Is the Oakland A’s #WristbandGate Conspiracy More Than a Theory?

The Oakland A’s season is off to a rough start. Entering Tuesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, they have lost four of their first five games. One of their few bright spots has been 25-year-old outfielder Esteury Ruiz, who has a double, a triple, and a stolen base in seven at-bats. As a rookie in 2023, Ruiz captured fans’ hearts by stealing 67 bases, a rare source of fun for a 112-loss team.

Off the field, the A’s have been dealt an even more dubious fate. Their proposed franchise relocation to Las Vegas has been mired in uncertainty, from a shifting timeline for the move to the still-open question of where they will play in the meantime.

Surprisingly, the A’s demoted Ruiz to the minor leagues prior to Monday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. Speaking to reporters in Oakland, general manager David Forst and manager Mark Kotsay both cited a desire for Ruiz to improve his on-base skills with more at-bats at Triple-A. The A’s gave Ruiz’s roster spot to outfielder Tyler Nevin, a 26-year-old journeyman with a career .202 batting average, whom they claimed off waivers from Baltimore.

Oakland A's Esteury Ruiz
OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 31: Esteury Ruiz #1 of the Oakland Athletics dives into third base with a triple against the Cleveland Guardians in the bottom of the third inning on March 31, 2024 at…

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Amid this backdrop of on-field struggles and off-the-field turmoil, Ruiz’s demotion seems surprising from a distance. Upon closer inspection, some fans believe a conspiracy might have motivated the decision.

Bryan Johansen owns Baseball’s Last Dive Bar, which he describes as “a company of three fans that celebrate the history of the (Oakland) Coliseum, and the fan experience of the Coliseum.” Johansen said all profits from sales on the Last Dive Bar website are used to organize community events and support charitable causes.

Lately, Johansen’s social media feed has been inundated with a curious theory: that Ruiz was demoted as a result of his public support of the Last Dive Bar.

Johansen can’t rule it out. He and his Last Dive Bar co-owners have been outspoken critics of owner John Fisher. Recently, they helped organize a rally outside the stadium on Opening Day, with fans packing the Oakland Coliseum parking lot to protest the move while the A’s played the Cleveland Guardians.

The A’s radio and television broadcasters have been forbidden from mentioning Last Dive Bar on the air for the last year, Johansen said, at the behest of a memo from Catherine Aker, the A’s Vice President of Communications and Community. Aker did not respond to a voicemail message seeking comment Tuesday.

These facts hardly constitute proof of theory. At most, they raise the improbability of coincidence. Johansen said Brent Rooker, the A’s lone All-Star Game representative last year, is now the only public supporter of Last Dive Bar merchandise on the team’s active roster. (Rooker has sat out two of the A’s first five games amid an 0-for-11 start, but is in the lineup Tuesday against Boston.)

Kotsay has been a public supporter of Last Dive Bar, too. A recent post to the brand’s official Instagram account shows the manager wearing the same wristband as Ruiz, voicing his support for Last Dive Bar while signing autographs for fans. If the penalty for wearing the wristband is demotion, it hasn’t cost Kotsay his job.

For now, #WristbandGate offers a convenient explanation for the surprise demotion of one of baseball’s most exciting players – a sad day for Oakland diehards in a year full of them.