The Las Vegas A's?
by Glenn Dickey
May 04, 2006

ONCE AGAIN, there is speculation that the Oakland A’s will be moved in the not-distant future. One possibility is simply building a park in nearby Fremont. A San Jose columnist conjectured that they could be called the Fremont A’s of San Jose; only somebody actually living in San Jose could think that such a label would be a positive.

If they were to be moved out of the area, Las Vegas has been the latest “hot spot” as far as major league professional sports. But it’s really difficult to predict how a city will do with its first professional team. After the novelty wears off, attendance often plummets.

Take, for instance, the example of Colorado, Tampa Bay and Arizona..

For years, people in Denver tried to get a baseball team. Marvin Davis thought he had one in 1980, when he made a deal with Charlie Finley to buy the A’s and move them, only to learn that the Oakland Coliseum had an ironclad contract which Finley couldn’t break.

Eventually, Denver did get an expansion team, and the early results were spectacular, a season attendance of 4,483,350 (many of them discounted tickets because the seats were so bad) that still stands as a major league record.

Since then, the Rockies have built a beautiful new park, but attendance has steadily declined, to just over 1.9 million last year. Can’t blame the fans. Though the Rockies made it to the postseason in 1995, their third season, losing to the Atlanta Braves, they’ve since settled into the lower regions of the NL West. Don’t be misled by their fast start this season; it will be a good season if they finish fourth, ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The problems caused by the mile high altitude seem insurmountable. Because the ball travels further in the thin air, outfield fences are deeper than in other parks, which means that fly balls that would be caught in other parks fall in for doubles and triples. There are more hits, more runs, and pitching staffs are chewed up. There have even been proposals that visiting teams be able to expand their pitching staffs for a series in Denver. If visiting teams have such problems, imagine what it does to the Rockies playing 81 games there.

ST. PETERSBURG (Tampa Bay) is another former hot spot, emphasis on former.

For years, it was the supposed destination of a team from another city. The Chicago White Sox were on the verge of moving there in the mid-‘80s, before the Illinois state legislature provided money for building the new Comiskey Park, since renamed for some commercial operation.

The Giants had one foot out the door in 1992, after Bob Lurie signed an agreement with Tampa Bay businessmen. There was heady talk that there would be 35,000 season tickets sold for the Giants.

The National League did not want to move out of San Francisco. Owners delayed a vote until a group initially headed up by Walter Shorenstein came forward to buy the team and keep it in San Francisco. Shorenstein soon bowed out and Peter Magowan, a lifelong fan of the Giants in New York and San Francisco, became the managing general partner.

St. Petersburg got an expansion team, the Devil Rays, in 1998, and the first season was a moderate success, with an attendance of more than 2.2 million. Now, they don’t even list season attendances in the media guide, which is a telltale sign. Their average for their first nine home games this season was the lowest in the American League; at that rate, they’d draw less than 1.4 million this year.

Like the Rockies, the Devil Rays are doomed, but for different reasons. They have a penny-pinching operation (the same one that would have been running the Giants, BTW) which makes bad decisions, and there is a near unanimous agreement that their domed stadium, Tropicana Field, is the worst stadium in baseball.

Now, if a list of franchise which should be “contracted” were started, Tampa Bay would head the list.

The Diamondbacks in Phoenix have had much more playing success than either the Rockies or Devil Rays, even winning the World Series in 2001, a feat the Giants haven’t been able to accomplish in 48 years in San Francisco. But their spending got out of control. When they cut back by trading high-priced pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, they dropped to the bottom of their division, and their attendance of just over 2 million last season was not much more than half of their opening season mark of 3.6 million.

The future of the D-Backs is probably brighter than either the Rockies or the Devil Rays because there are no insurmountable hurdles. Their domed stadium, with a retractable roof, is a much better facility than Tropicana Field.

BECAUSE OF the desert heat, Las Vegas would also require a domed stadium, but that is only the start of the problems.

The main business in Las Vegas is gambling. That will keep the NFL out of the city, because commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the owners are very concerned that there be no visible connection between the league and gambling interests (which is why Eddie DeBartolo was booted out and will never get back in). It’s a hypocritical attitude, because the huge amount of money bet on NFL games has spurred interest, but it won’t change.

Basketball and baseball have shown more interest, but two large questions loom:

--Where would the fans come from? A very large percentage of the population works in the casinos, in one capacity or another, and they’re working at nights, when the games would usually be played. Las Vegas has a booming tourist industry, but those people come to hit the casinos and the shows, not to see baseball games.

--Where would the money come from to build a domed stadium? When the Giants built their new park in China Basin, they were heavily financed by businesses. But in Vegas, the businesses are casinos. Why would they pay for a stadium which could take customers away from them?

THE TRUTH is, baseball has already overexpanded, and there are no good cities left. The A’s need a new park and I’d hope that Oakland politicians would help to find a way to build it in the city (Ignacio De La Fuente is the only mayoral candidate who would help). If that doesn’t happen, perhaps the Fremont site would work. Either way, they should stay here.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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