The fact that former A’s second baseman Marco Scutaro led the Giants to the Fall Classic only adds a fresh insult to a deep-rooted injury.
Despite the fact that the inter-league rivalry between Oakland and San Francisco is typically friendly, there is some growing animosity between the organizations revolving around the two clubs’ dispute over the territorial rights that keep them at opposite ends of baseball’s financial spectrum.
San Francisco resides in a beautiful stadium, perhaps the best in baseball. The club began the 2012 season with the seventh highest payroll in the majors at nearly $118 million. Not long ago, it made one of the more expensive mistakes in baseball history, signing Barry Zito to a contract that was at the time the most lucrative ever given to a pitcher. Regardless of Zito’s admirable performance in the current playoffs, there is no doubt that he has never been worth anything close to the $18 million a year that San Francisco has paid him. But despite that enormous waste of money, the Giants have become the cream of the crop in the National League over the last few years.
On the flip side of the coin are the A’s. Their stadium is, by most standards, a dump – one of the few remaining utilitarian eyesores designed to house both a football and a baseball team. Oakland has trouble filling the decrepit Coliseum and as a result, the team’s payroll is annually one of the lowest in baseball. The notion that Oakland could afford to survive a bust as big as Zito and still make the playoffs, let alone win championships, is absurd.
The Giants are baseball’s elite, both in terms of wealth and performance. The A’s are a smart enough organization to occasionally build a contender, but all in all, they are the second class citizens of Bay Area baseball.
The A’s solution to their problem of poor attendance and low revenue is simple. Build a brand new stadium in a wealthier part of the Bay Area, namely San Jose. According to the organization, not only would a new ballpark draw better crowds, but a location in Silicon Valley could give the team access to better sponsorships, increasing the team’s payroll and enabling it to be competitive for more than a couple years at a time.
If anybody should be able to understand the A’s plight, it is the San Francisco Giants. During a three decade period, from 1970-1999, San Francisco made the playoffs only four times, while their rival across the Bay in Oakland won four World Series (including one over the Giants) and made the Fall Classic two other times.
At the heart of San Francisco’s woes rested its stadium, Candlestick Park. In its day, Candlestick might have been a good place for 49ers fans to watch football, but for Giants fans, the stadium was as terrible a place to play or watch baseball as there was in the game.
In the early 1990s, in an effort to build a new stadium, the Giants’ ownership requested the right to build a park in San Jose. At that time, the city fell under the territorial control of the A’s. Oakland’s then-owner Walter Haas gave the Giants the go-ahead in what amounted to little more than a gentleman’s agreement. Although a San Jose stadium never materialized, the Giants retained the territorial rights to Santa Clara County, including San Jose.
That brings us to the present day, when San Francisco continually shoots down Oakland’s current efforts to regain the rights to San Jose and relocate the team there.
On one hand, the Giants’ position is understandable. They are under no obligation to voluntarily yield the rights to Santa Clara County, and possibly suffer a revenue loss. It seems particularly smart for the Giants not to risk losing any revenue advantage given that their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, now have ownership that seems willing to spend every last dime on the planet to build a contender.
However, from Oakland’s point of view, the Giants are the oppressors. They are the force keeping the A’s rooted in their current stadium, a building which almost never sells out. The Giants are the team preventing the A’s from relocating to a place where revenue from all sources would stand to increase. Worst of all, the A’s were once willing to help the Giants out in their time of need, and now San Francisco is unwilling to return the favor.
The issue is a complicated one to be sure. Both sides have logical reasons for sticking to their positions. If the A’s really believe that building a stadium in Oakland is not a feasible option, then the team should continue to seek a new home in San Jose. If the Giants truly feel that the value of their franchise is strongly tied to territorial rights of Santa Clara County, then they should not quickly give up those rights for nothing.
The conflict between the Bay Area’s two baseball teams has been raging for several years with no end in sight. Whether or not the Giants’ performance in the postseason will help or hurt Oakland’s negotiations for the right to build in San Jose remains to be seen.
With San Francisco playing in the World Series, A’s fans are again hammered with the harsh reality that the Giants hold most of the power the Bay Area and that San Francisco will (perhaps understandably) do everything possible to make sure that things stay that way.
With Marco Scutaro and Barry Zito, a pair of former A’s, emerging as the unlikely heroes for the Giants in the NLCS, things get even more bitter for Oakland’s supporters.
Many Oakland fans will undoubtedly channel their Bay Area pride or support their friends by rooting for the Giants over the Detroit Tigers. But as they watch the Giants compete in a beautiful stadium, many will also think of the entire sections of Oakland’s park that remain covered in tarps, unable to be sold. They will wonder what might happen if the A’s get a stadium similar to AT&T Park, what Billy Beane might do with revenues in the same stratosphere as San Francisco.
And then they will hope that the Giants find it in their champion hearts to show some kindness to the financially strapped team across the Bay.