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Through two-plus months of the 2023 season, the Athletics are not competing against other MLB teams.
In a decrepit stadium and in front of tens of thousands of empty seats, the club has been taking the field night after night battling the most incapable ghosts of baseball’s past.
Entering this weekend, Oakland’s winning percentage (.203) was the third-worst in major league history through 59 games, better than only the 1904 Washington Senators and 1932 Red Sox.
The A’s were the worst in the game both in scoring runs (3.39 per game) and in preventing them (6.76).
Their negative-199 run differential was more than double the second-worst in baseball and the worst in MLB history through the first 59 games.
Previously, the 1996 Tigers, who finished with 109 losses, held the record at negative-191.
The all-time worst ERA mark for an MLB club belongs to the 1930 Phillies, a 102-loss team with an ERA that sunk to 6.60. The A’s were at 6.63.
The A’s, who entered play Saturday at 12-47, were on pace to lose 129 games.
That would be the worst in the modern era (since 1901) — and second place all-time in ignoble history, between the 134-loss 1899 Cleveland Spiders and the 120-loss 1962 Mets.
The Athletics’ offense was the worst in baseball in batting average (.218) and OPS (.648). Their pitching staff had given up more home runs (100), walks (265), hits (563) and hit more batters (40) than anyone.
The team’s payroll — an estimated $56.8 million, according to Cots Contracts — is at the bottom of MLB, too.
All of this misery has been witnessed by the smallest crowds in MLB. The A’s are averaging just 8,675 fans per home game, which is stunning and sensible at the same time.
If ownership does not care enough to attempt to put a winning team on the field — or to attempt to take care of the home stadium— why should the fan base show up?
Under that backdrop, team owner John Fisher is attempting to uproot an organization that has been based in Oakland, Calif., since 1968.
Many watching from afar, seeing the wide swaths of empty seats in a neglected and monstrous stadium, have come to an understanding that the city of Oakland does not care enough to deserve a baseball team.
But if the game dies in Oakland, fans argue it would not die a natural death.
Athletics ownership “murdered baseball,” said longtime Coliseum vendor Hal “The Hot Dog Guy” Gordon.
The all-time disaster developing in Oakland, featuring the worst team that money won’t buy, ultimately comes back to dollars and cents.
Important A’s players in 2020, when they last reached the postseason, are now mostly thriving elsewhere because they became too expensive to keep. Chris Bassitt (who was traded) and Matt Chapman (who left as a free agent) are with the Blue Jays.
Matt Olson and Sean Murphy (trades) are stars for the Braves. Mark Canha (free agent) is with the Mets.
Frankie Montas (trade) is with the Yankees and Sean Manaea (free agent) is with the Giants. Even their longtime manager, Bob Melvin, was allowed to leave for the Padres.
Basically anyone who approached a big payday, even through arbitration, was cast aside. General manager David Forst declined comment for this story.
Chapman, an A’s star from 2017-21 before he signed with the Blue Jays, declined further comment Friday, saying he wanted previous comments made to Sportsnet to speak for themselves.
“We had so many good players, but that’s just the way it goes,” Chapman told the Canadian outlet. “All of us knew we weren’t going to be there long-term. … It sucks when the front office doesn’t do what they should and sign guys and keep guys around.”
The guys who are kept around are cheap, inexperienced and largely unknown. A’s fans grew to love the Moneyball teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s, even if they knew stars such as Jason Giambi eventually were going to sign elsewhere.
They grew to love the early 2010s clubs, even if they knew better than to get too attached to Josh Donaldson and Sonny Gray. They grew to love the young core of the late 2010s … and then there were none left.
Their two most valuable players this season have been unknowns Brent Rooker and Ryan Noda.
There are few victories and little name-recognition to draw Oakland fans.
“It’s tough to watch,” said Rajai Davis, an A’s outfielder from 2008-10 and again in 2017. “I know a lot of the [coaches] that are still there. … They’re a younger group. They have some talent, but they need more experience.”
When Davis — who now works for MLB — was playing, though, the A’s were at least filling some seats. Even as recently as 2019, the A’s averaged more than 20,000 at each home game, not an especially high number, but not one of MLB’s worst, either.
But these days, it is not just the players and managers who are missing from the Coliseum.
The A’s went all of the 2022 season without a bobblehead giveaway. There are two scheduled this season.
In 2018, big-headed mascots of a few Oakland legends — Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers — raced as between-inning entertainment at every home game.
In the years since, it has just been a weekend event.
Also missing, occasionally, can be chairs.
“Every once in a while,” Gordon said, seats will break at a neglected Coliseum, and rows of stadium seating will be interrupted by lawn chairs.
It looks different. It sounds different.
Gone are the drums, long a hallmark of Oakland games, because the Oakland 68s — the fan group that would bang away in the right-field bleachers — retired their instruments after ownership settled on Las Vegas for a potential move.
There are few people in the seats, but there still can be long lines at concessions.
“It still takes forever to get something to drink or eat, partly because they closed down so much of it — they don’t want to pay extra people to work there,” said Gordon, in a claim partly disputed by the A’s and partly directed toward Aramark — the food-service provider that makes concessions decisions. “But also it’s an old stadium. … When they built the Coliseum, they were used to the concessions being a hot dog, peanuts, beer, soda, water, maybe nachos. And everyone [was] using cash. So you didn’t need that many concession areas.”
Taking the place of stars, mascots and seats is the occasional unwanted animal. Feral cats wander around, and an opossum was spotted in the visiting broadcast booth on Opening Day.
The club said the marsupial was caught, and the booth has since been renovated.
“This ownership group has just made it abundantly clear that they would never spend a dime they didn’t have to,” said Gordon, who was a beloved Coliseum vendor and, as he led chants (“Give me an A! What’s that spell?”) in a throwback, red-and-white striped vest, essentially became a mascot from 2016-22. “Until they figured out what stadium to be at.”
The club does not dispute the stadium is in disrepair and said in a statement that the Coliseum, which opened in 1966, is “past its useful life.”
The club does dispute that it is solely responsible for upkeep.
The A’s, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority and ASM Global, a venue and event management company, share the duties, which has led to a dilapidated park and the team seeking a home elsewhere.
The NFL’s Raiders, the Athletics’ former co-tenants in the Coliseum from 1966-81 and again from 1995-2019, already left for Las Vegas three years ago.
As the ballpark creaks and the team reeks, owner John Fisher and team president Dave Kaval have been lobbying in Nevada for hundreds of millions in public funding for a stadium on the Las Vegas strip. Perhaps they are posturing, trying to pressure Oakland into a deal sweeter for A’s ownership.
What’s next for the A’s is unclear. Gordon pegged it at 90 percent sure the team would leave because Fisher has made it clear he wants to.
A “reverse boycott” is planned for June 13, in which fans will show up in part to show they exist.
“It’s going to be huge and loud,” Gordon said. “The fans are wanting to prove to both themselves and prove to baseball that Oakland loves baseball. … It’s not us. It’s them.”
What’s next for the 2023 A’s is more clear.
They will be bad, and it’s only a matter of degree that has become fascinating.
As is the team’s tendency, useful players likely will be dealt at the trade deadline, which would lead to an even worse club playing in front of a fan base with little reason to attend games.
Out of an ugly fight between a baseball team and a city could arise the worst baseball team of all time.