Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Crisco Field

Rick Kaplan
Staff Writer

OAKLAND (November 19) – Green grass and freshly raked clay. A sunny day. The crack of the bat. The rise of the crowd.

That’s Baseball. Oakland Athletics fans don’t need anything else.
No three story Coke bottles. No faux brick breweries in the outfield, or imitation Wrigleyville roof seats. No swimming pools or splash hits. And, definitely, no interactive monitors and stock quotes at every seat.
It’s about that ritual march, across the bridge, to and from the BART station. Shoulder-to-shoulder with friendly fans of every description, win or lose. Even the incessant "need two?" of the scalpers, and the guys hawking their baseball chotchkey. It’s a melody you won’t hear in Fremont.

Masses of fourth graders from the Flatlands, at their first game, not watching, looking for the ice cream vendor. Crusty ushers, winking while the kids sneak down from the cheap seats.
Hey, Cisco, while you’re planning your cutting-edge stadium experience for the techies, remember this: You need fans too.
Hit-and-runs, infield fly rules, and Texas Leaguers don’t need to be enhanced. A talkative neighbor in the next seat, who won’t shut up about Joe Rudi, will tell you all you need to know at the ol’ ball yard. Maybe a pencil and a scorecard, a hot dog, and even some garlic fries. The rest just kind of takes care of itself.
The Coliseum. Built in 1966. Unadorned concrete and steel. Not especially pretty. A multi-purpose, cookie-cutter behemoth.
Once an ordinary and familiar, everyday kind of a place. Now a one-of-a-kind relic of a charmed past.
What’s wrong with this idyllic arrangement? It’s not quite as folksy as Stockton or Modesto baseball, but if an A’s fan were to sum up the Coliseum’s personality, it would probably be something like: "friendly vibes and a great place to while away the day." Unless, that is, you care more about long lines for beer and sausages, enough to want to drive an extra hour or two round trip to get treated like you are a V.I.P. at Cisco Field.
The Coliseum has great transportation, with BART and 1-880, and the club drew about 2.7 million fans during the peak of the Bash Brothers mini-dynasty in the late ’80s. With the much greater popularity of MLB today, and any kind of marketing effort, 3 million fans could easily have been annually passing through the A’s turnstiles and into an un-tarped, and an un-gentrified, Coliseum.
With a few amenities for the traditionally neglected upper grandstand, that could go up to 3.25 or 3.5 million.
But one suspects that improved attendance in Oakland, or even baseball itself, is not what Lewis Wolff, the mall and hotel developer, is interested in.
The predominantly African-American East Oakland neighborhood near the Coliseum is portrayed in the media, and perceived by much of the suburban public, as a dangerous area. And, especially to the dismay of the people that live there, and who are lacking in jobs, health care, and hope, it often is a risky place, although not nearly as menacing as some accounts would have us believe.
Call-in radio programs, newspaper letters-to-the-editor writers, and certain participants at ordinarily benign blogs and websites help to fuel this myth that it’s dangerous to attend a ballgame at the Coliseum, with coded references to "feeling unsafe" and the Coliseum "not being a place one would want to bring their family."
My four daughters grew up in the third deck at the Coliseum. The fact is that crime against the fans attending games is virtually unheard of.
But this didn’t seem to matter to the new A’s owners. One gets the impression that even if they didn’t actively cultivate this unjustified image, they did nothing to counter it.
But why? Because those who the A’s owners have sought as potential partners, such as Cisco, are unwilling to risk their capital in Oakland. It is this insidious "unsafe" reputation that this writer believes, as much as anything, that has propelled the A’s out of Oakland to greener pastures in the suburbs.

And if Lewis Wolff really wanted to find a home in Oakland, he needed to address and deflate the lies around the "safety" issue. That would be the key to successful marketing and huge increases in attendance. In fact, the New York Yankees have remained in the heart of a "ghetto" in the Bronx, while drawing over four million fans a year and completely reversing, or at least neutralizing, the stereotype of a dangerous and commercially not viable baseball and entertainment environment.
Rather than follow that model, the current A’s owner did everything he could to enhance the myth that Oakland isn’t viable, including closing the upper deck to depress attendance, and pretending that the city had rebuffed his sham plans to build that impossible village at 66th Ave.
"We tried everything, we looked everywhere in Oakland," cried Wolff
Not true.
Meanwhile, the drawings of the new park suggest the authenticity of the prop-up sets on the back lot at Universal Studios. The project architects try to capture the classic look of a baseball "neighborhood," with it’s traditional, urban architecture, improbably rising in the ever present suburban sprawl of thinly veneered Barnes and Noble clones, same-old Starbucks, and endless Gaps .
Sorry. But this recycled habitat will never have the grit and grime of 161st St. and River Ave.
We’ve seen this formula before. South of Market, San Diego, Safeco . . . 22 new parks sold to a public that is willing to enhance mall developers–posing as baseball saviors–in order to satisfy its addiction to trendiness and snobby "sophistication."
Another mallpark village is on the way.
And another successful deal for the frat brothers. Slippery Bud Selig, as if covered in Crisco, slid in and out of town last week with the same greasy act he pulled on the people of Milwaukee: Put $600K into the Brewers, get the public to assume the debt for your money-losing $400M stadium by telling them "there’s no other way to save baseball in Milwaukee," and refuse to tell anyone how much you made when you sold the highly inflated franchise.
Sound familiar? Don’t believe that the taxpayers aren’t going to pay for a good part of the mallpark in Fremont. That’s exactly what Lew’s fraternity brother originally told them in Milwaukee also, that it would be "completely privately financed." Until, that is, the fans–now hungry for their new fantasy park–were told at the eleventh hour, under threat of leaving the city, that it couldn’t get done without a public bail-out.
This deal isn’t about "baseball."

What Wolff sees is a chance to increase the capital value of a land development deal, using the A’s franchise as an anchor, something that he couldn’t do as hugely in Oakland (even though the Oakland A’s franchise value increased the fourth most of any club in MLB, over $50M, in the time period since Wolff and company got the team, according to Forbes Magazine)

Cisco has some goals of their own. They are not in this to bring baseball to Silicon Valley. Rather, this is more and more looking like a corporate headquarters, rather than just a ballpark, a giant video game and technology marketing epicenter that could very well become the face of Cisco to a world audience.
So, Oakland, with precious little resources and huge social problems, gets left in the dust and debris of another plant closing and corporate abandonment.
Once upon a time, Philadelphia and Kansas City lost their heroes in the middle of the night, too.
Maybe if we had put our foot down back in 1957, and told the Dodgers and the Giants we weren’t going to betray our brethren fellow fans from Coogan’s Bluff and Flatbush, we could have put a stop to this right then and there. Maybe we’d be watching the Kansas City A’s play our Oaks in sunny downtown Oakland today.
Until that day, a glorious one of the revolt of the fans, don’t be too surprised if you start to hear that Comerica Field is "outmoded," or that Camden Yards needs "more amenities." And, unless that uprising arrives, what has happened to us here in Oakland is likely to be the fate some day, yes, of the A’s new customers in Fremont.


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