A River (of shit) Runs Through It

There’s fifty feet of crap. And then there’s us. – Billy Beane, Moneyball

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in "Moneyball"

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane describing the A’s station in “Moneyball”

Figurative turned literal on Sunday, as the A’s and Mariners (and umpires) were forced to vacate their respective clubhouses after the game because of a sewage backup. The backup caused sewage to seep out of the shower drains as players were trying to clean up. Both teams were forced to use the Raiders’ locker room showers, which are located a level up in the old Exhibit Hall.

As part of the 1995 Mt. Davis renovations, the Exhibit Hall was transformed into new football locker rooms, while the A’s clubhouse and visiting facilities remained mostly untouched. As a result, the plumbing in the clubhouses continues to deteriorate and requires constant repairs, which the A’s usually end up paying for during the season. Per the team’s lease, they can deduct the cost of the repairs against their annual rent payment. During the NFL offseason, the Raiders locker room often gets used as an extra staging area for VIPs. As a part of the stadium that was constructed less than 20 years ago, it’s in much better shape than the old baseball clubhouses.

In 2011, I asked Lew Wolff about the state of affairs at the Coliseum. Here’s an excerpt of our discussion:

Wolff: We’re constantly making repairs that are not our obligation.

ML: Really? Like what?

Wolff: Leaks and things. The scoreboard. There are two of them because of football. I think they’re finally going to replace them, but if they don’t there are no more parts. If a light goes out we borrow it from another one. It’s aggravating. But they basically say they don’t have any money. They still have bonds to pay off. The place is old and this is not the time for cities to write a check for sports.

Two years later the leaks have gotten worse and the scoreboard still needs replacement, with funds to make that happen siphoned away to study Coliseum City. It’s easy to make scoreboards a low priority at a decrepit place like the Coliseum since they don’t affect players or revenues. Functional clubhouses, however, are a different matter entirely. It’s one thing if the clubhouse flooding and contamination was confined solely to the A’s clubhouse. This time it affected both teams and the umpires. Now there’s the prospect of complaints being filed by the A’s, Mariners, and the players’ and umpires’ unions. (Susan Slusser noted that the Angels complained about a similar incident in 2001, citing a possible E. Coli threat.) Ultimately the responsibility falls on the Coliseum Authority, the body acting as the landlord for the three Coliseum tenant teams. A Herculean effort by an industrial cleanup company like ServPro should get the place up and running. The structural deficiencies will continue to linger.

I know next to nothing about engineering sewer systems, but I do know that having facilities below sea level (such as the clubhouses) can make it difficult to get a proper gravity-based flow going. The funny thing is that one of EBMUD’s huge sewer interceptors runs right through the Coliseum complex, so it should be easy to get wastewater and sewage out of the complex assuming that the sewer lines and pumps are working properly. Evidently at least one part of the stadium’s sewage infrastructure wasn’t working at all. Think about that. There is a river of shit running right through the Coliseum and somehow it couldn’t be utilized on Sunday.

Some are pointing to the possibility that the sewer system was taxed by large crowds. The A’s drew 171,756 total fans during this recent six-game homestand. Let’s put that in perspective. That’s 28,626 per game, or roughly half the originally designed 1966 capacity of the Coliseum. Even the Sunday sellout was only 57% of the 2012 football capacity. The system as a whole should not have been stressed in the slightest.

As the investigation into the cause of the incident continues, it will occur against the backdrop of ongoing lease negotiations. Previously it was assumed that the Authority would have a good deal of leverage because the A’s have nowhere else to play in the Bay Area post-2013. Now the tables have turned, as it can be argued by many parties that the Coliseum is unfit to host MLB games until the clubhouse sewage problem and other deficiencies are addressed. MLB could even step in to make preconditions on the JPA prior to further lease talks. That would put the JPA in quite the pickle. How can the JPA recover more money from the A’s towards Coliseum debt service if it has to fund additional, costly improvements at the Coliseum? If the JPA wants to lock the A’s into a deal longer than 5 years, how much money is the JPA willing to put up to make it worth the A’s and MLB’s while? And how does that coincide with any requests the Raiders are making for their lease extension?

Prior to this incident, Lew Wolff offered to continue on at the Coliseum for five years with the current use terms, rent TBD. He could and should demand infrastructure improvements, but he and Michael Crowley could be enticed to stand pat and maintain the status quo since it would be less complicated. It would be hard for the A’s to make any leasehold improvements without prior approval of the JPA, and since they’re not bound by the lease beyond December there’s no immediate incentive to do so. All they’ll probably do at the moment is make necessary repairs, clean and disinfect the place, lay down some new carpet in the affected areas, and hope for the best. While that should be enough to get through the rest of the season, imagine another sewage incident occurring during the postseason. What kind of PR disaster would that be for Oakland? And I can’t image naming rights sponsor O.co is thrilled to be associated with this debacle. It’s bad enough that from afar the stadium resembles a toilet.

Three weeks ago Jon Heyman incurred the wrath of A’s fans over his snide tweet comparing AT&T Park to the Coliseum. He mostly stayed away from any remarks this time around, except for a retweet of Slusser getting a David Rinetti (A’s VP of stadium operations) quote:

Smart move by Heyman to stay away from this mess, though I wouldn’t blame him if he gloated in private. Trololol.


Update 10:45 AMBob Nightengale has a choice quote from Wolff and reiterates a story from February.

The A’s, of course, have tried to bolt town for the last five years. The San Francisco Giants won’t share their territory and permit the Athletics to move to San Jose. Major League Baseball, which hoped the A’s and Giants would somehow reach an agreement on their own, finally got a resolution from their blue ribbon committee. The committee submitted a set of guidelines to Wolff in February, and if he agreed to meet the requirements, a move could soon be underway.

Wolff won’t talk about the guidelines. Neither will the Giants. Or even Major League Baseball.

Well, since the NSA isn’t sharing any of Wolff’s telephone conversations with Commissioner Bud Selig, it’s fair to say that if Wolff agreed to the parameters, he’d have a shovel in his hand today digging into the San Jose soil.

Wolff denied the February report in last week’s radio interview. Clearly something isn’t meshing here. The two short-term decisions at the moment are the lease and the S4SJ lawsuit. It would make sense to wait to announce something until both of those issues are resolved.


Update 2:30 PM – Amazingly, Lew Wolff is pulling his punches, at least according to a new Carl Steward article.

“What it says basically is that it’s a deteriorating facility,” he said. “I think everybody is aware of that, even the people who run it. We’re sort of all in this together, so it isn’t something I would use … we just have to solve it right now.”

Wolff downplayed that this might be the kind of incident that would give him extra ammunition to force the hand of Major League Baseball to act on the A’s situation, which has been stalled for several years under a panel appointed by Selig to assess the team’s options.

“Even if they said tomorrow, `OK, you can have a new stadium,’ we can’t do it in one day,” Wolff said. “We’re still going to have a plumbing issue.’”

Of course, Wolff isn’t going to stop the M’s, other teams, MLBPA, or WUA (umpires) from filing their own complaints. Those may have more bite. On the other hand, Billy Beane’s comments were a little more pointed.

“Today this is national news, but it happens here all the time,” Beane said. “Our employees are impacted by this. I was the first to see the manager’s office (Sunday), but we see it all the time, and this is not unusual. I don’t blame them (the Mariners) for reacting, but we have to live with it on a semi-regular basis.

“If we say anything, we’re told we’re being opportunist,” Beane added. “I wish these were working conditions we didn’t have to work with. When it affects somebody other than us, it becomes a story. I’m used to it. I deal with it.”

Doesn’t get more Oakland than that.

113 Responses to A River (of shit) Runs Through It

  1. James V. says:

    Quan’s got nothing to offer.

  2. Dan says:

    Aaron, since Quan’s dogs have been pretty toothless and quiet of late I fail to see why anyone would care if they are “called off” or not. As for looking at Oakland AGAIN, why bother. The economics of Oakland haven’t changed much in the 5 years since Wolff last considered sites in the city and Oakland’s commitment to their own stadium plans at Howard Terminal, Victory Ct, Coliseum City remain as tenuous as ever. Wolff would still have to build privately and it’s still a losing proposition for anyone building privately in Oakland without substantial city assistance that isn’t going to be forthcoming. I mean these people can’t even pay for simple maintenance on the stadium they have.

  3. [...] the A’s – Mariners game on Sunday “overloaded” the sewage system in the Coliseum, causing raw waste to seep into the clubhouses of both teams. How a 6 day home stand with only one sell out could overload a stadium’s sewage system is beyond [...]

  4. Tony D. says:

    Finally checking in after a long drive to SoCal. Are some actually arguing for Wolff to work it out in Oakland? Sounds like the Coli isnt the only thing filled with feces..

  5. pjk says:

    There’s always going to be folks who believe either that Oakland is as financially feasible for a privately funded ballpark in San Jose, or that owners should be willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars building in Oakland since they are rich, anyway. None of that is going to change.

  6. standforcoliseumcity Aaron says:

    I will always love Oakland with or without sports…chin up town, let’s just ride out the 2013 season with the A’s in Oakland and get this world series championship….Go Raiders and Go warrior’s too

    Funny post on saveoaklandsports.com , they have a blog posted for people to vote no on the Sf Warrior site. I mean they say it will hurt the bay area and view. Cmon Oakland, we had many years to get the Warriors a downtown arena and we never stepped up ……Howard Terminal would be great for basketball then baseball and if we get a second chance I would propose that site.

  7. pjk says:

    Howard Terminal – the massive railroad obstructions and toxic waste might have been a good site. But those problems are there, piling on many more millions to the cost. Howard Terminal = Nonstarter

  8. dmoas says:

    I’d like to know when the MLBPA starts getting involved. If this happens so frequently and is this substandard, I’m sure there’s got to be health violations and CBA violations galore in all of this. They’ve got a vested interest in all of this too. Instead of looking to Wolff wrt to their anti-trust suit, perhaps SJ should contact the players union instead.

  9. SierraSpartan says:

    @ erw – A substantial chunk of the Shark Tank is below-level – including team dressing rooms – but they haven’t had a documented plumbing problem in the almost 20 years that building’s been open. The only time there’s been an issue is when there’s been a flood on the Guadalupe River like in 1995.

  10. Dan says:

    Sierra, that’s because SJ maintains their venue. The Shark Tank is still in tip top shape.

  11. David says:

    @Dan – you guys love to cherry pick what’s going well in SJ. This website loves to do top posts when Oak pols, retire, quit or leave. I wasn’t shocked when the SJ Police Chief and now the SJ Fire Chief, both left for greener pastures and there wasn’t a peep around these parts. The SJ Fire chief, actually left for Las Vegas, for 50 grand less than his SJ salary (somehow that’s newsworthy). SJ can keep the SAP plumbing from backing up, but your Mayor Reed, can’t seem to do much else without savaged in the local press!

  12. Tony D. says:

    News flash! There was a shit flood at the coliseum on Sunday (they happen all the time apparently) and Oakland isn’t and can’t do shit for the A’s on the new ballpark front! Stay on topic if you dare and discuss that! Go A’s and Go San Jose!!

  13. pjk says:

    Mayor Reed savaged in the press? I’ve never heard of politicians savaged in the press before. Must be a new one. At least he’s never had TV crews showing up at his house like Jean Quan, whose eyesore property was so overgrown with vegetation it looked like no gardening or trimming had been done in years. And that’s who you trust to get a $500 mill ballpark in Oakland?

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