Oakland Coliseum

Los Angeles Angels @ Oakland Athletics

2018 Regular Season. Oakland Athletics host Los Angeles Angels in late September and there are high hopes that the Athletics will reach the post season this year. October had become a time for Oakland Raiders football at the Coliseum. This year was different, there was a buzz in the air and it shined green and gold. On this day, the Athletics pitchers held Los Angeles Angels to a shut-out and the A’s line-up massed 10 hits and 10 runs. Athletics clinched a wild card spot the next week in Seattle to face the New York Yankees in New York. This, after coming off three straight last place finishes. Athletics would lose that wild card game in New York. But it helped to generate needed support for the future of a franchise who continues to find ways to compete in an elusive free agency market, a money ball team vs big money players. Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Bean’s version of the financially handicap “Swinging A’s” has been an experiment in development since the late 1990’s. Soon after becoming General Manager, he started getting results, going to the playoffs 4 consecutive years between 2000 and 2003. In 2002, the Oakland Athletics set an AL record with 20 consecutive wins late in the regular season. His application of sabermetric principles helped evolve the game to what we see today. Innovation has been the common thread in the team’s history.

In 2018, the Oakland Athletics also celebrated their 50th anniversary on the west coast. Before 1968, They were the Kansas City Athletics (1955-1967). And, before that they were the Philadelphia Athletics (1901-1954), one of seven charter franchises established with the American League in 1901. The team’s history is clear-cut yet has years of success that have put them in a position to be innovators of the game. Connie Mack’s tenure with the Athletics, along with his previous years with the Pittsburg Pirates, made him the winningest manager in Major League Baseball. His record still stands with 3,731 managed wins. In the early years of the modern era, those Athletics won 5 of the first 26 World Series titles, despite the naysayers who viewed the Athletics as having no potential of winning. New York Giants Manager John McGraw was among the critics who, from the beginning, dismissed them as nothing more than a White Elephant. Connie Mack was amused McGraw’s comments and decided to use the mascot for a logo on the Athletics uniform. And, that’s the way it was for 50 years until Charley Finley, the new Athletics owner, wanted to change the mascot to a mule which was more representative of the democratic party. This, in order to appeal to a democratic dominant Kansas City. When folks say “keep politics out of baseball,” they are left with the burden of prove that it was never there. Baseball history is littered with politics every step of the way. For better or for worst, Charlie Finley is an innovator of the game who moved the team to Oakland and managed to build the franchise to the success and dominance he enjoyed before free agency would liquidate the Athletics potential. The early years in Oakland are also considered dynasty years as they won three consecutive titles (1972, 1973, 1974). Charley Finley would not flex his buying power like George Steinbrenner did. As a result, the New York Yankees would enjoy the advantages of free agency with their own dynasty later that same decade. In the 1980’s, Athletics enjoyed some winning years but, with just one World Championship, it is debatable whether they can be called a dynasty. With (9) World Championship, the Athletics are tied with Boston Red Sox at having the 3rd winningest record in baseball, behind the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals, in that order, a silent race to see who will win a 10th title first.

The Oakland Coliseum is the fifth oldest active MLB ballpark after Fenway Park (1), Wrigley Field (2), Dodger Stadium (3). and Angels Stadium (4). As an observation, it’s hard to embrace that those ballparks in Los Angeles are older than the Coliseum, perhaps because of the industrial feel to the Coliseum, built from massive concrete formwork and surrounded by a subsequent industrial zone. Or, perhaps because the intent of the Oakland Coliseum has been more for football than baseball, a relic of the multi-sport cookie cutter stadium. It’s easy to get lost in this cavernous venue, a stadium that shuts downs its concessions in the upper deck to consolidate foot traffic. Besides the Moneyball problems, that is the other recurrent issue with the franchise’s future. Where is home? Major League Baseball has a vested interest in a state-of-the-art stadium that best represents the MLB brand. It seemed as though all parties were playing nice in formulating a development plan for a new stadium in the bay area. That is no longer the case.

Among the cities they can move to are the usual suspects waiting for an expansion team. After a lengthy process that had the optics of a bright new stadium, the team is left with a lease at the Oakland Coliseum that expires in 2024. Opponents to the plan preferred that the future site be at the current location of “The Coliseum” instead of the downtown waterfront site. Besides the site, there’s disaccord about who should pay for the needed infrastructure.  That is a slippery slope for Athletics Owner John Fisher who is worth $2.4 billion and is asking for a massive welfare assistance from government officials, in a climate where the NFL Raiders and the NBA Warriors have already left town. Between now and 2024, we shall see where the levers land, a push for project approval while looking for greener pastures?

Ricky the Great

Ricky Henderson 1991 Topps Baseball Card.

Ricky Henderson was in his native Oakland, California on May 1, 1991 when he broke Lou Brock’s all time stolen base record of 938 total lifetime. He would go on to a 25 year career with 1406 total stolen bases, among many other contributions. Originally born in Chicago, Ricky’s family moved to Oakland when he was 2 years old. Actually, he was born in the back of an Oldsmobile, on the way to the hospital. This is one of his many running jokes. When asked about the incident, “I was already fast, I couldn’t wait,” says Ricky. As a three sport athlete in Oakland Technical High School, Ricky grew up idolizing Muhammad Ali. His lifetime commitment to athletics was connected to his admiration of Muhammad Ali and wanting to achieve that same greatness. So, after he made that head first slide at third base, then pulling the base from the ground and hoisting it victoriously over his head, there was no second thought. He would proclaim greatness in his speech, moments after, and with Lou Brock (the old Stolen Base King) nearby. “I am the greatest of all time.” he said. ESPN’s Tim Kurkjan reported that, in the days leading to the historic day, Ricky Henderson and Lou Brock became close friends and wrote a speech together. But, Ricky was so caught up in the moment that he forgot about the speech in his back pocket and went on impulse.

At the time, it looked like he snubbed Lou Brock. But, in hindsight, nothing could be further from Ricky’s intentions that day. The rest is history, its just another one of Ricky’s running jokes. There is no doubt that Ricky’s long and prolific career set the bar for todays superstars.

Mike Trout roaming centerfield at Oakland Coliseum in Alameda County. Oakland Athletics beat Los Angeles Angels 10-0 on Wednesday September 19, 2018. Photo by Miguel A. Sanchez.

Money is a paradigm in todays game. The 2011 Film “Moneyball” is the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s and their General Manager, Billy Bean. It depicts the struggles of a team trying to compete with billionaires funding millionaires. Billy Bean champions the concepts of Bill James, a Baseball Historian who used statistical data to forecast individual performance and to determine why teams win or lose. In todays game, Analytics drives team building decisions, now more than ever. It’s ironic how technologically advanced the game has evolved to being, yet it struggles to transcend to the next generation. With the groundswell of so much young talent, attendance lags behind and the fan in the stands gets older. There is more than one reason for this. Hard to compare today’s superstars. Ricky Henderson was a once in a lifetime player. One Opening Day in “The Land,” Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum was renamed Ricky Henderson Field in a dedication ceremony on April 03, 2017.