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Is it worse for John Fisher?

November 18, 2023

“It’s been worse for me than for you.” These extraordinary words came out of the mouth of John Fisher, incompetent owner of the Oakland Athletics, on the eve of getting approval from Major League Baseball to rip its roots out of the East Bay.

I have been reflecting a lot on these words. Strictly from a public relations point of view, they are gobsmackingly disrespectful, plumbing new depths of malpractice even for the worst ownership in sports. And of course, they are obviously wrong, as this clumsy move is worse for literally everyone else than it is for John Fisher. It is worse for the fans having their hearts ripped out; worse for the Oakland employees losing their jobs; worse for the many small businesses that make their livelihood on the team; worse for the players who have been told their entire athletic careers to take accountability only to be forced to watch in silence as their skinflint ownership takes none.

But there is a kind of truth to these words too, in that there are ways that it is worse for Fisher, for we have things that he cannot. Take, for example, the Reverse Boycott, the game on June 13th, 2023 when Oakland fans deliberately attended to show that we are, in fact, not the problem. Everything about that game was extraordinary: the energy was post-season electric as the worst-in-baseball A’s entered the game with a best-in-baseball win streak. The Coliseum was rocking, in a way that only the Coliseum can. Then, at the top of the 5th inning, the fans fell silent in protest of the move to Las Vegas. There was no plan beyond this; no one really knew what would happen when the silence ended. What happened next was spontaneous, straight from a shared heart that was breaking: a deafening chant, rolling and crashing over the stadium. “SELL! THE! TEAM! SELL! THE! TEAM!” (I accidentally recorded this; you can hear the emotion in my own voice — and that of my 11-year-old daughter next to me.) The game ended as only fiction would have it: with Trevor May striking out the best team in baseball to seal an improbable win for Oakland. The biggest surprise of the night was the sheer joy of it all: it was a New Orleans funeral for Oakland baseball, and we were glad to be there as a family. As I told my kids on the drive home, it was a night that they would one day tell their own grandchildren about.

How is it that a baseball game can conjure such emotion, let alone one from a losing franchise with a signed death warrant? Because, simply: sports are about much more than what’s on the field. Sports bring us together — they bind us across generation, disposition, and circumstance. A family that might agree on little else may shout in indignant agreement that that wasn’t pass interference or that he was obviously safe. They give us solidarity with one another: they give us stuff to believe in together, to celebrate together — and to grieve for together. In short, sports are the raw id of our own humanity. The Reverse Boycott distilled all of it into a single, singular night — binding us together in the kind of shared adversity that has always been the stuff of tribal legend.

And it is in this regard that John Fisher might be right: it is, in fact worse for him, because this shared humanity of sports eludes him. His camera roll is not filled with A’s-themed birthday parties, or of selfies with his kids in rally caps, or of toddlers running the bases late on a Sunday afternoon. It would be tempting to say that he instead sees sports as only a business, but even this gives him too much credit: the only business he knows is assuring the mechanics of inheritance — of hoarding the spoils of his birth. In this regard, he is at least passably capable: he took MLB at its word that it would cut off his welfare payments if he did not secure a stadium deal by January 2024, and dutifully secured a deal, however obviously disastrous. It’s worse for John Fisher because this has all been laid bare: the real cost of securing his allowance is that his ineptitude is no longer merely an open secret among beleaguered A’s fans — he is now MLB’s famous failson, the Connor Roy of professional sports.

Whatever success John Fisher may find in Las Vegas, he will not be able to outrun the wreckage he is leaving behind here in Oakland. In John Fisher’s obituary, it will not speak of what he built, but of what he broke; not of what he gave, but of what he took away. He will be a stain on his family, who will spend their lives trying to apologize for him. He himself will find that no amount of success will absolve him of the scar that he is leaving on the East Bay’s heart. And the much more likely scenario — abject commercial failure — will merely confirm for him his own nightmares: that he is exactly the klutz and dunce that he surely fears himself to be. And if John Fisher will always be searching for what he cannot get, we Oakland A’s fans will always have what cannot be taken away: our solidarity with — and love for — one another. We are raucous, brainy, creative, and eclectic; our lives are richer for having one another in them. John Fisher has none of this, and never will. As terrible as it is for us, it may indeed be worse for him.

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