MLB tells Athletics to explore relocation if no new ballpark

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
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OAKLAND, Calif. — Major League Baseball instructed the Athletics to explore relocation options as the team tries to secure a new waterfront ballpark it hopes will keep the club in Oakland long-term.

MLB released a statement expressing its longtime determination that the current Coliseum site is “not a viable option for the future vision of baseball.”

“MLB is concerned with the rate of progress on the A’s new ballpark effort with local officials and other stakeholders in Oakland,” MLB said. “The A’s have worked very hard to advance a new ballpark in downtown Oakland for the last four years, investing significant resources while facing multiple roadblocks. We know they remain deeply committed to succeeding in Oakland, and with two other sports franchises recently leaving the community, their commitment to Oakland is now more important than ever.”

A’s President Dave Kaval remains hopeful of a deal, but there is a time crunch.

“We’re going to immediately start working with the league on exploring other markets and working hand in hand with them to identify which ones make the most sense and pursuing that right away,” Kaval told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We need to keep our options open. People know, we can’t even keep the lights on here at the Coliseum.”

In November 2018, the A’s announced they had found a waterfront location for their new ballpark that would cost more than $1 billion, with picturesque views toward San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and Port of Oakland. The goal had been to open in 2023, but now, even if approved by Oakland’s City Council this summer it would not be ready until 2027.

“We’re hopeful that our really exciting plan for a waterfront ballpark that’s privately financed will be taken up by the city council,” Kaval said. “I think it’s something that is kind of a once-a-generational opportunity to re-imagine the waterfront. We’re going to continue to pursue that and we’re still hopeful that that could get approved, but we have to be realistic about where we are with the timelines.”

Early this year, Kaval asked the City Council to make a decision via a vote before it breaks for the summer on a $12 billion privately funded ballpark project and major community development plan featuring $450 million in community benefits, but the team has been given no indication anything is imminent.

“We have an offer in front of the city council that we have not got a response on,” Kaval said. “So I think we’re still doing what we can to pursue the waterfront ballpark, which we think is a dynamic and exciting project but we are running out of time here in Oakland at our existing facility and we need to look at other options to see what might be possible.”

The team’s lease at the Coliseum is up in 2024, but the aging venue where the A’s have played since 1968 is already having lighting and flooding issues.

A’s owner John Fisher said in a statement Tuesday he will honor MLB’s instructions but remains committed to continuing to pursue the waterfront ballpark proposed for construction in the city’s Howard Terminal location, close to the popular Jack London Square neighborhood.

“The future success of the A’s depends on a new ballpark,” Fisher said. “Oakland is a great baseball town, and we will continue to pursue our waterfront ballpark project. We will also follow MLB’s direction to explore other markets.”

The A’s, who previously proposed and withdrew plans for ballparks in Fremont and San Jose, are hopeful MLB’s pressure might help push that process with the city.

“We share MLB’s sense of urgency and their continued preference for Oakland. Today’s statement makes clear that the only viable path to keeping the A’s rooted in Oakland is a ballpark on the waterfront,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said.

“We have made great strides with the Governor’s certification and release of the EIR. Now, with the recent start of financial discussions with the A’s, we call on our entire community – regional and local partners included – to rally together and support a new, financially viable, fiscally responsible, world class waterfront neighborhood that enhances our city and region, and keeps the A’s in Oakland where they belong.”

The proposed ballpark site is about 6 miles from the Coliseum and there is no mass transit. The A’s and city have said they plan to build a gondola that would go from the waterfront area of ballpark over Interstate 880 to downtown. Kaval said the gondola is approved and undergoing environmental review.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has mentioned as possible expansion candidates: Charlotte, North Carolina; Las Vegas; Montreal; Nashville, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

“We continue to play in Oakland until something changes,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said before a game in Boston.

The Athletics have moved twice since the franchise was founded in Philadelphia, arriving in Kansas City for the 1955 season and in Oakland for the 1968 season.

Just two MLB teams have moved in the past half-century: The expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers for the 1972 season and the Montreal Expos transformed into the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Braves also moved twice, switching from Boston to Milwaukee for the 1953 season and to Atlanta for 1966.

There was a flurry of switches in the 1950s and ’60s: the St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles (1954), the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles for 1958, the New York Giants moved to San Francisco for 1958, the original Washington Senators became the Minnesota Twins (1961) and the Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers (1970).

Manfred says MLB will not consider expansion until the A’s and Tampa Bay Rays get new ballparks.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg had been working to build a ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City area but abandoned that plan in December 2018. MLB’s executive council gave the Rays permission in June 2019 to explore splitting their home schedule between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal after their lease at the Trop expires at the end of the 2027 season.

In Oakland, the A’s are the last professional team. The NBA’s Golden State Warriors moved to San Francisco before the 2019-20 season and the NFL’s Raiders relocated to Las Vegas last year.

“It is unfortunate that a couple teams have left,” Melvin said. “Certainly we don’t want that to happen, and I don’t think anything that’s been said today would suggest it’s going to, I think it’s just giving MLB and the organization a few more options to maybe look elsewhere.”

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.