In the 1970s, the Oakland A’s were the most bonkers team in baseball. They had bright yellow and green uniforms, iconic handlebar mustaches, and a live donkey for a mascot. It was an eccentric owner’s way of getting attention. But those gimmicks didn’t win fans in Oakland. Instead, they started a generation of fights between fans and owners, until both sides learned that success in Oakland means embracing Oakland.
Produced by Sarah Wyman, with Dan Bobkoff, Amy Pedulla, and Jennifer Sigl.
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DAN BOBKOFF: Our producer Sarah Wyman has had this book at her desk for months now, and it’s about the Oakland A’s. And so as we’ve been working on all these episodes the past few weeks, every now and then she just pops up with some crazy new detail about the Oakland A’s. So I dragged her into the studio, complete with cold or flu or whatever’s happening to you right now… I hope you feel better soon.
SARAH WYMAN: Yeah, unclear what it is, but it’s unpleasant.
DB: But this story has to be told.
SW: I want to actually tell you Dan about this guy named Charlie Finley. And he used to run the A’s back in the ’70s. And Charlie Finley was a really… interesting guy. (laughs)
DB: How so?
SW: Well, really the best way to put it is just that he was sort of bananas? Like one thing he did that I think really exemplifies his character is he took this mechanical rabbit and installed it behind home plate.
JASON TURBOW: Literally like a metal Bugs Bunny-looking thing with a crate between its ears that would come up out of the ground holding this box of baseballs.
SW: That’s Jason Turbow. He’s the author of the book I’ve been reading. It’s called Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic.
DB That’s a great title.
JT: So the umpire wouldn’t have to call to a ball boy the umpire would press a button and up comes this rabbit and you grab a baseball, the rabbit would go back down…
SW: When Finley took over the team, he thought they should have a mascot. He decided it should be a mule, and he launched what he called the “greatest mule search in history” to find just the right mule to be the team’s mascot.
DB: And did he find it?
JT: He, he found this gigantic mule. He named it Charlie O. after himself, because why wouldn’t he? And yeah, he brought it to the stadium.
SW: And one time Charlie Finley tried to get the mule into the White Sox stadium, and the White Sox Owner was like… ‘No… absolutely not. You cannot take your mule here.’ And so Finley decided he was going to smuggle his mule into the stadium. And he had one of his players, a guy named Ken Harrelson, bring it onto the field before the game.
JT: Saw the White Sox owner, Arthur Allen, just viscerally angry about it..that this mule was on the field after he specifically said not to. The mule ended up trampling Harrelson’s foot, put him on the disabled list for several days. But Finley thought it was the greatest thing ever. He just want to tweak everybody he could. And that mule was was was one great way.
DB: So I take it Finley was not your average baseball team owner?
SW: Oh, absolutely not. The thing is, Dan, and you might already know this, but Major League Baseball has historically has been extremely uptight. It’s kind of like a gentleman’s sport. And back in the day they had extremely specific rules about how players had to look and behave, on the field especially. So there were rules like players weren’t supposed to have facial hair, because only hooligans had facial hair! And the uniforms were supposed to be spick and span. They were often white, with you know some patriotic accent colors like blue and red.
So one of the things Finley did that at the time was completely revolutionary, was he changed the colors of the A’s uniforms. So they used to be like everybody else’s, white with a blue accent. But he threw those out the window, and replaced them with these like bright yellow and green polyester uniforms.
JT: Before long it was it was the wedding gown white and kelly green and Fort Knox gold and he may have named those colors himself.
DB: It sounds like the Oakland A’s were the acid trip of baseball.
SW: That’s really, really not far from the truth. (laughs)
JT: He wanted orange baseballs. He wanted color-coded bases.
SW: Maybe my favorite Finley story is the time he paid The Beatles $150,000 to come play a concert at the A’s stadium. And this is in 1964, Dan, so if you adjust that to today’s money, that’s the equivalent of over a million dollars, and it was for a 30 minute concert.
DB: No wonder Paul McCartney’s a billionaire.
JT: It was his name at the top of the ticket. Charlie O Finley presents… Smaller letters. The Beatles. And it was the only show on the entire tour not to sell out. But but that’s Finley. He’s the guy who could put his name over the Beatles on a ticket stub.
SW: Charlie Finley was a showman and a narcissist. He did all this wild stuff and made a scene because he wanted to get attention. But maybe the craziest part of the Charlie Finley story, Dan, is if you were to have walked out onto that A’s field and stood next to Harvey the mechanical rabbit behind home plate and looked up into the stands… you would have seen almost no one.
DB: From Business Insider and Stitcher, this is Household Name. Brands you know, stories you don’t. I’m Dan Bobkoff.
Major League Baseball is a business. And the product Charlie Finley was selling… was himself.
As he funneled money into his antics, Finley’s brand became the team’s brand. Unconventional. Scrappy. And a little bit rebellious.
But the fans weren’t buying it.
Charlie Finley was the first A’s owner to make the mistake of underestimating Oaklanders. A fan base that wanted a team that played for them, not for the ego of its millionaire owner.
But the brand Finley created also empowered A’s fans to battle with the team’s leadership. And… it’s the reason fans are still fighting for the team.
Today: who owns the Oakland A’s?
Stay with us.
SW: Before we really get going, I have one more Charlie Finley story for you.
It starts in 1972, when Reggie Jackson, one of the A’s star players, showed up to spring training with a full face of hair. This in and of itself wasn’t that unusual. But when Reggie refused to shave, his teammates got worried. They thought Finley might pitch a fit, so to diffuse his reaction, they all grew mustaches.
Finley… was thrilled.
BILLY NORTH: And he paid them $300 each to grow a mustache! In ’72. I came to the A’s with a mustache, and I didn’t get $300. Still pissed off about that.
SW: Billy North played center field for the A’s at the same time Finley was running the team. North and his teammates knew they looked ridiculous with their mustaches and their bright yellow uniforms. But they didn’t care, because their team was good.
BN: We knew how to play baseball.
SW: The Mustache gang was full of all-stars and hall of famers. Guys like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers. Billy North led the league in stolen bases two seasons in a row.
But the A’s were rough around the edges.
Rollie Fingers once launched a laundry cart at his teammate’s ankle in front of a room full of reporters. Reggie Jackson’s hitting record on the field was matched only by his punching record in locker room fights. Catcher Ray Fosse missed three months of the season after he crushed two vertebrae in his neck breaking up a locker room brawl between Jackson and Billy North.
BN: I had four rules in the locker room. I said don’t go in my locker. Don’t do those little grab ass things that you guys do when you’re naked. (laughs) I don’t play in-jokes. And I don’t talk about anybody’s old lady. There are rules.
SW: But the A’s didn’t have many official rules. And that’s because Finley was running the team. And he really only cared about one thing…
BN: Well you know what the deal was… We won, OK?
1972 GAME INTRO: And welcome to Game 4 of the 1972 world series! The National League champions, the Cincinnati Reds versus the American League champs, the Oakland A’s…
SW: The A’s won the World Series in 1972…
ARCHIVAL: Oakland has won the 1972 World Series!
ARCHIVAL: Their second consecutive World Series championship!
SW: … and 1974.
They’re still the only major league baseball team — other than the New York Yankees — to have done that three times, back-to-back-to-back.’
ARCHIVAL: Charles O. Finley being led off now, carrying an Oakland pennant as he heads for the dressing room…
SW: And every time it happened, no one saw it coming. Like, in 1974, the A’s faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Everyone was sure the Dodgers had it in the bag.
BN: One of these guys on the Dodgers said ‘we’re a much better team. There’s only two guys on the Oakland A’s that could even start on our team.’ Five games later, we sent them home. And they’re talking about only two guys could play on the team? The arrogance. Said, ‘man, we could give a damn about this but we’re gonna beat you…’ (laughs)
SW: But even when the A’s were winning, they weren’t drawing huge crowds. Fans weren’t impressed with Finley’s flashy stunts. Because while he was spending money on mechanical rabbits and fireworks, Finley was scrimping on players’ salaries and real improvements to the stadium.
BN: We used to call it the mausoleum.
SW: ‘Cause there were so few people there?
BN: Yeah. There are times that I mean 500 people.
SW: At rock bottom in the Finley era, the A’s attendance was around 300,000 for a whole season. Other teams had five times that in a typical year. And the problem, by most accounts, was the guy who’d built this amazing team. The very foundation of the A’s proud, contrarian identity.
ANDY DOLICH: Charlie Finley was absentee. He never put his arms around the community. He came in and out on a plane.
SW: This is Andy Dolich. He took over as the A’s executive vice president after the Finley era ended.
AD: And Finley lived in Chicago and on his farm in Indiana. Absentee ownership.
SW: And when he was in Oakland, Finley was impossible to work with. While he was perfectly willing to dole out money on hijinx and expensive PR stunts, he didn’t want to pay for the boring, day-to-day stuff. He whittled the team’s administrative staff down to just four people. He worked as his own PR director. He negotiated his own TV and radio contracts. He went through 17 team managers in 20 years. His relationship with fans wasn’t any better. Here’s author Jason Turbow again.
JT: Once he realized he wasn’t going to attract the attention he wanted he gave up. He said he was gonna move to Oakland with his family, he never did. He never never tried to become part of the community fabric in the East Bay and the fans knew it. They, they could sense it.
SW: Finley threatened to move the A’s out of Oakland almost constantly. Seattle. Louisville. Milwaukee. Denver. Texas. All of them were on the table. Even while the A’s were playing in the World Series, Finley was entertaining better offers behind the scenes.
JT: After they won the ’72 World Series, he didn’t invite the Oakland mayor to throw out the first pitch. He invited the San Jose Mayor! Why? Who knows! That’s just kind of who he was.
SW: Charlie Finley started to resent his players becoming more famous than he was. He wanted the credit for all the wins! When the best players asked for more money, he refused. He didn’t fight to keep them when they got better offers from other teams. Finley had the best team in baseball, but he traded it away.
JT: They had two, three, four, five more excellent years in front of them if he had had maintained that roster. And who knows how many World Series they might have won, let alone three is historically great! Right? So they may have have gone down as the greatest team ever if given the chance. But you know part of what made them great is what tore them apart. Charlie Finley is mercurial. They burned bright and then they eventually burned out.
SW: By the late ’70s, the A’s were in bad shape. The team was hemorrhaging money, because fans weren’t buying tickets to games. Charlie Finley had torn the team apart.
After the break, Oakland puts the A’s back together.
DB: Stay with us.
DB: We’re back.
So we’ve just heard about this guy Charlie Finley who seemed at first like this marketing genius showman who built a winning team… but was actually just an egomaniac who didn’t really care about the city or its fans. So by the late ’70s, the A’s and their crazy uniforms were in bad shape. Here’s Sarah again.
SW: If you’re the owner of a team in this situation, a baseball team that isn’t making a lot of money, you have two options. Invest in the team where it’s at, or bail. You can sell or move the team. Finley chose the second option. And while he was trying to get the A’s off his hands, he basically stopped paying attention to the team and the Coliseum. Some days there was almost no one working the ticket booths. Lines to get into the stadium were so long that fans couldn’t get into the game until it was halfway over. But after years of this, after years of failed deals, Finley finally found a new owner. The Haas family — owners of Levi Strauss & Company.
When they walked into the A’s office, it looked like nobody had worked there in years. The phone didn’t work in reception. The A’s three World Series trophies were just sitting on a shelf. Collecting dust.
AD: And I clearly knew what a World Series trophy looked like. But I had never seen three in one room at one time. ’72, ’73, ’74.
SW: This is Andy Dolich again. The Haas family hired him to clean up Finley’s mess…. In this case, literally. There were files and papers stuffed in the World Series trophies.
AD: So I just said ‘wow. You know owners in sport have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to try to win one of these. And right now you know they’re being used as an unsophisticated file folder.’
SW: Dolich felt like Charlie Finley had left him a gift. Finley’d spent all this time building a team with a rock-solid identity and a track record of success, and then he’d driven it straight into the ground. The Coliseum needed maintenance and modernization. The A’s needed better players. And Dolich needed to win back the community Finley had alienated.
AD: He didn’t go after what was essentially his marketplace. The people.
JORGE LEON: Oakland’s my blood.
SW: Jorge Leon has been going to A’s games since he was a kid. And he’s spent almost his whole life in Oakland.
JL: I know the ways of life. I know the ways of an Oaklander. You know, an Oaklander is like… we don’t ask for anything. We do it.
SW: Oaklanders, as it turns out, have more than a little bit in common with the A’s team Charlie Finley built in the ’70s. Listening to Jorge describe Oaklanders, he could be talking about the A’s.
JL: The underdog. Like we’re always in the shadow of something. We’re supposed to lose. We’re supposed to not be who we are. We’re not… We’re supposed to act a certain way. We’re supposed to do this and that. But we don’t. We are… We are our own. We have our own sense of pride, our whole sense of of doing things differently. And it’s a reflection of these great Oakland A’s teams.
SW: Jorge was born in the ’80s, a couple of years after Charlie Finley sold the A’s to the Haas family. He drove me through the neighborhood where he grew up in East Oakland, a two minutes’ drive from the Coliseum.
JL: So as a kid, I used to hit baseballs from here all the way up there. We used to pitch right here.
SW: Back when Jorge was growing up here, this part of East Oakland was what he would call “rough.” It didn’t seem like the best place to host a major league baseball team.
Oakland was hit hard by the crack epidemic in the 1970s. Gang violence was also a problem. At one point, Oakland’s murder rate was double what it was in San Francisco or New York City.
Jorge feels like people take one look at the place he comes from and assume it’s not worth their time. And he was very clear with me from the beginning—Oakland is not the kind of place you can read about on the internet and just understand. If you Google it, you might get the wrong impression…
JL: That everyone’s shooting someone. [baby cries]
SW: That’s Jorge’s baby you’re hearing in the background.
JL: There’s nothing to do in Oakland. There’s nothing to see in Oakland that there’s no history in Oakland.
SW: But Oakland does have a history. A long one. And as we’re driving around the city, Jorge points out landmarks through his rolled down window.
The Oakland Municipal Auditorium.
JL: That’s where Martin Luther King came and gave a speech. And also Nelson Mandela.
SW: Oakland Technical High School.
JL: Where Rickey Henderson went to school, where Marshawn Lynch went to school.
SW: Rickey Henderson, A’s hall of famer. And Marshawn Lynch, former NFL running back.
We drive past Lake Merritt in the middle of Downtown Oakland.
JL: There’s the drummers. That’s why we call it the heartbeat of Oakland.
SW: People are spread out all over the lawn next to the lake. There’s a group doing yoga.
JL: There’s a guy drawing. There’s a guy on the freaking scooter. A guy that looks like he’s still in the ’80s.
SW: We drive around the south side of the lake, past a high-rise apartment complex.
JL: This used to hold a lot of the A’s families, a lot of the A’s players back in the ’70s.
SW: Back in the 70s, when Finley was catapulting Major League Baseball into the 20th century, Oakland was on the vanguard of the civil rights movement.
And if you want to understand how the A’s identity and Oakland’s identity started to come together, that’s a pretty good place to start. Here’s Billy North again.
BN: It was the center of a lot of activism. You know and I’d sit up with Huey Newton and some of the guys and the Black Panthers and stuff like that, hanging out with some of some very enlightened people.
SW: The Black Panthers were founded in Oakland in 1966 in response to police brutality against the Black community. During the ’60s and early ’70s, they started their own patrols, following Oakland’s majority-white police force around Black neighborhoods. Almost half of Oakland’s population was Black at the time.
As the Black Panther movement spread to cities across the US, government officials and the media criticized it for being violent.
And while all of this was going on in Oakland, it seeped into the A’s identity too.
Billy North used to volunteer for the Black Panthers free breakfast program in his spare time. He’d help cook and pass out breakfast to neighborhood kids before school.
But while the players were becoming part of the community in Oakland, Finley was still trying to worm his way out of it.
Major League Baseball, like all professional sports, is a business. Andy Dolich again:
AD: The color of the fluid that flows through the veins of professional sports is green and it’s getting greener by the day.
SW: That is to say, millionaires and billionaires aren’t buying up baseball teams for the peanuts and crackerjacks. Instead they use phrases like this:
AD: Owners are in this to increase their net asset appreciation.
SW: Owners are out to make their teams worth as much money as possible. And what a team is worth can have to do with a lot of different factors. How good the team is, sure, but also, where the team is. And whether the people in that place will pay money to come watch the team play baseball.
And, after Finley’s failures, it didn’t look like Oakland had great money-making potential.
But, according to Dolich, the Haas family didn’t buy the A’s for net asset appreciation. Their strategy was to engage more with the community in the East Bay, almost like a form of philanthropy. And that strategy turned out to be great for business.
In the decade after the Haases and Andy Dolich took over, the A’s overall yearly attendance went up by 900%. The A’s went to the World Series twice, and won it in 1989. And Walter Haas didn’t make that happen by moving the A’s out of Oakland. He did it by buying into Oakland.
AD: And what he wanted to do was make the A’s basically a part of the community. Like a library, like an art museum, like a science museum. That the fans felt an ownership of.
SW: Dolich and the Haas family ran the Coliseum like it was Disneyland. They poured money into the stadium, hiring staff, and building new activities to entertain fans at the game. And it worked!
But more importantly, the A’s started investing in talent. Paying for big, long-term contracts with star players. Guys like Rickey Henderson, Dave Stewart, and Dennis Eckersley. Who all had roots in Oakland.
JL: My biggest pet peeve is what people say ‘oh yeah I’ve dreamed about wearing the pinstripes my whole life.’
SW: Jorge Leon again. When he says “pinstripes,” he’s talking about the Yankees.
JL: It’s like… ‘Do you know how weak the Yankees used to be when you were a kid?’ Like me as a kid, when I was a kid, my dream was not to wear pinstripes. ‘What the hell’s in New York? Why would I want to go play for… for the Yankees?’
SW: Jorge grew up in the wake of an Oakland sports renaissance. The Golden State Warriors, who played right next door to the Coliseum, won the NBA championship in 1975. And the Raiders, who shared a field with the A’s, took home the Superbowl trophy in 1976, 1980, and again in 1983.
Oakland, famous for its activism, for fighting for the underdog, was winning. And it was glorious.
JL: Back then everyone wanted to wear A’s gear. Back then everyone wanted to wear Raiders gear you know. So those teams put Oakland on the map.
SW: But now that these Oakland teams are champions, worth millions and billions of dollars, their owners are seeing green. If these teams are worth this much in Oakland, could they be worth even more somewhere else?
CBS: NFL owners of course yesterday voted to move the Oakland Raiders out of the Bay Area and to Las Vegas.
JL: Their moving to Las Vegas is like… that shouldn’t have been allowed.
SW: The Warriors, who are basically unbeatable in the NBA right now, are leaving too. And even worse, they’re abandoning Oakland to move across the Bay. To San Francisco.
JL: Don’t even get me started on that too. This was bullshit.
SW: After the break, the A’s try to leave too. But not on Jorge’s watch.
JL: Despite a lot of people try to like say, ‘Oakland is bad or Oakland ain’t nothing.’ We’re still fighting. And we will win.
DB: Stay with us.
DB: We’re back.
SW: Years before the A’s threatened to leave Oakland, Jorge started sitting with a group of fans out in right field.
GAME: Oh when the A’s… oh when the A’s go marching in! I want to be…
SW: They call themselves the fanily — like F-A-N. They show up to every home game of the season, toting banners and flags. Jorge stands at the front of the bleachers, one foot propped up on the metal railing. He’s balancing a beer cooler-sized drum between his shin and the rail, hammering out a rhythm as loudly as he can.
JL: And then you go one down and two down and then… And when the pitcher is getting ready to throw the next one and we just go with his rhythm.
JL: …and then try and throw off the batter by banging faster.
GAME: [drumming] Oooooh! Hey!
JL…the ball comes into the plate. And then once they record the third out, boom that’s it.
SW: The fanily has become Jorge’s actual family. He met his wife, Michelle, in the bleachers. He wore an A’s hat and scarf at their wedding. Now, they bring their baby to games and she wears a tiny pair of green earmuffs. She doesn’t mind the noise. Probably because she’s been hearing it since before she was born.
GAME: We love you Oakland, we do! Oakland we love you!
SW: A couple years ago, the A’s started talking about moving out of Oakland again. Attendance had been falling for years—even though the A’s had showed a couple of really good seasons.
In fact, one of their seasons was so remarkably good that the journalist Michael Lewis wrote a book about it. You might have heard of it: it’s called Moneyball. Brad Pitt starred in the movie.
MONEYBALL: The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams, and there are poor teams. Then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us.
SW: But even the Moneyball season didn’t draw crowds. Because instead of signing big contracts with players the fans knew and loved, the A’s paid peanuts for guys who were older, or coming off big injuries, or underutilized on their teams. And even though those guys ended up being really good, Oaklanders didn’t feel invested. These guys weren’t like Rickey Henderson…
ARCHIVAL: Rickey Henderson goes…
SW: …or Mark McGuire…
ARCHIVAL: Mark McGuire launches one, deep in left field…
SW: They were players nobody had ever heard of. And, sure, they exceeded expectations, but fans weren’t lining up to see them play.
A couple years later, in 2005, John Fisher and Lew Wolff bought the A’s. And they decided to move the team to San Jose.
Jorge Leon remembers hearing this announcement. Imagining, for a second, what his life would be like if the A’s left Oakland. But the Oaklander in him wasn’t going to let the A’s go without a fight.
JL: Like I would tell people ‘if they start putting the shovel in the ground in San Jose I would lay down in front of the bulldozer or whatever it is and for them not to do anything.’
SW: Jorge organized a walkout during an A’s game. He contributed to a website with a list of “A’s owners’ PR mistakes and snafus from 1995 to present.” And then, he started hanging signs criticizing Lew Wolff in right field.
JL: The first one that was out there was ‘Wolff lied. He never tried.’ And the securities came and they tried to escort me out. I was like ‘No. Why?”‘They said ‘you, you gotta remove that sign.’ I’m like, ‘I can’t, that’s freedom of speech.’
SW: Jorge went back and forth with the security guard about freedom of speech. The security guard threatened to call the Oakland Police Department.
JL: While this is going on. One of the guys from the bleachers started a ‘Lew Wolff sucks’ chant and it started like, the whole section started chanting it. And it was so loud that like security was getting mad and OPD came.
SW: Police escorted Jorge out of the stadium. But a reporter from the East Bay Express had watched the whole thing happen. He wrote a story about it. And then, the San Francisco Chronicle picked it up, and the San Jose Mercury News ran a profile of Jorge on its front page.
JL: It got so big that like Lew Wolff invited me to his suite to talk to me. And so I was like OK. You know I accepted it. And then I went and I had a Green Stampede shirt. I had a ball signed by all the bleacher people that said “keep the A’s in Oakland.”
SW: They met up in Lew Wolff’s suite. It was Mother’s Day. The A’s were playing the Tampa Bay Rays. Lew Wolff had come prepared with printouts of emails and letters he said proved he’d done everything he could to keep the A’s in Oakland. This was something he’d been saying publicly, over and over. That he’d exhausted all of his options. It wasn’t possible to keep the team in Oakland. Fans like Jorge weren’t buying it.
JL: I just remember him handing me a binder. Talking to me. Showing me like ‘oh look this is what I tried here.’ I’m like ‘OK. But how did you even try to resolve these issues at all? Or did you just give up as soon as someone said no?’
SW: While Jorge and Lew Wolff were talking, A’s pitcher Dallas Braden was throwing a perfect game. The other team didn’t get a single man on base the whole game. And, just so you know, there have only been 23 perfect games in the 143-year history ofMmajor League Baseball.
[PERFECT GAME ARCHIVAL]
JL: And then he left like around the sixth inning or seventh inning and he was eating peanuts and he put all the peanuts on top of the shirt that we gave him. Never took it. Meanwhile there’s a perfect game going on. You don’t leave with a perfect game.
[PERFECT GAME ARCHIVAL]
SW: Lew Wolff didn’t come around to Jorge’s thinking during that meeting. But the A’s did stay in Oakland. Strangely, because of their cross-town rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
KPIX: The San Francisco Giants own the rights to the San Jose market and they are saying ‘no way’ to letting the A’s move there.
SW: San Jose wanted the A’s to move to their city, but the Giants claimed San Jose was in their territory. And the whole thing became so contentious it actually went to the US Supreme Court.
KRON: Developing right now the city of San Jose wants the A’s to move there so badly it is now suing Major League Baseball…
KSBW: The city is crying foul and hoping to force a decision to allow the A’s to move from Oakland to the South Bay…
SW: The city of San Jose lost, and the A’s stayed put… for now at least. Lew Wolff stepped down.
And now there’s a new guy in charge. Team president Dave Kaval. And talking to him… I get the sense he gets it… how this team, this city, and the community all fit together.
DAVE KAVAL: We are rooted in Oakland. We have 50 years of history in this community, and we don’t view Oakland as a negative, we view it as our great strength and it’s something we’re building everything on top of.
SW: Kaval has office hours for A’s fans once a week. Fans, including Jorge, write to him on Twitter all the time too with comments and suggestions. Kaval writes back.
Just last month, the A’s dropped $33.5 million to keep Khris Davis, their star player, on the team for two more years. Pretty much the opposite of the Moneyball strategy. Fans read this investment as a commitment.
And, as far as commitments go, there’s an even bigger one in the works. Dave Kaval is fighting to get a new ballpark built at Howard’s Terminal, alongside the waterfront. He and A’s leadership have even been working with the fanily on ideas for the new stadium, trying to heal old wounds.
Jorge is… cautiously optimistic about Kaval and the plan.
JL: Until that shovel hits the ground I don’t believe anything. And that’s why I worry about it. Like it’s, it’s always in the back of my mind.
SW: Jorge drove me to where the new stadium will be… if it gets built, that is.
JL: Straight ahead is where… it’s Howard Terminal. This is where the A’s want to build. This whole port right here.
SW: The plan is already running up against hurdles. Like a coalition of maritime workers who say the new stadium would eat up waterfront real estate and eliminate their jobs. The A’s dispute that by the way.
JL: The whole thing is I think like 5 acres?
SW: The site of the A’s future stadium looks like a giant parking lot. Cracked asphalt buts up against the East Bay. Faded steel shipping containers are stacked up in piles under gigantic cranes. It’s not a construction site yet, but it’s still a bumpy ride.
JL: [drives into pothole] Oh shit! That was a bit ‘ole pothole! Wow. I hope my truck’s okay…
SW: How does it feel being here knowing that like, one day this might be… you might be in the stadium now?
JL: It feels pretty damn good. I mean we’ve been pushing for this since 2009, 2010. So now that they’re finally actually doing it like… Man. I don’t think it’s actually hit me yet, you know just because of the fact that we’ve been in this situation before and we’ve been kind of backstabbed before and… like.. nevermind. I don’t think it’s hit me yet but it’s exciting to see. And that’s actually… So this would be like center field…
SW: From inside his pickup truck, Jorge starts sketching out the future stadium around us. There’s a building to our left that’s been designated a historical site. Jorge can already imagine it built into the facade of the new stadium. Old Oakland and new Oakland fused together by the A’s. Where the team came from, baked into its future. And, Dave Kaval says, that’s the whole point.
DK: It’s really a reflection of Oakland. Because I think Oakland has always been on the vanguard of new ideas. Whether it’s the Black Panthers, whether it’s social justice, whether it’s art, you know rap music, whatever that is, the A’s have always been like that too. Whether it’s the mustache gang in the ’70s and all the great players, or Rickey Henderson, it’s the same thing now. And I think our fans and even nationally people are looking to Oakland and seeing the type of the players that we have and that we’re kind of doing it our own way? I think that’s really a special thing and I think it’s something that attracts interest in baseball worldwide.
SW: As Jorge sits parked on the asphalt at Howard Terminal, two A’s hats resting on his dashboard, he’s hopeful. Because, for the first time in decades, it feels like he, the fan, and Kaval, the suit, are playing for the same team. Oakland.
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GAME: Let’s go Oakland!
JL: You know we’re gonna have tailgate Fridays when they’re building this thing. I wanna come and bring food to the workers. And put the flags up, bring the drums and root for them when they’re doing construction. That’d be kind of cool. That’d be something different that we could do. And I can’t wait for that.
GAME: Let’s go Oakland!
DB: This episode was reported and produced by Sarah Wyman. With Amy Pedulla, Jennifer Sigl, and me.
Special thanks to the A’s fans who spoke with us for this story, especially Bryanne Aler-Ningas, Will MacNeil, Anson Casanares, Andy Cho, and Keith Salminen. Special thanks also to Michelle Leon and the rest of the Leon family, Dana Wyman, Eilis O’Neill, and Bruce Maxwell.
We love hearing what you think of the show and all your story ideas. Get in touch. You can email us at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @danbobkoff or join our Facebook group, just search Household Name podcast. And, we sent out the first issue of our brand new “Brand New(s)” newsletter last week! If you want to see a photo from Sarah’s reporting trip to Oakland or some behind-the-scenes from the sonic brands episode, subscribe at the link in our show notes.
Our editors are Gianna Palmer and Peter Clowney.
And we’re big fans of our sound engineers Casey Holford and John DeLore who hit it out of the park every week.
The executive producers are Chris Bannon and me.
Household Name is a production of Insider Audio.
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