The Oakland A’s Run like a Startup with No Funding

Moneyball Doesn’t Work.

I am an overly romantic fan of the Oakland Athletics. Like most fanatics, I am filled with an irrational exuberance and veneration for my team. Immersed in the micro-culture of the A’s, I feel a sense of connectedness with the team and a part of something greater. And while a sports fan’s silly antics and quirky superstitions rarely impact the outcome of a given game, much less a season, the fan always holds out hope. Whether it’s tomorrow’s game, the playoffs, or next season, there’s always reason to hope. But hope isn’t about winning a division title; it’s ultimately about being the best, which means championships.

Year after year, I have entered the 162-game baseball season with high hopes for the Athletics and have almost always felt letdown at season’s end. While the Moneyball strategy made famous by the Athletics is all the rage, it won’t win championships without…well…uhm…money.

Another ALDS Game 5 and season-ending disappointment; this one the 2013 edition

It’s been over a month since the Oakland Athletics ALDS disappointment and yet another ALDS Game 5 exit, on the brink of championship contention. Over the past fourteen years of the financially-stingy Moneyball era, Oakland has played in six ALDS Game 5's and lost all six. It’s a disheartening axiom that us A’s fans are having a difficult time accepting.

Why bother with something that seems so trivial? Something that has almost a definite outcome that is nearly inevitable under current circumstances?

The problem with Oaktown baseball is that the Moneyball, low-budget, little-engine-that-could narrative only floats in the regular season. It’s taken a decade to realize that it sinks like a stone in a flooded dugout in the postseason.

Over the last 19 Major League Baseball postseasons, 18 World Series winners have had a team payroll ranked in the top 15 in the league. More than one-third of the winners had a team payroll ranked among the top two. Only three World Series participants ranked outside the top 15 in team payroll and all three lost [source: Kevin J. Wells, Washington Times].

In 2013, the A’s payroll ranked 27th out of 30 MLB teams. Boston, the 2013 World Series winner, had a team payroll ranked No. 4. While money doesn’t guarantee championships, it’s almost hopeless to win one without it.

Billy Beane’s Moneyball tactics can only take the team so far; specifically, Game 5 of the ALDS. The baseball team that remains in Oakland today cannot afford the big-name bat or the lockdown ace that virtually every championship team has. High-profile players sell jerseys, fill seats, and carry franchises to victory when they need to win that one game. It doesn’t take sabermetrics to figure that out. Like a startup company with a great idea, the team needs funding to be relevant and sustainable.

Flooded Visitor’s Dugout at Oakland Coliseum; photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins pitcher, Glen Perkins

To compound the problem, the A’s are in dire need of a new ballpark. Standing water and sewage in the visitor’s clubhouse speaks for itself.

While people tend to associate the franchise across the Bay more with its recent World Series titles, most forget there was a time in the early 1990's when San Francisco nearly lost the Giants. Giant’s ownership, in an attempt to salvage the franchise, considered moving the ballclub to the City of San Jose. Though the Oakland Athletics owned the territorial rights to the San Jose market, they generously relinquished those rights to the Giants for their potential relocation in the hope of saving the team. But in 1996, the City of San Francisco approved a new ballpark for the team and saved the franchise.

Cynical, yet moderately hopeful A’s fan

Two decades later, the tables have turned. The Oakland Athletics are in danger of becoming extinct and are seeking a new home in the Silicon Valley’s capital. As the Coliseum continues to waste away, public funding for a new ballpark from the City of Oakland is doubtful, if not fiscally impossible. Making matters worse, Giant’s ownership is unwilling to reciprocate the favor and return San Jose’s rights to the original owner for the sake of the A’s survival. For now, any hope of relocating the team to a financially viable market in the Bay Area seems remote.

A lot of baseball history was built in Oakland over the past forty-some years, and a strong push to keep the team in the East Bay and to maintain tradition resides among many fans. They are advocates of a noble and sympathetic cause.

But baseball is a business.

And to survive, a business must be willing to adapt to circumstances, be forward-thinking and capitalize opportunities, which are the underlying premises of Moneyball.

Cisco Field, San Jose- The proposed new home for the Athletics

For over a decade now, the Athletics have survived with a minimum viable product. The accomplishments of the coupon-clipping Athletics are commendable, considering their financial circumstances. And it’s progressive ideologies like the Athletics’ Moneyball-mentality that are famously successful in the Silicon Valley; the A’s are a perfect fit for San Jose. The blueprints are all there, the business simply needs funding. Like any successful startup, it’s about time that someone invested in a team that’s proven so much with so little. When the current circumstances change, I am certain the outcome will too.

As a fanatic, I’m stuck with this team for life. So I will always remain hopeful for the next season. And I will always stay optimistic for the season that the Athletics host Opening Day in San Jose.

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