SI Vault
 
A CITY OF COMPLEXES
Frank Deford
April 01, 1968
Oakland has long been traumatized by the glamorous city it faces across the Bay, but its other complex, a gorgeous stadium and arena facility, is new. Suddenly Oakland finds itself with five pro teams, all of them clawing for attention and devotion from the same elusive fans—choosy suburbanites, angry Negroes and haughty San Franciscans
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 01, 1968

A City Of Complexes

Oakland has long been traumatized by the glamorous city it faces across the Bay, but its other complex, a gorgeous stadium and arena facility, is new. Suddenly Oakland finds itself with five pro teams, all of them clawing for attention and devotion from the same elusive fans—choosy suburbanites, angry Negroes and haughty San Franciscans

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

The county north of Oakland continues to bear the name that was originally given to the whole large area on the east side of San Francisco Bay. Contra Costa, the region was called, or, literally, the opposite shore. Even then, when the padres from Spain first settled the north of California and placed a cross in the hills above the Bay, the east shore was the other side. By the time Oakland was incorporated in 1852, San Francisco was already a worldly city across the Bay and a romantic notion that churned the imaginations and hopes of men across a continent. Oakland, if it was recognized at all, was nothing but an opposite shore, as it has remained, a city of limited attraction and no style.

It is unfair, perhaps, that Oakland always has had to suffer so in the shadow of a glamorous neighbor. Geography has not been kind, for most other American cities also would be damned by intimate comparison to San Francisco. Oakland, at any rate, has long believed this and found a comfortable pity for itself in the bargain. But, then, what has Oakland produced on its own?

Jack London lived and wrote and drank there; Don Budge left there to become the city's only world champion; many Negro athletes of more recent vintage have left there to gain a substantial national fame; Senator William Knowland might have been Ike's running mate in '52 if there really had not been a new Nixon then. Otherwise, Oakland seldom has received a mention, except in the intolerant calumny dispensed by San Francisco or in the intellectual sneers from its unprotected flank—Berkeley—where University of California students claim they enter Oakland only to picket or to drink in the bars along Seventh Street, since draft cards (singed or otherwise) are not closely inspected for proof of age.

Suddenly, however, as Oakland has begun to collect professional athletic teams in abundance—more teams, in fact, then almost any place—all of this has changed. The city's first plunge toward sporting fame came with the arrival of the Oakland Raiders, now patriarchs at the age of 8. Then last year, in bewildering succession, came the Oakland Clippers, Oakland Seals and Oakland Oaks. And last, the Oakland Athletics, who arrive for opening day on April 17 with a disreputable ball club from Kansas City and an executive vice-president named Joe DiMaggio, who probably counts for more than the whole roster.

Including the San Francisco Warriors—who lost their high scorer, Rick Barry, to the Oakland Oaks but who schedule half their home games in Oakland—the East Bay city has 5� professional teams, which is more than twice as many as vaunted San Francisco and more than any other metropolis in the nation except New York and Chicago. And in company with New York this year, Oakland is also the site of a heavyweight championship fight—Jerry Quarry will meet Jimmy Ellis there for the WBA part of the world title on April 27. For a modest city of 400,000 which refused to support a bond issue that would have paid for high school extracurricular activities, including athletics, these are remarkable accomplishments—and perhaps overwhelming ones.

The teams all have come so fast that, among other things, Oakland has neglected to support them. People in Oakland tend to gloss this over. The point, they suggest, is just to have all these teams. Since Oakland also has a surfeit of mayors—one being in jail—explaining away excesses comes easy. The city gushes with pride as it has never dared to before.

"We're proud of Oakland and want people to know where we're from," said Charles O. Finley—who is from La Porte, Ind.—shortly after disembarking in town and announcing that the A's would wear OAKLAND on the front of their uniforms, home and away.

This was a very important thing to Oakland, for two of the other teams—the Clippers and the Seals—first had been named just California. Pressure, subtle and from the Oakland Tribune , was applied to the miscreants, who, seeing their sin, quickly changed their names to OAKLAND. This makes people happy in Oakland. Everybody knows where Oakland is now, the people say. And indeed everybody does. Oakland is located in all the standings.

In Oakland, as elsewhere, it goes unchallenged that, riots and mass murders aside, the best way for a town to make a national name for itself is with a sports team. A team, it is believed with a child's faith, puts a city on the map. Probably this sentiment is a delusion; certainly it is no more than a wishful expression that has become, after long and fervent repetition, a hoary axiom that must not be contested. In a world of television, mass communication and saturation entertainment it is doubtful that Oakland is truly recognized by the distant fan as a city. More likely, along with San Diego or Anaheim or other such average-size communities, it remains only a vague receptacle for the teams that play there, no more real to the nation than the Gotham of Batman or the Central City of Winnie Winkle.

Since the cities themselves are convinced, however, that a "major league" franchise is the price of municipal grace, the effect is beneficial. Men have bought such indulgences for years and died paid up and happy. The franchises swell Oakland with self-esteem and, prancing in its fresh swagger, the city sees itself in a brighter light. Today every time reference is made to the colossal Kaiser Center, the following appositional phrase is automatically triggered: "the largest office building west of Chicago." In fact, the Kaiser Center, the largest office building west of Chicago, really is the second largest office building west of Chicago (the largest is in Houston); but whatever its rank, the way Oaklanders make the point it would seem that the structure must be growing more massive all the time. Similarly, the citizens boast of their new museum—which was designed by Eero Saarinen—as if it were budding like a flower and not just being put together by men in overalls who carry hammers and union cards. They praise Jack London Square—its restaurants and night clubs—and talk of an evening there as if dining out were a whole new concept. They won't, however, mention that Western Pacific freights still rumble noisily right down the middle of Third Street, cutting the square off from the city.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6