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IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO romanticize a building as ugly as the Oakland Coliseum. It’s aesthetically cold, a mountain of weathered concrete surrounded by oceans of asphalt. But when it was full, and when the game mattered, nothing compared. The raw noise, the reckless energy, a party always on the verge of getting out of hand. In those moments, it has always been the kind of place — lawless, reckless, all the volume cranked up inside every single body — that demands you pay attention.

There will be no more big games there, perhaps no more games, period. The owners of Major League Baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred completed the mission of Oakland Athletics owner John Fisher on Thursday when, sources told Jeff Passan, team owners voted unanimously to allow the A’s to relocate to Las Vegas. They voted without all the required information, and they voted to reward someone whose trustworthiness is in dispute with a market they’ve long viewed as a gold mine for an expansion team.

Manfred has strewn rose petals along the A’s path to Vegas, maybe because he fears Fisher might lose his way without the help. He agreed to waive the relocation fee (at minimum $300 million to be spread across the other 29 teams) because the deal in Las Vegas wouldn’t be financially feasible for Fisher otherwise. Manfred scheduled the vote despite not knowing where the A’s will play for three seasons between 2025 and 2027 and despite not knowing the design of the ballpark and despite not knowing how Fisher plans to finance the $1 billion to $1.5 billion it will take to build it.

And that’s why, in Oakland, it feels personal. In Oakland, which is on the verge of losing all three of its major professional sports teams in a span of five years, it always feels personal. There’s something about the city and its people that guys like Fisher and Manfred will never understand. Fisher — Gap scion, shadow-dweller, principal owner of the A’s since 2015 — loves to tout his Bay Area roots, but he was born into a life of East Coast boarding schools, Princeton and squash courts. Oakland was never his thing.

When I spoke at length to Fisher and team president Dave Kaval in late August, their stated sympathy for the fans of Oakland felt perfunctory, rote, like the names of A’s prospects Fisher read off a paper on the desk in front of him at one point in our conversation. On Tuesday, he spoke with three A’s fans/protesters who made the trip to Arlington, Texas, for the owners meetings. When Jorge Leon told him how difficult it’s been to watch their team be taken away from them, Fisher, the billionaire, told him, “It’s been a lot worse for me than you.”

Fisher didn’t attend games in Oakland after the April decision to leave town, but Las Vegas will provide him with the proper remove. If all goes according to plan, there will be a sufficient number of luxury suites that generate a sufficient amount of revenue for him to go, if he chooses, without fear of encountering the unsavory aspects of the real world.

A’s fans, with a fair amount of bless-your-heart innocence, felt they could change the course of history with sheer outrage. They derided Fisher with billboards outside the stadium and bedsheet signs inside and airplane banners overhead. They stopped drumming in the right-field bleachers, turning a party into a funeral, and then they threw a reverse boycott party that did the exact opposite. They’ve lived with this prospect for what seems like forever, just as they did when the Raiders were boomeranging up and down the coast and the Warriors were casting their covetous eyes toward San Francisco.

But it’s never been about the fans, or loyalty, or 55 years of history. Fisher can reel off the names of Sal Bando and Catfish Hunter and Tyler Soderstrom and Denzel Clarke, but it’s always been about the search for the next mark, the next wheelbarrow of free money, the next lobbying tactic that produces the most corporate welfare. The team is a line on a spreadsheet, nothing more than an asset in a billionaire’s portfolio. The people left behind don’t matter. The cruel truth is, they never did.


THERE WAS NO suspense surrounding this vote. Despite all its holes, the plan to move the A’s to Las Vegas is seen by every other owner as a way to insure their own future grift. And to deny the A’s relocation would have served as a de facto vote of no confidence for Manfred. His cheerleading for this move, and subsequent belittlement of both Oakland and its mayor, Sheng Thao, exposed a brittle side to his personality.

Charitably, it could be called a strategy. For the Athletics to convince the owners they needed to move, they had to sell the case that Oakland was not a worthy home for Major League Baseball. Not just that ballpark, which nobody can reasonably defend, but an entire region. They did this systematically and cynically, by stripping the team like a stolen car and leaving the husk to rot in the sun. They discarded young stars and left the stadium to decay on its own terms while dismissing the efforts of city officials in raising nearly $1 billion for infrastructure to build Fisher’s Oz-like $12 billion waterfront mini-city at Howard Terminal.

They didn’t try to hide it. Kaval admitted — flat-out admitted — to me that the team abandoned any effort to make the Coliseum a better place to watch a game at the beginning of the 2021 season, when he and Fisher decided to embark on “parallel paths” of pitting Oakland against Las Vegas. In the end, “parallel paths” appears to have been another strategic maneuver to ease the franchise out of Oakland.

It ushered in three years of a gutted team, an intentionally grim stadium and — get this — higher ticket prices, including many season-ticket plans that doubled between 2022’s 102-loss season and this year’s 112-loss season. The team drew an MLB-worst 832,342 fans in 2023 and presto — blame the city and move to Vegas.

The same week I spoke to Kaval, I spoke to Fisher, who was ending a string of three interviews, the only three he’s given in 18 years as an owner. “We start off the season like everybody, every other ball team does, tied for first,” Fisher said. “You start out with very high hopes for what your team is going to be able to achieve. And then you play the games.”

I didn’t report those words at the time, mainly because I couldn’t decide whether they were the product of ignorance, duplicity or some combination of the two. Because those pesky games, the ones that didn’t go the A’s way 112 times last season, contained precisely zero surprises, and nobody had high hopes for the A’s last season, not even the guys in the clubhouse.

But what now? What about the immediate now? They’ve got permission to move to a city that, to this point, has managed to keep its excitement for MLB’s worst team entirely hidden. Beyond that, who knows? The A’s have no idea where they’re going to play after the Coliseum lease expires after next season. That means three years … somewhere, and that’s providing all the construction moves along at pace and the Tropicana hotel/casino is razed and the new ballpark is built in time to open in 2028.

The most logical place for them to play after the Coliseum lease expires after the 2024 season is the Coliseum. The A’s haven’t approached the city about extending the lease, and the people who run the city are in no mood to make the first call, but imagine for a moment the scene in the Coliseum late in the ’27 season, with the A’s 30 games back in the AL West, months away from their first Opening Day in Las Vegas, a couple hundred people watching, one concession stand open, the pall after the pall.


IT WOULD BE easier for the people of the East Bay to understand the decision if someone, anyone, involved in making it could come close to making a coherent argument for why it’s happening. The arguments the team made to procure $380 million in public funding would have failed a middle-school debate class.

They infamously sold the Nevada legislature on a 30,000-seat stadium that would require annual attendance of 2.5 million to reach the financial projections to keep the state from touching the state’s general fund. When it was pointed out that 81 sellouts — a prognostication we can all agree makes fairy tales sound like “Reservoir Dogs” — would mean just 2.43 million fans, Kaval announced new plans: the stadium, magically, would be 32,000 seats.

This is a stadium that exists only in the imagination; no official renderings have been released, and no architect has been publicly announced. The team’s director of design told everyone to “wad up” the original stadium renderings — which appeared to show a ballpark far larger than the land it will occupy, with a field that looked suspiciously like the Coliseum’s — after Nevada’s public money was secured. It will need to be either be a fixed dome or have a retractable roof; the former is a relic of a grim era (Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the Astrodome, the soon-to-be-placed Trop) while the latter might be an engineering impossibility on the nine-acre Vegas parcel. (Nine acres bordering an off-Strip condo complex and a Catholic church, hardly San Francisco Bay waterfront vibes.)

Fisher can say he spent six years trying to make something happen in Oakland, but that conveniently sidesteps the three years focused on one site (Laney Community College) that Fisher was told was a dead end from the beginning. Then there was the shift to Howard Terminal (“Howard Terminal or bust,” Kaval said) that lasted until the beginning of 2021 (a pandemic got in the way, too) before the team announced its “parallel paths” with Oakland and Las Vegas.

The one time Fisher and Kaval were pressed to explain their decision, their reasoning lacked both substance and coherence. The best they could do was say that Oakland couldn’t guarantee a stadium deal before the team’s January deadline to continue receiving revenue-sharing from the big-market teams in the league. In other words, Oakland didn’t give them enough fast enough to make sure they could get more from somebody else.

Fifty-five years of history, history Fisher claims to honor, tossed aside for expediency. Any attempt to make sense of it — all of it, from Manfred’s rank boosterism to Fisher’s abrupt turn on Howard Terminal — comes back to one question: Will the man who spawned a cottage industry of green-and-white “SELL” T-shirts unload the team once it lands in Vegas? Is there some tacit quid pro quo between Fisher and MLB — you get Vegas for your trouble in Oakland, and we’ll find a new owner so you can cash out once Vegas becomes official and the franchise value skyrockets?

When I asked Fisher if he was planning on selling the team once it gets to Vegas, he gave one in a series of nonanswers. He talked about buying a team because he wanted to win. He talked about being a fan and the history of the A’s and Vida Blue and Reggie Jackson. Nowhere in his extended response was an answer to the question.

But Vegas invites reinvention. You can be anything you want in Vegas. It practically begs you to conjure something else. They built skyscrapers in the sand and convinced people from all over the world to travel there to hand over their money. Anything’s possible.

Maybe this is baseball’s hope. Fisher will go to Vegas and become someone or something else. He’ll raise his payroll and keep his good players and treat his customers as if they matter. He’ll wander The Strip and mingle with the people and wear a $5 tank top and try to open a beer bottle with his eye socket. The stands will be full, the team will romp to victory and everyone will wonder why Major League Baseball didn’t ditch Oakland sooner.

At this point, there’s no way to refute any of it. Anything and everything is possible. But there’s always been an undeniable truth about Vegas: Eventually, you have to go home to who you’ve always been.

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Sources: Yankees add Hill to banged-up bullpen

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Sources: Yankees add Hill to banged-up bullpen

Reliever Tim Hill and the New York Yankees are in agreement on a one-year major league contract, sources told ESPN, in a deal that adds the veteran left-hander to the team with the best record in baseball.

Hill, 34, was designated for assignment by the Chicago White Sox last week after a rough patch in which his ERA ballooned to 5.87. Hill still has not allowed a home run, and his 65.6% groundball rate is the third best among relievers in major league baseball — behind Yankees closer Clay Holmes and Baltimore Orioles setup man Yennier Cano.

Hitters have tagged Hill’s fastball this season, dropping 41 hits in 23 innings, but he’s been an effective bullpen option since his debut with the Kansas City Royals in 2018, posting a 3.88 ERA over the next five years. The San Diego Padres non-tendered Hill after the 2023 season, and he signed a one-year, $1.8 million contract with Chicago in December.

The Yankees, who lost reliever Jonathan Loaisiga to Tommy John surgery earlier this season and placed reliever Ian Hamilton on the injured list earlier this week, have the third-best bullpen ERA in the American League at 3.41, with pitching coach Matt Blake helping extract career-best seasons from right-handers Luke Weaver, Michael Tonkin and Ron Marinaccio.

Right-handed reliever Scott Effross and right-handed starter JT Brubaker, both of whom haven’t pitched since 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, are currently on rehabilitation assignments for New York as well.

Hill is the latest reclamation project for the 51-25 Yankees, who added ace Gerrit Cole back to their rotation Wednesday and already have lefties Caleb Ferguson and Victor Gonzalez in their bullpen.

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Cole solid in season debut, eyes higher pitch limit

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Cole solid in season debut, eyes higher pitch limit

NEW YORK — New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole‘s assignment for his season debut Wednesday wasn’t cushy: a mid-June clash against the loaded Baltimore Orioles, his club’s primary competition for American League East supremacy, after just three rehab starts fresh off an alarming elbow injury.

But Cole isn’t your typical pitcher, and the Yankees deemed him ready knowing he would have to build up his stamina at the highest level. Working with a short leash Wednesday, the reigning Cy Young Award winner proved he was up for the challenge. He was sharp, with a touch of rust, over four-plus innings in front of a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium, though New York would go on to lose 7-6 in 10 innings.

The right-hander was charged with two runs on three hits. He compiled five strikeouts to one walk. He threw 62 pitches and induced six swing-and-misses. His average fastball velocity was down 1.6 mph from last season, but he still touched 97 mph.

“I felt pretty good,” Cole said. “Good command for the most part. And made some good pitches when we needed to make some good pitches.”

Cole took the mound for his long-awaited return at 7:07 p.m. to cheers after a video montage was played on the big screen highlighting his debut. It began with a couple of bumps.

The Orioles inflicted most of their damage against Cole in the first inning. Gunnar Henderson led off the game with a one-hopper that bounced off second baseman Gleyber Torres‘ glove into right field and was ruled a double. Two batters later, Ryan O’Hearn, facing an 0-2, slashed a slider for a two-out, RBI ground-rule double.

Cole quickly regrouped. He needed just seven pitches to retire the side in the second inning. He issued a one-out walk to Henderson in the third. Henderson stole second base on the next pitch but was stranded there as Cole recorded his first three strikeouts of the season in the inning.

Cole retired the side in order with two strikeouts in the fourth frame on 16 pitches. He took the mound for the fifth inning but was pulled for reliever Ron Marinaccio after surrendering a first-pitch single to Cedric Mullins. The crowd showered Cole with a standing ovation. Cole, visibly annoyed with the end of his performance, acknowledged the supporters with his glove twice.

Then he watched Marinaccio yield a two-run home run to Ramon Urias for the second of the two runs on his pitching line.

“I thought he got better as he went,” said Boone, who noted he sensed Cole was fatigued after the fourth inning.

Before the game, Boone declined to share Cole’s pitch limit, not wanting to give the Orioles a competitive edge. But Cole was obviously going to be limited after he was built up to 68 pitches over 4⅓ innings in his third and final rehab start Friday.

Boone said the goal was to build up Cole “conservatively.” On Wednesday, that meant a 65-pitch limit, Boone said after the game. Asked what his pitch limit would be in his next outing, Cole echoed his manager’s competitive disadvantage line. But he did offer a hint: “More.”

“I’m tired now,” Cole said. “Certainly a different level. It just demands a higher level of focus and execution. I definitely felt I could keep making pitches, but it was strategic in the pitch count. And, certainly, in that regard we executed that perfectly.”

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College Football Playoff: Five questions for the committee

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College Football Playoff: Five questions for the committee

When the College Football Playoff was introduced more than a decade ago, and the sport’s championship evolved from two to four teams, even the system’s creators couldn’t answer some of the questions that arose — or they had a heckuva time trying.

What was the value of winning a conference title when two SEC teams could be in and two Power 5 conference champions were out? When do head-to-head results matter? And at what point are they dismissed? How do you measure a team’s schedule strength? And how much was a schedule’s strength derived from the perceived strength of a contender’s own conference?

When the 12-team CFP is unveiled this fall, it will again be a learning curve for everyone — fans, coaches, players, media and the selection committee. The committee’s task — and its protocol — remains mostly unchanged, but an unprecedented 12-team field naturally raises new questions for the group charged with ranking the best teams in the country.

In the spirit of the new CFP format, which will guarantee playoff spots for the five highest-ranked conference champions, here are five questions for the committee.

1. Will strength-of-schedule evaluations change with conference realignment?

Losing isn’t something the top national title contenders are used to — but even some coaches expect that to change, and it could make things tricky in the committee meeting room.

The committee has historically rewarded teams that play tougher opponents, holding wins against CFP top 25 teams in high regard. With the Big Ten expanding to 18 teams and the SEC to 16, though, some CFP contenders now have a more difficult path to their own conference championship game. The rigorous SEC and Big Ten schedules are going to make it even more difficult for those respective leagues to produce undefeated or even one-loss conference champions.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, since 2014, 14 of the 20 teams that participated in the SEC championship game had one or no losses. During that same time frame, 11 of 20 Big Ten teams playing in the league championship game had one or no losses.

Now?

According to ESPN’s preseason FPI, only three teams have at least a 10% chance to finish the regular season undefeated (Oregon, Notre Dame and Georgia), and none have more than a 20% chance to go 12-0. The only other time during the CFP era that no teams had more than a 20% chance to finish undefeated was 2016, and Alabama was the only Power 5 team to finish 12-0 that year.

What will that mean at Selection Central when teams from those leagues have multiple losses and are being compared with contenders from the ACC and Big 12 — teams with better records but against fewer ranked opponents?

“Do I think there’s going to be teams with multiple losses in the playoff? Yes, most certainly there is,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart. “How do you differentiate? I’ll leave that to the committee. That’s why we have the system we have. … There’s going to be debate about what football teams get left out. Ultimately, everybody has a chance to go out on the grass and perform and play and earn the right to get in. Somebody’s going to get left out that probably shouldn’t. … We had that with the four-team playoff. There was probably three times I thought we were one of the best four teams but we didn’t earn it on the field.”


2. How many teams from the SEC and Big Ten will fill the bracket?

Using last year’s final CFP ranking with conference realignment for 2024, the Big Ten and SEC would have combined for 10 of the 12 spots.

SEC champion Alabama would have been in along with Texas, Georgia, Mizzou and Ole Miss. Big Ten champion Michigan would have been joined by Washington (the Pac-12 champion in 2023), Ohio State, Oregon, and Penn State.

There is no limit to how many teams from one conference can qualify for the playoff, but there are guaranteed spots for the five highest-ranked conference champions. Most likely those will usually feature the champions from the ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and a Group of 5 winner. In 2023 those winners were Florida State (ACC), Michigan (Big Ten), Alabama (SEC), Texas (Big 12, now in the SEC) and Liberty (out of Conference USA, the highest ranked G5 winner).

How often will the conference champs from the ACC and Big 12 be their lone representatives?


3. How difficult will it be to rank the No. 8 and No. 9 teams with the No. 1 team looming?

The four highest-ranked conference champions will earn a first-round bye. Everyone else will play a first-round game on the home campus of the higher seed. The winner of the game between No. 8 and No. 9 will face the best team in the country in the quarterfinal. The loser goes home. Is this something the committee will think about — either consciously or unconsciously — as it compiles its final ranking on Selection Day?

Remember, these games will be played on Dec. 20 and Dec. 21 this year, which could be very cold on some campuses — particularly in the Big Ten. (According to Accuweather.com, Ann Arbor, Michigan, had a high of 38 degrees last Dec. 20 and a low of 21 degrees.)

How much of an advantage might that be if they are hosting a team from the South?

Last year, in a 12-team field, Oregon would have hosted Mizzou. Autzen Stadium has a distinct home-field advantage because of its smaller size and location. The winner of that game would have played No. 1 seed and Big Ten champion Michigan.


4. What will the criteria be for ranking the top Group of 5 champion?

Last year, the selection committee’s most controversial ranking outside of the top four was its decision to slot undefeated Liberty at No. 23, which guaranteed the Flames a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. Liberty earned the Group of 5’s coveted bid to a New Year’s Six bowl without beating a single Power 5 opponent. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Flames had the easiest schedule in the country last year (No. 133) entering the postseason. Eight of Liberty’s 12 regular-season opponents finished with losing records. It was a decision that blatantly defied the committee’s typical reverence for strength of schedule and was inconsistent with its justification throughout the rest of its Top 25.

Had the 12-team playoff existed in 2023, Liberty would have earned a spot in the field as the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion, and the Flames would have bumped out No. 12 Oklahoma for the spot. Was Liberty’s selection an anomaly last year? Or is going undefeated the committee’s new standard for the Group of 5, regardless of schedule strength? If so, does that translate to the rest of their Top 25?

In the four-team playoff, even the best Group of 5 champions faced a nearly impossible standard to reach the CFP — an undefeated record that included wins against Power 5 opponents and CFP Top 25-ranked teams. In 2021, Cincinnati, which was then a member of the American Athletic Conference, was the only team to reach a CFP semifinal in the decade of the four-team playoff.

The criteria for reaching the 12-team field will be highly scrutinized because of the likelihood that the highest-ranked Group of 5 conference champion will bump out a strong contender at No. 12. Remember, It’s not the committee’s top 12 teams. It’s the five highest-ranked conference champions plus the next seven highest-ranked teams. So if that fifth champion is ranked outside of the top 12, the unlucky 12th team will be snubbed to make room for it.

If the fifth champion is not ranked at all, then the selection committee will separately rank the Group of 5 champions and then announce the top school as the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion along with the Top 25.

Liberty again doesn’t face any Power 4 opponents. Will it matter?


5. How will the playoff path change for independents?

It’s not just Notre Dame that will be impacted by the new format. Oregon State and Washington State will also be treated as independents this fall, as they no longer have a Pac-12 conference championship game to play in.

If any of those schools qualify for the 12-team field, they can’t earn a first-round bye because they can’t finish as one of the four highest-ranked conference champions. They would play a first-round game and need to win four straight games to win the national title.

In the past, not having a conference title game was a pro-con situation for the Irish. If they were already in the top four heading into Selection Day, the Irish didn’t have to risk losing and falling out. If they were on the bubble, though, there wasn’t another opportunity to impress the committee against a ranked opponent. Notre Dame had to sit and wait and hope for help while everyone else was competing.

Now?

The Irish should be in more often than not if they finish with no more than one — maybe two — losses, depending on their schedule, results and how everyone else fares. There is far less pressure to go undefeated, even without a conference title. They still need to beat the marquee opponents, though, like Texas A&M, Florida State and USC, and avoid upsets to Marshall.

Oregon State’s best opportunity will be Sept. 14 against rival Oregon, as most of the Beavers’ opponents are Mountain West Conference teams through a scheduling alliance. Washington State faces rival Washington, Texas Tech and Oregon State. Both the former Pac-12 teams need to leave no doubt they’re playoff material against unranked opponents because they may have limited opportunities for CFP top 25 wins.

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