The Fremont Athletics 

How the deal went down, and why it was inevitable

Page 2 of 7

But even Beane admits that Moneyball is not all it's cracked up to be. When his no-names become high-priced stars — from Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada to Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson — he no longer can afford them. Frank Thomas is the team's latest pilgrim, and Barry Zito is likely to follow soon. It's no way to build fan loyalty, and it's no way to increase season ticket sales.

At the November 14 press conference, Beane said he dreams of a day when a young A's fan can have a "favorite player in the first grade" and then watch that player for his entire A's career. A new baseball-only stadium in Fremont, he said, "will give us that opportunity." With so much turnover on the team's roster each year, fans are basically relegated today to cheering for the team's uniform. Beane admitted that he feels a little sheepish at times asking fans to "root for laundry."

No there there

Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland that "there is no there there," but her famous comment better describes the city thirty miles to the south. Fremont is basically a large collection of housing tracts fronted by strip malls — with no downtown. It also gets no respect. With a population of 210,000, it's the region's fourth-largest city behind San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland, yet no one ever seems to mention it after the top three. Two A's fans in a video on YouTube recently described the city as "a parking lot with a mayor."

For years, Fremont was just a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. Yes, it's home to the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. auto plant, the county's largest private employer. But during the 1990s, it also became home to a huge influx of Asian immigrants, many of whom were engineers at high-tech companies in next-door Santa Clara County. By the end of the decade, Fremont's leaders decided it was time to transform their city into a high-tech destination.

They pinned their hopes on a large piece of land west of Interstate 880, near the salt flats of San Francisco Bay. The property was owned by Catellus Development Corporation, the state's biggest private landowner and a spinoff of the old Southern Pacific and Santa Fe railroads. Catellus had attracted Silicon Valley giant Cisco Systems to construct a huge business park on 143 acres known as Pacific Commons.

The new high-tech mecca was to feature 3.4 million square feet of office space, 10,000 workers, and eighteen midrise office buildings. "I always had high hopes for that property," Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said. "I was ecstatic when we approved the high-tech business park. It would have been the new center of Silicon Valley."

The city craved the development so badly that it became a co-applicant in the federal environmental review process. Catellus coveted the deal, too. To ease concerns about wetlands and threatened species, the company deeded a large portion of its Fremont holdings to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. But by the time Fremont and Catellus had obtained all the permits they needed to break ground, the dot-com bubble burst. In April 2001, Cisco shelved its plans, and Fremont's "there" went back to being just a vacant lot.

Meanwhile, thirty miles to the north, another vacant lot had become the focus of Oakland's attempt to finally create its own destination. City Manager Robert Bobb was on a one-man crusade to reawaken Oakland's long-dormant downtown with a new A's ballpark. But he needed help, so he recruited Fremont's economic development director, Rosie Rios, who had helped lead the Cisco-Catellus project. During late 2001 and early 2002, Bobb and Rios drew up a plan for a new entertainment district in Oakland's Uptown District, next to downtown, anchored by a ballpark and a refurbished Fox Theater. "It would have jumpstarted downtown Oakland," Bobb recalled.

But Bobb's boss, Mayor Jerry Brown, had other plans; he wanted the site for his friends at Forest City Enterprises Inc. a large housing developer. Brown later told reporters that A's owner Schott was not interested in the Uptown site. And while it's true that Schott never stepped forward to embrace the plan, it's also true that Brown put a gag order on it, forbidding anyone in the city from discussing it with the A's. The mayor also forbade Bobb and Rios from revealing it publicly. The plan's details came to light only when they were obtained by the Oakland Tribune.

With the help of City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, Brown effectively killed the ballpark-entertainment district in May 2002 when the council awarded the land to Forest City. Brown and Bobb's once-close relationship was damaged beyond repair, and thirteen months later, the mayor told his city manager to quit or he would fire him. Brown then terminated Rios outright. With Bobb and Rios gone, the A's destiny would not be in Oakland.

"There is no way that that project should not have been built," Bobb said. "But at the end of the day, politics overcame a long-range vision for the City of Oakland." Bobb went on to become the city manager of Washington, DC, and spearheaded — with an assist from Rios — that city's successful 2004 bid to lure the Montreal Expos with a new ballpark. But before he and Rios left Oakland, they oversaw a study of possible stadium sites around the East Bay.

Conducted by famed architects HOK Sport, who designed San Francisco's AT&T Park and Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the study ranked Uptown as the best place for a new ballpark. But to nearly everyone's surprise, another spot had caught the architects' attention.

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