Will the A's really move to San Francisco?

Thearon W. Henderson

As an amateur historian of some years, I'm utterly delighted by this bizarre story that broke Sunday night:

Major League Baseball would help the Oakland A's move across the bay and play at rival Giants' AT&T Park in San Francisco if Coliseum officials don't come to terms on a new short-term lease for the team, sources tell us.

The A's two-year home stint at AT&T Park, which would start next season, would probably be the first step toward moving the team out of the Bay Area.

--snip--

Why would the Giants give their OK? Start with the rent money - probably enough to pay for a shortstop or two.

But even better from the Giants' perspective, it could lead to the team getting the whole Bay Area market to itself.

In 1977, Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley announced that he was selling the A's to "billionaire oilman" Marvin Davis, who would move the franchise to Denver. But for the sale to proceed and for the A's to move, Finley needed two things: the permission of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and an escape from his franchise's lease with the Coliseum, which had another 10 years to run.

Kuhn, despite -- or perhaps because of -- his terribly strained relationship with Finley, agreed to help. Still, the Coliseum board was unwilling to just let the A's go, even for a price. Then, a plan: the A's would leave, and the San Francisco Giants would play half their schedule in the Coliseum. As the authors of one Finley biography write, "Thus, Kuhn convinced Oakland officials that it was in their best interest to go along with the sale, provided the Giants agreed to schedule half of their home games at the Coliseum for the remaining 10 years of the A's lease. The deal seemed set."

Except it wasn't, because the Giants had a lease of their own, at Candlestick Park, and San Francisco's mayor and Board of Supervisors weren't playing ball. They reportedly agreed to let the Giants skip across the Bay for 20 or 25 games per season, but not 40. And so the whole deal came apart ... and then it came back together again, with all parties agreeing on the terms.

Except for one term: Finley was a highly litigious fellow, and Kuhn wanted Finley to give up his right to sue Major League Baseball. Which Finley -- then considering a lawsuit because Kuhn had vetoed the sale of Vida Blue to the Cincinnati Reds -- rejected. And so the whole deal came apart once more, and this time for good. Finley would own the A's for another two-and-a-half years, finally selling to the Levi Strauss people in 1980. And, somewhat incredibly, nearly 25 years later the Athletics still reside in the Coliseum, fighting for a new home.

This latest episode probably isn't as serious as that one. This latest episode looks like 95 percent posturing and 5 percent planning, while what happened in 1977 and '78 was for real. Nearly everybody wanted the A's out of Oakland; or rather, they wanted Charlie Finley out of Oakland. And he wanted out of baseball, because he was an old man and couldn't countenance the realities of free agency. But as much as he wanted out, he loved fighting Bowie Kuhn even more.

This thing now is more complicated. Lew Wolff doesn't want to sell the Athletics, and there's no Marvin Davis eager to buy the franchise and move it to Denver straightaway. Instead, there's an owner who wants to keep his team in the area, and a bunch of cities without anywhere for their prospective new baseball team to play.

My guess is the Coliseum's proprietors will cave, and pretty quickly. They'll give the A's the concessions revenues, and they might even fix the plumbing. After all these years, it just seems the Athletics are destined to play in the Coliseum until an earthquake brings the old behemoth tumbling down in the biggest pile of concrete on earth.

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