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Regional Interests

MLB Tells Oakland Athletics to Explore Relocation if No New Ballpark

Major League Baseball has instructed the Athletics to explore relocation options as the team tries to secure a new waterfront ballpark in Oakland.

MLB released a statement Tuesday expressing its longtime determination that the current Coliseum site is “not a viable option for the future vision of baseball.”

“MLB is concerned with the rate of progress on the A’s new ballpark effort with local officials and other stakeholders in Oakland,” MLB said. “The A’s have worked very hard to advance a new ballpark in downtown Oakland for the last four years, investing significant resources while facing multiple roadblocks. We know they remain deeply committed to succeeding in Oakland, and with two other sports franchises recently leaving the community, their commitment to Oakland is now more important than ever.”

In November 2018, the A’s announced they had found a waterfront location for their new ballpark that would cost more than $1 billion, with picturesque views toward San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and the Port of Oakland. The goal had been to open in 2023, but now, even if approved by Oakland’s City Council this summer, it would not be ready until 2027.

When asked if the announcement was meant to put political pressure on the Oakland City Council to consider the waterfront site sooner, rather than later, A’s President Dave Kaval said he was just hoping for their consideration.

“We just want to get a sense from the city council if they share our vision for a new waterfront in Oakland or not,” Kaval told KQED. “That’s why we’re hopeful they take a vote by this summer on our project. Four to five years has been the timeline we’ve invested in this effort. We really just need an indication, especially since we’re running out of time at the Coliseum, our existing location, if it could work at the waterfront in Oakland.”

Oakland City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas said they are “committed to keeping the A’s in Oakland,” and that she had just met with Kaval on April 30 to tell him they are ready to meet with A’s ownership to discuss the project.

But, she said, “They have not responded and I reached out today to reiterate our offer.”

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance, a group that wishes to “preserve the Port of Oakland” and keep the A’s in East Oakland, lambasted the team’s ownership for playing hardball with the Oakland City Council.

“The City of Oakland and its residents should not be pressured by threats from the Oakland A’s and Major League Baseball into a bad deal that involves handing out hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund a massive real-estate development,” the group wrote, in a statement. “The Coliseum location is the ideal place to build a new stadium, as it already has freeway access, public transit, and more than enough space to create a ‘ballpark village’ that could revitalize East Oakland. Despite 50 years of history and four World Series victories, John Fisher and the A’s are now telling East Oaklanders without any explanation that East Oakland is no longer good enough.”

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance thinks the Oakland A’s have other reasons for wanting to build on the Oakland waterfront, besides baseball.

Early this year, Kaval asked the City Council to vote before it breaks for the summer, on a $12 billion privately funded ballpark project and major community development plan featuring $450 million in community benefits.

Kaval said he’s waiting for word that the Oakland City Council is ready to play ball, but was not available to comment on Bas’ assertions that the council had already reached out to talk.

The team’s lease at the Coliseum is up in 2024, but the aging venue where the A’s have played since 1968 is already having lighting and flooding issues.

A’s owner John Fisher said in a statement Tuesday he will honor MLB’s instructions but remains committed to continuing to pursue the waterfront ballpark proposed for construction in the city’s Howard Terminal location, close to the popular Jack London Square neighborhood.

“The future success of the A’s depends on a new ballpark,” Fisher said. “Oakland is a great baseball town, and we will continue to pursue our waterfront ballpark project. We will also follow MLB’s direction to explore other markets.”

The A’s, who previously proposed and withdrew plans for ballparks in Fremont and San Jose, are hopeful MLB’s pressure might help push that process with the city.

Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office voiced support for the waterfront location in a statement, Tuesday.

“We share MLB’s sense of urgency and their continued preference for Oakland. Today’s statement makes clear that the only viable path to keeping the A’s rooted in Oakland is a ballpark on the waterfront,” wrote Justin Berton, Schaaf’s spokesperson, in a statement. “We call on our entire community – regional and local partners included — to rally together and support a new, financially viable, fiscally responsible, world-class waterfront neighborhood that enhances our city and region, and keeps the A’s in Oakland where they belong.”

The proposed ballpark site is about 6 miles from the Coliseum and there is no mass transit. The A’s and city have said they plan to build a gondola that would go from the waterfront area of ballpark over Interstate 880 to downtown. Kaval said the gondola is approved and undergoing environmental review.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has mentioned as possible expansion candidates: Charlotte, North Carolina; Las Vegas; Montreal; Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“We continue to play in Oakland until something changes,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said before a game in Boston.

The Athletics have moved twice since the franchise was founded in Philadelphia, arriving in Kansas City for the 1955 season and in Oakland for the 1968 season.

When asked if the A’s were considering a jump to Las Vegas or Portland, two locations previously mentioned publicly, Kaval said exactly where they go is a decision up to the MLB.

“We don’t exactly have a read on that yet. that’s gonna be something the MLB will determine. They have the best sense of the markets that’d make the most sense for the A’s,” he said.

Just two MLB teams have moved in the past half-century: The expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers for the 1972 season and the Montreal Expos transformed into the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Braves also moved twice, switching from Boston to Milwaukee for the 1953 season and to Atlanta for 1966.

There was a flurry of switches in the 1950s and ’60s: the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles (1954), the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles for 1958, the New York Giants moved to San Francisco for 1958, the original Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins (1961) and the Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers (1970).

Manfred says MLB will not consider expansion until the A’s and Tampa Bay Rays get new ballparks.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg had been working to build a ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City area but abandoned that plan in December 2018. MLB’s executive council gave the Rays permission in June 2019 to explore splitting their home schedule between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal after their lease at the Trop expires at the end of the 2027 season.

In Oakland, the A’s are the last professional team. The NBA’s Golden State Warriors moved to San Francisco before the 2019-20 season and the NFL’s Raiders relocated to Las Vegas last year.

“It is unfortunate that a couple teams have left,” Melvin said. “Certainly we don’t want that to happen, and I don’t think anything that’s been said today would suggest it’s going to, I think it’s just giving MLB and the organization a few more options to maybe look elsewhere.”

Janie McCauley of The Associated Press and KQED’s Tara Siler contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 KQED