I can never forgive Al Davis for destroying the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Complex. When Al Davis brought the Raiders back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995, Davis required certain conditions like increasing the seating capacity of the Coliseum (now called, The O.Co Coliseum). What used to be a beautiful baseball venue with the Oakland Hills in the background beyond the outfield is now blocked by “Mount Davis,” and extension of exclusive executive “skyboxes” with thousands of new cheap seats above it.
I loved the old stadium. I grew up in that stadium. I began to follow my beloved Oakland A’s when I was 8 years old. Although the A’s were the worst team in the league, there was a recent lore of the A’s dynasty winning three straight World Series championships in the early 1970s. When eccentric A’s owner, Charles Finley, sold the team to the Haas family, majority owners of Levi Strauss, a new baseball enthusiasm arose in the city of Oakland. The Haas family hired the renowned former New York Yankees manager, Billy Martin, as their manager in 1980. “Billy Ball” and an 11-0 start of the 1981 season had me hooked for life.
Located in a “dangerous” part of town did not deter me from attending games at the Oakland Coliseum. Every summer I attended at least a couple of games – usually through an Oakland Public Schools partnership where students received free tickets through some process of good grades or a civic participation project. (It did pay to be part of the junior traffic guard!) I learned first hand what it meant to “eat popcorn and peanuts and cracker jack,” as well as see my friends’ mothers drink their asses off.
A couple of games a summer turned into most of my summer weeknights when I reached high school and my dad began working as a Coliseum security guard. He let me and my friends enter the stadium and watch games for free. Not only was I able to watch my A’s for free, but I also saw the Rolling Stones for my first music concert. No wonder I was a popular kid! Growing up a poor kid looking for things to do, the Coliseum allowed me to be a voyeur in a large public space where deviant behavior was allowed. I mean, how many spaces allow for public drunkenness, screaming as a normal behavior, or unabashed exhibitionism? The Oakland Coliseum was the perfect place for my friends and me to try to understand human behavior as teenagers.
My dad had the right idea when the Raiders came back to Oakland. He quit his job and officially retired in 1995 (he was almost 70 years old at the time and he did not need to face Raider Nation or Deadheads in that capacity again). Luckily he came from an era when a working person could afford a home and jobs provided pensions – but that’s a story for another blog post.
Today, the Oakland Coliseum is antiquated and the laughingstock of professional sports home stadiums. Reports of sewage in the locker rooms, toilets overflowing in the public and players’ restrooms and general infrastructure failure have become all too common in the daily rags and national sport news alike. It is the only football-baseball multi-purpose stadium left as sport franchises have leveraged their popularity into single sport stadiums. For example, what used to be where the Kingdome resides in Seattle is now both CenturyLink Field (where the Seahawks play) and Safeco Field (where the Mariners play). So now we have twice as many stadiums that sit unoccupied most of the year, versus the days of 20th century modernity where, at the very least, they tried to modulate sports venues. Other cities that have done the same are: Minneapolis, New York, Baltimore, San Diego, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and San Francisco. With the exception of San Francisco’s Pac Bell/AT& T Park, all of the new stadiums received public subsidies.
The San Francisco Giants’ home demonstrates that a privately funded development can be successful. A stadium where baseball games, concerts and other community events can occur have public benefits so there is no reason to give that land for free. As Oakland looks for land for the A’s (and Raiders) and Los Angeles seeks a NFL franchise, it should not be at the expense of opportunities for affordable housing, open space, and other community needs. As the sale price of the Dodgers ($2 billion for the team and 250 acres of parking lots) and Clippers ($2 billion for only the team) indicate, these franchises’ values are only going up. They do not need any additional subsidies. I repeat, anyone who can afford to spend upwards of $1 billion on a sport franchise does not need public subsidies!
I still love going to the Oakland Coliseum – mostly for nostalgia and my love for the A’s. I love my memories and experiences in that space but I also see the need for a new stadium, or at least major renovations – I mean, c’mon, raw sewage. As gentrifying Oakland is becoming the new Silver Lake (or new Williamsburg or new whatever your favorite hipster area is), it can support a new stadium with fans who have enough money to both go to actual games or purchase television packages to watch games from home. Unfortunately, the question remains of who will pay for such a structure? As the recent opposition from Oscar Grant or Occupy Oakland demonstrates, the people of Oakland still hold the right values, but the A’s are owned by a savvy developer, Lew Wolff, who is a rational man, but also one who knows how to extract benefits through regional jingoism.