After decades in Oakland, the A’s are moving to Las Vegas, where a promised stadium of gigantic proportions awaits. The decision has not only been devastating for the city of Oakland and its many baseball fans, but also carries wider implications that extend beyond the MLB to matters of public finance. After all, why should cities keep shelling out billions in taxpayer money for sports facilities while schools and hospitals close? Edge of Sports host Dave Zirin zeroes in on the controversial new Vegas stadium, taking aim in particular at MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, the “Gordon Gecko” of baseball.
Studio Production: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Opening Sequence: Cameron Granadino
Music by: Eze Jackson & Carlos Guillen
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Dave Zirin: Wow, that was Solomon Hughes, but now I got some choice words. Okay, look, in the early 1970s, the Oakland A’s were a dynasty winning three straight World series led by players like Reggie Jackson, Raleigh Fingers, and Jim Catfish Hunter. They also had a 12 year old kid from the streets of Oaktown who entertained the clubhouse with his dancing moves. This kid’s name was Stanley Burrell, and he had an uncanny resemblance to the great home run king “Hammerin’ Hank Hank Aaron. So they called him Hammer Stanley Burrell took that on as his dancing name, and 15 years later became known to the world as MC Hammer. I tell that story because it speaks to how woven this team is into our collective culture, but I also tell that story because it would not have happened if they were the Idaho A’s or the San Antonio A’s or Yes, the Las Vegas A’s because the Ballad of the funky head hunter, aka MC Hammer is not an A’s story.
It’s not even a baseball story, it’s an Oakland story. Hell, the unlikely start of Hammer’s career is an Oakland legend, as sure as Huey Newton and Bobby Seal putting out the first issue of the Black Panther speaks while listening to Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man is an Oakland legend, a legend rooted in a truth that perhaps can only be found in Oaktown. And this is because of Oakland that this team, the A’s, has given us more legendary people and moments than we have had any right to expect.
The Bash brothers, Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco, the famous 20 game winning streak with one of the most inexpensive rosters in the sport and a World series in 1989 that literally cracked the earth open. But now because a billionaire franchise owner who made his fortune by inheriting a sweatshop empire as well as a major league baseball commissioner who really seems to hate the sport of baseball, the as are looking to be leaving Oakland to go to a publicly funded paradise in the Las Vegas desert, I’ve had much to say over the years about how these sweetheart stadium deals fleece taxpayers and the poor about how publicly funded arenas are nothing but monuments to corporate greed about how economists say you’d be better off dropping a billion dollars from a plane and letting people pick up the money and spend it than using the money for a sports complex.
This is not a debate, it’s a fact. And academics have been putting out the data that proves this for decades. But for the very powerful, these stadium deals are pure gold, a magical alchemy that takes public funds and after being laundered through sports becomes private profit. I have much to say about all of this and to the working people of Vegas, I am so sorry. I am sorry for your schools and hospitals and parks. I am sorry for what is about to happen to you, but I want to focus here not on the Oakland Franchise owner Gap clothing heir John Fisher. I’m not going to focus on the way he sold off every decent player on the team to drive down attendance and then cry poverty in order to facilitate this move. I’m not going to focus on him. He’s nothing. A garbage bag stuffed with spam doing exactly what he was told.
I want to focus on the person pulling his strings, Major League baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. It was Manfred who did not want a privately funded deal to build a new stadium in Oakland. And it was Manfred who decided that Pilfer tax dollars from Vegas mattered more than decades of loyalty and support given by the people of Oakland to this franchise. I also want to focus on Manfred because this past week in an interview with my man Jun Lee over at ESPN, he exposed his character and it’s rotten to the core. He showed himself not only prepared to gut a great baseball town, but kick it in the teeth on the way out the door. Listen to these comments. The injury is bad enough, the insults far worse, and the lies unendurable. On the A’s relocation he said, “The real question is, what was Oakland prepared to do?”
There is no Oakland offer, okay? They never got to a point where they had a plan to build a stadium at any site. And it’s not just on John Fisher. The community has to provide support. This as the Oakland Mayor’s Office pointed out immediately before that quote even hit the airwaves is simply not true. There were numerous plans on the table, just not one as a wash in public money as the Vegas plan. Manfred was also asked about a recent event where fans filled the stands in protest of the move to Vegas in what was being called a reverse boycott to that Manfred smirked and said, “I mean, it was great. It is great to see what is this year, almost an average major league baseball crowd in the facility for one night. That’s a great thing.” And when Jun Lee pointed out to Manfred that studies say that stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth, he shrugged it off with this pithy observation. “Academics can say whatever they want.”
Look, this isn’t a baseball commissioner, it’s a sports radio caller. It’s a YouTube commenter, and it’s more evidence that no one dislikes the game of baseball in all its pageantry and joy than Rob Manfred the Grinch of the national pastime. But comparing him to a Dr. Seuss character is too kind. He’s more like Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street. Greed is good, and anything that gets in the way of greed is inherently bad.
That movie came out in 1987, and if we’ve learned anything since then in this age of decay, it’s that greed isn’t good. Greed destroys communities, greed destroys small towns. Greed destroys I-95 and greed is destroying our cities. And publicly funded stadiums is one of the ways they do it. They take all the joy and community cohesion that baseball can create and use it like a club to attack and alienate the most vulnerable, the very people whose love has made the game everything it is. It’s obscene. Rob Manfred is killing this team. Its future will no longer be in the hearts of the Oakland faithful. Instead, they will be in the Vegas desert to be buried with the rest of the bodies.