Category Archives: Athletics

Coliseum City: It’s Complicated

At this week’s NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando, Mark Davis acknowledged the elephant in the middle of the Coliseum complex. From the Merc’s Tim Kawakami:

-Q: If Wolff’s saying he needs a 10-year lease…

-DAVIS: That would make it tough for us to build a new stadium on that site.

Last fall, Davis admitted that he’d rather build a new stadium on the Coliseum’s existing footprint, which would evict the A’s while changing the character of Coliseum City. In yesterday’s interview, Davis again expressed frustration at the pace of Coliseum City planning, throwing some shade Mayor Jean Quan’s way in the process.

It’s no secret that the Raiders and A’s would prefer that they not share facilities. By now it’s becoming clear that the two would rather not share the Coliseum complex, let alone a stadium. Financing issues and competing concepts aside, it’s simply less complicated. Davis would love for Oakland to commit to the Raiders, accelerate the development with BayIG, and figure out just how much money can be squeezed out of the plan. In the middle of an election season, Quan and her competitors won’t commit to anything, lest they appear to favor one team over another. So Quan keeps talking about signing the Raiders sometime in the near future, all the while deadlines continue to slip for the project.

Meanwhile, Lew Wolff has said that the best place in Oakland for something to be built is the Coliseum, though he hasn’t endorsed Coliseum City. Chances are that he’d be fine with the Davis taking the Raiders south, which would force Oakland and the JPA to deal with Wolff only to salvage one team at the complex.

Davis’s audience isn’t the media, Raiders fans, Oakland civic backers, or even taxpayers. His audience is his fellow owners and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The keys to the kingdom of LA are in Goodell’s hands, with the owners acting as his Greek chorus. Goodell can unlock access to banks and potential minority partners who have stadium futures to trade. All Davis has to do is show due diligence for at least one year.

So far he has. Davis has repeatedly dismissed the idea of tenancy at Levi’s Stadium, comparing it to the Jets playing in the Meadowlands. He has claimed that he wants the stadium in Oakland, while exploring other corners of the East Bay. Goodell may have nudged him to move to Santa Clara, but the whispers have fallen on deaf ears. It’s either Oakland or Los Angeles for the Raiders. If Coliseum City continues to move like molasses, or the Oakland pols are frozen out of electoral fear, Davis can go to Goodell and say, See, I tried, these people are incompetent.

The funny thing is that the urgency that Davis wants out of the various CC partners may not materialize unless he formally presents a stalking horse in the guise of LA. Talk all you want about not having political support from LA City Hall, or the legacy of attendance issues that plagued the Raiders. If the Raiders moving becomes a distinct possibility, multiple groups will coalesce in the Southland, all competing with each other for the rights to land the Raiders or Rams. The biggest obstacle in LA is the numerous egos all trying to get a piece of the action. Davis knows he’d be the belle at the ball when the time came to debut in LA. If LA becomes a legitimate threat, Oakland will be forced to (re)act. That’s the classic stadium playbook. We’re not far from that page.

The league has its own leverage play too. What Goodell doesn’t want is for the Raiders to have LA all to themselves. He’d rather have the Rams or Chargers there as well, sharing a stadium or not, providing competition for each other. He has a lot more control over franchise relocation than either of his predecessors (Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue) did because of the league’s control over a large stadium funding mechanism, the G-4 program.

Oakland thinks it has leverage because the NFL has been loathe to acquiesce to Raiders ownership’s desires. That leverage could evaporate quickly with a simple nod from Goodell. And if Goodell agrees with Davis that Oakland isn’t moving fast enough, Goodell could turn up the heat on Oakland by making the LA stalking horse appear. That’s the playbook. Quan appears to be taking everything rather cavalierly, offering up a rather incomplete statement about what Oakland has to do for MLB to keep the A’s:

You saw that the (Port of Oakland) Port Commission, now that they have eliminated all the maritime uses from Howard Terminal, has begun to take up the proposal from the Ballpark Waterfront Group, which is made up of some of the top CEOs in the city, and they are asking for a one-year exclusive negotiating agreement, to develop a plan to build a ballpark at Howard Terminal, which, for most fans, is their priority. So that completes my promise to Major League Baseball, when I first became mayor, that we could provide two good sites that have site control, and when they finish negotiating their deal, I think Major League Baseball will have to make a decision.

MLB will have to make a decision? On what? Two sites that have uncertain funding scenarios and unknown cost outlays? MLB is used to taking cities for a ride. They’re not going to commit to anything until they see Oakland doing something truly significant. That may mean saying Adios! to the Raiders at the Coliseum, or pulling out the stops to get Howard Terminal ready for a ballpark. Presenting two sites that haven’t been studied? That’s as if Quan stepped to the starting line at the Oakland Running Festival over the weekend, and when the race started she declared herself victorious.

Consider that Sacramento didn’t truly get moving on its arena campaign until Seattle became a serious threat. Even late in the arena effort, the team was practically sold and delivered to the Emerald City. David Stern allowed that to happen. Mayor Kevin Johnson used a ton of political capital and connections to work out the arena deal, securing a quarter of a billion in public funds for the effort.

Why do teams and leagues use the playbook? Because it works. There’s nothing complicated about that.

HoHoKam: The Once and Future Spring

Just one day before I arrived here in the Valley of the Sun, the A’s had a media reveal at HoHoKam Stadium, the new spring training home for the team starting in 2015. Reporters gathered in the parking lot of the teamless stadium and were shown images of what HoHoKam will look like next year. Saturday morning I took some time to check out the renovation’s progress.

A previous venue called HoHoKam Park (née Rendezvous Park) hosted the A’s during the 70′s. As you might imagine, the park was far more modest than many of the palatial digs of today’s Cactus League.

Rendezvous Park

The Cubs moved to HoHoKam in the 1978 and haven’t left the city since. HoHoKam was relocated to the west in 1997, yielding at the time a large, superior stadium compared to its peers. HoHoKam had a berm wrapping around the outfield, 13,000 seats, plenty of concourse space, even suites. This year the Cubs opened Cubs Park, still in Mesa but closer to the Tempe border. The A’s, who had unsuccessfully tried to work with the City of Phoenix to get improvements for Phoenix Municipal Stadium, turned their attention to Mesa and worked out a deal to be the new tenants at HoHoKam and Fitch Park, the training complex.

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Piles of dirt stood in front of the entrances, evidence of trenching. The grass field has been removed, as have most of the stadium seats. Eventually the bleachers down the lines will be removed and replaced with roofed bars. The scoreboard will be replaced as well. A big change at HoHoKam will be green and gold paint and materials along the exterior. The very beige, very-90′s façade will get a major pop of color and a real sense of identity in the process. The small tower at the home plate gate will feature a big “A’s” logo.

hohokam-12-new_gate27

New look for HoHoKam comes with strong A’s colors

The existing beige clashes in a big way with green and gold, so there’s hope that the whole place will get a proper paint job that matches. If you look closely, the pic on the right shows a #27 above the entrance, a nod to the late, great Catfish Hunter. That isn’t the only tribute in store.

hohokam-11-new_gate24

Third base “24″ gate as part of renovated façade

It makes sense that Rickey’s gate is outside third base, right? I’m sure that at first naming/numbering gates in this manner will sound weird from a wayfaring standpoint, but I’d love to see all of the gates treated like this. If you know HoHoKam, you know that there are two more fan gates in the left field corner and outside first base that could also be numbered. Who should get the honor?

Despite being one of the largest Cactus League ballparks, HoHokam managed to maintain a level of intimacy due to its traditional concourse design, where fans move from the concourse to the grandstand through tunnels. There’s no 360-degree view from the concourse, and no fancy detached club level. Capacity will be reduced to 10,500, making HoHoKam a middle-of-the-pack ballpark in terms of size. Other plans called for extending the outer boundary fence so that the grounds can be larger in order to accommodate food trucks. That’s a good alternative to the food tents seen at some of the other parks. The fact that the architect in charge of HoHoKam is the same one who did the Muni renovation over a decade ago is a good sign. Muni still looks as good as it can get in spite of its old bones. This gives me hope for some boldness when it comes to the A’s future stadium in the Bay Area – one that isn’t handcuffed by having to share it with a football team.

I didn’t visit Fitch Park, the other half of the A’s-Mesa deal. Most of the work there will be focused on improving the training facilities for the A’s, under-the-hood types of improvements that benefit players, not so much fans.

Sadly, the lovely view of Papago Park that came with games at Muni will not be moving to Mesa with the A’s. That said, it’ll be nice to see a bunch of fans lazing on the berm. My brother’s buying a house in Mesa, and when I stay there during the spring I’ll be able to bike from his house to HoHoKam along a canal trail. I can’t think of a better way of spending time during March.

Dickey and Wolff duke it out in the media

A week ago Glenn Dickey wrote this in the Examiner, among several assertions:

In late 1992, just before he stepped down as head of the group trying to buy the Giants from Lurie, Walter Shorenstein told me there would be two conditions in the new contract: 1) The Giants would have to get a new park within 10 years; 2) The Giants would then have territorial rights to all the counties down the Peninsula and into San Jose. They were looking at Silicon Valley, of course, and money from that area helped build the park.

Well, I guess we can rest assured that the late Walter Shorenstein took that to his grave. If that’s true, why did Shorenstein split from the Giants ownership because he didn’t feel that a privately financed ballpark concept would work out? Did Shorenstein get cold feet?

In any case, A’s ownership would’ve been best served not responding to Dickey, since who reads Dickey or the Examiner anyway? Yet they did. Maybe Lew Wolff felt the need to respond. Maybe PR man Bob Rose was spoiling for a fight. Here’s today’s full press release refuting Dickey:

Setting the record straight: our position

OAKLAND, CA-On March 11, San Francisco Examiner sports columnist Glenn Dickey wrote an article about Oakland A’s Owner and Managing Partner Lew Wolff entitled “A’s Owner Wolff standing in the Way of a New Stadium.” The column featured numerous and un-resourced inaccuracies that need to be clarified.For the record:

  • The Oakland A’s have paid rent to play their games at O.co Coliseum and will continue to pay rent under the current new two-year agreement with the Joint Powers Authority. The A’s are also the only team playing at the O.co Coliseum that directly pays for day of game police protection.
  • The team continues to negotiate with the JPA about a 10-year extension to continue to play at the Coliseum.   Under such an arrangement, the A’s would continue to pay rent and has offered to pay for over $10 million in major improvements to the venue including two HD video scoreboards and LED ribbon boards.
  • It is not “urban legend” that Walter Haas granted territorial rights to Giants owner Bob Lurie so he could explore possibilities in the South Bay.   It is fact and Major League Baseball or the A’s would have confirmed that if either would have been asked.
  • Mr. Wolff did not create “artificial attendance reduction” by tarping off seats in the upper deck of the Coliseum. As a point of reference, the average attendance at the Coliseum in the 10 seasons before the tarps were installed was 21,872-capacity with the tarps installed is 35,067. Attendance in 2013 averaged 22,337. On several occasions, Mr. Wolff has said the team will remove the tarps if there is consistent ticket demand that justifies it. In fact, the team did remove the tarps during the 2013 postseason once ticket sales indicated the need for a larger capacity. However, the smaller capacity with tarps has clearly created a more intimate and exciting atmosphere at the Coliseum, as noted by many of our players, media and fans.

Not sure why Dickey calls the T-rights deal an urban legend. Selig acknowledged it. As I wrote two years ago, when everyone got confused over the history of the Bay Area’s T-rights:

If Bob Lurie had not gone after the South Bay, he wouldn’t have been granted the rights by Wally Haas. After Lurie struck out in SF for the last time and threatened to move to Tampa Bay, Magowan/Shorenstein swooped in to save the Giants. Would Magowan have asked for rights to the South Bay in 1993-96 in order to finance AT&T Park, knowing that he wasn’t actually going to build there but rather in downtown SF?

Remember that in the mid-90′s, the Internet as we know it today did not exist.

As for the stadium negotiations, Wolff is willing to sign a pretty long deal, as long as the A’s aren’t locked in if the Raiders take over the Coliseum complex. That’s only fair, since Wolff needs to have some control over where the team plays. Besides, history shows that Oakland/Alameda County/JPA have bent over for the Raiders, screwing the A’s in the process. The JPA is in the position to do it to the A’s all over again.

Interestingly, there are rumors emanating from the Coliseum that Coliseum City may be too expensive to pull off for the Raiders alone, forget the multi-team/multi-venue dream project. Hmmm

Still, best to avoid Dickey and his rants.

San Jose Muni as a temporary ballpark? Come on, now

The Merc and NBC Bay Area are reporting that San Jose Municipal Stadium is being considered as a temporary ballpark site should the A’s not get a lease extension past 2015.

The idea makes zero sense.

At 4,200 seats, Muni is far too small to work as a temp park. There’s not enough space behind the old grandstand to build the extra seats and a new press box that MLB would require. Even the area beyond the outfield is limited, so little seating could be built there. Muni is set up so that the clubhouses are on the same level as the single concourse, requiring the park to be quickly emptied of fans after every game. The lack of parking and public transit at the site would make it a logistical nightmare for daily 20,000-person crowds.

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About the only thing Muni has going for it is that it’s a baseball field with some seats around it. That’s not the expensive part. It’s everything else (additional seats, suites, infrastructure) that’s expensive.

Using Muni makes even less sense when you consider that the City of San Jose inked its own five-year extension with the San Jose Giants only two months ago. While the lease is quite cheap at $25,000 per year, naming rights to Muni are involved and the fact is that the City would have to break the lease to accommodate the A’s.

I understand that Lew Wolff will look at a number of sites and facilities to get a feel for what’s possible. A temporary ballpark at San Jose Muni is more than a little far-fetched.

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P.S. – Candlestick Park was also reported to be in the discussion, but demolition is expected later this year.

Why a temporary ballpark is a distinct possibility

Lew Wolff brought up the the idea of a temporary stadium to the SV/SJ Business Journal’s Greg Baumann this week. Wolff looks at the concept as potentially necessary if another extension at the Coliseum can’t work out. He had already expressed concern when MLB pushed the Coliseum Authority (JPA) into a two-year extension through 2015. The thinking in November was that no new permanent home could be built in that two-year span, and if Coliseum City’s phasing and the Raider owner Mark Davis’s preference of building on top of the current Coliseum footprint take hold, the A’s would no longer have a place to play. Combine that with Larry Baer’s comments about allowing the A’s to play at AT&T Park while an Oakland solution was being hammered out, and you can see all of the moving pieces and the complexity therein. Because of that complexity, let’s break the situation down into its basic components.

To start off, there’s the Raiders. The Raiders are the first domino here, because they are the team in some sort of negotiation with Oakland and the JPA. Even though Davis has labeled the talks as discouraging recently, reports coming out of the Coliseum City partnership should bring everyone back to the table in the next month or so. Then Davis can decide how to move forward: either partner in Coliseum City, or decide that CC doesn’t pencil out and look elsewhere. So far Davis has stuck with the idea that the Coliseum is the #1 site. That could change quickly as the numbers are released and parties have to make fiduciary commitments.

The A’s can’t do anything without the Raiders’ move. As much as Oakland waterfront ballpark proponents would love for Howard Terminal to become the apple of Wolff’s eye, the many questions and doubts that hang over the site continue to make HT a nonstarter for Wolff. Coliseum City had the A’s in a new ballpark no earlier than 2022, unacceptable terms for Wolff and MLB. However, if CC falls apart for the Raiders and Colony Capital, the Raiders could leave for Santa Clara, LA, or elsewhere. Wolff could easily call for CC to dissolve and put together a development plan of his own at the Coliseum, one that he would control. It could make room for the Raiders as well, but the football team would end up on the back burner, not the A’s. If Davis were to stay for several years at Levi’s Stadium while gathering up the resources to build anew in Oakland, such phasing could work out. Then again, the Jets spent nearly two decades “temporarily” at the Meadowlands while not working out any new stadium deal in the five boroughs of New York City.

Next, this idea isn’t new. Wolff floated the temporary venue concept in 2012, when he initially tried to get a lease extension. Wolff has reason not to go down such a path due to the expense and amount of upheaval. Should lease talks once again turn difficult, a temporary move becomes more a value proposition than a logistical problem.

If the JPA couldn’t come to an agreement on a new ballpark with Wolff – say, for instance, the JPA chose not to eat the $100 million left in Mt. Davis debt – Wolff would likely go back to MLB and again ask for a decision on San Jose. San Jose brings about one of two temporary ballpark scenarios. The first comes if the A’s are left homeless after 2015 and MLB somehow allows the move south. That’s a long shot at best, but can’t be completed discounted. In this case a temporary ballpark would have to be built somewhere in San Jose for 2-3 years minimum while Cisco Field was being built at Diridon. Besides the process of getting league approval, a temporary site would have to be found. In the Bizjournals article, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed claimed that multiple temporary sites were available. In all practicality, there are probably only two sites. Many of the previously studied permeant ballpark site candidates are either in the process of being redeveloped (Berryessa, North San Pedro) or face logistical hurdles that make it difficult to ensure that 20-30,000 people could make it in and out easily (SJ Fairgrounds, Reed & Graham cement plant).

Instead, there will probably two or three sites in play: the old San Jose Water Company site near SAP Center (site owned by Adobe), the spare parking lot south of SJ Police headquarters between Mission and Taylor Streets (a.k.a. the Cirque du Soleil lot), or the land adjacent to the under construction Earthquakes Stadium (under control by another developer). The SJWC/Adobe site would be the easiest to convert for a ballpark, is the right size, and has an existing building that could be leveraged for ballpark use. It’s also directly underneath a San Jose Airport landing approach, which could cause red flags by the FAA. The Cirque lot is smallish, though large enough for a small ballpark. There’s lots of parking nearby, and potential makeshift parking on the other side of the Guadalupe River. Light rail is only 2 blocks away. As for the Earthquakes Stadium-adjacent site, there were enough problems getting it prepped for that project that it should give pause to anyone considering even a temporary ballpark there.

That’s not to say that San Jose is the only place for a temporary ballpark. Wolff was quoted as looking at the entire Bay Area:

“I am hopeful of expanding our lease at the Oakland Coliseum for an extended term. If we cannot accomplish a lease extension, I hope to have an interim place to play in the Bay Area or in the area that reaches our television and radio fans — either in an existing venue or in the erection of a temporary venue that we have asked our soccer stadium architect (360 Architecture) to explore. Looking outside the Bay Area and our media market is an undesirable option to our ownership at this time.”

The East Bay is in play for both temporary (if needed) and permanent venues. MLB won’t hand over the South Bay to Wolff, yet MLB has also allowed Wolff to enter agreements with San Jose, so it’s clear that MLB is hedging big time. A temporary ballpark could be built on the old Malibu/HomeBase lots near the Coliseum, in Fremont, or even Dublin or Concord. Fremont’s Warm Springs location could enter the discussion again because the Warm Springs extension is scheduled to open in 2015.

It’s also possible to read into Wolff’s statement the possibility of the A’s playing at Raley Field on a temporary basis, since his description of “area that reaches our television and radio fans” covers CSN California and the A’s Radio Network.

Warm Springs could be in play because CEQA laws that govern environmental review largely don’t affect temporary facilities. Generally, seasonal installations such as carnivals or circuses that don’t create any permanent environmental impact are exempt from CEQA. The challenge, then, is to create a temporary ballpark that can also fit this model. That would be tough because of the large-scale consumption of water, food, and energy during a single game. Still, the A’s are already familiar with major recycling efforts, and if trash can be properly contained there should be little permanent impact. Just as important, Warm Springs remains within the established territory, so MLB wouldn’t have to negotiate anything with the Giants. Finally, if the experience is positive it could provide enough political goodwill to convince Fremont to again consider being a permanent home.

Strategically, the Baer vs. Wolff war of words (what happened to the gag order?) has only gotten more interesting. Baer’s statement is cajoling Oakland, not Wolff, to get its act together. Wolff’s response is to say that the A’s don’t need the Giants’ help, especially if he can get San Jose. Keep in mind that if Oakland fails, the East Bay as a territory loses value, hurting Baer’s argument and supporting Wolff’s. What’s left is for both rich guys to let the processes in Oakland and in the courts play out, and prepare for next steps. At some point, the leagues are going to ask Oakland to either step up or step out ($$$). While some local media types continue to believe that the teams can carry on indefinitely at the Coliseum, at some point the conflicts become too great to bear. For those of us who have been following this saga for so long, it’s good to know that actions are being taken to make new homes for the teams. Even if one of those homes is temporary.

Sogard, A’s fans edged out by Wright, Mets fans in Face of MLB contest

Any college basketball fan who watches the annual NCAA Men’s Tournament usually wants (and expects) at least one no-name, small school to climb the ranks and upset much bigger schools with blue chip recruits. If the team is lucky and good enough, they’ll get to at least the Sweet Sixteen (fourth round), or even the Final Four (semifinals). Such teams are not expected to win it all. They’re called Cinderellas for a reason. Over the last week we had our own Cinderella in baseball, and his name is Eric Sogard.

The bespectacled Sogard was the A’s entry into the Face of MLB contest, a series of Twitter popularity polls pitting a player from one team against another player on another team. He was also by far the least known quantity of any of the entrants, which included the likes of Derek Jeter, Felix Hernandez, and David Ortiz, who received a “bye” round. Somehow Sogard worked his way through the first two rounds, besting the likes of young Cubs star Anthony Rizzo and Rockies shortstop (and Fremont High of Sunnyvale product) Troy Tulowitzki.

Well, it wasn’t so much Sogard that did it. It was the ever resourceful and creative A’s fan base that did the bulk of the work. The polls worked by tallying up tweets labeled with the hashtags #FaceofMLB and the name of the player, in this case #EricSogard. MLB put some rules in place to govern the poll: a definite window to vote from 9 AM ET to 8 AM ET the following day and a limit of 25 tweets (or retweets) per Twitter handle. The rules were fair and provided advantages to both East Coast and West Coast voters, as I’ll discuss later.

After clearing the first two rounds, Sogard was matched up against Giants All Star catcher Buster Posey, an apparent mismatch of epic proportions. Yet those scrappy A’s fans came through again, lining up plenty of votes to beat Posey. Next up was Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, yet another seeming mismatch. Oakland fans against all of Canada? Come on, now. Yet A’s fans understood the dynamics and kept plugging away at odd hours, steadily building a big lead as Eastern Canada slept and riding that into the finals.

That cleared the way for the final vote in which Sogard faced off against Mets third baseman David Wright. Wright, nicknamed “Captain America,” also had the look and general popularity to be the presumptive winner going away. The poll started out dead even for the entire morning, with Sogard garnering a 51-49 lead around noon. Wright caught up and again the two were deadlocked until 8 PM ET/5 PM PT, when A’s fans hit Twitter hard with #EricSogard tweets. By this round, the fans had made use of their Photoshop skills, creating some excellent meme-worthy material such as this tweet from @RallyPlantain:

While other candidates enticed fans to participate by promising tickets (the Mets) or a follow back in Joey Bautista’s case, all of the momentum for Sogard was fan-generated. It was helped by the team, the radio station, and Sogard’s wife, Kaycee. Even local media jumped on the bandwagon to an extent. Around 9 PM, I saw links to two pages (h/t: @kenarneson) run by a third party company hired by MLB to run the polls, Mass Relevance. The pages are in JSON, a simple text format used to pass data from servers to web apps. They provided the raw vote data I needed to provide real time updates twice an hour throughout the evening. (Wright results/Sogard results)

At 1 AM, I posted my last update for the night, showing that Sogard had an impressive 55-45 lead with nearly 44,000 votes in hand. Based on previous voting days, such a lead seemed almost insurmountable and many fans went to sleep feeling pretty secure about the results. I, too, went to bed.

I woke at 4 with no alarm. I took a peak at the numbers again and was startled. The 44,000-vote gap had been cut by a whopping 40% in only an hour. This was the start of a tidal wave of voting for Wright. During the final 4 AM hour, #DavidWright tweets dominated Twitter. More than 110,000 #DavidWright tweets registered in the final hour. By 4:30 it became clear that Wright votes were going to catch up with Sogard votes. But with the West Coast still asleep, could the early risers there keep up enough of a pace to keep the surge from overtaking them?

At 4:45, what was in question became inevitable. Nearly 2,000 tweets per minute were coming through. Yet MLB’s rules about 25 tweets to a single user remained in place, which meant that people who kept tweeting and tweeting were getting rejected. During that last hour, Wright garnered 54,420 “approved” votes, but also had 50,918 rejected votes. Those 54,420 votes accounted for 20% of Wright’s total for the whole day. Even with the rejections, the sheer volume was enough to surpass Sogard and finish with an 11,000-vote lead. Final percentage posted by MLB and revealed during MLB Network’s Hot Stove morning show: 51% Wright, 49% Sogard.

Vote tallies taken throughout the evening of 2/27 and early morning of 2/28

Vote tallies taken throughout the evening of 2/27 and early morning of 2/28

MLB doesn’t certify results and post hard numbers like a real election board or registrar would do, so the numbers above are technically unofficial. Yet it’s clear how the trends worked out. In the aftermath, many A’s fans screamed conspiracy or that the contest was rigged. MLB can’t rig Twitter, so it’s not a Twitter problem. Everything else is strategic. Teams can entice fans to vote using a number of giveaways or contests, which the Mets did. Fans or teams could create additional accounts to eat up 25 votes. Bots can be set up to do the same. Bots out of South Korea tweeted for Wright, while the sports-unrelated account @LoveQuotes tweeted some Sogard love before deleting those same tweets. Many voters were unclear as to how and when the limit on 25 tweets per user was reset. As I understood it, the reset occurred at the start of voting each day. Others thought it was at midnight, an assertion which wasn’t backed by data. Consider that the final margin of ~11,000 votes represents roughly 440 individual voters or users. It’s such a tiny margin that it looks negligible.

As I looked at samples of tweets during the 4 AM hour, I saw what could be considered bots. However, the vast majority of Wright voters were living, breathing Mets fans. I can’t say how much they were helped by technology, but that pales in comparison to the network effects these types of polls can build. The Mets’ fan base is much larger than the A’s, and the NY Metro is much larger than the Bay Area. When it came time to show in numbers, they did so tremendously.

Hourly voting tallies, including accepted and rejected votes

Hourly voting tallies, including accepted and rejected votes. Click to enlarge

If MLB decides to run the Face of MLB contest next year, they’ll need to make revisions to try to prevent users from gaming the system. There’s only so much they can do. They can’t really weed out the content in each tweet, nor is it easy to ban obvious bots. Besides, what’s the difference between a bot and a person who makes multiple Twitter accounts? I used my own two long-established accounts to vote for Sogard, so am I a cheater? In any case, expect fans from every team who are interested to have a better understanding of the dynamics of a poll like this, and respond accordingly. That means a Cinderella like Sogard is less likely to take hold next year. As we saw just a few hours ago, brute force can overcome any deficit. But don’t be discouraged, A’s fans. There are ways to strategize this. I hope that this effort spills over into future All Star voting efforts, where a small fan base team like the A’s rarely gets position players in. There is hope. And for what it’s worth, the last 48 hours have been one helluva ride.

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P.S. – The best tweet of the week came courtesy of former A’s reliever Pat Neshek, who is currently in Spring Training with the Cardinals.

Maybe Eric Sogard is magical, after all.