Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A's in the 1970s

They fought their owner, and they fought each other. They wore their hair long, grew big mustaches and wore the loudest uniforms possible. Oh, yeah, they also were the greatest baseball dynasty since Casey Stengel's Yankees of the 1950s, winning the World Series in three consecutive years.

We're talking, of course, about "The Mustache Gang" -- the nickname of the Oakland A's of the early 1970s. They were led by eccentric owner Charlie O. Finley and his smart, dutiful cousin Carl Finley, who ran the threadbare front office while doing the work of a dozen men. The team also featured future Hall of Famers, such as Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson and manager Dick Williams, along with legendary pitcher Vida Blue (who should be in the Hall).

Read fellow BaseballOakland blogger FrankieD's memories of this colorful team during Oakland's most colorful era.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Piccinini Would Have Kept A's in Oakland

Dave Newhouse's column today ("The man who would've kept A's in Oakland" -- Jan. 21, 2010) about Robert Piccinini's attempt a decade ago to buy the A's really nails it on the head.

Piccinini, a very wealthy grocery-store chain magnate, was part of an ownership group led by ex-A's exec Andy Dolich, who tried buying the A's from Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann in 1999.

Within the column, Piccinini highlights some key points:

*The Dolich-Piccinini group had plenty of money and resources to buy and operate the A's. Not only did Piccinini have the money at the time, Piccinini's business ventures grew since 1999 and is invested in not only one but two MLB franchises.
*Comments an unnamed Giants executive recently made to Piccinini underscore what he's always suspected -- that the Giants worked behind the scenes with MLB to undermine the Dolich-Piccinini group, which MLB rejected in the fall of '99.
*As much as Piccinini would still like to buy the A's, it's "probably not" going to happen, but he adds: "Never say never."
*Newhouse intimates that some have floated theories of collusion between A's co-owner Lew Wolff and Commissioner Bud Selig. This goes along with what Selig said in a 2001 interview about the A's moving to Oakland being a big mistake.
*Nearly 11 years after Selig and MLB owners rejected Piccinini's group, the A's and Selig still are no closer to building a new stadium than they were in 1999. It's a painful irony for A's fans that the ownership group that was best equipped to build a new A's ballpark was not allowed to buy the team.

Click here to read more. It's a fascinating read about an important East Bay sports story that, amazingly, is still looking for a good ending.

Want to comment or give us feedback? E-mail us at baseballoakland@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BaseballOakland member Garth Kimball writes My Word column in Tribune

My Word: Oakland A's fans deserve better ownership
By Garth Kimball

GUY SAPERSTEIN and the A's ownership continue to distort the truth in an attempt to destroy the A's fan base and to get Major League Baseball approval to move out of Oakland.

Saperstein's Jan. 8 letter to the editor, "Need business plan," about A's ballpark sites failed to disclose that he is an A's co-owner. He also wrote that Oakland does not have a ballpark business plan. Yet, Oakland officials recently announced that the city and MLB officials together have fully analyzed three waterfront sites and provided detailed ballpark and economic redevelopment plans to MLB's Blue Ribbon Committee.

Saperstein mentioned the Jack London Square sites are just a few parcels of land and not very attractive for a stadium. Those three proposed sites total more than 90 acres and are ideal MLB stadium sites. Also, since when is a waterfront ballpark with wonderful transit options and beautiful views not attractive?

Saperstein also claims the A's are losing $30 million per year. According to Forbes magazine, the A's are one of MLB's few teams that regularly turn a profit, due to their low payroll and their sweetheart Coliseum lease from the city of Oakland and Alameda County.

Meanwhile, A's co-owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher have done nothing but depress attendance and hurt their own bottom line by providing poor customer service, trading away fan-favorite players, threatening to move every year and excluding many fans by tarping off the third deck.

Wolff has repeatedly stated he exhausted all efforts in Oakland. Yet, city officials last year quickly found two new excellent waterfront ballpark sites. All it took was effort and working with, not against, city leaders.

A new ballpark in Oakland certainly would be successful. However, what we need even more is ownership like the Haas family provided; an A's ownership that will reach out to the entire East Bay and an ownership that will be committed to staying in Oakland and winning.

Oakland is a wonderfully diverse city with great transportation options. We deserve better than Wolff, Fisher and Saperstein, who whine instead of trying to win. The team should be put up for sale and a new ballpark should be built in Oakland.

As the 31,000 people (and growing) who have joined the "Let's Go Oakland" Facebook page illustrate, A's fans are yearning for MLB to grant the city of Oakland its first real chance since the Haas years to retain its team and return it to glory.

Saperstein warns about misleading the public. Unfortunately, if A's fans and the public have been misled by anyone, it's Wolff, Fisher, Saperstein and their fellow A's co-owners. We deserve better.


Monday, January 18, 2010

New Year and Old Threats

A recent New York Times article on Lew Wolff's ongoing stadium search examined Oakland's excellent new sites near Jack London Square. Three main points from the article stick out.

1. Lew Wolff's headstrong attitude about moving the A's
2. Political implications
3. Reaction of A's fans

One quote from the article additionally stood out: "... he (Wolff) has also raised the specter that the team would move out of state rather than stay in Oakland." Out of state? By making threats like that, Wolff seems to be taking a rather foolish "scorched earth" approach in order to move to San Jose. That strategy is controversial, at best, and it's unnecessary. Even if he gets his San Jose ballpark, he will need broad regional support, including fans he has angered in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The problem for Wolff is his scorched earth strategy will only alienate those fans even more. Second, what if the San Jose option falls through? There's a whole host of reasons why it might fail, and that's not even counting the territorial rights issue. Out of state? Really?! When he makes that threat, Wolff likely is posturing, especially given the state of the economy, locally and nationwide.

It has been speculated in some circles that Bay Area political leaders have played a little bit into lawsuit threats recently made against MLB by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. I prefer keeping the A's based on a solid proposal rather than a judge’s decision or an act of Congress, but these kinds of legal maneuverings illustrate that Wolff is making his stadium search more of a mess than it needs to be, and he's not covering all the necessary bases to fulfill his Silicon Valley dreams. After all, it's been almost seven years since Wolff was named A's V.P. of venue development, and what venues has he actually developed?

As for the reaction of Oakland fans ... Maybe A's fan Sara Buckelew said it best in the New York Times article. "I’m an A's lifer," Buckelew said. "But I think them moving to San Jose is giving up on fans like me." There’s no better indictment of how poorly Wolff is handling his stadium search than that quote. Instead, he could easily avoid the political fallout from a move out of his territory and win back fan approval if he works to keep the team in Oakland. Contrary to what you frequently read, Oakland officials been working very hard for more than a decade to keep the team here. 2009 was an especially productive year, as Mayor Dellums, Councilwoman Jane Brunner, Doug Boxer and others worked closely with MLB and found two new perfectly viable Jack London Square sites: 1) Jack London West, and 2) Victory Court. Wolff should look into working with city officials to make one of these sites the future home of the A’s.

In short, Oakland should get just as fair of a chance as Wolff gave Fremont and, is currently giving San Jose.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Oakland Oaks

Before the Oakland Athletics there were the Oakland Oaks, which played in the Pacific Coast League from 1903 to 1955. The Oaks played most of their seasons at an Emervyille spot called Oaks Ball Park, where legends such as Billy Martin, Ernie Lombardi and Artie Wilson donned Oaks uniforms. Casey Stengel led the Oaks to a PCL championship in 1948, a success that spurred the Yankees to hire Stengel as manager. And with first names like “Brick” and “Cookie,” even the team owners sounded tough and old-school. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Click here to read LinusAlf’s excellent article on the colorful history of the Oakland Oaks.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Andy Dolich

Andy Dolich left the 49ers this week and that's too bad -- for the 49ers. Dolich is a Bay Area sports legend. He was a huge, underrated part of the A's glory days of the '80s and early '90s, when the marketing guru turned the Oakland Coliseum into a fan-friendly, fun place to watch A's baseball. Backed by his excellent bosses -- Walter Haas Sr. and son Wally Haas -- Dolich was an innovator. For instance, he quickly used Tribune sportswriter Ralph Wiley’s term, "BillyBall," as a marketing tool to sell Billy Martin's swashbuckling image and daring style of play to the East Bay ticket buyer. And it worked. Dolich also had innovations at the ballpark, allowing fans to sit in a booth at the Coliseum to "broadcast" a single inning of play. The "broadcast" wasn’t actually heard by anyone, but the fans could tape their inning at the microphone so that they could replay the inning whenever they wanted. Dolich and the A’s also started a Kids’ Zone, a county fair kind of area where fans could test their arm speed at the Coliseum during the game. This was before nearly any other stadium offered these kinds of attractions. Any parent with an antsy child knows how important these kinds of features can be – and they made the A’s game experience for kids and parents during the Haas era that much more enjoyable. Dolich also was a master at getting the local media to do stories on A’s players that focused on their off-field interests, allowing readers (and future A’s fans) to get to know and like A’s players. Along with the winning A’s teams, these kinds of innovations increased A’s attendance in Oakland, peaking with 2.9 million in 1990 – then a Bay Area baseball attendance record.

This kind of success made the 49ers’ hiring of Dolich a few years ago seem like a smart move. And it was. When Dolich joined the Niners in 2007, they were perceived to be a dysfunctional franchise under owner Dr. John York. It may have been a coincidence that the NFL organization started acting more self-assured and appeared much smarter once Dolich came aboard. But we don’t think it was a coincidence. Young Jed York took over and he likely leaned on the experience of a wise hand like Dolich. The team started making simple yet intelligent moves that honored the team’s incredible history. For example, on the eve of the 2009 preseason, the 49ers held a televised ceremony for their inaugural 49ers Hall of Fame. They inducted former owner Eddie DeBartolo and invited ex-players such as Steve Young, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice to reminisce. This allowed the team to wax nostalgic about the old glory days of the ‘80s and to bury any public perception about lingering family dysfunction between Eddie D. and his sister Denise DeBartolo York or Jed York (Eddie D.’s nephew). The whole ceremony looked and felt like vintage Dolich – it turned a potential negative into a definite positive in the public eye in a business where perception is everything.

Unfortunately for the 49ers, it’s been announced that Dolich is no longer working for them. No matter what happens next for Dolich, we know that he will be successful wherever he goes. It’s not hyperbole to say Dolich was one of the best front office employees in Oakland A’s history, and the East Bay resident will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Oakland fans.

Here’s to you, Andy Dolich.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Coliseum

It's still New Year's resolution time and we here at Baseball Oakland have one we promise to keep in 2010: While we completely support building a new Oakland ballpark, we're also going to celebrate the historic Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum as long as we have it.

We love "that litle ol' bullring filled with blue-collar crazies," as Kenny Stabler still affectionately calls the Coliseum. No matter what, that ice-plant-covered yard on 66th Avenue and Hegenberger Road will forever be our Field of Dreams.

It's the home of the Oakland A's since 1968, and it's brought die-hard A's fans like us decades of classic sports moments. It's also one of the few venues in which we can gather as an East Bay community in pursuit of the same common goal.

Oh, we're not saying the A's don't need a new Oakland ballpark. They do. If they tore down old Yankee Stadium, then the Coliseum surely would have been replaced one day as a baseball venue, with or without Mt. Davis. And we can't wait until the A's and MLB do the smart thing and move the franchise to one of the Jack London Square sites submitted by Oakland city officials. A ballpark on the Oakland waterfront will help redevelop and economically revitalize downtown Oakland and the Jack London dining and entertainment district, as well as finally provide stability to the A's bottom line.

But until then, enough with the Coliseum bashing. In our eyes, the Oakland Coliseum is like your Grandma. Maybe it's seen better days, but it's still a beloved gem filled with irreplaceable history and countless fond memories; and it deserves nothing but love and respect. The people that knock the Coliseum have no love for the game or the Oakland fans who have loyally filled it for nearly 44 years.

Maybe the Coliseum is a lot like the city of Oakland: It's got some improvements to make, but it's a million times better than many believe. In many ways, the city of Oakland today is like A's teams in 1970 or 1999 – squads brimming with potential and on the verge of something special. Too many people are overlooking the city in 2010, just like baseball experts overlooked those vintage A's teams. The so-called experts were more fixated on past struggles than the potential and possibilities coming in the near future. A year or two later, those '70 and '99 A’s teams eventually enjoyed incredible success. Just like those A's teams were on the verge of greatness, so too is Oakland today, especially when you look at the city's decreasing crime rate (yes, you read that right) and its impressive rise in economic development – including more new restaurants, bars, nightclubs and coffeehouses and increasing demand for Class A office space, all in the face of terribly deep recession.

Perhap the Coliseum's negative reputation is tied to outdated perceptions of Oakland itself. And just like Oakland, the Coliseum is amazingly underrated. Just look at its history. The Oakland Coliseum is the home of:

* Catfish Hunter's perfect game in April 1968, the A's inaugural season in Oakland.

* The famous "Heidi Game" in November 1968, when the Oakland Raiders beat the N.Y. Jets 43-32 by scoring two last-minute TDs in 32 seconds on three plays in a game that forever changed the NFL's TV policies because the network cut away just before the dramatic finish.

* Hall-of-Fame A's legend Reggie Jackson, who hit 47 homers in 1969, including an unforgettable titanic shot knocked out of Detroit's Tiger Stadium during the nationally televised All-Star Game.

* A's pitcher Vida Blue's no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins in September, 1970.

* The A's winning the American League West Division in 1971.

* The Bay Area's first major league World Champions in ANY sport, the 1972 Oakland A's.

* The A's winning the World Series again in '73 and '74.

* The "Sea of Hands" NFL playoff game in December 1974, when the Raiders beat the Dolphins 28-26 on a last-second miracle Stabler pass to Clarence Davis.

* The Golden State Warriors team that won the NBA Championship in May 1975, beating the Washington Bullets 4 games to 0.

* The A's winning the American League West for the 5th consecutive year in '75, before losing to Boston in the ALCS.

* The AFC Championship Game in December 1976, when the Raiders beat the Steelers 24-7 and went on to win Super Bowl XI over the Minnesota Vikings. This made the Oakland Raiders the Bay Area’s first Super Bowl winner.

* Day on the Green concerts, presented by legendary Bay Area rock promoter Bill Graham all through the 1970s and early '80s, featuring huge musical acts such as Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Peter Frampton, Jefferson Starship and many, many more.

* The 1980 Oakland Raiders, who won Super Bowl XV over the Philadelphia Eagles.

* "BillyBall" and the 1981 Oakland A's, led by Billy Martin, who won the American League West and set a then-Major League record by starting the season 11-0.

* The Oakland A's, who won the American League Championship before losing the World Series in 1988.

* The World Series Champion Oakland A's, who swept the San Francisco Giants 4 games to zero to win the 1989 title.

* The Oakland A's in 1990, when they again won the American League Championship before losing the World Series.

* South Africa's future president Nelson Mandela making his lone visit ever to the Bay Area at the Oakland Coliseum in 1990.

* The Oakland A's winning the American League West in 1992.

* The Oakland Raiders winning the AFC West three consecutive years, from 2000-2002, making their 5th Super Bowl appearance in January 2003.

* The Oakland A's, making the postseason each year from 2000-2003, and again in 2006.

And that's the short list.

Why is this history important? Well, the stigma that's been unfairly attached to the Coliseum is similar to the inaccurate stigma that's been attached to the city of Oakland. So, while we recognize the Coliseum needs to be replaced, we’ll be celebrating "little ol’ bullring" as long as it's around. Showing some self-esteem in our city and its history, after all, might be the best way to make sure that the next Field of Dreams for the Oakland A’s remains in the city of Oakland, where, contrary to false popular belief, the franchise has thrived on and off the field.