By Benjamin Hoffman
On opening day, the Athletics took on Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels and hung on to win, 2-1, in front of a crowd of 26,805 fans in Oakland, California.
After a horrendous 2022 season in which the A’s posted a 60-102 record and averaged less than 10,000 fans per home game, the win against the Angels was a rare bright spot. But with a gutted roster, a decrepit stadium and team ownership that has been flirting with leaving the city for years, there was seemingly no reason for the victory to generate any optimism.
Sure enough, the A’s had won only two of their next 17 games after Tuesday night’s 4-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Oakland Coliseum. For as historically good as the Tampa Bay Rays have been in their start to the Major League Baseball season, outscoring their opponents by 75 runs through Tuesday, the A’s have been bad in a worse way, being outscored by 76 runs. And even after a mild attendance spike while the New York Mets were in town over the weekend, the Coliseum has averaged only 9,799 fans a game since opening day.
The situation has been bad enough that Rooted in Oakland, a group of A’s fans dedicated to keeping the team in the city, is trying to arrange a reverse boycott later this season. They would pack the stadium at a game to prove that they are still there should the A’s ever decide to field a competitive team.
“We created this reverse boycott to put a halt to the narrative that the A’s must leave Oakland and move to Las Vegas because there are no fans left in Oakland,” the group said in a statement. “This is simply untrue, given the A’s have the lowest payroll in M.L.B., the organization raised ticket prices after a losing season, and the ownership group has abandoned the current fans while focusing all attention on Las Vegas.”
The statement pointed out that the A’s drew 54,000 fans to a playoff game in 2019 and said the current incarnation of the team, under the direction of owner John Fisher, has given fans no reason to attend games. But while there has been coverage of the team’s attendance problems, the group believes not enough attention has been paid to why fans have stayed away.
“It occurred to me that staying away — due to the mismanagement and downright hostility toward the fans that has characterized the Fisher ownership — is not the answer,” said Stu Clary, a season ticket-holder who is one of the fans behind the reverse boycott. “Rather, it just drives the narrative that we don’t deserve a team.”
To emphasize their point, the fans picked a game on a Tuesday against Tampa Bay, rather than a weekend game against a team known for drawing big crowds on the road. Should Oakland even approach the stadium’s standard baseball capacity of around 45,000 fans that day, June 13, the result of such a protest would look fairly extreme compared with their typical games. The team has not publicly commented on the protest.
As Clary said, there are myriad reasons for fans to be frustrated. A team that became famous for cutting costs while remaining competitive — largely thanks to “Moneyball,” the 2003 book and subsequent 2011 movie — Oakland made the playoffs 11 times in 21 seasons. But in recent years the A’s have systematically traded away all of their notable players without developing suitable replacements. And despite playing noncompetitive baseball in a poorly maintained stadium, the team has raised ticket prices.
The fans went into full revolt last season, with a handful of games dipping below 3,000 in announced attendance. The team’s response to a season in which it was embarrassed, on the field and in the stands, was to trade away catcher Sean Murphy, the last of the team’s once-promising core of young stars, sending him to the Atlanta Braves in a move, along with others, that helped reduce the team’s total payroll to an MLB-low $58.2 million, according to Spotrac.
Only 11 players on the team make more than $1 million a season and only two players have contracts guaranteed through next year. Oakland’s 26-man active roster is being paid only $45.8 million, which is barely more than the $43.3 million that the Mets are paying starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — each.
Oakland’s offense has shown occasional signs of life thanks to promising contributions from players like center fielder Esteury Ruiz, who came over in the Murphy trade, and designated hitter Brent Rooker, who was claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Royals. But that has not mattered because of how bad the team’s pitching has been.
Through Monday, the A’s team ERA was 7.74, the worst mark in the majors this season by nearly two full runs. If it remains that high for the whole season, it would be the worst mark in American or National League history, beating out the 1930 Philadelphia Phillies, who had a 6.71 ERA on the way to going 52-102-2.
Even the notoriously inept 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who had their roster gutted by ownership before going 20-134, pitched better than the A’s, with a 6.37 ERA. As a result of the Spiders’ roster decisions and poor play, the National League contracted the team before the 1900 season.
The A’s, who are worth an estimated $1.1 billion, according to Forbes, are more likely to be relocated — to a new stadium in Oakland or to one in Las Vegas — rather than contracted. But with almost no one under contract beyond this season, and the team’s young players struggling, it remains to be seen who would come along for such a move. If the fans organizing June’s reverse boycott are to be believed, they will still be around if the team finds a way to stay in Oakland.
“At this point, we are fighting for an owner that will field a competitive team, while also committing to keeping the A’s in Oakland,” Rooted in Oakland said in its statement. “We hope fans come out, have a good time, and voice their opinions regarding the ownership of the Oakland A’s.”