“No, that wasn’t considered. We thought there’d always be only the one club in this vicinity and we’d be it. It would appear we weren’t far-sighted enough.”
That was San Francisco Giants club president Horace Stoneham, as quoted in the November 4, 1967 issue of The Sporting News, on the news that the Kansas City Athletics would be moving to Oakland and invading the Giants’ once-exclusive Bay Area territory. The move, spurred by volatile Athletics owner Charlie Finley, led to extreme reactions all around.
“This loss,” Missouri Senator Stuarty Symington said of Kansas City’s loss of the A’s, “is more than recompensed for by the pleasure resulting from our getting rid of Mr. Finley.”
Finley was nothing but trouble in Kansas City, from his insistence on loud and garish displays (late-night fireworks, later replaced with light displays when the mayor complained about the noise), to dogs loose on the field, to petting zoos with nothing but ordinary animals posing as entertainment. It should therefore be no surprise he brought little but trouble to the Bay Area.
Finley was confident the Bay Area, a booming population center between San Francisco, Oakland and the surrounding areas, could easily handle two baseball teams. According to The Sporting News, Finley hired a research firm to determine the feasibility of adding a team to the East Bay and came away with the conclusion that “the clubs will complement each other.”
Regardless of whether Finley was right (or even believed what he said), Oakland must have seemed a significant more promising market than Kansas City, one of the smallest metro areas in professional sports at the time. The Athletics finished in last place in 1967 and drew just 652,246 fans — about half of what the Giants drew despite spending most of the campaign well out of the race.
However, the 1967 Giants had seen a sharp decline in attendance from the first few seasons in Candlestick Park (capacity 45,000). Attendance in 1967 — 1,242,480 fans — was lower than in 1958, when the club played in 23,000 seat Seals Stadium as Candlestick Park was under construction. A major part of the problem, of course, was Candlestick Park itself, which was consistently too cold and windy to draw fans to a team that wasn’t challenging for a pennant, and perhaps that’s why Stoneham was so concerned:
“Certainly the move will hurt us. It is a question of whether both of us can survive. I don’t think the area at the present will take care of us both as much as they (Finley and the Athletics) think it will.”
Where Stoneham previously lacked foresight, here he possessed it in spades. By 1978, both clubs were faltering. Finley had a buyer for the Athletics, who wanted to move the club to Denver, but the A’s still had a decade left on its lease at the Oakland Coliseum. To Giants, in an attempt to spur the move on and return to a one-team Bay Area, considered a move where they would play some home games (25 of 81 in one case, an “even 50-50 split” in another) at the Coliseum. But the Coliseum’s president, Robert Nahas, wanted the Giants to drop the “San Francisco” name if they were to play in his stadium, which San Francisco Mayor George Moscone refused. And so the clubs remained as they were.
“I’ve just called Charlie,” Nahas said of Finley, “and told him to dust off the bats and get baseball back on the field where it belongs.”
By the late 1980s, it was clear Candlestick Park was no longer a suitable baseball stadium. The Giants tried four times to move, twice to spots within San Francisco proper followed by attempts in Santa Clara and San Jose. It was here the territorial rights the clubs still fight over today were drawn up: in an attempt to drum up support for a Giants move to the South Bay, the Athletics, then owned by Walter Haas, agreed to give the Giants (and then-owner Bob Lurie) territorial rights to San Jose.
The move failed, and the Giants were eventually bought by Peter Magowan. The new ownership considered those territorial rights part of the value of their new team. Their stadium problems were solved in 1996, when the club passed through the proposal to build Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park) with 100% investor money. The A’s, stuck in their Coliseum/Mausoleum, are locked out of San Jose unless the courts revoke the territorial rights.
And now, here we are. The Giants are thriving behind a massive fanbase and the most beautiful park in the major leagues. The Athletics have a stadium that fills with sewage as the playoffs approach and still struggle to draw fans. It would seem Stoneham was right — there was a legitimate question as to whether or not two teams could survive in the Bay Area.
But to me it looks more like a story of, as Stoneham put it, many men who just weren’t far-sighted enough. The Giants weren’t far-sighted enough to expect a second team to come into the massive media market that is the Bay Area. They weren’t far-sighted enough to know Candlestick Park was a terrible place to play and watch baseball. Charlie Finley wasn’t far-sighted enough to see his club would struggle to draw fans due to the presence of the Giants across the bay. Walter Haas wasn’t far-sighted enough to recognize the importance of the territorial rights, or the fact that the Giants’ proposed move to San Jose might fail.
Between San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Santa Clara,there should be enough resources to support two teams in Northern California. But thanks to the short-sighted decisions made by baseball men from Stoneham to Finley to Haas, Lurie, Lew Wolff and beyond, baseball life in the Bay Area has been a challenge. A needless challenge, to be sure, but an ongoing challenge nonetheless.