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Oakland a “Baseball Wasteland”?

It’s been a while since a journalist has put some money into the ‘Oakland A’s article’ machine and pulled the handle.

In the first few weeks of the season, when other baseball stories were thin on the ground, it seemed like coins were being fired into the machine with the frequency of a compulsive gambler trying to chase their losses on the Vegas slots; appropriately enough, some might say.

Since then, most news outlets have shifted back to the default position of forgetting the team exists at all; however for some reason the online version of the Guardian felt minded to publish an opinion piece by Dave Caldwell describing Oakland as “a baseball wasteland” and condemning the Coliseum as “a dump”.

Dom took to our Twitter account to point out all that was wrong about this view, whilst also offering me up as being able to “talk sense” about it. Well, you be the judge!

What’s the Motivation?

The most curious part of the article is that its opening salvo, and presumably the thing that sparked the idea for it, is the level of attendance for the recent visit from the New York Yankees.

The writer makes the valid point that it was a rare series this season that was well-attended throughout: “93,719 fans attending the four-game series, or 23,430 per game”. This train of thought ends with the following conclusion:

“The A’s are still dead last in the major leagues in attendance, though, having drawn a little over 10,000 fans per game this season. That should tell you not just something about the Yankees’ drawing power, but about Oakland as a baseball wasteland”.

There’s no doubt that the Yankees are an attraction and they produce an uptick in attendance at most ballparks they visit, but although he throws in some vague references to the way the team has been run in recent years (low payroll, churn of players etc), he doesn’t actually probe the obvious question that the facts should lead you to ask: what’s the difference between the series with the Yankees and all of the others?

Do over 10,000 fans from New York jump on planes and cross the country so that there is briefly a decent-sized baseball fanbase to sell tickets to?

Does the Coliseum temporarily undergo a magical transformation in which all of the things he readily trots out that make the place a “dump” somehow vanish for the weekend?

No, what the attendance at the Yankees series tells you is that Oakland is far from being “a baseball wasteland”. It tells you, if you have ignored all of the vital baseball market metrics (population, size of media market etc) and so don’t know this already, that thousands of local baseball fans are ready and willing to part with their hard-earned cash to enjoy a visit to the Coliseum.

The core issue is simple: invest in putting a good product on the field (such as the Yankees’ team of stars) and people in the area will come out and watch it; continually treat your customers badly and offering them a poor product and they will simply take their money elsewhere.

Oh, Caldwell delights in telling stories of feral cats (a valid issue but obviously not something that is actually putting people off attending) and feral fans (it’s becoming something of a trend in North American stadiums), but he skates away from considering whether these issues are relevant from the point he’s making because he knows they are not.

What’s It Based On?

And that leads us to the overriding reason to take issue with the article: what exactly is he basing all of this on? Well, he’s interviewed a couple of fans – neither of whom negatively comment on the Coliseum – and he’s watched a video on YouTube in which the presenter is actually much fairer than the “Is This Place Safe? Rusting Floors at Worst Stadium in Baseball?” title would suggest.

What he doesn’t include is his own experiences of visiting the Coliseum. That whilst it is unquestionably rough around the edges, it provides great views to watch a ballgame from. That many of the staff there – Hal The Hot Dog Guy being the obvious example – go above and beyond to make sure everyone has a fun and enjoyable afternoon/evening at the ballpark. That what the fans lack in sheer numbers they more than make up for with their noise, passion and friendliness (and that, selfishly, having plenty of space to stretch out in is actually a bonus!).

No, Caldwell doesn’t mention any of this because – as with all other such articles – it’s based on preconceptions, half-truths and the nonsense that the A’s top brass spew out to justify their relocation threats (to be fair to Caldwell, he does state that Kaval didn’t respond to a request for comment, but he would have only received the same well-rehearsed lines every other journalist gets anyway).

Come And See For Yourself

Four of us are heading out to Oakland from the UK in three weeks’ time to take in six games at the Coliseum. None of us will spend a single second tut-tutting about the ballpark.

Admittedly, we are all used to visiting football grounds in the UK, some of which would be condemned for immediate demolition based on the U.S. sports franchise owner view that anything over 25 years old is ancient and requires hundreds of millions of tax-payers’ dollars to make it habitable, but anyone who doesn’t require a sedan chair to take them to their seat will have no real complaints.

Does it look tired? Sure. Is it a poor venue to watch a game at? No, not in a million years.

Perhaps Caldwell could get in contact with his editor at The Guardian (presumably the US version) and see if they’ll stump up the expenses so that he can join us in the bleachers for a game or two while we’re out there?

If he’s in luck, he’ll find that Oakland is far from being a baseball wasteland deserving of his ridicule and instead is a baseball city of great heart and huge potential that needs journalists like him to shine a more discerning, critical light on why that potential is being wasted by cheap ownership rather than regurgitating the same false narrative.

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