Major League Baseball has directed the Oakland Athletics to consider moving out of town, the latest step in the team’s decades-long search for a new ballpark.
Less than three weeks after the city of Oakland declined to commit to the team’s timetable for approval of a waterfront ballpark or to its request for nearly $1 billion in public infrastructure financing, the league responded with a brushback pitch: The A’s will keep working on that waterfront ballpark, but they’ll look elsewhere too.
The league appeared to rule out the possibility of building a new ballpark at the current Oakland Coliseum site. The team’s current owner, John Fisher, prefers the waterfront site.
Some baseball officials and community groups, however, believe the A’s should pursue the Coliseum site, where public transit already is available. So is space, since the Raiders have left for Las Vegas and the Warriors have left for San Francisco.
“The Oakland Coliseum site is not a viable option for the future vision of baseball,” the MLB statement said. “We have instructed the Athletics to begin to explore other markets while they continue to pursue a waterfront ballpark in Oakland.”
Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., San Antonio, Vancouver, British Columbia, and Montreal would be potential relocation sites. None of those markets, however, would be bigger than the Bay Area. In 2016, Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league would regret it if the A’s moved out of town.
“I am committed to Oakland as a major league site,” Manfred said then. “If we were to leave Oakland, I think 10 years from now, we would be more likely than not looking backward, saying we made a mistake.”
Indeed, the largest market in the United States without an MLB team is the Inland Empire. However, the Dodgers and Angels could veto a team moving there — just as the San Francisco Giants stopped the A’s from pursuing a ballpark in San Jose.
On April 23, the A’s put their financial cards on the table, proposing private financing for what they said would be a $12 billion waterfront neighborhood, centered by a $1 billion ballpark. The A’s asked for $855 million in public infrastructure financing, and they asked the City Council to approve the project before its summer recess.
In response, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf called the financial request “at the high end for projects of this type nationwide” and committed only to consider a proposal “this year.”
Manfred has long said the league will not consider expansion or relocation until the ballpark situations of the A’s and Tampa Bay Rays has been resolved. Neither has been; the Rays’ ownership has refused to commit to privately financing a ballpark and has pursued a quixotic split-season plan between Tampa Bay and Montreal.
The league’s statement Tuesday almost certainly will trigger visits from A’s executives to prospective relocation sites, designed in part to increase pressure on Oakland. The Miami Marlins toured San Antonio and Portland for leverage toward getting a new ballpark in Miami. Tropicana Field, the current home of the Rays, similarly was leveraged by the Giants and Chicago White Sox.
No MLB team has moved since 2005, when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals. The only other team to move within the last half a century: the Washington Senators, in 1972, to become the Texas Rangers.
The A’s, Dodgers and San Francisco Giants all moved to California — the A’s from Kansas City in 1968, the Dodgers and Giants from New York in 1958. No MLB team has moved from California.
The complete MLB statement:
“MLB is concerned with the rate of progress on the A’s new ballpark effort with local officials and other stakeholders in Oakland. 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.
“The Oakland Coliseum site is not a viable option for the future vision of baseball. We have instructed the Athletics to begin to explore other markets while they continue to pursue a waterfront ballpark in Oakland. The Athletics need a new ballpark to remain competitive, so it is now in our best interest to also consider other markets.”