often turned on the game on TV and would follow along on game threads because he said it felt like being at the game with a friend. It was the highest compliment ever because that’s exactly what I attempted to create when building AN (and later all the other sports sites for SB Nation).
I feel like I’m rambling now at this point, but part of processing something tragic for me is writing about it. It’s how I figure out the mess of feelings inside. So many people I’ve met through the years due to starting this site about the plucky East Bay baseball team that could. Friends that I may not talk to all that often but I know the second I message them or pick up the phone, we are talking as though a day hasn’t passed. The experience of AN was life-altering, business-wise, friendship-wise, experience-wise. I learned so much about community, caring, love for a common passion. But I just can’t do the Las Vegas A’s. I just can’t. They may be green and gold. Billy Beane might go with them (I’d honestly love to chat with him once all this dust settles because his view would be fascinating to me). They may still sport the infamous white cleats, but now instead of loving them and enjoying their quirky nature and homage to the glorious past, they feel dirty and aggressively poignant, like they have trampled all over my sports-loving heart. I hope Billy sells his stake in this team and moves onto another team, maybe one that understands that the guy loves his flip flops and bringing his dogs to work and is willing to trade that part of him for the genius he brings. My one regret is that I never got to see Beane work with a real budget in Oakland? And now I never will.
Finally, I don’t work for Vox Media at all any more (outside of writing volunteer articles at All About the Jersey because I love the New Jersey Devils as deeply as I’ve ever loved any sports franchise in my life). But I wanted to show up here today for the remaining AN audience to express just how deeply this has all cut me. I honestly feel as though I’m mourning the death of a loved one today. I have this bitter pill to swallow. I unfollowed the A’s already on Twitter, changed my profile on social to exclude the fact that I’m an A’s fan and when the shovels go in the ground in Vegas, I may or may not donate all of my A’s apparel to the local Goodwill. I haven’t decided whether or not to keep all that green and gold hanging in my closet. I figured it was too raw to make those decisions now.
I’ve been fond of saying that everyone’s life is like a book, containing so many different chapters. Some chapters are fun, happy and buoyant. Some are dark, scary and foreboding. Some are just downright sad. All chapters come to an end, much like a book does. The stories in your book sometimes overlap in different chapters, but often times, the main focus of a portion of life is contained in a single chapter. The chapter of my life that was so intensely dominated by Oakland A’s baseball has finally and sadly come to a close. I will not be starting a Las Vegas A’s chapter.
The Oakland A’s chapter included so many wonderful happy moments and joy that I can’t even be overly bitter about it. Both of my children were born during this chapter. I met the sports executive who helped create my kingdom and, in the process, became a very good friend. I will always be a Billy Beane fan. I met the writer who I think is the best modern writer alive today in Michael Lewis. His books always blow me away and I wish someday when I grow up, I can write like Michael Lewis. And finally, it included friends that will remain friends forever. Everyone from Nico to Alex to Christy to Louis to Marlene and everyone else that are too numerous to name. You made AN the special place it was an will always remain in my heart.
I apologize for the length of this piece but I figured when a chapter comes to a close, it has to have a bit of a bookend to it. Someday when my life book epilogue is written, my family and friends will unquestionably be the centerpiece of it, but perhaps the second biggest part of that epilogue will be this Oakland A’s chapter. Thank you for the memories, East Bay. It’s been hella cool. Something Vegas is not.