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High stakes: MLB tells Oakland its in danger of losing the A’s to Las Vegas

Rob Manfred

(Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred had a chat last week with Oakland city officials and casually reminded them it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to move the Athletics to Las Vegas.

Why would Manfred say something like that? Well, MLB is upset the city has decided to file a lawsuit over the sale of real estate at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

According to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland’s city council wants to block the county from selling its half-ownership of the Coliseum site to the A’s. A judge has issued a temporary restraining order putting any sale on hold.

The city owns the other half of the complex and it wants the county to sell its share to it. One problem: Oakland doesn’t have $85 million. And the A’s do.

The A’s want the land to develop its 155 acres to help pay for a privately financed ballpark they want to build.  And for some reason, the city would rather have the land for itself.

We understand Manfred is doing the bidding of the owners he works for. But we choose to believe he is bluffing. He is using the lawsuit as a means to intimidate the city into thinking it might lose its team.

We’ve seen this kind of thing many times before when someone wants a new stadium built. Although its usually an owner – and not a commissioner – playing the tough guy.

“He (Manfred) kind of laid down the law,” City Councilman Larry Reid, who sits on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, told the Chronicle.

Reid would know. He was at both meetings Manfred had with Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, and its council president, Rebecca Kaplan.

Apparently, Manfred dropped the Oakland Raiders scenario on the city, the one that will take their NFL team to Las Vegas beginning next season. Manfred insinuated the baseball team could be next.

It’s no secret Las Vegas wants an MLB team to join the Raiders and NHL’s Golden Knights. But until last week, the hot rumor was the Arizona Diamondbacks could be lured.

MLB was scheduled to respond to the Chronicle story, but so far there’s been no sign of a statement. But the mayor of Las Vegas told the newspaper she wasn’t privy to any conversations between her city and MLB.

Las Vegas has been used many times as a prop by MLB teams threatening to move if communities did not or could not set up the financing for a new ballpark in their cities. It’s no surprise Manfred may have decided to try it again.

“(Manfred) talked about how it was five years ago that he became commissioner, how he had resisted the A’s moving to San Jose back then,” Reid said. “Then he talked about his frustration with the lawsuit and how the city needs to make it go away.”

Oakland Coliseum

(Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The dispute about to whom the land will be sold is not new. The city and the A’s have been haggling for years.  The Athletics are desperate to build a modern ballpark for themselves. And they want it constructed on that specific tract of land.

David Samson, the former president of the Miami Marlins, sides with us. He doesn’t think the A’s are headed anywhere, either. In fact, Samson told he’s familiar with the hand MLB is trying to play.

“This is exactly the playbook that the Marlins used and I used with the Marlins, including I took a trip to Vegas after we got approval to seek relocation alternatives so when all that doesn’t work, that’s when relocation becomes possible,” said Samson. “In order to get a ballpark done these days, you have to get to the edge, like no net. … You have to be hanging on with chalk and fingers, waiting for a deal to get done. Oakland is not there yet, but they are certainly putting chalk on their hands.”

The A’s do not draw very well. Although they are one of the most exciting teams in the game.  As they are built with proficiency with one of the game’s smallest payrolls, they averaged only 20,521 fans in 2019.

Financial analysts contend the attendance continues to lag partly because the team is unable to attract much corporate money because their ballpark is basically a dump.

Have you ever been to what they now call RingCentral Coliseum? The place, which was built in 1968, literally reeks. The football press box has been known to leak, extremely inconvenient for media members working below the sprinkles on laptop computers. Even the dugouts often get flooded when it rains particularly hard.

From a business standpoint, there are no luxury boxes, no true place to hold corporate outings or accommodate high-paying guests. It is what it is and it isn’t good enough anymore.

So you can understand why MLB would do anything in its power to secure this land for the A’s so they can build the park it needs to rescue them from financial ruin.

But they aren’t moving the A’s to Las Vegas any time soon. You can bet on it.