The calls to move the Athletics to San Jose have started back up with a vengeance, because apparently a clogged sewer line in the Coliseum means every current and future building in the city of Oakland will have similar plumbing problems. Or you can go back to the last reason, a lack of fan support for a team that hadn't won more than half their games since 2006. Or was it stubbornness over a perceived slight by the Oakland city government nearly a decade ago?
Regardless of the excuse, what it boils down to is that Lew Wolff and the rest of the current ownership group are unwilling to entertain any possible stadium locations outside San Jose, ignoring overtures from the city of Oakland and the deafening silence from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig whenever the topic of shifting territorial rights comes up.
Of course, this is all wildly unfair to the Oakland fans who, despite past assertions, are some of the most raucous and passionate in all of sports -- just ask the 2012 Detroit Tigers. It also turns the team's back on decades of history and personality drawn from Oakland and its residents, unless you think moving to a city known almost exclusively for the wealth of its many giant corporations won't change the A's mustachioed, eccentric image.
Fortunately, that history of borderline insanity opens a wide variety of doors that would usually be closed to a team's fans. This is a team that once employed a mechanical rabbit named Harvey rather than a ballboy; that's owner rode onto the field on a mule he named after himself; that wore white shoes, long hair and mustaches when other ballplayers of the era looked like your typical San Jose corporate suit-filler. We could do something crazy and it wouldn't just be acceptable, it would be downright traditional.
What I'm saying is we should buy the A's. Yes, us. You, me and a few million of our fellow fans.
Public ownership of a team isn't unprecedented. The Green Bay Packers are owned by their fans, and it's worked out well for them over the years. Until 2002, shares of the Boston Celtics were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The best example is probably FC Barcelona, a Spanish soccer team, which is a nonprofit owned by the club's supporters and the second-highest revenue soccer team in the world.
A nonprofit could be formed to make an offer for the team and funded with, essentially, an extremely large-scale Kickstarter campaign. Inaugural donors could buy "ownership shares" for a couple thousand dollars or so that entitle them to nonbinding advisory votes on player re-signing priorities, approval of the current staff and other aspects of running the team, as well as tickets to exclusive "Owners' Day" games and other events.
Companies could contribute larger sums in exchange for promotional opportunities more in-depth than stadium ads. Venture capital could be raised in exchange for a small share of revenue -- being a nonprofit leaves the owner's share for incentive to investors.
It wouldn't be easy by any means, but it would be possible. Forbes values the A's at $468 million, so selling 250,000 shares at $2,500 each would raise enough money to pay Wolff and his partners more than a 30 percent premium. Corporate partners and investors would make that an even smaller number.
A stadium would be more difficult but still possible. Between grants from the league, venture capital, loans and corporate contributions -- the loss in property value that companies such as Clorox and Kaiser would suffer if the A's left town and took much of Oakland's name recognition with them makes for good incentive -- make it well within reach. The 49ers set a great blueprint for other Bay Area teams to follow.
Don't get me wrong, this is by no means a comprehensive or final plan. It would take people much more knowledgeable than I about nonprofits and fundraising to flesh it all out, and it would take established baseball people -- the Tony LaRussas and Rickey Hendersons of the world -- to convince the league and the other owners that it's a good idea.
But I do believe it's a good idea. It's just crazy enough to work, and it's just crazy enough to fit in the rest of Athletics history. And most importantly, it would let us keep our team in Oakland.
Daniel J. Willis is a database producer for the Bay Area News Group.