No Free Lunch For the Sinkin’ A’s

Look, again, to your non-laurels, 1962 Mets. The Oakland Athletics, proud owners of a 10-game losing streak and possibly counting, as of Sunday morning, are off to the worst start of any major league team since the turn of the century. The turn of the 20th century, that is.

After losing 6-3 to the Astros Saturday, the A's sit as the none too proud owners of a 10-44 record after 54 games. The 1962 Mets sat with a 16-38 record through their first 54, after beating the Astros' newborn Colt .45s ancestors. This year's A's stand a chance at knocking the 120-loss '62 Mets out of the books for baseball's most beaten team.

The Original Mets, of course, were formed of the National League's flotsam and jetsam in its first expansion draft and became baseball's last unintentional comedy troupe. (Fair disclosure: the ancient newborn Colts had their moments, too. But they didn't lose in triple figures, either.) These A's, in all earnestness, are born of an owner's ten-thumbed-and-toeless touch. They're as entertaining and funny as the "Daddy, Daddy" joke about the missing Cabbage Patch Kid and an order to eat the cole slaw.

It's anything but funny that the A's may be on the threshold of a free lunch in Las Vegas. Commissioner Rob Manfred says the rest of MLB's owners could vote some time in June on whether to allow the A's to move to Vegas — if Nevada's state legislature is blind or fool enough to approve soaking Nevada's taxpayers to hand the A's a new ballpark whose early indications show disaster a distinct possibility.

The preliminary design shows a partially retractable-roof, 30,000-seat park to stand where the soon-to-be-gone Tropicana Hotel & Casino stands, with a long walkway to the home plate entrance and nothing substantial in the way of parking. It's not unattractive. Even if you're reminded of early Mets manager Casey Stengel's reaction to seeing Shea Stadium for the first time: "The park is lovelier than my team."

All indications seem to be Manfred and his minions thinking the A's will draw their support purely from walking tourists. Oops. Las Vegas has a population above and beyond the travelers making their pilgrimages to the city's famous casinos, resort shows, and other entertainment along the fabled Strip and the almost-as-fabled Fremont Street Experience. The city's real population (653,843) is a little less than half the population of the Bronx. Those who don't live behind the Strip like coming to the Strip, anyway.

They also like baseball, seemingly. The AAA-level affiliate of the A's, the Aviators, have led the Pacific Coast League in attendance ever since they became an A's affiliate, playing in a charming, newly-built Las Vegas Ballpark since 2019. They averaged about 532,000 fans a year in the 10,000-seat park. Those who think there's little market for baseball in Vegas, think again.

Double oops. Maybe they did think about it. The artist rendering of the ballpark-to-be lacks parking. Let's hazard a guess. They think the locals who won't be walking to the park from the Strip will have to park in adjacent hotel-casino parking garages and then walk to the park. Too many of those garages charge hefty for parking now. Wait until they think about jacking the charges on game days. (Earl Weaver, Hall of Fame manager: This ain't football. We do this every day.)

It would be nicer if Las Vegas was to get a major league team that behaves and thinks like a major league team. Under John Fisher's ownership the A's have behaved and thought like ... a Triple-A team lacking affiliation. Fisher's too-well-recorded shenanigans in Oakland have made rubble of a storied-enough franchise and fools of baseball's Lords, who usually do splendid work making fools of themselves.

Las Vegas isn't a huge television market. Baseball's self-immolating television rights and restrictions don't make things simpler. But the National Hockey League's Las Vegas Golden Knights, now playing the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals, left cable television for free TV. They're also tapping national as well as regional advertisers. Assuming Fisher isn't prepared to sell the A's any time soon, it's not a given that he'd push toward the same things. More's the pity.

I've lived in Las Vegas since 2007. Would I like major league baseball in town? You might as well ask whether I love playing a Gibson guitar. But here's another jolt of reality for you: Las Vegas is a lovely place to live, climate-wise ... from about the second week in September through about the second week in June. Around that are summers that mean a classic Beach Boys ode to having fun all summer long is greeted by a Las Vegas listener with two words. And they ain't "surf's up."

The Aviators in their open ballpark play predominantly at night, when the heat is only slightly less oppressive than Vladimir Putin's Russian regime. The A's in Vegas, if they get the park toward which they aim, would probably not even think of opening the dome from about June 10 through about September 8. Not unless they want to hand out buttons along the lines of those the Giants handed hardy fans in their ancient, oppressively chilled Candlestick Park: veni, vidi, vixi — we came, we saw, we survived.

That, of course, presumes that there are a) Nevada legislators with something more than oatmeal for brains; and, b) baseball owners with likewise. It's frightening to think you stand a slightly better chance finding brains among lawmakers.

(You're laughing at the idea of the A's being "storied?" They had a dynasty or three during their Philadelphia tenure. They had a couple of well-chronicled and well-remembered powerhouses in Oakland: the Swingin' A's who won three straight World Series from 1972-74; the Bashing A's who owned the American League West from 1988-90 [and won a World Series around an earthquake in 1989]; the Moneyballers who made frugality and on-base percentage virtuous and owned the AL West from 2000-2003.)

That was then. This is now. The Sinkin' A's have a tentative agreement with Nevada governor Joseph Lombardo and other local muckety-mucks to seek a mere $380 million in tax dollars toward a ballpark estimated to cost $1.5 billion. Said muckety-mucks, writes The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, "evidently consider it a win that public financing might account for less than 25 percent of the 30,000-seat ballpark's construction cost. To which I ask: have they seen the A's play?"

Or, have they seen how the A's in their non-glory might distort the championship picture? The American League East is a division in which the weakest team is two games above .500 at this writing. They could have three wild card contestants under the dubious new system. But only one might earn a card, as Rosenthal points out, because, in the AL West in which the A's now play, the Rangers could win that division but the Mariners and the Astros could claim the other two cards by going 13-0 each against the A's, which is doing things the easy way.

Don't laugh. It could happen. As of this morning, the Mariners are 7-0 against the A's and the Astros, 5-0. "[T]he A's are so horrifyingly bad," Rosenthal writes, "the possibility of them having an outsized impact on the postseason should tick off the owners of the AL East clubs, and frankly all of the other owners, too."

It should also tick Lombardo, local Vegas leaders, and Nevada lawmakers off, too, that a man whose team opened the 2023 season with a team payroll only $17 million higher than Aaron Judge's 2023 salary, and can't be trusted to put a genuinely competitive team on the major league field, can even think about such a sad sack drawing in Vegas.

The tourists are liable to think soon enough that, if they're going to get fleeced, they may as well get there the old fashioned way — at the tables. The locals, of whom there are far more than Fisher, Manfred, and even Lombardo think, know that, if we must see a white elephant, we prefer it on the A's chests during throwback uniform days.

Some of us, too, have smarts enough to know this: The days of municipalities being soaked for sports stadiums must end. Team ownerships aren't exactly impoverished. The NFL's Las Vegas Raiders (they, too, came here from Oakland) got themselves a new playpen called Allegiant Stadium. Tourists will be paying for it for three decades to come by way of Vegas's notorious room taxes; locals will pay for it by way of "bonds that are a general obligation of Clark County, putting taxpayers on the hook once the reserves run dry."

In other words, Las Vegas gave the store away to get the Raiders. To get the A's, it's not unrealistic to think Las Vegas might give the shopping mall away.

A franchise relocation requires 75 percent of baseball's owners to approve. The AL East's owners could make note of the wild card kink described earlier, decide the A's and their addlepated gnat of an owner are more trouble than they're worth, and vote no. (They might also ponder that they're being soaked, too — for revenue shares to a team whose owner won't return the favor with legitimate competition.) But that would be only 16 percent. If they're smart, they're going have to do some smooth maneuvering to get another nine percent to do the right thing.

Brains now require telling Fisher and his minions, not to mention Manfred and his:

You reduced the A's to the kind of rubble that attracts protestors to the near-empty park and boycotts otherwise. You failed to strong-arm Oakland or Alameda County or California whole into building you a new real estate paradise with a ballpark thrown in for good measure. You want to bring your POS (Planned Obsolescence Show) to Las Vegas? Pay for it yourselves, or stay the hell out.

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