Prove Me Wrong, Oakland

The Oakland A’s won last night, improbably shutting out Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers to stay alive in the postseason.

The crowd was announced as a sellout -- even though there were close to 20,000 empty upper-deck seats beneath a large green tarp that the team’s owner, Lew Wolff, refuses to remove, despite demand from his team’s fans. As I wrote yesterday, Wolff is determined to move the A’s to San Jose, a decision that makes undeniable financial sense. (San Jose recently displaced Detroit as America’s 10th largest city; as of 2010, Oakland was 47th.)

Some A’s fans took offense at my argument, and I don’t blame them: This is their team, and they don’t want to have to drive 41 miles to see them play in a different city. The Athletics may have started in Philadelphia -- they were a charter member of the American League -- but they’ve been in Oakland since 1968, and have accumulated a lot of history there. (Before there was Moneyball, there was Billyball).

Most baseball franchises are privately held businesses; but they are also public trusts. Wolff, with his apparent disdain for his fan base, seems either not to understand this or, more likely, not to care. He has a profitable team, worth roughly $140 million more than he paid for it in 2005, and his partner is the heir to the Gap fortune -- and yet the A’s consistently have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

So Wolff gets to have it both ways: He makes money on the A’s, even as he perpetuates the perception that Oakland can’t sustain a big-league team.

Who suffers? The fans, of course.

Is the A’s lack of fan support connected to discontent with the ownership of the team? No doubt. Still, since 2006, the A’s best showing, attendance-wise, was third to last in the American League.

If Oakland wants to keep the A's, its only option is for fans to get out and support the team. Protest outside the stadium until Wolff agrees to remove the tarp. Order your 2013 season tickets now. I would love to be proved wrong.

(Jonathan Mahler is a sports columnist for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter.)

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