Keeping the A's in Oakland

Let me preface this post by saying that I prefer that the A's stay in Oakland, but I grew up in San Jose and lived there for 20 years, so I'm not at all opposed to them moving there. I see positives in both cities and like most A's fans, I just want them to play in a new stadium in the Bay Area, whether it's in SJ or Oakland.

A few years ago I accepted it as a foregone conclusion that the A's wouldn't stay in Oakland. It was obvious the A's needed a new stadium, Jerry Brown was dead set against any such discussions, and Lew Wolff had made overtures to San Jose, going as far as to publicly announce, and almost build, Cisco Field at the border of Alameda and Santa Clara Counties. No one from the A's or from the City of Oakland seriously brought forth a viable, funded attempt to keep the A's in Oakland; such a possibility seemed completely unrealistic.

However, when Cisco Field failed, we ended up in the place we are now, with Wolff attempting to challenge established territorial rights and move to downtown San Jose. Again, the move seemed like a foregone conclusion; realistically, there is no better place for the A's to move than San Jose. The city wants a team, EIR is completed, 90% of the land is purchased, there is real money and corporate sponsorship in San Jose, and current A's fans will still be able to see their team. They already have a stadium sponsor in Cisco.

I think that most A's fans eventually shared this view, i.e. the San Jose move was not only inevitable, but also healthy for the franchise. Whether fans preferred Oakland or San Jose, it really came down to a desire to just build the damn stadium anywhere in the Bay already. (see this AN Poll from 2009 - I think even back then we were generally weary of the debate and just wanted to see the new stadium happen).

However, recently some events have occurred that may revitalize Oakland's campaign to keep the team.

1. The Bill Madden article saying that the A's would not be granted the rights to San Jose.

This has been dissected ad nauseum on this site but it's worth recapping. I think the thing that hurt me the most about this was the talk about contraction. However, I think contraction is a battle that no one wants to face. The fact that the Commissioner's office has shied away from a relatively minor territorial rights battle tells me that contraction is a non-starter.

The real issue is that Bill Madden is a well-respected longtime baseball writer, and his source was a lawyer who apparently is close to the negotiations. The source said this:

To strip the Giants of their territorial rights to San Jose would require a three-quarters vote of the clubs, and as one baseball lawyer observed: “Clubs would realize what a terrible ‘there but for the grace of God go us’ precedent that would create in which all of their territorial rights would then be in jeopardy.”

Some have speculated this is a Giants sympathizer or someone else with a major bias against the A's move; I highly doubt that, because I don't think Bill Madden would bother running an article with a quote from a source if he thought that source was useless. I believe this source is not talking out of his/her ass and probably does know what the current picture is.

The Commissioner's office issued a completely halfhearted "process still ongoing" statement in response, which makes it even more worrisome.

2. The subsequent war of words in the press between the A's and the Giants.

There's only one reason that you go to the press, and that is to influence public opinion.

Maury Brown from Biz of Baseball stated the following:

Let’s make this simple. Here’s how the matter is playing out:

The Selig is probably in the A’s corner on this one. No, not all because he has a personal relationship with Lew Wolff but because in the overall, having a club languishing is costing all the owners money in terms of subsidizing the club via revenue-sharing. Add in the fact that a new ballpark brings in missing revenues, and it floats everyone’s boat. Don’t believe me? Watch how league revenues increase this year largely in part by the Marlins being revenue makers as opposed to revenue-sharing takers (for once).

The problem is votes. They aren’t there (or, they weren’t at the last owners meetings). If Selig thought 75 percent of the owners backed the relocation, the A’s would be in San Jose yesterday.

I happen to respect Mr. Brown's take on this stuff; he knows a lot about, well, the business of baseball. This also makes sense with the reality of the situation; no committee needs three years to make this decision. I believe the problem is, indeed, the votes.

I also agree that Selig probably wants the move; Lew Wolff would never have allowed the press release to go out if Selig was against the move. If you're an MLB owner, you don't get what you want by crossing Bud Selig. Because Selig wants this to happen and all logical (i.e. non-territorial rights related) factors point to San Jose, I believe that San Jose is still the favorite. However, without the votes, it's an impossibility.

So it will take either more time, or an alternative solution to help the A's without interfering with territorial rights. Again, I don't think contraction is an option.

3. The City of Oakland approval for $3.5M to be spent on the Coliseum City study.

This was discussed here and there on this site. In a nutshell, the City of Oakland approved a study to redevelop the entire Coliseum area (primarily city-owned land). This study is a necessary first step, without which discussion cannot continue with the teams.

While there are tons of holes (really it's more holes than substance at this point, like a pizza slice that's a giant crust bubble with no cheese), the City has take it one step at a time. And this is step 1.

I would think this is entirely too pie-in-the-sky to really work at all, except that - the study is supposed to take into account plans to redevelop the area under the multiple possibilities in play with the Raiders, Warriors, and A's - 1) no teams stay, 2) one team stays, 3) some combination of two of the teams stay, and 4) all three teams stay. Also, unlike Victory Court or some other ideas, the City owns most the land already.

Because the study is not limited to the A's, even if Lew Wolff ignores it, I believe they will come out with some findings and some conclusion. MLB (and all the owners) will see those findings. If something in the Coliseum City plan really looks viable, do you think MLB will ever vote to shake up the Giants' territorial rights? I don't think so. Under the new CBA, the A's are not guaranteed any revenue sharing if they get a new stadium. So for other owner's it's not really that important whether that stadium is in SJ or OAK - so long as they don't need to pay the A's revenue sharing money.

Unlike Victory Court, this study does not need Wolff's cooperation to move to further stages. If Coliseum City is looking more realistic, this instantly becomes the path of least resistance for the A's, Giants, Selig, MLB, and the fans.

4. The latest news - two wealthy buyers have come forth, both seeking to buy the A's and keep them in Oakland.


Two investment groups - including one that recently dropped out of the high-priced bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers [which reached $1.5B] - have expressed serious interest in buying the Oakland A's and keeping the team in its current home.

The second group, which also didn't want to be identified publicly, is led by a longtime executive from a high-profile Silicon Valley company. The exec already owns a minor league baseball franchise.

This is somewhat of a bombshell, and since it's Matier and Ross I have to think there is some truth to this article. Assuming this is true, that means there are two seriously viable buyers at the ready who want to keep the A's in Oakland, in the event that Wolff does not get the right to move to San Jose and is not interested in exploring an Oakland stadium. The article goes on to say that the first group has already made their interest known to MLB and the second group likely will do so soon.

Why are these two groups expressing interest now? My belief is that they know the votes aren't there. And they also know (as we all do) that Wolff is not interested in building a new stadium in Oakland. We can debate whether he ever was interested, but at this point it is obvious that whatever interest might have been there has vanished.

If Coliseum City looks like a real possibility, the value of the A's is greatly increased (more than the already large increase it has seen since Wolff took over). The stage is set for Wolff to cash out big time, and a white knight to come in and save the A's for Oakland.

To sum it up, this is how I see it:

1. Selig and Wolff want the A's to move to San Jose.

2. The Giants and enough other owners are dead set against any violation of "sacred" territorial rights, so the votes don't exist to allow the A's move to San Jose.

3. Although the votes aren't there, because Selig wants the move, he is willing to let this "committee" drag on to continue to attempt to broker a deal.

4. MLB and Lew Wolff do not want to move the A's out of the Bay Area.

5. Meanwhile, the City of Oakland is proceeding with a study to build a new A's stadium.

6. Lew Wolff does not want to build in Oakland. Wolff is thinking SJ or bust.

7. Two wealthy, viable ownership groups are interested in buying the A's and keeping them in Oakland.

Looks like signs point to Oakland, right? Not so fast. Depending on a series of Oakland politicians to keep the ship moving the right direction is a hail mary at best; I'd put my money on Selig getting something done between the two teams and the other owners, before I'd bet on Oakland politics (even after Selig's past 3 years of fruitless delays).

That being said, the above factors seem to indicate that what was once a 0.0001% chance is now maybe a 5%-10% chance that the A's stay in Oakland. If San Jose falls through, I truly hope Oakland and MLB will be ready to hit "GO" on this plan, otherwise I don't know what will happen to the A's.

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