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Manfred rips Oakland City Council over lawsuit

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In a strong show of support for A’s fans and the A’s organization, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred “laid down the law” to the Oakland City Council. He also, for the first time, dropped the possibility of a second Oakland team heading to Vegas.

Allen & Co. Holds Its Annual Sun Valley Conference In Idaho
Rob Manfred dropped the hammer on the Oakland City Council this week.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Although the A’s season has unfortunately ended, it seems like there’s plenty of fireworks nights in store for A’s fans in the never ending ballpark saga this offseason.

To review, last week the Oakland City Council fired a shot across the bow of A’s fans, Oakland residents, and the Oakland A’s organization with an ill-conceived surprise lawsuit intended to block the A’s purchase of half the Coliseum site from Alameda County.

This weekend, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred took the extraordinary step of responding by talking to (or perhaps, more like giving a talking to) the Oakland mayor and members of the City Council, per Phil Matier at the San Francisco Chronicle.

That Manfred rushed to the team’s aid to hold meetings with politicians amidst a busy postseason schedule speaks volumes about how seriously the A’s view the two-pronged plan of building at Howard Terminal and taking control of the Coliseum site to enable the Howard Terminal plan to be financially viable. Left unsaid but implied is that if the Howard Terminal plan fails to get through its many hurdles, the A’s will build at the Coliseum site. Therefore, it seems, absent another proposal from the City, if building in Oakland is going to happen, the A’s’ require control of the Coliseum land.

According to the report, Manfred held multiple meetings, including with council member Rebecca Kaplan, who initiated the suit, and mayor Libby Schaaf. In addition, council member Larry Reid attended both meetings (his district includes the Coliseum site; it’s unclear if other council members were also present).

The glib headline is that Manfred threatened to move the team to Vegas, but in reality he was making a more general threat of moving the team out of the Bay Area. This is the first time he has done so, and it’s clear that the lawsuit is viewed by the team and the league as an extreme offense in what has been a good faith negotiating process thus far.

Reid got the message, and seems to believe that the lawsuit will swiftly disappear.

“[Manfred] talked about how it was five years ago that he became commissioner, how he had resisted the A’s moving to San Jose back then,” Reid said. “Then he talked about his frustration with the lawsuit and how the city needs to make it go away.”

“The commissioner pointed out that Bay Area fans will soon be going to Las Vegas to see the Raiders and that unless things changed, Bay Area fans may be going to Las Vegas or elsewhere to see the A’s as well,” Reid said.

Reid said that one way or another, he’s confident the lawsuit will go away.

That all sounds encouraging (well, as encouraging as a threat to move the team can sound given the context). However, the same report mentions Libby Schaaf citing the same pie-in-the-sky airy possibility of the city owning the land. Which is quite a bit less encouraging, because the city doesn’t have the money to purchase the land (and actually has never even made an offer on what they would give Alameda County for the land) and they probably are not capable of effectively developing a 155 acre parcel of land on their own.

Alameda County also provided a positive outlook. County Supervisor Nate Miley doesn’t seem to be shaking in his boots with the lawsuit, stating that it will not stop the County from continuing negotiations with the A’s. He encouraged the City to come to the table so all three parties can hash out a deal.

Heck, even Kaplan signaled that they did not want to move forward with the lawsuit, saying “in the interest of reducing strife and litigation, the Oakland City Council has unanimously asked our administration to meet directly with county leaders on strategies to resolve issues regarding our shared public property.” (Unfortunately no response to the natural follow up question “WTF?” was reported).

Overall, Manfred’s vague threats of moving the team seem to be motivated out of a desire to get the parties to the table to keep the team in Oakland, and A’s fans should welcome the support. With past setbacks, the Commissioner did not actually insert himself into the process. For example, when the Peralta/Laney College stadium plan fell apart, he told a press conference of baseball writers, “I believe that there is not another market in the United States that has the upside potential that Oakland has, and I think we would regret leaving Oakland if we did that.” At that time, he pointedly avoided blaming the City or any governmental body, characterizing it simply as a “misstep.”

The Commissioner taking the step of personally meeting with all relevant parties is a perhaps the ace in a hole that he had been saving for the right occasion, and likely far more impactful than the press conferences he’s held in the past.

For now, it looks like his weight will have the desired effect of scuttling the puzzling lawsuit, but many hurdles remain.

This offseason is shaping up to be a roller coaster that A’s fans never asked to ride.