While Charles O. Finley and Bowie Kuhn continue their legal sparring - the latest involving Finley's sale of relief pitcher Paul Lindblad to Texas - the Oakland franchise appears on the verge of collapse.
"We'll probably average 6,000 or 7,000 (fans) a game," said outfielder Billy North, one of the few stars still playing for the A's.
"We had a real healthy atmosphere," North continued. "We were individuals with minds of our own and the guys would says what they thought and weren't afraid.
Most of them are gone now. It's going to be a long season."
At the zenith of their dynasty, from 1972-74 when they won three three World Series, the A's and owner Finley made as much news off the field as on. They captivated baseball fans everywhere. Everywhere it seems but Oakland.
In 1972, for example, their regular-season attendance of 92 1/1, 23 was boosted to 1,130,177 with the help of two American League championship and three Series games. The 1973 attendance of 1,000,763 grew to 1,282,730 with three championship and four Series games. In 1974, the number grew from 845,693 to 1,078,153 with two playoff and three Series games.
For what was the best team in baseball the attendance figures were impressive. In 1971 when the neighboring San Francisco Giants pulled in a little more than 1.1 million persons, the A's scraped up 948,169, including one home playfoff game as the AL West Division champion.
in 1975 the A's closed out a season of 1,075,518 with 1,124,876 including one home game in their unsuccessful pennant playoff challenge against the Boston Red Sox.
By last year, they were down to 780,593, right about where they were in 1970 when they second in the AI West standings and beginning their climb.
The A's plummeting attendance has long been blamed on the competition from the Giants across San Franciso Bay. Nearly everyone in baseball, Finley included, agrees one of the clubs.
Finely has traded off or lost-through the free-agent system almost in basebell history and is treatening spring for what he says is much needed capital.
Finley sued Kuhn for $35 million would have brought the A's owner for nullifying the sales of Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Vida Blue that much. Finley said that since two of the three would become free agents at the season's end, he was entititled to still owned the contracts. The American League has agreed to indemnity Kuhn of the damages in the event he loses the suit.
While outling serious fnancial diffeculties he had with his insurance business and personal and income tax matterss, Finley said he planned to use some of the $3.5 million to buy free agents.
"It's things like this that make the Oakland fans sour on the team. It looks like he is more interested in getting money than in providing a quality team for people here," one Oakland observer declared.
Another Oakland person who has followed Finley's actions over the last four years said, "The feeling has always been here that it's Charlie Finley's club - not Oakland's.
"He lives in Chicago and has his business there. He doesn't come here that often or get all that involved in promoting the club. So many people don't really think of the A's as being part of the community."
In testimony before a congressional committee last summer, Finley said he paid $300,000 last year just to get the A's games on radio.
He said he gets about $275,000 from local television - plus about $500,000 as a share of the national television contract - and estimated last July that the A's would lose about $500,000 total in the 1976 season.
Another observer of the A's whose office staff of six is the smallest in baseball, remarked that ever since Finley moved the club from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968 he has been looking for another location, but is strapped in the Oakland Coliseum with a tough lease.
Recently, Finley has proposed switching the A's to the National League and moving to Washington if the leagues or the Giants would pay off the remaining 11 years on the statdium lease.
"He has been talking about moving for years. Do you think that's going to help him draw loyal fans?" an Oakland reporter asked." Coliseum officials have heard these reports so many times they now tend to discount them."