As “Moneyball” Turns 20, the Winless A’s Are Almost a Lock for Las Vegas

Oakland Athletics fans hold signs during a reverse boycott game against the Rays.
Oakland Athletics fans may not have a baseball team for much longer.
Brandon Vallance/Getty

When Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game  came out on June 17, 2003, the Oakland Athletics were in the middle of a season that saw them finish in first place in the American League West with a record of 96-66. As they did the year before when went 103-59 and had MVP Miguel Tejada as well as Cy Young winner Barry Zito on the roster, the A’s lost 3-2 in the ALDS. That was not an outlier, as 2003 was the fourth season in a row the A’s bowed out in the first round of the playoffs.

Celebrated for being one of the smartest and stingiest franchises in Major League Baseball — and pro sports in general — thanks to the guidance of general manager Billy Beane, the A’s have qualified for the postseason 11 times since 1997 when their GM took over. In those 11 trips, Oakland has won a series just twice (2006 and 2020) and has never advanced beyond the divisional round of the postseason.

As beloved as Beane’s “Moneyball” method is amongst those who bow at the altar of analytics, it has yet to pay off in the playoffs or bring Oakland even a series away from reaching the World Series. Maybe there’s a better way.

Arguably the worst team in baseball, the A’s are on the verge of officially heading to Las Vegas after the Nevada state legislature passed a bill during a special session this week to provide $380 million in public funding for a $1.5 billion stadium on the Strip. Republican Governor Joe Lombardo signed the bill into law and now MLB has to approve the move. Judging by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments, that is probably going to happen.

“I feel sorry for the fans in Oakland. I do not like this outcome. I understand why they feel the way they do,” Manfred told reporters. “I think that the real question is, what is it that Oakland was prepared to do? There is no Oakland offer. They never got to the point where they had a plan to build a stadium at any site.”

Oakland A’s Take Another Leap Toward Las Vegas
The franchise agreed to purchase land for a new stadium near the Strip, so a move mirroring that of the Raiders now looks imminent

If the A’s do leave Oakland for Las Vegas, which they probably should at this point, the franchise may end up owing fans in their former hometown something other than kind words on the way out. Introduced by California Democrats Barbara Lee and Mark DeSaulnier, the “Moneyball Act” would require MLB to pay communities that lose their ballclubs to a relocation of more than 25 miles. Under the proposed legislation, a failure to pay would result in MLB losing its antitrust exemption.

“This legislation will ensure that no city and community is left behind when billionaires decide that lining their own pockets is more important than the community that supports them,” Lee said. “If the A’s ownership group decides to leave, Oakland should not be left empty-handed.”

Covering Sam Bankman-Fried and the FTX collapse, Lewis’ next book Going Infinite is out in October. Don’t expect the A’s to still be playing baseball — anywhere — once it hits shelves.

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