Baseball’s American League announced their expansion plans for the 1961 season and there were modest repercussions in Raider land. Two of the team’s owners, Robert Osborne and Chet Soda, were part of a group trying to entice the league to put a team in the East Bay. The Junior Circuit chose Los Angeles and Washington instead, with the latter going in as a replacement for the Senators, who were moving to the Twin Cities.
Osborne and Soda were, at least in part, hoping to create more of an incentive for the city of Oakland to help fund a stadium for the Raiders, but it was not to be, not immediately, anyway. Osborne was still hopeful that the American League might choose to add two more cities down the road and that one of them could be Oakland, or perhaps an existing team could move to the area.
“In that time, we could have a stadium built,” he said. “A few commitments not yet finalized are all that is holding the Oakland group back. If Oakland doesn’t get off the ground on building a stadium, I personally would love to see it built in southern Alameda County.”
Hayward Daily Review
The big news today was a story that two members of the Raider ownership group, Chet Soda and Robert Osborne, were also part of a project hoping to bring an American League baseball team to the East Bay.
“We have a group of fellows who would be ready to finance the franchise if word of approval were given that a move would be made this way,” said Osborne, “but it would be on the basis that an American League franchise also would be shifted to the Los Angeles area.”
Soda pointed out that all was contingent on getting a new stadium. “It’s long range planning,” he said, “we don’t know exactly what we will be able to do. We know that to get a franchise, we first must have a stadium in which to play. But to get the stadium, we certainly are going to have to have assurance that we’ll get a franchise. I know we would draw at least 30,000 a game for our football team if we had a stadium. “Playing in San Francisco, the fans there owe us no loyalty and our Oakland-area fans just don’t want to drive that far.”
Hayward mayor RK Dettenrieder wanted to let people know his city was working on the problem. “The possibility of an American League baseball franchise along with an AFL franchise in the city limits of Hayward are being thoroughly explored,” he said, “it has been definitely determined that private capital is available at a low rate of interest to finance an adequate stadium in Hayward, and that’s a big hurdle to clear.”
Hayward Daily Review
Raider co-owner Robert Osborne reaffirmed that his group was serious about landing an American League baseball team for Oakland. “Several of the Raider owners are interested in the baseball project,” he said, “and we hope to go after the franchise with the same vigor as we did the football thing.”
Speaking of the football thing, the team was trying to determine who would be able to take the field against Boston. Tom Flores was back to throwing the ball and showing few, if any, effects from his recent shoulder injury, but Eddie Erdelatz still had no plans to play him in the game. His tight end, Gene Prebola, who sat out the Buffalo game, was doubtful for this one, too. Also doing time in the trainer’s room were halfback Dean Philpott and defensive back John Harris, both of whom were battling knee sprains.
In league news, the AFL announced that the regular season roster limit would be 35 instead of 33, giving teams a little more depth, a need felt especially by injury-prone teams like the Raiders. Teams would still have to make a preliminary cut to 38 by August 30. The Raiders currently had 43 players on the squad.
While the team was flying to Massachusetts, Raider owners Chet Soda and Wayne Valley were in New York trying to persuade Joe Cronin and Dan Topping of the American League to put an expansion baseball team in Oakland. The trip was all part of an effort to drum up support for public funding of a stadium in the East Bay. Fellow owners Robert Osborne and Ed McGah and Oakland mayor Clifford Rishell were also involved in the process. The passage of a bond issue slated for the fall election was at stake and the group hoped the prospect of a baseball team coming to town would boost their chances.
Soda thought the cost of a American League franchise would be in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $750,000 and said that if they couldn’t get a stadium in Oakland soon, the Raiders might have to move to San Francisco permanently.
Oakland’s team ownership confirmed Chet Soda as general manager, removing the word “acting” from his title. Soda, along with Wayne Valley and Robert Osborne, were the members of an executive committee tasked with other high-level hires, particularly the head coach position. Phil Bengtson and Eddie Erdelatz continued to be the front-runners for the job. Soda, a businessman with little to no football experience, was likely to hire someone more knowledgeable for the assistant GM spot. In the meantime, he expected to open a team office in Oakland within a few days and fill more administrative positions by the end of the week.
The team appointed Chet Soda as acting chairman of the board while the search for a coach and general manager continued. The owners hired former University of San Francisco athletic director Jimmy Needles to oversee the candidate screening process. A rumor from a persuasive source hinted that Eddie Erdelatz had been offered the head coaching job after a 7-1 approval vote by the owners, with only Charles Harney voting against. However, Robert Osborne denied that an offer had been made, that a vote had been taken, or even that Needles had been hired as a consultant. Nevertheless, the Tribune reported that Erdelatz had met with Soda and Needles and that he wanted a three year contract for either $20,000 per year plus a percentage of the gate, or a straight $25,000 per year.
On the general manager front, observers thought the team had eliminated Pappy Waldorf from consideration because his demand of a $30,000 salary plus a percentage of the gate was too high. Phil Bengtson now commanded the front-runner spot with Paul Christopoulos and assistant Detroit Lions general manager Bud Erickson still in the mix.
In stadium news, the California State Senate joined the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors by passing a resolution asking the Cal regents to reconsider letting the pros on campus.
Hayward Daily Review
With the wax on the league seal of approval still drying, the rumors about coaches and general managers started in earnest. Eddie Erdelatz, former Naval Academy head coach and Bay Area native, was in town applying for the open head coaching job at Cal and his name shot right to the top of the list for the Oakland job as well. The first name mentioned in connection with the GM post was Jackie Jensen, the recently retired right fielder for the Boston Red Sox. As a San Francisco native and former All-American halfback at Cal, his bona fides were solid. Despite the rumors, Robert Osborne hastened to deny that club owners had yet met to discuss potential hirings.
In another stunning reversal, the AFL awarded the eighth and final franchise to the city of Oakland. Much of the credit for the change went to Chargers owner Barron Hilton. Hilton, who had been out of town for previous votes, made a strong plea upon his return for choosing Oakland. And on the league’s fifth ballot, the California city was chosen unanimously. Commissioner Joe Foss gave three reasons for the decision: the creation of a west coast rival for Los Angeles, the Oakland community’s strong show of interest, and better geographic balance than would have been provided by a team in Atlanta. Foss also credited a strong presentation by Chet Soda, Wayne Valley, and in particular, Robert Osborne.
Read more “January 30, 1960”
The news out of Dallas was that Atlanta was probably out of the running and that the competition was now between Chet Soda’s Oakland group and and George McKeon’s San Francisco assemblage. While the AFL continued their deliberations, Robert Osborne returned to Oakland to report to the city council. During the council’s meeting, they voted to put a measure on the June ballot to finance a stadium with revenue bonds.
In Dallas, Chet Soda, supported by fellow investors Robert Osborne and San Leandro contractor Wayne Valley, made his presentation to the AFL. An Atlanta group was also there making a competing bid. No consensus had yet emerged, though some thought Houston owner Bud Adams was leaning toward Atlanta because it would make for an easier split of the league into eastern and western divisions and because there was a strong untapped market for professional football in the South.