Oakland's Heartbreak: Athletics' Departure Spurs Grief While Owner John Fisher Celebrates 'Great Day for Las Vegas'

Oakland's Heartbreak: Athletics' Departure Spurs Grief While Owner John Fisher Celebrates 'Great Day for Las Vegas'

Arlington, Texas — The monumental decision echoed through the halls of Major League Baseball on Thursday, leaving Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher contemplative in a second-floor suite overlooking the sprawling AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. The day commenced with unanimous approval from MLB owners at 8:11 a.m. CT, greenlighting the A's relocation to Las Vegas. Four and a half hours later, Fisher faced the press at a podium, uttering words that reverberated painfully in Oakland: “Today is an incredibly difficult day for Oakland A’s fans. It’s a great day for Las Vegas.’’

In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY Sports later that day, Fisher acknowledged the anguish of leaving behind a passionate fanbase but asserted that, after 18 years, he felt compelled to make this choice. "When you work on something for a very long time, and you put your heart and soul into it, and then you have this kind of momentous occasion with the vote itself, just a lot of different emotions going on," Fisher reflected.

He recognized the mixed emotions tied to the decision — the sorrow and frustration felt by the Oakland community, contrasted with the palpable excitement in Las Vegas for a new stadium on the iconic Strip and a promising future for the Athletics.

Yet, Fisher is not immune to criticism, especially from the loyal A's fanbase who pins the team's departure on him. The team's consistently low payroll, ranking among the bottom eight since 2007, and dismal performance over the past 18 years have fueled resentment. Fisher defended his financial decisions, citing a potential increase in payroll with higher attendance, while fans argue that a competitive team would draw larger crowds.

The departure of the Athletics leaves Oakland mourning the loss of a cherished team, while Fisher sees it as a pivotal moment for the franchise's future in the vibrant landscape of Las Vegas. The widening gap between owner and fanbase encapsulates the complex dynamics that led to this bittersweet chapter in the history of the Oakland Athletics.

"Our attendance numbers had been declining over the years," Fisher acknowledged. "Regardless of the quality of the team, I think that was probably based on a lot of different things, one of which, of course, was the stadium itself. I did what I thought was everything possible to get a new stadium built in Oakland, and then when it was over the last two and a half years, we started spending time on Vegas under the view that if Oakland wasn't going to be able to get this done, we needed an alternative."

Fisher, facing the prospect of parting with a substantial portion of his profit to fellow owners if the team is sold in the near future, assured that things would be markedly different in Las Vegas. Drawing inspiration from the electric atmosphere he experienced at an NHL Golden Knights' game in Las Vegas, he envisions replicating that passion in their new ballpark. "I was in awe of not just the success of the team on the ice but also the passion of what was a predominantly local group of fans," Fisher recalled. "So, I know that the bar is set very high for what it means to be successful in Las Vegas. There are a lot of opportunities for great entertainment in that market, and sports is one form of entertainment. You better make sure that it's great."

Fisher stressed that the move to a new stadium in Las Vegas is integral to their strategy. It is positioned as a catalyst for a significant increase in payroll, enabling the retention of key players like Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Shawn Murphy. The intention is to be more competitive in the free-agent market and make trades for higher-payroll players, providing the team with greater opportunities for success.

As the Athletics prepare to spend the 2024 season at the Oakland Coliseum, the future remains uncertain. Possibilities include continuing at the Coliseum in 2025, playing a portion of games at the Giants' Oracle Park, and perhaps splitting time at the A's Triple-A facility in Summerlin, Nevada. While the team could adopt a rotational approach across these sites, Commissioner Manfred expressed a preference for spending the entire season in one facility until the transition to their new $1.5 billion ballpark in Las Vegas.

Commissioner Manfred reflected on the challenging decision to relocate the Oakland Athletics, emphasizing the exhaustive efforts made to secure a stadium solution in Oakland over more than a decade. Both he and team owner John Fisher had preferred to stay in Oakland, considering it a mark of respect for the local fans. However, as Manfred pointed out, the objective reality was that the facility was deteriorating, leaving limited options.

In a candid assessment, Manfred acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the team's success in Las Vegas, with some owners and executives privately expressing skepticism. Nevertheless, he believes that the synergy with Las Vegas tourism and casino revenue will translate into significant financial success for the A’s. While recognizing the day's impact on Oakland fans as "terrible," Manfred reiterated that the status quo in both Oakland and Las Vegas was untenable, leading to the challenging decision for relocation.

The emotional toll on the A’s fanbase was palpable, with many grappling with a mix of anger and disappointment. Jorge Leon, president and founder of the Oakland 68s fan group, described the news as a "gut-punch," sparking immediate calls for a boycott of the A’s season opener and urging Giants' season-ticket holders to protest any shared use of their ballpark. Leon asserted a commitment to challenging the relocation, vowing not to let it dictate the end of professional baseball in Oakland.

Meanwhile, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao affirmed the city's ongoing fight for the A’s and revealed plans to lobby for an expansion franchise once the move becomes official. The sentiment in Oakland is one of defiance, with fans and city officials determined to continue the struggle for the future of baseball in the city despite the impending departure of the Athletics.

“We are disappointed by the outcome of this vote," stated Mayor Sheng Thao in response to the decision, adding, “But we do not see this as the end of the road. We all know there is a long way to go before shovels in the ground and that there are a number of unresolved issues surrounding this move."

Expressing determination, Thao emphasized that the A’s branding and name should stay in Oakland, underscoring the city's commitment to pursuing expansion opportunities. Despite the challenges, she affirmed, "Baseball has a home in Oakland even if the A’s ownership relocates."

Commissioner Manfred addressed the issue of expansion, indicating that there are no immediate plans, and any exploration of expansion, including significant realignment, may not occur until at least 2028. While privately acknowledging skepticism about Oakland as a serious expansion candidate, given the lack of a binding agreement, Manfred stated, “When, and if, we have an expansion process, every city that’s interested in having an expansion franchise will have an opportunity to participate."

The historical context adds a layer of complexity to the A’s situation, being the first MLB relocation since the Montreal Expos moved to Washington, D.C., in 2005. The decision also marks only the second MLB relocation since 1972. The team, now playing in its fourth city of existence, has traversed Philadelphia in 1901, Kansas City in 1955, and Oakland in 1968.

Reflecting on the decision, Fisher acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, stating, “It’s tough, real tough, because I’ve seen enough history to see how these moves have affected communities. I feel for them, I really do." As the Athletics prepare to embark on a new chapter, the city of Oakland remains resilient, signaling an intent to continue the fight for baseball's presence in the community despite the team's imminent departure.

In conclusion, the decision to relocate the Oakland Athletics to Las Vegas has left the city of Oakland grappling with disappointment and determination. Mayor Sheng Thao expressed the city's disappointment but emphasized that this is not the end of the road, highlighting the unresolved issues surrounding the move and the city's commitment to maintaining the A’s branding and name in Oakland.

The prospect of expansion as a solution faces challenges, with Commissioner Manfred indicating no immediate plans and skepticism about Oakland's viability as an expansion candidate. The historical significance of the move, marking the first MLB relocation since 2005, adds a layer of complexity to the situation. The Athletics, now playing in their fourth city of existence, become a footnote in baseball history, with their journey spanning Philadelphia, Kansas City, Oakland, and now Las Vegas.

Owner John Fisher acknowledged the historical impact of such moves on communities, expressing empathy for the city of Oakland. As the Athletics prepare for their new chapter, Oakland remains resilient, with a determination to continue the fight for baseball's presence in the community despite the impending departure of the team. The outcome underscores the intricate dynamics between sports franchises and their communities, leaving both a legacy of disappointment and a spirit of perseverance in the wake of significant change.


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