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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
22 Apr 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Bill Madden: Oakland A’s continue to be an embarrassment to MLB, but so do a half-dozen other teams

The sorry plight of the Oakland Athletics, which came to a head this week with the announcement the team will be pulling up stakes and heading to a new ballpark in Las Vegas, is the most glaring example of the bigger problem vexing baseball — the lack of competitiveness on and off the field — that was clearly not sufficiently addressed in the most recent collective bargaining agreement.

In at least a half-dozen cities, they are charging major league prices to see what are essentially minor league baseball teams.

Going into the weekend, the hapless A’s along with the Royals, Rockies, Reds, Nationals and Tigers had a combined run differential of minus-261. At the same time, the A’s, Marlins, Royals, Reds and Pirates were all averaging under 17,000 fans per game. Any way you look at it, this is not a good look for baseball.

But nothing has been more of a black eye for baseball this year than the A’s with their dilapidated stadium and disaster of an owner in John Fisher. After two years of wrangling with county and city officials about a new stadium in the Howard Terminal bayside section of Oakland — while at the same time investing nothing in the team itself or maintenance on his present stadium — it was announced Wednesday that Fisher, the billionaire Gap tycoon, had signed a binding agreement to purchase land by the Las Vegas Strip to build a $1.5 billion, 35,000-seat stadium for 2027. Thus the A’s, who began under Connie Mack in Philadelphia as a charter member of the American League in 1901, will be the first major league team to move three times, to Kansas City in 1955 and Oakland in 1968.

This present A’s team is on its way to being one of the worst in modern baseball history. With only one of their starting pitchers with an ERA under 7.00 and six of their regulars hitting .220 or worse, the A’s pitchers as of Friday were last in the majors with a 7.71 ERA with by far the most walks while their hitters were averaging a 27th worst 3.42 runs per game. Their -86 run differential after 18 games was the worst of any team in 35 years and second worst since 1900.

Last Friday in a 17-6 loss to the Mets, the A’s walked 17 batters, eliciting cries for the mercy rule from the Mets broadcasters who had simultaneously evacuated the visiting team broadcast booth at the Oakland Coliseum because of the stench of possum poop. The possum has apparently been in residence in the booth for a few months but Fisher has declined to spend any money on an exterminator.

What’s most distasteful about this entire Oakland affair is that Fisher comes out a winner in every way, assuming all the stadium hurdles in Vegas are cleared — even though he ran the A’s into the ground with the lowest payroll ($60 million) in baseball and alienated an entire loyal Bay Area baseball fan base which understandably has reacted with the lowest average attendance (11,000) in the majors this year. When the collective bargaining agreement last year included a Jan. 15, 2024 mandate for the A’s to have a new stadium deal, Commissioner Rob Manfred also decreed that the A’s could receive revenue sharing in the meantime. Now, assuming the Las Vegas deal goes through, Fisher will be going from the 10th largest market in San Francisco/Oakland to the 40th ranked market, assuring that he’ll get revenue sharing every year.

Meanwhile, if Fisher’s threadbare A’s and the aged dump of a Coliseum they play in haven’t been enough of an embarrassment to Manfred, what about next year, the final year on their Coliseum lease, when they’ll be lame ducks?

But Manfred should also be very concerned about all the other low-hanging fruit on his tree:

Cincinnati has long been one of the best baseball towns in America and yet, under present owner Bob Castellini, one of the biggest revenue-sharing whiners, the Reds are on their way to their eighth losing full season in nine years, with an average attendance of 17,210, which is 8,000 less than the MLS soccer team in Cincinnati. And so far they’ve got little return from their trade of Luis Castillo to Seattle last year.

In Kansas City, another great baseball town, the Royals are fielding a team almost as bad as the A’s with six semi-regulars hitting .200 or lower, and looking at their seventh straight losing season with an average attendance of 15,874. At least in the Royals’ case they have an owner who cares and will spend when the time is right in John Sherman, but he has been betrayed by his baseball people who, other than Bobby Witt Jr., have done a terrible job of developing players, especially pitchers, despite consistently high draft picks.

Despite playing in one of the most aesthetically pleasing stadiums in baseball — and also getting off to a decent start — the Marlins have the second lowest average attendance (13,143) in baseball. This is because their owner, Bruce Sherman, grossly overpaid ($1.2 billion) for the team in 2017 and, as a result, has not spent the money on marketing the team in Miami, and will never spend what it takes to compete with Braves, Mets and Phillies in the NL East.

The Pirates, who have had six losing seasons in the last seven, are another team off to a surprisingly good start despite losing their star shortstop Oneil Cruz for at least four months with a broken ankle, but they are drawing an average of only 16,461. Why do you think that is? It might have something to do with their owner Bob Nutting, who the fans in Pittsburgh know full well will never have a payroll (they’ve ranked 27th or worst in payroll every year since 2018) necessary to compete for a championship. And yet there he was a few months ago complaining that the new CBA didn’t do enough for the Pirates and that baseball needs a salary cap.

The Colorado Rockies, who have had four straight losing seasons, are off to another terrible start (6-15, -47 run differential) going into the weekend, but their attendance is surprisingly holding steady at 15th ranked 27,395. The fans in Denver are great but they are never going to sniff a World Series until they are liberated from Dick Monfort, the most incompetent owner in baseball who last year bid against himself to sign Kris Bryant for $182 million over seven years and in 2021 kicked in an additional $50 million to the Cardinals to take Rockies’ mainstay third baseman Nolan Arenado.

I understand baseball’s zeal to eliminate sticky stuff from pitchers’ weaponry after the alarming increase in spin rates a couple of years ago — and there is no question Max Scherzer came off looking like an idiot Wednesday in Los Angeles when, on his third inspection of the game, the umpires determined the sticky stuff on his hands was even more sticky than when he’d had his first inspection two innings earlier. That said, given that this was Scherzer’s first “sticky stuff” violation of the season, the 10-game (or two starts) suspension levied on him from MLB seems rather excessive. The ejection, a substantial fine and a five-game (one-start) suspension would have been more appropriate. We won’t know until the end of the season what the impact of losing their titular No. 1 starter for two starts will have. If nothing else, however, it should help Buck Showalter’s own zeal to preserve Scherzer’s innings limit.