Now that the Oakland Athletics, under the stewardship of Gap clothing heir John J. Fisher, have announced their intention to move to Las Vegas, it is time to ask Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, as well as state and city officials in Nevada and Las Vegas, a question: “Congrats, you have the A’s. Now how much to do want for the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs? Sold as a bundle. What will it take? Ten billion dollars? What about $20 billion? Who wants to crack open some state pension funds and make a deal?”
If community history and support mean nothing and all power is given to the almighty publicly financed dollar, then Major League Baseball might want to see if Vegas has an extra few billion squirreled away for three of the league’s most popular and iconic teams. Just imagine the most well-heeled fans from Chicago, Boston, and New York flocking to Sin City, staying at the hotels, playing the slots, and watching a game at the old Fenway Park transplanted to the Strip with the accuracy of the Paris Hotel and Casino.
Which side would say no to this deal? Maybe Manfred thinks it would be too transparently vulgar. Would he calculate that such a deal might make billions but do irreparable harm to the brand? But before saying no, I bet Manfred would still do the math. As for the city and state governments of Las Vegas and Nevada, we know that they’d be all in. The political class has already shown its colors with another Oakland export, the Las Vegas Raiders, whose new stadium is a civic monument to corporate welfare at the expense of the most vulnerable. It’s a gleaming reminder that Nevada has the most poorly funded public schools in the United States.
Perhaps I’m even giving Manfred too much credit to say that he would dismiss such a deal. At the very least, he calls the Steinbrenners and asks how much the history of a ballpark in the Bronx that is all of 15 minutes old measures up to 10 billion bucks at the Bellagio.
Anyone who doubts that Manfred and the ownership would even consider this needs to dust off their baseball encyclopedias and put some serious respect on the name of the Oakland Athletics—with an emphasis on that first word: Oakland. This is the team of Reggie Jackson and Rickey Henderson, of Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter, of Eck and Stew, of the Bash Brothers and the young MC Hammer, of the world’s most famous donkey, and a World Series that cracked the earth open.
And all of it set to a particular culture, sound, and community uniquely influential not only in Major League Baseball but also at the level of global culture. As Oakland journalist Davey D said to me, “Next to the Raiders, the Oakland A’s were our pride and joy, our crown jewel. They represented the working class in Oakland during the heyday of the championship years. They put Oakland on the map on terms that Oaklanders could relate to.”
And yet neither the NFL nor Major League Baseball nor, to a lesser extent, the NBA, have shown themselves able to understand the obvious: that Oakland is a special soil for sports—worth nurturing, not abandoning. There is no baseball history without the Oakland Athletics. Yet for years, rather than look for a solution that did not involve strip-mining the city of Oakland for public resources, Manfred and that sentient Gap T-shirt squeezed the team dry, drawing fewer and fewer fans, consciously devaluing the franchise until billions rose from the sands of Nevada. Now, a league that has treated gambling as original sin throughout its history, that kept “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame for falling into a gambler’s web, is sticking a team smack-dab in the middle of Las Vegas.
I take it all back. They’d sell the Yankees in a heartbeat.
What is so numbing about this is the scummy ordinariness of it all. The leisured class, from Elon Musk to oil barons to billionaire sports owners, live lavishly on the public teat, and the Oakland A’s story, as personal as it feels to the bruised city, is no different. This is about billionaire sports owners demanding socialism for the rich and seasonal service industry work for the laboring class. They are urban hostage takers, demanding a king’s ransom from the public trough or else the team—your team—will end up buried with the other bodies somewhere in the Vegas desert.