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.

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