Bassitt’s emotional moment in Oakland signals the end of an era, and not just in baseball

Toronto Blue Jays v Oakland Athletics, Chris Bassitt
Toronto Blue Jays v Oakland Athletics, Chris Bassitt / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

"I don't know if I'll ever see this place again," proclaimed Blue Jays pitcher Chris Bassitt, his mouth set into a sort of pained smile, tears appearing in the corners of his eyes as they gazed longingly to some undefined point on the horizon.

Only a few minutes prior, Bassitt had put the finishing touches on eight innings of one-run ball against the Athletics in Oakland. As he walked off the field, he reached down and scooped up a handful of dirt from the Coliseum mound, placing it gingerly in his pocket. It was when he was asked about this curious act in his postgame interview that the usually stoic Bassitt was nearly overcome with emotion.

It’s understandable. The Blue Jays will not be returning to Oakland this year, and at the end of the season, the A’s will move to Sacramento, where they will temporarily play before a planned relocation to Las Vegas in 2028. This was the last time Bassitt would take to the mound in the place where he first established himself in the big leagues, where he became an All Star and grizzled playoff veteran, where he emerged as a fan favorite and beloved part of the community.

Why not take a little memento from a place which has meant so much to your career, to your life?

And yet, it may be that the emotion Bassitt was barely able to contain runs even deeper than that. See, what is going on in Oakland right now is something of a tragedy, a “disgusting saga,” as the LA Times put it, or, perhaps more appropriately, a “saga that calls for its own chapter in a textbook on late-stage capitalism.”

The Oakland A’s have long been one of baseball’s most historic teams. Over 56 years in the Bay Area, they have won four World Series championships and 17 division titles, while capturing seven MVPs, five Cy Youngs, and seven Rookie of the Year awards. Moreover, they are the founders of two of the most important eras in the history of the game – the ‘Hairs vs. Squares’ of the 1970s, and Billy Beane’s Moneyball in the early-2000s.

In 2016, full ownership of the team was acquired by John Fisher, a trust fund baby whose wealth was handed to him by his billionaire parents, a man who, to appropriately use baseball terminology, started life on third base and thought he hit a triple.

Having obtained control of the historic franchise, Fisher immediately went about destroying it. He would quickly dismantle the roster, cutting the team’s payroll from an already-low $92 million to a laughably absurd $32.5 million in only four years. At the same time, he would leave the Oakland Coliseum to rot, turning it into an embarrassing procession of power outages, cascading streams of filthy water, and feral animals who took up residence in its bowels.

None of this happened by accident, but rather, it was part of a “deliberate” effort to obliterate the team so thoroughly that Fisher would be able to move it to Las Vegas, where he had been promised hundreds of millions of dollars, at least, by both the local government and Major League Baseball.

Content to go full supervillain, as Fisher took apart the franchise, he doubled ticket prices for fans, while disingenuously negotiating with city officials on a deal which would keep the team in Oakland, demanding a stadium development project be built using billions of taxpayer dollars, rather than his parents’ money.

Put more simply, the Fisher regime meant that fans of the Oakland A’s suddenly found themselves in a real-life reenactment of the movie Major League. Only this time, Charlie Sheen wasn’t coming out of the bullpen to save the day.

The now-inevitable day the A’s finally leave Oakland will be a sad one, not just for the community which the team has been a part of for so long, but for baseball itself, and perhaps the country as a whole.

When the A’s moved to Oakland in 1968, ten years after the Dodgers and Giants moved to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively, and seven years after the inception of the California Angels expansion team, it represented the final realization of baseball’s manifest destiny, a flag firmly planted on the furthest reaches of the continent.

Backed by a post-war economic boom, the civil rights movement, and a new place of prominence on the global stage, the time may be seen as a golden age for the United States, an era of endless optimism and expansion, underpinned by the foundational belief that today would be a little better than the last. As is often the case in the country’s history, baseball took up the mantle of an era, America’s Pastime, icon of American ideals, truly reaching from sea to shining sea.

"I don't know if I'll ever see this place again," said Chris Bassitt. He could just as well have been talking about the Oakland Coliseum as an era in his country’s history, the demise of the former a glaring symbol for the end of the latter.

Later in the same postgame interview, Bassitt was asked to elaborate further on his thoughts about the Coliseum. He would wax poetic, at least as far as his curmudgeonly nature would allow, speaking of teammates he’d shared the field with, his “best friends in the game,” and the weird and beautiful moments they had experienced together.

"A building's a building," he said. "I just care about the people more so than anything."

And that’s just it. Like most of us, what is meaningful to Chris Bassitt is people, the lifelong friendships, memories, and connections unavoidably forged by something as ostensibly silly as a professional sports team, a truism just as relevant to members of the community in which the team plays as its athletes.

Put in Bassitt’s place, who among us would not be misty eyed at the prospect of this slipping away, in the game of baseball, in the world around us, the connections which make communities special subverted by the desires of the worst people among us, people like John Fisher.

It is fitting that when Blue Jays manager John Schneider was asked what Bassitt intended to do with the dirt he’d scooped up from the mound, he opined that Bassitt was “probably heading home and giving it to his kids or something.”

Yes, perfect, give it to your kids, a memento of their father’s success, and a relic of an era they may never experience, one now all but lost, replaced by a moment in which the fabric of communities is torn up on the whim of a trust fund billionaire looking for another billion he didn’t earn.

One way or another, Chris Bassitt is right. Soak it in, because we may never see this place again.