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May 25, 2012
@ 9:02 pm

A’s on the Move: Bad for Oakland, Great for Baseball

With the news last week that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig essentially decided not to decide on the Oakland A’s potentially moving to San Jose, and the San Francisco Giants (not wanting to cede territorial rights) protesting, it has set the stage for a potential move by the Athletics to an altogether new location.  The A’s are currently in an untenable situation.  They play in what’s arguably the worst baseball stadium in all of the Major League baseball, they don’t make enough revenue, and the city of Oakland either doesn’t want to (or can’t afford to) pay for a new stadium. 

A few ideas have been floated about the A’s moving to another city on the west coast.  Portland and Vancouver are a few names that have been mentioned, but each of these scenarious come with their own separate problems.  Portland, for instance, has a metropolitan of roughly 2.26 million and, while this is good enough for 23rd in the entire United States, it’s a far cry from the San Franciso-Oakland metro area which is 4th, at nearly 4.4 million. Vancouver’s metro population is quite similar to Portland’s with 2.25 million.  It’s a beautiful, international city that would also fill the spot of a second MLB team in Canada (left vacant with the move of the Expos), but it’s also a city that lost the Grizzlies of the NBA in 2001.  Las Vegas has tried hard for years to get a major league sports team, but it’s quite clear that will never happen.  The city’s connection to legalized gambling, and MLB’s strong stance against it (see exhibit A and B), make this an improbable fit.

Of course, there is one other option: The Austin/San Antonio metro area of Central Texas.With very few major sports franchises in the area, and a growing population, it’s really a prime spot for Athletics to call home.  I’m hardly the first person who has suggested that the Central Texas area can be home to major league baseball.  Influential baseball blogger Keith Law and Ex-Astros skipper Larry Dierker have mentioned the Cen Tex area for pro baseball, but here’s why I think it’d work with the A’s.

For starters, the Central Texas region has experienced explosive growth over the past twenty years.  Austin, once a sleepy University town on the Colorado river, has gone from having a metro-area population of 846k in 1990 to nearly 1.8 million in 2010.  Nearby San Antonio, too, has grown just as rapidly going from 936k in 1990 to 2.2 million in 2010.  San Antonio has also proven, with the NBA Spurs, that they can thrive in the area.  Both metro areas on expected to continue their explosive growth, so this makes the ideal setting for a major league franchise. 

Additionally, Texas is a hotbed for homegrown baseball talent.  It’s true that Texas is famous for football, but baseball is also extremely popular in the state.  With an already built-in baseball fan base, and Texas now the 2nd largest population (by State) in the United States, it’s hard to argue that the state—and region—couldn’t support another major league baseball team.

Perhaps most importantly, though, moving the A’s to Texasmakes great sense for baseball.  With the Astros moving to the American League in 2013, it gives the team their closest geographical rival with the Rangers, but also some of the most distant (with the A’s in Oakland and the Mariners in Seattle).  It’s expensive for all teams in the AL West because it means everyone has to make frequent trips across multiple time zones in order to play divisional games.  It also makes it difficult for fans in either time zone to watch their team play in prime time since games in the Central time zone are too early for viewers on the west coast and vice versa for those in Texas.  Below is a 2013 NL West (green), AL West (blue) divisional map.


However, a beautiful thing happens when you move the A’s to Texas.  It sets the stage for a realignment of the NL West and AL West divisions.


If you could create a new division (like the one made up above) with the three Texas teams, then adding in the two teams that play in the mountain time zone (the Rockies and D-Backs), you now have a brand new five team division where all games are no more than one time zone away that’s also closer geographically for all teams involved (meaning increased TV viewership and less money spent by the teams travelling between divisional cities).

Another added benefit of this new arrangement is that it allows for every team in California be in their own division.  Seattle, all by itself in the northwest corner of the United States, would be a part of this new California-Pacific division.  And, though the Mariners would still have to travel long distances for each of their divisional games (a by-product of not having any other MLB teams in a 800 mile radius), they’d all be in within the same time zone.  Also of note, this new division keeps an important rivalry—that of the Giants and Dodgers—intact. 

But there’s a thorn in the side of realigning these two divisions and that’s the Designated Hitter.  With baseball’s current rules, one of these new divisions would need to use the DH while the other would not.  Some might argue the Dodgers and Giants, the oldest and longest tenured NL teams involved here, should remain in the NL.  On the other hand, you’d have longtime AL teams like the Mariners and A’s forced to get rid of the DH and that could come with potential financial ramifications for them, especially if these teams already have a long-term contract in place for a DH.

(I’m not going to choose which one of these divisions should or shouldn’t have it, because what I think is most important is that reignites debate over the DH issue  and, hopefully, leads to permanent rule about completely abolishing it or expanding it to both leagues.  If ever there was a perfect time to have a serious discussion on this issue, this would be it.)

A second prickly issue:  Los Angeles would have both of it’s major league teams in the same league.  I can understand the argument for why you’d want two different teams in the same geographic area in different leagues, but with major league baseball now going to a format of year-round interleague play, isn’t the point moot?  Having multiple teams that play each other in a condensed geographic area has never affected college football, including what’s arguably the toughest/most passionate conference in the game:  The SEC.

If a team like the Houston Astros can be, essentially, moved to the American League against their will, can’t MLB work out a rule on the DH for a new division (or all of baseball)?  Can’t LA have two National (or American) league teams?  It seems silly to suggest neither of these issues can’t be resolved for the greater good of the sport.  And, regardless, it’s a side matter to what I see as a finalizing two much larger issues—Giving the A’s a new home where they can thrive and creating two equitable western divisions.  It’s right, it’s doable, and it makes sense for everyone involved—except for the city of Oakland.