The worst-kept secret in baseball
I dare you to name three Oakland players on the 2023 roster that are not former Dodgers.
I could not do it. Apart from baseball’s ongoing hypocrisy with gambling, the worst-kept secret in Major League Baseball has been the fact that the Oakland A’s have been engaged in an amateur reproduction of the film “Major League,” in order to force a move of the Athletics to Las Vegas.
Unlike the movie, the conniving owner is likely to win. There is no story of plucky underdogs here. Charlie Sheen and Wesley Snipes are not showing up. Who knew that all the bad guy had to do to win in the film was raise ticket and parking prices and cut the roster to the bone to get what she wanted at the expense of shame and a loyal fanbase in a large media market?
In the wee hours of April 19, the shoe finally dropped: the Athletics made a late-night announcement of a $1.5 billion stadium project and that the team agreed to purchase 49 acres of land in Las Vegas with the hopes of having the stadium be online by the start of the 2027 season. I have covered this ongoing trainwreck during the past two years.
Here’s the Vegas site the A’s entered into a binding purchase agreement with in relation to Allegiant Stadium and T-Mobile Arena. https://t.co/u8wXAub1bU#vegas #oakland #athletics #mlb pic.twitter.com/vR1rA3T12z— Mick Akers (@mickakers) April 20, 2023
The A’s move was a fait accompli...or so I thought.
But apparently, in a move from an organization whose team president once got into an argument with a “seagull” — and lost —, the Athletics’ announcement was news to the relevant Nevada politicians who need to sign off on the deal. The Nevada Independent reported confirmation while the Athletics were closing in on a binding agreement to build a stadium near Allegiant Stadium, the team still needed the Nevada legislature to create a special taxation district and chip in $500 million to the project.
Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft: “[The A’s funding proposal is] something that they’ve come up with,” said Naft of the A’s funding ask. “You don’t always get what you want. And I think that’s probably going to be the case with the $500 million.” With the current Governor’s declaration to not raise taxes, the question of where the public money will come from is an open one.
Tim Kawakami of The Athletic suggests that based on the slapdash, whipsaw declarations from the Athletics leadership over the years (For those playing at home, we are talking about Fremont, then San Jose, then staying at the Coliseum, then Laney College, then Howard Terminal), the smart move might be to not deal with Fisher and Oakland President Dave Kaval (paywalled).
As of this essay, Las Vegas feels more likely than not, but to close the recap of recent developments out, it is ironically informative to note the words of Mark Davis, owner of the Las Vegas Raiders, who just wanted a new stadium but was stymied in part by the Athletics, on April 21:
“I won’t forget what they did to us in Oakland,” Davis said of the prospect of the A’s joining the Raiders in Las Vegas. “[The A’s] squatted on a lease for 10 years and made it impossible for us to build on that stadium. They were looking for a stadium. We were looking for a stadium. They didn’t want to build a stadium, and then went ahead and singed a 10-year lease with the city of Oakland and said, “We’re the base team.”
...“They marketed the team as ‘Rooted in Oakland,’ that’s been their mantra through the whole thing. The slogans they’ve been using have been a slap to the face of the Raiders, and they were trying to win over that type of mentality in the Bay Area. Well, all they did was f— the Bay Area.”
A potential realignment
What does the Athletics’ move issue have to do with realignment? Nothing directly at first glance. Remember the general consensus of thought in the league is that expansion will not happen until the stadium situations are resolved for the Athletics and Rays (which may be covered later on).
On February 7, Jim Bowden of The Athletic had a thought experiment (paywalled). Normally, I try to approach ideas from people that I do not typically agree with an open mind because a closed mind is one that is deprived of ideas. Ideas are the whetstone of the mind, even a bad, interesting idea can have some merit.
For instance, pickles and peanut butter — it does (usually) work, even though the combination just does not sound right. Bowden proposed the following reorganization in baseball, imaging two new expansion teams in Charlotte and Nashville. Mr. Bowden’s idea certainly is...something, as you can see below.
Eliminating both Dodgers-Giants and Cubs-Cardinals as division rivals seems like a legitimately bad idea, but deadlines are deadlines. The naming convention alone is enough to make me visibly cringe because I certainly would recall if I saw the Pacific coast from Denver. Reactions to the proposal and the corresponding article have been fairly negative from what I have seen, especially from those covering the north side of Chicago from Vox Media.
In fairness, I do see a thread of logic in the proposal. If one was purely governed by geographical concerns, one might come up with something similar to what Bowden did. But, anyone with even a modicum of understanding would know that baseball is not governed by purely geographical concerns.
In my view, Bowden’s proposal loses the plot by separating the Giants and Dodgers. As a Dodger fan, losing the Giants as a division rival borders on the blasphemous and heretical. So let us take the news of the likely impending move of the Athletics to ponder the ideas of expansion and realignment.
Playing Commissioner for a day
For this hypothetical, the Athletics will now indeed play in front of strangers in Las Vegas, Nevada (even though I would mandate a sale and keep the team in Oakland, there would likely be litigation from the Giants, John Fisher, and certainly others off the top of my head) and the Rays now play in Montreal, Canada. Yes, baseball has returned to Quebec!
For this thought experiment, expansion franchises will be awarded to Portland, Oregon (nicknamed “the Comets”) and Nashville, Tennessee (nicknamed “the Stars”). The Athletic recently did essays on both Portland and Nashville as potential expansion sites. The Nashville Stars were identified as a group of investors helping the project, so I used that. Thinking up a hypothetical nickname for Portland was harder, so I stuck to space as a theme and kept moving.
I do not see the League essentially putting two teams in Atlanta’s backyard. It would make the most sense to have one Western team and one Eastern team. If not Portland, then Albuquerque or Salt Lake City maybe?
A team in Portland would likely create an instant rivalry with Seattle and ease scheduling logistics for west coast trips, i.e. teams would likely stop to play in both cities when passing through. As the A’s are likely going to move, the poor Mariners are now 1000 miles away from their nearest neighbor in Las Vegas, and an expansion team nearby would lessen the sting of travel for inter-division play.
In my view, Charlotte and Nashville are ultimately interchangeable in this exercise, although I would expect the residents of each city to vehemently disagree with that statement. Considering that Charlotte already has an NFL and NBA team and Nashville already has an NFL and NHL team, it is not as if the cities are saturated when it comes to attention to sports. Ultimately, I went with Nashville in this exercise because I have never been to Tennessee, and having an excuse to go there would be neat.
Using this video as a starting point, we will divide the 32 teams into two 16-team leagues. The goal is to be pragmatic as possible as to geography while emphasizing historical rivalries. There will be no moving the Dodgers to the American League or the Yankees to the National League or such nonsense.
This thought exercise will also use the four ordinal directions for division names because North, South, East, and West sound better to the ear than North, South, East, and Central. The hypothetical expansion teams are written in italics.
- Anaheim Angels
- Las Vegas Athletics
- Seattle Mariners
- Portland Comets
This realignment exercise was actually painful once I sat down and started thinking about it in earnest. I tried to keep a certain symmetry to the league construction before I gave up on having a Canadian team in each league. I also tried having both Canadian teams in different leagues for the longest time but at the end of the day, pragmatism won out over symmetry.
The true outlier team causing all the logical nightmares is the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are not near anyone, so placing them was always going to be a challenge. I initially tried moving Arizona out of the NL West into the NL South, but that move would have required that both expansion teams are in the American League (not ideal) and that the division would stretch across the continent (also, not ideal).
If the Rays were to move to Charlotte instead or remain in Tampa, I would swap them with the Orioles and life would carry on with the examples above. I have seen other proposed alignments that look reasonable that follow the same balance of pragmatism and geography.
Hence, it is why you end up with geographical oddities like St. Louis being in the NL North even though it is further south than the cross-state AL South Kansas City Royals. Truthfully, dividing the teams purely by geography does have a certain appeal, especially from the perspective of a traveling (professional) fan.
It does feel bad to separate the Reds from the Cubs and Cardinals, but truthfully, the only way scheduling would work in this instance is to have a balanced schedule so two home and away series now become one home and away series. But that was the sacrifice that had to be made in my mind to prevent the unnecessary swapping of teams into the other league.
Agree? Disagree? Have ideas of your own? Then share them in the comments! As I have said in my modest various hypotheticals, no one is technically wrong with this exercise until proven otherwise...but this exercise was a fun diversion during the ongoing season.