An Elegy to the Oakland A’s
by Matt Werner
Born at Oakland Kaiser in 1984, I was the ideal age to watch the A’s win the 1989 World Series. Watching Dave Stewart, Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, and Jose Canseco got me hooked on baseball and baseball card collecting. But it was wanting to go to A’s games that curiously got me into reading, leading to my career as a writer.
I spent my early years in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Alameda. The Alameda Free Library’s Summer Reading program rewards kids where if you read a certain number of books, you get free tickets to Oakland A’s games. I remember reading books like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Casey at the Bat, and even graduating up to the book My Favorite Summer 1956 by Mickey Mantle. Recording how many books I read, I’d return them to the library and get bleacher tickets as a reward. This motivated me to read because the more I read, the more I got to see my favorite baseball players. My parents and siblings would take me to the bleachers (before Mount Davis was built), to see Krazy George bang his drum, and eat cheap hot dogs.
When I was in high school at Bishop O’Dowd I liked going to the fireworks nights, and continued going through college, taking my friends from UC Berkeley–many of whom rarely ventured into East Oakland. And more recently, attending games in the almost-vacant stadium has been depressing, especially when so many longtime season ticketholders have been pushed out and ostracized due to how the owners have managed the team and ticket prices.
However, despite the failings of the management, the A’s have been MY TEAM. And despite the talk for over a decade of the A’s moving to San Jose, Fremont, or even Portland–it was difficult to hear, but I kept the faith that they’d stay in Oakland. But this time is different. Like the Raiders, they’re moving to Las Vegas.
In the past, I’ve coped with bad news through humor and irony (my background includes writing for McSweeney’s), and today has made me look back at a publication I released a decade ago called Oakland Unseen. It’s an Onion-style satirical newspaper I published in 2013 with friends, former journalists, and disgruntled Jean Quan staffers. Knowing it was possible (but highly unlikely) that all 3 sports teams would leave Oakland, we ran the article “Coliseum City to be Memorial for Sports Teams That Used to be in Oakland.” It was meant to be funny and satirical. What’s sad is that a decade later, this article has become true.
In a similar fashion, my writing team came up with the concept 7 years ago when developing the Oakland Unseen web series, what if Las Vegas didn’t stop with the Raiders, but took all of Oakland’s culture and commoditized it and sold it to the highest bidder? This became our YouTube segment, Oakland-themed hotel to open in Las Vegas. Let’s hope that this fake news story doesn’t turn true as well.
As for the A’s, much has been written about revenue sharing, John Fischer, and Lew Wolff’s tarp-gate. And I’m sure we’ll see reports in the coming months about the economic impact of losing three major sports teams in the span of a decade, from the decline in hotel revenues, jobs, transportation, etc. in the local economy. But I want to share the personal impact the A’s leaving Oakland has on me.
The A’s moving to Las Vegas feels like a bigger blow to me than the Raiders or Warriors because it’s the last team… And it signals the end of an era, such as when auto manufacturing left Oakland when the Chevrolet Assembly Plant shuttered in 1963.
On that note, I wrote an elegy today in the style of ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’ by W. H. Auden:
Elegy to the Oakland A’s
The A’s disappeared in the dead of spring
On 4/20, of all days
The streets pothole-laden, sprinkled with glass
Sounds in the distance of Bart-tracks screeching
The tarps flapping atop Mount Davis
Inside a coliseum left to ruin.
The instruments we have all agree
The day of the A’s departure was a strange day.
The mayor called a press conference
Acknowledging what the mayor before
And the mayor before her had tried
But the contemptuous, Muskian billionaire
Was not satiated
The wolf is at the door
There is always a Gap
Whatever fandom you have given,
For profit he will take it back.
The rumors of the decades are true,
The feeling of a team left etherized on the table.
Slogan “Rooted in Oakland” now seems gaslit
PR strategy to blame politicians and not team management
Slumlord of an owner… running a franchise into the ground
Using a fanbase as a pawn
Pocketing money supposed to go to players
Plotting to kill what you love.
But wafting from the darkness is the smell of bacon-wrapped hotdogs
From the stone-arching pedestrian bridge
Over the river Styx
East Oakland’s creativity pours out in t-shirts,
hats, and handmade scarves
The hustle to get to the stadium before the first pitch
To get the bobblehead, or the giant foam finger.
From Rollie Fingers’s mustache
Bash Brothers McGwire and Canseco
Moneyball: “He gets on base”
Billy Beane’s tobacco cheek
Rickey holding up his stolen base
Ballpark organ music and fans standing to do the wave
“Orange seats and ice plants”
The sunlight off the Oakland Hills at sunset
To Tejada’s swing
Eric Chavez’s golden glove
And Matt Olson’s walk-off
Coach La Russa and countless others held this team together, and this franchise and gave
this fanbase countless memories in this space.
But it’s fading
Like the smell of bacon-wrapped hot dogs in the distance of Bart tracks.
Onions and relish and mustard all gone
The only memory I grasp in my hand:
A small plastic A’s hat coated with the residue of ice cream
All else is fallen. The lights turned off, and the gate is locked.
Earth, receive an honored guest:
The Oakland A’s are laid to rest.
Let the franchise lie off of Hegenberger
Emptied of its poetry.
Matt Werner is a writer from the Bay Area. He’s the editor of Oakland Unseen, a satirical news site