News for 10/30/11

A few newsbytes as the week begins:

  • Matier and Ross report that the 49ers are gunning for a 2014 opening of the Santa Clara stadium, even though the finances – especially the stadium builder licenses – aren’t ironed out yet.
  • One of the reasons the CEQA/EIR process exists in California is that municipalities and citizens can identify issues that need to be addressed and take care of them early. In Miami, the Marlins ballpark is being built with no significant new transit infrastructure in an area that desperately needs it. The Orange Bowl/Little Havana neighborhood is at least 2,000 spaces short of what should be supplied for a full house, and on-site parking totals well less than 5,000 spaces. The nearest Metrorail station is almost a mile away, and shuttles to take fans from that station and other parts of Miami are currently unfunded.
  • Speaking of transit, the California High Speed Rail project will face renewed scrutiny with the release of an updated (and final) business plan on Tuesday. The Merc’s Mike Rosenberg paints a pessimistic view, as federal funding has dried up and has made continuation of the project an extremely difficult decision. So far, $650 million has been spent on planning and engineering studies.
  • Side note: If HSR goes down in flames, the combined cost of that project and the shuttered Solyndra plant in Fremont would be $1.1 Billion. That would pay for the 49ers stadium and change, or an A’s ballpark in Oakland/San Jose and a Sacramento Kings arena. Before you scoff, know that the total annual revenue for just the NFL and MLB combined ($16 Billion) surpasses that of the movie industry – box office and DVD sales – on an annual basis ($15 Billion).
  • Not only are the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees forced to spend the year barnstorming while their ballpark is renovated, they won’t be able to keep the Yankees team name in the future. The Yankees brand is to be exclusive to the club in the Bronx. The same will go for all of the other Yankees minor league affiliates. Way to keep it in the family, Steinbrenners.
  • Commissioner Bud Selig may have to determine the proper compensation for the Red Sox allowing Theo Epstein to escape to the Cubs, since the two teams can’t come up with mutually agreeable terms on their own.
  • Wondering if Selig will actually retire after his contract ends in 2012? The establishment of an office at his old alma mater in Madison might be the ticket. Selig apparently wants to write his memoirs and participate in the history department at Wisconsin, including the hiring of a professor to teach the history of sports.
  • In addition to Selig’s endowed chair, three members of The Lodge (baseball team owners) also set up a scholarship in the names of Selig and his wife, Suzanne, as part of the university’s Great People Scholarship program. The owners? Three who are incredibly indebted and linked to Selig: fraternity brother Lew Wolff, current Brewers owner Mark Attanasio (who bought the team from a trust headed by Selig’s daughter), and Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner (who was a major beneficiary of the three way Boston-Florida-Montreal ownership swap deal). What do you get for a man who has everything? A scholarship in his name, of course! Now that’s a going away present.
  • One thing to keep in mind regarding Occupy Oakland: the horrific injury suffered by Iraq War veteran and Wisconsin native Scott Olsen will almost assuredly result in a lawsuit against Oakland/OPD, one which is not likely to come out well for the City. Whenever that judgement is rendered, it’ll be more money that Oakland simply doesn’t have for projects such as an Oakland ballpark.
  • On the bright side, the Oakland Tribune and other local papers will keep their names after all.
  • Tony LaRussa goes out on top.

Good stuff to come later in the week.

Dodgers may push A’s decision to backburner

The Chronicle’s Susan Slusser sheds more light on the San Jose land deals, adding this tasty bit at the end:

It is unlikely baseball owners would consider the A’s stadium at their meetings in Milwaukee next month because the Dodgers’ ownership situation is expected to dominate the agenda. Meetings scheduled for January might be more likely.

This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if it weren’t for the twin news items of Frank McCourt reaching a settlement with Jamie McCourt, then MLB reaching a settlement with Frank over a likely sale of the Dodgers. The Dodgers bankruptcy trial has been postponed, pending the outcome of both of those issues. The divorce settlement could be court-approved on November 14, right before the Winter Meetings. Assuming that it is approved, the Dodgers could easily push the A’s to the backburner, with the agenda already packed with the Astros-to-Crane sale and ongoing CBA talks.

A’s to get huge discount on SJ ballpark land

As part of the complex land deal the City of San Jose is trying to complete in order to assemble the Diridon ballpark site, City is selling five acres of land it has already acquired to the A’s (and Lew Wolff) for $6.9 million, according to the Merc’s Tracy Seipel. Indexed for inflation, that price is only a quarter of the original purchase price and half the land’s market value. The land in question includes the former Stephens Meat plant (now a parking lot), the vacant former KNTV studios, and other properties along West San Fernando. The land sale will be voted on at the November 8 City Council meeting.

If the Quakes land deal is any guide, City will do the following assuming they get the green light from MLB:

  • Make final offers to holdout landowners including AT&T, threaten eminent domain if needed
  • Allow A’s to step in and buy properties at market value plus relocation costs
  • A’s deed all land back to City
  • City arranges for nominal ground lease for A’s to build ballpark (similar to China Basin)

Ballpark site parcel map as of March 2010

The whole package would have to be voted on be the citizens of San Jose sometime within the next year. I expect City to push hard for a special election sometime in the early spring – perhaps during spring training or as the baseball season begins – instead of choosing for the 2012 June primary or November general election.

Mayor Chuck Reed continues to express confidence (bravado?) in the City’s ability to finish the land deals without resorting to eminent domain. To that end, an AT&T spokesman gives a sufficiently cagey answer when asked about selling the Montgomery work center.

Within the span of nine days, we’ll have three major developments in this neverending saga:

  • November 8: San Jose City Council votes on land deal
  • November 10: Oral arguments begin on redevelopment court case in San Francisco
  • November 15: Territorial rights may be taken up on the owners meetings agenda (not guaranteed)

I’ve cleared my schedule properly to cover all of this, in person for the local stuff.

2012 MLB Schedule Analysis

Normally I do a review of the schedule immediately when it comes out. This time, I decided to step back in order to review the entire league. I’ve noticed a few things about how the schedule is put together, so I figured it would be best to take time to gear this post towards the traveler. I’ve done several ballpark trips over the years, and I’ve always been frustrated by the lack of tools available for those who want to take similar trips. Knowing this, I’ve taken the 2430-game 2012 MLB schedule and turned it into a grid (PDF), showing all games by home team and date. The teams are organized by geographical area (West Coast, Northeast, etc.) so it should easy to see how a traveler could hop from one city to another, catch a game in each market, then take a short trip to the next one. This first step is next season’s MLB slate, to be followed by all minor league teams. Then I’ll branch out to the winter sports, with the NHL to start, then NCAA basketball, and the NBA once if it gets its act together. I’ll round out the works with 2012 schedules for MLS and NFL/NCAA football.

[Tentative 2012 MLB schedule download in PDF format]

I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve noticed in previous baseball seasons there are generally two “hot periods” for travelers to schedule ballpark trips for maximum efficiency. The first is mid-May, when interleague action starts. The other is around Labor Day. Those are the times when baseball tends to stray the most from its tendency not to schedule two teams in the same market concurrently. By allowing concurrent scheduling, fans can enjoy short travel distances between games and even the occasional two stadium, day-night doubleheader. This can be particularly effective on the East Coast and in the Midwest, where trips between markets are frequently four hours or less by car or train. Of course, the problem with having the “hot periods” occur in May and September is that they aren’t during the summer, when families are most likely to take long trips such as a weeklong pilgrimage to a few ballparks.

Shown in the spread format, there are a few other quirks about the schedule:

  • The A’s gave up a Sunday game (April 8) and a Thursday game (July 5) to accommodate the two “home” games to be played at the Tokyo Dome on March 28-29.
  • The A’s have another Sunday date with no game – August 26. For some reason, a three-game set with the Rays is scheduled for August 23-25, Thursday through Saturday. Update: This is due to a Republican National Convention event (thanks Nathan).
  • 16 marquee games are on the A’s home slate: 3 vs. the Giants, 6 vs. the Red Sox, 7 vs. the Yankees. 3 games vs. the Dodgers may also count. Expect these games to have premium pricing for non-season-ticket buyers.
  • The Miami Marlins play their inaugural game at the yet-unnamed, unsponsored ballpark on April 4, then don’t play another home game until April 13.
  • The Marlins have had 26 rainouts and 154 rain delays in their tenure at what used to be called Joe Robbie Stadium. MLB must really be looking forward to that going away for good.
  • There’s a unique opportunity from June 17 to June 26 to catch numerous games along the Northeast Corridor (Boston-NY-Philly-Balty-DC). If you don’t mind not watching the A’s, this is a flexible stretch during the summer.
  • The schedule PDF is poster size. Don’t expect it to look good being printed on a letter size sheet.

Enjoy the schedule. I appreciate any feedback you have on it.

News for 10/24/11

We’re still three weeks from the winter meetings, at which the A’s situation is not guaranteed to be resolved. Until then we wait and stay informed.

Features to come after I finish a few things.

High Speed Rail design options reviewed in San Jose

As part of the ongoing planning process for the California High Speed Rail project, a Good Neighbor committee meeting was held tonight at the Roosevelt Community Center, east of downtown San Jose. To make the review more localized, several segments were identified and “separated” so that each could be reviewed separately. Diridon Station is not only a major transit hub, it is also the nexus of two such segments: San Jose-to-Merced and San Jose-to-San Francisco. The Good Neighbor committee, which is made up of local residents and other potentially affected parties, has been providing feedback on the station design, planning throughout the station area, the ballpark, and the most controversial piece, the prospect of either an aerial or tunnel rail segment that will run through the area. From the beginning, local residents have been opposed to an aerial option and have forced the City to include a tunnel alternative as part of the environmental review. This is in keeping with what Peninsula residents have wanted for some time, though finance constraints may make it difficult to move forward with anything other than an aerial option.

A modern, wave-shaped station may serve as the HSR terminal. It would stand adjacent to the existing depot and above the planned BART line.

The image above is only one of several possible station designs, all meant to give the public a sense of the building’s mass and volume. The apex of the new station would be 90 feet above grade, more than twice the height of the current station but 20 feet lower than HP Pavilion, which is located a block away. There could be a large public space in between the two stations or a larger, fully connected “grand” terminal.

The current view from the west along the Alameda (Santa Clara St) as one approaches Diridon Station and HP Pavilion

Same view with the aerial viaduct for high speed rail added. A mezzanine level takes travelers from the station to the HSR platform, above the commuter trains.

I’ve mentioned before that the ballpark has not received nearly as much resistance from locals as the HSR project, and the above pictures are Exhibits A and B of that resistance. The height of the rail will be 65 feet above grade, with another few feet above that for the platform and a retaining wall and/or fence. The columns and the viaduct itself appear to be buff or sand-colored concrete, which should help soften the look compared to drab, gray concrete. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that the structure itself is a behemoth. As the alignment enters and exits downtown, it will be widened to four tracks, making it the equivalent of a very tall freeway. Expect the property values for recent buyers at Plant 51 to come crashing down (at least on the side that faces the station) if the aerial is built.

The ballpark did get mentioned, insofar as there is some buzz about whether or not MLB will be making a decision on territorial rights (yes, some of those folks read this site). If the owners and Commissioner Selig decide to take the issue up (they never have officially) and rule in Lew Wolff’s favor, the decision will set a few more things in motion. Another Good Neighbor session would have to be held shortly thereafter. At that session several things would have to be discussed:

  • Design of Cisco Field and how it differs from the alternatives approved for the original and supplemental EIRs
  • Timing of the project, including land acquisition, referendum, groundbreaking and construction
  • Status of needed infrastructure improvements (Autumn Parkway)

If/when this session occurs, I’ll post a notice well in advance. I urge anyone with a passing interest to attend. (Note: A similar session to the one held tonight will be held at the MLK Library a week from tonight.)

Satellite photo showing how everything fits together. Blue line is the HSR alignment.

Twenty-five years ago, the Diridon area was partly light industrial and partly residential. HP Pavilion allowed the City to clean out many of the residences (via eminent domain). With Cisco Field, it’s expected that most of the industrial properties will go away as well, as those don’t fit in with the concept of a commercial transit hub. We touched on this two years ago, and this is yet another small step towards fleshing out the vision. The Diridon Station Area Plan, which was approved by the City Council in April, is starting its own EIR process now (PDF).

CA Redevelopment Court Case Begins 11/10

Oral arguments for redevelopment’s case against the state will happen on November 10 at 9 AM. The venue will be the Supreme Court Courtroom, Earl Warren Building, Fourth Floor, 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco. The hearing will also be broadcast on the California Channel, which is available on local cable systems or via the web. I may go up there if I have time just to get a feel for the scene. It’s the first step towards resolving the fate of redevelopment as a local institution.

Crane names his price and it’s a discount

.

Perhaps MLB should put the Astros out on Priceline. Wait, wrong Crane?

The New York Post is reporting that Jim Crane’s price for moving the Astros to the American League is not, as I speculated, a future franchise sale price guarantee. Instead, Crane wants the value upfront, asking for a $50 million discount off the $680 million sale price. Assuming that MLB and Crane meet somewhere in the middle, we’ll see how desperate Drayton McLane is to finally unload the franchise. Based on previous reports, McLane is quite desperate. (Additional coverage available from The Biz of Baseball.)

Crane may be trying to deflate the valuation bubble a little. **Astros sale is not final.

Crane’s argument is that moving to the AL West will cause more games to be broadcast at 9 PM Central time because of frequent trips to the West Coast. Let’s do some math on this. Setting aside the interleague rotation, the ‘Stros currently play 4 NL West opponents roughly 6 times apiece. Cut that in half and it translates to 12 road games against the West Coast, then take away a third of those games as daytime games for a total of 8 games at the 9 PM start time. If they play in a 5-team AL West, they’ll play 3 West Coast opponents 18 times (assuming the format stays unbalanced). Half of those games will be at home, translating to 27 total games on the West Coast, or 15 more than before. Roughly a third of these games will be either weekend daytime or weekday getaway day games, reducing actual number affected by the two-hour shift to 18, or 10 more 9 PM starts than before. Is a 10-game delta worth a $50 million discount?

Crane is actually coming into a very good situation with the Astros. $12 million was spent last year to upgrade the big scoreboard. Renovations to club areas have also been completed. The Astros will be moving to CSN Houston, of which they’ll own 40%, in 2013. They’ll be partnering with the NBA Rockets, who will move starting with the 2012-13 season. With the ‘Stros in full rebuild mode, it would make sense for Crane to keep payroll low until the team sniffs contention again.

Moreover, Crane’s request seems to fall in line with the thinking that, when it comes to dealings between teams and owners on the business side, money generally does not change hands. If Lew Wolff gets territorial rights and the Giants are awarded compensation, it’ll be interesting to see what form that compensation takes. Based on this news and the historical pattern of how franchises work out deals (other than player trades), cash payments are not the likely form of compensation.

Houston, we have a problem

After a lengthy delay and a lot of questions, Jim Crane may be on his way to becoming the next owner of the Houston Astros. Word out of Houston tonight is that Crane met with his board after another meeting with MLB. It’s hard to think that any information about Crane’s bid isn’t already out there for Selig and the higher-ups to review, so this looks like a matter of prepping the transition (which McLane desperately wants). The change would have to be approved at the upcoming owners meetings, along with the CBA and perhaps the A’s territorial rights matter.

Houston realignment to the American League

A key item in that blog link is that Crane is willing to accept compensation in exchange for moving the team to the American League, where it would be part of the West division. My wild guess at this point is that the compensation would be a franchise sale price guarantee as long as Crane’s group owned the team for a significant enough tenure – say five years or so. That would provide some protection for the heavily leveraged Crane group as they “endured” the transition. I’m sure the hardship of trading the Cubs and Cards (25k per game x 15 games) for the Red Sox and Yankees (35k per game x 12 games) will make the other owners highly sympathetic.

The preliminary 2012 schedule was released a couple weeks ago (more on that later this week), and it appears that MLB wants to bake it in ASAP, which would render a 2012 realignment impractical. In theory, it should be easier to make changes to the schedule since starting next year, there will be only one team who has to share a multipurpose facility with another franchise (I’ll give you one guess as to who that is). Another thing to consider is the schedule format, which could continue in the unbalanced method MLB now employs (15-19 games in division, 6-9 outside), or move more towards a balanced format. Some examples are listed in the table below.

Comparison of existing scheduling format vs. three potential realignment formats

Option A mostly retains the spirit of the existing schedule. Option B sacrifices interleague series for more interdivision games. Option C nearly achieves a balanced format, whereas Option D again reduces interleague matchups. Key to this is the question of how many interleague games are truly necessary, especially now that the games will be played throughout the entire season. Another thing to consider is that by starting the season with an interleague series, it gives MLB an excuse to always have an opening series in Japan, Korea, etc.

Astros fans aren’t taking this threat lying down, though one has to wonder how strong the opposition truly is. As of tonight, a petition at SaveOurStros.org has 633 signees. The Keep the Astros in the National League Facebook group has only 50 members. Not that MLB cares about what a few fans think. I’d feel bad for them, but they’re going to have a very strong rivalry with the Rangers in short order, which should be great for both franchises. As for the effect on the A’s, there isn’t much of one. They’d just be trading two opponents in the AL Central/East for one in the Central time zone. No big deal.

There’s also talk of adding another wildcard team for a one-game playoff prior to the divisional series. I didn’t have strong feelings one way or another on the subject until the final day of the 2011 season, in which the action was so riveting that it would be highly anticlimactic to eliminate it by creating game 163.

What are your thoughts on this? Personally, I’m glad MLB is creating an equal amount of interleague games for every team, which IMHO is far more important from a competition standpoint than confining interleague play to May and June. It’s something that has been impossible to address because of the 16-team National League. Now it can be fixed, and baseball will be better off for it.