A piece by The Bay Citizen’s Zusha Elinson suggests that Oakland may have a legal bullet at its disposal in its efforts to keep the A’s in Oakland. Elinson cites specific language in the original lease that may help Oakland:
“Licensee [A's] shall not permit or cause to occur any event that may result in the transfer of its Franchise or any of its Home Games to any other city or location or do or fail to do anything which will cause its right to play major league professional baseball in the Stadium to be lost, impaired or transferred to any other city or location.”
I emailed Elinson to figure out where he got this language, as I couldn’t find it in the Seventh Amendment to the Coliseum Lease, which I posted over a year ago. He sent me a 121-page document which, lo and behold, contains the original 1995 lease agreement, the First and Second Amendments, and a bunch of exhibits pertaining to the various improvements that would be made for both the A’s and Raiders. If you’re interested in the grisly details, here’s a link (PDF). The doc has also been added to the Links section on the right. In my rushed reading of it so far, I found it quite illuminating.
Back to Elinson’s article. He spoke to two sides on the SF divide. Jim Hunt represented the Giants in both 1978 and 1992 in their attempted moves to Toronto and Tampa Bay, respectively. Louise Renne was SF City Attorney in 1992 and fought to keep the Giants in town until a new ownership group could be found, effort led by Walter Shorenstein. As would be expected, the two legal eagles don’t agree as to how effective the attempted legal roadblocks were in keeping the team, though it’s likely that at least employing a stall of some kind helped buy the City time in both cases.
Elinson goes on to suggest that Oakland may be able to employ a similar strategy based on similar language in both the Giants’ leases with SF and the A’s lease in Oakland. However, it’s hard to imagine how this would work. Unlike the Giants, the A’s have multiple ways of ending the lease with minimal if any penalty, either by simply staying through the end (2013) or by paying a termination fee if they want to leave anytime in the next three years.
After struggling to find the specific clause in the lease that Elinson cited, I found it in Section 9, titled “LICENSEE’S COVENANTS.” The term licensee refers to the A’s, licensor the Coliseum Authority. The section mostly has to do with keeping the A’s from losing its membership in the American League. As far-fetched as that sounds, it makes sense. If the A’s were routinely going with $10 million payrolls and otherwise making the team look like it wasn’t worthy of being in the majors (some would say this is happening), then Oakland might have just cause. That’s not really here nor there at this point. Section 9.2, which contains the language we’re discussing, is as follows:
9.2 American League Franchise. Licensee shall do all acts required to maintain its membership in good standing in the American League and to comply with all Rules, Bylaws, Regulations and Requirements of Major League Baseball and the American League. Licensee shall notify Licensor promptly after receipt of any information that Licensee is the subject of any action or contemplated action by the American League or any other person or entity that could affect Licensee’s right to continued membership in good standing. No change in the rights and privileges of Licensee as an American League member including the area or exclusivity of the Franchise Territory shall in any way affect Licensee’s obligations under this License. Except as authorized pursuant to Section 3, Section 16 or Section 22, Licensee shall not permit or cause to occur any event that may result in the transfer of its Franchise or any of its Home Games to any other city or location or do or fail to do anything which will cause its right to play major league professional baseball in the Stadium to be lost, impaired or transferred to any other city or location.
Before I do my non-legal (I am not a lawyer or legal expert) reading of this, I must point out that Section 3 has to do with use of the stadium, parking and surroundings, Section 16 has to do with damage done to the stadium due to force majeure (acts of God), and Section 22 deals with condemnation of the stadium (due to deterioration of some kind or eminent domain).
When I first read the part Elinson clipped (in italics), I interpreted it to mean that the A’s can’t do anything to the stadium that would prevent them from playing games there while the lease was in effect. For instance, the Quakes occasionally play games at the Coliseum. The A’s aren’t allowed to cover the baseball diamond with grass for a Quakes game right before an A’s homestand starts, since the time and cost to reconvert the field for baseball use would prevent the A’s from playing there for a lengthy period.
A broader reading of the language could potentially include actions taken by the A’s off the field, such as discussions with San Jose (or even Fremont), which would move the team away from the Coliseum. However, I think this is much too broad an interpretation. If that were correct, it would preclude the A’s from even talking to other cities about future moves even as they terminated the lease by one of the methods described previously. Terms of a lease don’t bind a team any longer than the length of the lease, whatever that is, and most leases have a termination fee. It’s really all a matter of whether or not that fee is too high to stomach (hello, Tampa Bay). Besides, the A’s couldn’t be in San Jose anytime before 2014 due to the lengthy ballpark construction process.
Since I am in no way a legal expert, I can’t say whether or not my take on this matter has any validity. It is clear that from reading the full agreement and the amendments, there are few contractual obligations keeping the A’s in Oakland. Unlike the Giants back then or the Rays today, the A’s aren’t locked in. They’re free agents after a few years at best. If this bit of language is the basis for a lawsuit to keep the A’s in town, things don’t look particularly good for Oakland. Then again, we’ve heard that their strategy is the same as SF’s was: threaten with a lawsuit, stall and hope for a moneybags savior. And we know how that turned out.