Long-time Oakland Athletics fan Stu Clary never expected this. He just wanted to share with like-minded people on the internet an idea he had about his favorite team. He never thought his comment would garner support from thousands of A’s fans and make him one of the most sought-after interviews among national sports media.
Clary’s idea was simple but unique. Fed up with the current state of the Athletics, he proposed a counter protest. Instead of boycotting the team, Clary suggested Athletics fans pack the stadium for a weekday night game to send a message: A’s fans can support this team.
The proposal gained momentum at incredible speed. Clary — with the help of another A’s fan — launched a Twitter account. Their tweet about the June 13 reverse boycott has gained more than 301,000 views since April 13, has more than 1,600 likes and was endorsed by 2022 Oakland mayoral candidate Loren Taylor. A petition launched by the group urging owner John Fisher to sell the team received more than 2,500 signatures from passionate Athletics fans.
The past few weeks have been such a whirlwind, Clary can’t even remember where he initially posted his idea.
“I didn’t set out to be a social media star,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I guess that’s how these things happen, though. You strike a nerve.”
Clary, now a special ed teacher and varsity baseball coach at Vacaville High School in California, comes from a baseball family, but his love of the game didn’t start with the A’s. Growing up in Atlanta in the ‘60s, Clary was a Braves fan. He loved Hank Aaron. But as the early ‘70s rolled around and the Athletics rose to prominence, he started to develop an appreciation for the team.
“There was this crazy bunch of guys on the other side of the country wearing white shoes and mustaches and green uniforms, and they kicked everybody’s ass,” he said.
So Clary was ecstatic when he learned in 1977 that he would be moving to Vacaville, about an hour drive to the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. He was 14 at the time, and at first, he kept following the Braves. Slowly but surely, though, the Athletics became his team.
He purchased his first season-ticket package in 1987. He has held those on and off over the past 35 years. One of his best A’s memories involves his sons, who often ran the bases on Sundays. Clary’s oldest even took the field for the national anthem in 2002. Clary still has a picture of him standing next to “Moneyball” hero Scott Hatteberg at first base.
Through his fandom, Clary has hosted large groups at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, made lifelong friends and, he says, “dropped a boatload of money” on the team.
Now 60, Clary is far less inclined to spend any money on the A’s. After qualifying for the playoffs in three straight seasons, the Athletics went 86-76 in 2021 and failed to make the postseason. Instead of solidifying the major-league club and making a push for a World Series, Fisher & Co. decided to tear things down. Slugging first baseman Matt Olson was shipped out, as was Gold Glove-winning third baseman Matt Chapman. As the 2022 season approached, the Athletics continued the tear down, dealing starters Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and promising young lefty Jesús Luzardo.
In 2022, Chapman and Olson combined for more than 60 home runs for their new clubs, and they're off to even better starts in 2023. Bassitt turned in a fine year for the New York Mets last season before getting a lucrative deal on the free-agent market, and Luzardo took a major step forward the instant he joined the Miami Marlins.
The Athletics, meanwhile, ran out one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and finished the 2022 season 60-102. That trend has continued in 2023. The A's opened the regular season with the lowest payroll in baseball, and the team is currently an MLB-worst 6-23.
The dramatic nature of the teardown has had a major effect on fans. The Athletics have the lowest attendance in baseball so far in 2023. The team is averaging just more than 10,000 fans to start the season. The Miami Marlins, consistently one of the lowest-drawing teams in MLB, have outdrawn the Athletics by nearly 3,000 fans per game.
Dwindling attendance has been cited by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred as a reason the Athletics need to move. That narrative struck a nerve with Clary and was a crucial factor in his decision to organize a counter protest. He doesn’t want A’s fans to be blamed because Fisher, who is reportedly worth $2.2 billion, delivered a miserable product.
“Let’s say [Fisher] owned a restaurant instead,” Clary said. "And that restaurant served great steaks and the finest Beluga caviar, and then they raised the menu prices substantially but then switched out those greats steaks and the caviar for Hamburger Helper and canned tuna. Well, no one would go, but no one would blame the restaurant-going public. They would say, ‘You’re an idiot. You’re a bad businessman.’ Why is baseball different?”
If that’s the case, why organize an event that encourages fans to put money in Fisher’s pockets? Clary understands why some are opposed to the idea. But he argues that the amount of money Fisher will receive from the counter protest is negligible in the grand scheme of things. Also, Clary enjoys going to baseball games and doesn’t think fans should deprive themselves of something they like out of spite for Fisher.
And yes, he wants to shut down the narrative that Athletics fans won’t support the team. If the counter protest leads to significantly improved attendance on a weekday evening, Clary believes it will result in news coverage and highlight that fans are still passionate and will invest in the team if the owner does the same.
He’s also realistic about the impact the counter protest can have on Fisher’s plans.
“I’m not under any delusions,” Clary said. “I’m not thinking that in any way that the 13th will result in John Fisher having an epiphany that [the Athletics] need to stay here. What I would like to see happen, what I think is realistic is a large crowd is there … and the word gets out among media, both local and nationally, and Major League Baseball and the other owners see: ‘Hey, they care. They are there, and they care. It’s not the fans’ fault. They are being mismanaged.’ That is the achievable goal.”
Fisher appears determined to move. Days after Clary’s idea started gaining momentum, the Athletics announced that the team signed a binding agreement to build a new ballpark in Las Vegas. Clary has heard this story before. The Athletics have come close to purchasing land in various areas around Oakland a number of times over the past decade, only to have those deals fall through.
Because of that, Clary is approaching the Las Vegas agreement with skepticism. He says he’ll believe that there’s a deal when “the shovels hit the dirt.”
But if this is it, and the A’s truly are leaving for good, Clary isn’t sure what that will do to his fandom. He has a lot of affinity for some of the younger players on the Athletics, whom he saw play high school baseball in California. He’ll probably continue to follow those players and see how their careers progress, but he’s unsure if he’ll continue to follow the team. He would consider adopting the Los Angeles Dodgers or even going back to the Braves, but he refuses to root for the San Francisco Giants.
In the end, though, he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I mean, ultimately, what would I like to see?” Clary said. “I would like to see Joe Lacob buy the A’s. That’s what I’d like to see. Nothing against Las Vegas — I hope they get an expansion team. Hell, I hope John Fisher gets an expansion team there. I hope they get put in the A’s division so we can beat their ass all day. That would be fantastic. I love that.”
For now, though, Clary will control what he can control. He’ll show up to the Coliseum on June 13 and send a message to Fisher and the rest of the baseball-loving world that he loves this team and he’s fed up with the way it’s being run.
He won’t be the only one.