2015's classic Oakland A's Jewish Heritage Night giveaway: a ball cap with "A's" transliterated into Hebrew. (Photo/Twitter-@AshleyWaxman)
2015's classic Oakland A's Jewish Heritage Night giveaway: a ball cap with "A's" transliterated into Hebrew. (Photo/Twitter-@AshleyWaxman)

Kaddish for the A’s: Jewish fans in mourning as team eyes move to Vegas

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East Bay sports fans have endured great losses in the past few years as the Warriors and Raiders have departed, leaving Oakland with only one major professional team: the Athletics.

Now, will it be goodbye Oakland A’s, as well? In April, team president Dave Kaval announced that the A’s had signed a binding agreement to purchase a 49-acre plot of land in Las Vegas and that the team hopes to play there by 2027.

Longtime Jewish A’s fans — many of whom have attended Jewish heritage nights at the Coliseum with their congregations since 2011 — said that the news has been a gut-punch, especially for those whose devotion to the team goes back decades.

“We are in mourning,” Jeanne Korn of Temple Beth Abraham told J. “I was in synagogue last Shabbat and I really wanted to stand to say Kaddish.”

The A’s have a small but passionate fan base that resonates with their team’s grittiness and underdog status. That identity and “approachability” attracted Jeanne and her husband, Stu, to the A’s when they first moved to the Bay Area in 1981.

“We fell in love with them,” she said.

The A’s began exploring a new stadium more than a decade ago, but a deal never came to fruition with the city government. Major League Baseball’s latest collective bargaining agreement gave the team until Jan. 15, 2024 to agree to a binding deal for a new stadium (with Oakland or any city) or else it would lose its inclusion in Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing.

Julie Jacoby, a member of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek, grew up going to the Coliseum and has struggled to digest the news of what seems to be an impending move (although there are still many T’s to be crossed and I’s to be dotted).

“I feel really heartbroken and disappointed. Some of my best and most exciting memories are from A’s games,” she said. “My husband and I, along with our families, have been lifelong A’s fans. We have a 6-year-old daughter now, so it’s sad that we won’t have those experiences anymore.”

In 2017, the A’s unveiled a “Rooted in Oakland” campaign to demonstrate their commitment to staying. Jacoby feels betrayed and misled.

“If they were rooted in Oakland, I think they would have found a way to partner with the city to find a way to stay,” she said.

The A’s have a rich history since moving to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968. In the early 1970s, they won three consecutive World Series titles, the only team to accomplish that feat other than the New York Yankees. In 2002, the A’s won 20 consecutive games thanks in part to their pioneering use of deeply analyzed statistical data to discover undervalued players. The story was popularized in “Moneyball,” a 2003 book by Jewish author and Berkeley resident Michael Lewis that was turned into an acclaimed 2011 movie.

One would struggle to find an A’s fan more dedicated than 83-year-old Allan Chasnoff. He moved to Walnut Creek in 1973, and he said for a stretch of 15 years after he retired, he showed up at every home game. He estimates he’s attended between 2,000 and 3,000 A’s games.

“Of course I’m disappointed, but there are things in life that happen that you don’t have any control over,” he said.

RELATED: Meet Zack Gelof, a Jewish ballplayer inspiring high hopes in the A’s organization

Some fans, such as Elliot Kallen, emphasized that a departure from Oakland is understandable. The A’s averaged an MLB-low 9,973 fans per game last season (which was actually better than their 2021 average of 8,767), and this year stood at 10,936 fans per game through April, also an MLB worst.

With the 57-year-old Coliseum, they play in the most dilapidated stadium in the league. And they maintain profitability by consistently keeping one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, inhibiting themselves from signing star players.

Some A’s fans have been highly critical of Jewish A’s owner John Fisher, who is the son of Gap co-founders Don and Doris (née Feigenbaum) Fisher. In addition to his unwillingness to spend more on players, fans argue that he has allowed the team to deteriorate with the aim of moving them out of Oakland.

Others see a move to Las Vegas as perhaps disappointing, but a logical business decision.

“I think they’re doing the right thing by moving,” said Kallen, a former president of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek. “They needed to move to a place where the fanbase would be better, which is a somewhat fair-weather fan base — because even though people love the A’s from their youth, there are only [6,000 to 9,000] or 10,000 people going to games.” Attendance at one game a few weeks ago was just over 3,400.

Added Kallen: “I would find a place where I feel welcomed, could fill up the stands and become competitive with money coming through the door.”

Kallen also believes that from a locational standpoint, staying in Oakland doesn’t make sense.

“There are so many places in Oakland where you can’t go and be safe, so why would you invest a billion dollars in a city that is unable to make it more hospitable? I’m a businessman. I would not relocate to Oakland,” he said.

Going forward, which team will A’s fans cheer for?

Jacoby is adamant that, for now at least, she will not be supporting the A’s. Chasnoff, on the other hand, thinks that he’ll continue to support them. The Korns are still mulling it over.

“If they actually leave, I’m done with them. My heart is broken,” Jeanne Korn said. “But I love baseball. Which team is going to get my loyalty when it’s been this one for over 40 years?”

“I’m not ruling out a fandom of the Giants,” she added, though “being an A’s fan, I’ve always resented the Giants with their bigger payroll and beautiful stadium. The A’s were never elitist, even when they were winning. Being an Oaklander, there’s a weariness about the city across the bay.”

For now, the A’s are still in Oakland, and fans can see their favorite team play for at least the rest of this season and probably next.  

“They haven’t moved yet,” Chasnoff said. “As Yogi Berra said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’”

Gabe Fisher
Gabe Fisher

Gabe Fisher is a freelance journalist who served as interim editorial assistant at J. in 2022. Follow him on Twitter @ItsGabeFisher.