The Reverse Boycott in Oakland Was a Rowdy Success

Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

OAKLAND – The Coliseum was rocking for the first pitch of last night’s game. A crowd of 27,759 roared as Yandy Díaz grounded out to first. “Sell the team! Sell the team! Sell the team!” The coordinated chant broke down into roars and cheers as Ryan Noda gathered up the grounder and stepped on first, kicking off the wildest Tuesday night game you could ever imagine.

The fans – 23,000 more than attended Monday night’s fixture – came out to protest owner John Fisher’s attempt to move the A’s to Las Vegas. They came out to protest Fisher’s management of the team in general. More than either of those causes, however, they came out to cheer for the A’s. As much as the team’s recent trajectory makes them hard to root for, as much as ownership and the front office seem to be steering into the skid, Oakland fans remain some of the most passionate in baseball.

If you’ve never heard of a reverse boycott before, that’s not surprising: the fans more or less improvised the idea on the fly. Jeremy Goodrich, a college student and lifelong A’s fan, created a petition calling for Fisher to sell the team instead of relocating. Stu Clary, a longtime fan, saw the petition and floated the idea of selling out a weeknight game as a signal that fan support for the A’s is merely dormant, not extinct. The concept caught on almost immediately.

The New York Times covered the organizing. The San Francisco Chronicle was all over it too. As the calendar ticked into June, and as team officials ushered a stadium funding bill through the Nevada legislature, momentum built. By Tuesday, it hit a crescendo.

The Coliseum hasn’t seen attendance like this since the 2019 Wild Card game, when 54,000 packed the old multi-purpose oval against these same Rays. The massive parking lots surrounding the stadium were crowded with tailgaters. Fans chuckled bemusedly as they waited in line to get in – there haven’t been a lot of lines here this year. The concourse was jammed 30 minutes before the game started, a mixture of food and beverage lines and small, organic parades of like-minded fanatics making noise and brandishing “Sell!” signs as they berated Fisher.

Not just signs, either – the Oakland 68s, a local fan group, raised money and printed 7,000 green “SELL” t-shirts to hand out to fans. Little kids wandered around in shirts twice their size. Old ladies tied the t-shirt around their bags as accessories. Fans who came to the game in iconic throwback jerseys unbuttoned them to show off their own homemade t-shirts. The Oakland community rallied around the reverse boycott, and you could feel that energy at the game.

There’s a lot of pent-up love for the team across Northern California. How else to explain the riot of witty signs and gorgeous A’s apparel everywhere you looked? “Vegas Ain’t Punk,” proclaimed a sign held by a fan who clearly was punk. “A(‘s) Fish(er) Rots From The Head Down,” read another carried by a fan so committed to the bit that he wore a fish mask.

Twenty-foot-long “SELL” banners came down from the outfield bleachers throughout the game, only to be removed by security. A painstakingly detailed cursive “Sell” cut out of poster board was my favorite, if only for the effort involved. Hal the Hot Dog Guy, an A’s superfan, marched through the stands leading cheers and handing out more t-shirts.

All that negative energy, all that disgust at Fisher and team president Dave Kaval and the opaque machinations driving the team to the Nevada desert, could have made for an angsty atmosphere. The only coordinated chants the fans planned for the night were “Sell the team!” at the top of every inning and “Stay in Oakland!” in the bottom half. The tension of showing up to a game to support the team and also protest the owner was strong; I’ve never seen a game where the video operators struggled more to find fans to show, what with all the signs and “SELL” shirts and whatnot.

One thing about A’s fans, though: they really do love the A’s. The sell chants wasn’t the loudest the stadium got all night. That’d be the bottom of the eighth, when Carlos Pérez drove in Ramón Laureano with a groundout to take a 2-1 lead. The stadium was already deafening; it erupted after that play, a playoff atmosphere for an 18-50 ballclub in June.

More than anything, the fans who came out last night were there to root for their team. Any pretense at coordination disappeared whenever the A’s did something good; the stadium merely dissolved into cheers instead. The boos when Rays pitchers threw over to first base shook my seat. From the fifth inning on, I spent more time standing than sitting, as the crowd rose and roared for every two-strike count and A’s baserunner. Hogan Harris, the 26-year-old rookie who got the win for a seven-inning, four-hit gem, thought his PitchCom went out because the stadium got so loud that he couldn’t hear it.

The fans behind me exemplified the feeling I got from everyone I talked to. They wore paper bags emblazoned with “Sell the team” on their heads when they sat down, though they quickly took them off – bags, it turns out, aren’t particularly comfortable. They’d been to other games this year – without the bags, naturally – and wouldn’t have missed last night for anything.

They wanted me to know that they were here to support the team and to shame Fisher – but they were also there to have a good time and watch some ball. They questioned Tampa Bay’s pitching strategy, shouted encouragement to Brent Rooker, and lost their collective minds when Trevor May came in to close things out in the ninth. There have been precious few cherished memories created at A’s games this year; last night, the entire crowd seemed to will one more into existence.

When I spoke to Goodrich, the creator of the petition that set this chain of events in motion, before the game, he gave me that same vibe. He wasn’t so much mad as he was hopeful. “I want [Fisher] to work with the city to build a new stadium here,” he told me. “The mayor said she’ll work with him. Failing that, I want him to sell the team to keep it rooted in Oakland.” He’d been avoiding the news from Nevada all day; he wanted to enjoy the night instead of worrying about what came next.

Goodrich has been an A’s fan as long as he can remember, inheriting his dad’s fandom. His father, Scott, was at the game too, both to support Jeremy and to catch a game. He told me he’d picked up the team at age 10 and stuck with them ever since, through championship years and droughts. He positively beamed as I talked to him. “I’m really proud of [Jeremy’s] passion and organization,” he told me.

Those positive vibes have been all too rare in the East Bay in recent years. The stadium is near-empty most nights, and the team, weakened by a continual deluge of sell-offs and rebuilds, feels like a manifestation of the stadium it plays in. Even the right field drums, an Oakland fixture, have been quiet this season; they went silent in April when the team announced a land purchase in Las Vegas.

An empty stadium isn’t what I think about when I picture Oakland sports, though. I picture rabid fans and manic energy, drums beating into the night and delirious revelers decked out in kelly green. Not so long ago, this was just what the Coliseum felt like. In 2002, the Moneyball season, the A’s averaged 27,000 fans per game. They were a low-budget operation already; that’s what the book was about, after all. But that was before Fisher, before the game on the field felt like it mattered less to the people running the team than where they could find the most subsidies, before the contract between team and community went sour.

I don’t know what this reverse boycott will accomplish. The Nevada Assembly is voting on a bill, already passed by the state Senate, that would give the team $380 million in public funding. Governor Joe Lombardo is a staunch supporter of bringing a major league team to Las Vegas. Commissioner Rob Manfred has indicated that he’ll waive the relocation fee that the league normally charges teams to move. The wheels are in motion, in other words.

Whatever the outcome, though, Tuesday night was a rollicking success. For one more night at least, Oakland fans got together and celebrated the team that they have a love/hate relationship with. The cheers resonated long after the players left the field. “Sell the team!”, sure. But also “Let’s Go Oakland!” every bit as loud. This was a party, not a memorial service.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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CC AFCmember
11 months ago

Given their historical behavior, I expect the messages ownership will take are: 1) see? the fans could come if they wanted to; and 2) we won! Obviously, we would be better if the fans came more often.

These are obviously the wrong messages to receive, but money has a way of warping the mind.

Last edited 11 months ago by CC AFC
11 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

You give ownership far more credit for caring about the fans than they deserve.

11 months ago
Reply to  HappyFunBall

MLB owners must be the worst owners in sports. The stagnant franchise values prove it

11 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

A few of the state owned, human rights abusing owners in the English Premiership may have a think or two to say about that….

11 months ago
Reply to  Billsaints

Let’s not try to limit who is the worst to any league. They all suck.

11 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Jerry Reinsdorf has said frequently over the years that he would not spend more on the White Sox unless more people come to the games. This always struck me like a restaurant promising better food in the future if you pay for the crap on the menu now.

That’s not how it works. But ownership sees fans as wallets with legs and even if those wallets are opening willingly, none of them have as much money as the giant novelty checks that are city and state governments.

11 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

And the White Sox are now worth less than the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s not bright enough to care of course

11 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Well, if Giannis ever wants to pick up a bat…

11 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

An entire piece weighing the decision-making of the ownership group of the White Sox, the face of which is Jerry Reinsdorf, would be interesting. Still not sure this is the right comp given all but 5 MLB franchises fall in this category according to Forbes 2023 valuations.

11 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

When Dolan took over in Cleveland he said what he spent on the team would depend on attendance. He’s kept his word.

Low spending brought low attendance which brought low spending until he found an investor willing to put money into the team.

This is not the ony time the team has been sold to somebody who lacked the pockets to support it properly.

If you want to hear a Cleveland baseball fan, mention how Nick Mileti outbid Steinbrenner before he bought the Yankees and then ran the franchise into the ground for lack of money. He spent all he had to buy it. And devalued it to where nobody would pay what he bid.

In another Universe The Boss built his sports empire just off Lake Erie.