The eternal struggle between sightlines and safety, Part 1: Nets

Part of the view from Section 119 is "obstructed" by the backstop net

Part of the view from Section 119 is obstructed by the backstop net

During today’s A’s broadcast, the between-pitch conversation turned to netting and foul balls. New part-time color commentator Eric Chavez provided an anecdote from during his career. He was hitting batting practice at Boston’s Fenway Park, when a ball he hit went into the stands, hitting a child. Chavy found out that the child had subsequently needed five eye surgeries.

Boston became a focal point of safety when parts of Brett Lawrie’s broken bat ended up in the third base stands, hitting a fan in the head. Tonya Carpenter suffered life threatening injuries, but was eventually released from the hospital. Another fan who was hit by a ball while in the usually glass-protected EMC Club decided to sue the Red Sox last week. The glass had been removed for renovations.

Baseball is unique among all major professional sports in that it is the only sport in which the object of play (ball) routinely travels into the seating area. Most are balls hit into foul territory, with some going out in fair territory as home runs or ground rule doubles, or sometimes the occasional errant throw. For many fans, the souvenir ball is a treasure, a real achievement. For others, the foul ball is a source of potential danger. Bats present an even more perilous, albeit less frequent, hazard.

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These accidents and their often horrific severity have caused MLB to consider changes to ballparks to increase safety, counter to the so-called “Baseball Rule.” The Baseball Rule stipulates that stadium operators can’t be held responsible for injuries caused by stray balls or bats. Over time lawsuits have whittled away at the rule’s strength, to the point that teams have to be much more cognizant of the risk than ever before. Yet little has changed to protect fans. Right now backstop nets generally cover about sixty feet behind home plate and little else. At the Coliseum, the net is full height at the back of the notch, with additional netting angling down towards the front of the notch. The dugouts and field boxes are completely exposed. Only seats at dugout level (sunken below the field) and dugouts at new ballparks tend to be protected. Everything else is typically exposed.

The threat to baseball became more pointed when Gail Payne, an A’s season ticket holder, filed a class action lawsuit against MLB over the threat to fan safety. Never mind that a winged fruit bat has more chance of reaching Payne’s seats than one of Lawrie’s maple bats, there are still plenty of safety issues that MLB has neglected for far too long. A ball coming off the bat can reach the first row behind the dugout in every ML ballpark in one second. 1,750 fans are hit every year, the vast majority in foul territory. The lawsuit asks for new protective netting to be installed from foul pole to foul pole, covering all of the front row seats in foul territory.


A foul line drive could reach these seats in less than two seconds

MLB is certain to fight that as much as it can, reasserting its Rule to some extent. To do so would severely impact views for the high-paying fans next to the field. At the same time, they have to be ready for a compromise solution. One that has been discussed recently is an extension of netting to the far edge of each dugout. That should cut down on a number of injuries, though there would still be concerns about fans farther down the lines.

Considering that Lawrie’s bat brought all of this to a head, it’s worth mentioning maple’s role in all of this. Maple bats have long been known for their greater power thanks to the wood being harder than ash. The downside of the maple bat is its tendency to shatter, creating wood shards that fly around like shrapnel, hitting fans and players alike. If it came down to banning maple bats or extending nets, MLB would most likely choose the latter, since the loss of maple bats could have a negative effect on offense.

The increasing role of technology is also a concern, particularly the use of smartphones and tablets during the game. As I sat in the seat pictured above for the A’s-Dbacks game last weekend, I constantly reminded myself to pay more attention to the game. That was a complete failure as I routinely looked down at my Twitter app, putting the phone away only when I was eating (another type of distraction). Going to the other end of the spectrum, it wouldn’t hurt to have a glove on in case something happens. Then again, if the A’s defense is having trouble fielding balls, how much can we expect of fans?

College and amateur facilities have taken the safety net a bit further than the pros have gone, covering some of their small ballparks in nets. Tony Gwynn Stadium at San Diego State University has nets that extend several feet above the railing along the front row.


Is this a bad view because of the net?

Other parks have a small extended railing, maybe a foot high, above the dugout. The fact is that there’s no proper standard. Factors other than safety can also come into play. The Yankees had difficulty opening the new Yankee Stadium when they had to balance the safety concern with the visual effect of the backstop net on the home plate camera during Yankees broadcasts on the YES Network.

MLB has plenty of data on injuries to institute new standards at current and future ballparks. They’ll have a couple chances to effect change at their two offseason owners meetings, where the safety issue should be a hot topic. Several teams are ready to extend the nets, provided that MLB enacts new standards. The cost should be minimal, in the low five-figures per ballpark. If MLB truly cares, they’ll act quickly by extending the nets instead of creating a task force to study potential changes. Some foul balls will go away, along with the combination of danger and excitement that being exposed entails. It’s worth the sacrifice to reduce the number of injuries.

P.S. – Part 2 will cover railings and their associated risk.

Hypothetical: Could a ballpark fit where the arena sits now?

One of the questions I’ve been fielding over the last few years, especially now that the Warriors are trying to move to San Francisco, is Can a ballpark fit in the space occupied by the arena? The idea is that if the Raiders could somehow find a way to stay in Oakland at a rebuilt (new on the existing site, not renovated) Coliseum, the arena could be torn down to make way for a ballpark. In doing so, none of the capacious parking would be affected except during the construction phases.

The short answer to this is: No. If I’m being generous, I’ll say barely

To understand why, you need to look at the way the complex was laid out in the first place. Remember the old sewer interceptor? It runs in an easement through the Coliseum complex, splitting the stadium and the arena. EBMUD, which maintains the interceptor, needs to have 24/7 access to the interceptor for maintenance.


EBMUD’s sewer interceptor is the green line that separates the stadium from the arena

Combine that with the power lines and other utilities that run through the complex, and suddenly the choices for siting the venues were reduced. If the interceptor had not been there, or had been rerouted around the edge of the complex, the venues probably might have been placed in line with 880, allowing for more of a buffer around both instead of pushing the arena up against the freeway. Such an arrangement would’ve been better for fans going to the arena from the then-years-from-completion BART station, since they would’ve had a more direct route there instead of always having to walk around the stadium.

Nevertheless, here we are. The arena is situated within its own 8 acre parcel in the complex. The fit is tight thanks to the multi-lane 66th Avenue off-ramp.


Ideally there should be a minimum of 600 feet in either direction

Last month I suggested the HomeBase site, which has 50 feet more width than the arena site yet is also less than 600 feet wide. This is obviously narrower. A tight fit equates to two specific limitations. First, there’s little flexibility in terms of orienting the field. If the A’s wanted to orient the field the same way as the existing field, they would need:

400 feet (home plate to center) + 50 feet (backstop) + 110 feet (lower deck) + 40 feet (concourse) + 30 feet (concessions and restrooms) + 60 feet (staging and infrastructure) + 50 feet (street side buffer) = 740 feet. For reference, the diameter of the Coliseum from the club entrance behind the plate to the back wall of Mt. Davis is 100 feet longer.

To further illustrate the squeeze, let’s drop everyone’s favorite ballpark, PNC Park, where the arena is. I’ll include the approximate location of the sewer interceptor so you can see the problem.

Yellow line represents sewer interceptor

Yellow line represents sewer interceptor easement

The resulting dimension down the right field line would be around 275 feet. Talk about a short porch.

Compromises could be made to make the fit better, like reducing the size of seating decks, concourses, and buffer areas, all of which would negatively affect fan experience. The field orientation could also be rotated 15 degrees north (counter-clockwise), opening up space down the RF line while reducing space in the opposite corner.

Of course, we can’t discuss this option without considering the circumstances and ramifications. Should the Warriors leave by the summer of 2018, there would still be nearly $60 million of debt remaining on the arena. It’s likely the City and County will have to swallow the debt while the A’s paid for a will construction costs, perhaps including demolition of the arena. Combine that demolition and site prep time with a two-year build, and the A’s would be in a new ballpark there by the start of the 2021 season. If the Raiders were also staying, Mark Davis could get his stadium on the current site, also by the 2021 NFL season. Where the Raiders would play during the construction period is anyone’s guess. Same goes for the remaining Coliseum debt.

Back to the ongoing Coliseum City saga. Chris Dobbins of the JPA and Save Oakland Sports announced that the public is welcome to attend Floyd Kephart’s presentation at Lungomare on Tuesday morning (unclear on the time of the event).


I’m interested to see if any activists showed up.

Hypothetical: If the Raiders left, how would you improve the Coliseum for the A’s?

Before I begin, let me preface this post by stating that I have no information that says definitively that the Raiders are leaving Oakland. This is mainly a thought exercise. The Raiders could conceivably leave for a new football stadium next to the existing Coliseum. They could go to Santa Clara or San Antonio for a few years before returning permanently. They could leave for Inglewood or Carson for good. In any case, this is meant to be a discussion about benefits for the A’s, nothing more. What happens to the Raiders is not under the A’s, A’s ownership’s, or fans’ control. There’s little East Bay politicians can do save for writing enormous checks to Mark Davis. So for the purposes of this post, let’s leave what the NFL and the Raiders may or may not do out of it. 

Should the Raiders leave for God-knows-where after the 2015 or 2016 football seasons, the A’s and the Coliseum JPA will have some serious choices to make regarding the old venue. The main goal would be to make the Coliseum a more pleasing baseball environment for players and fans alike, while not costing an arm and a leg to do so. The cost issue comes into play because, if we’re assuming that the A’s would pay some amount for this transformation, there’s a question of how much they’d be willing to put into this project as opposed to funneling more money towards a ballpark on the same grounds. That’s the tension at play, and when considering the various decisions that have to made cost-benefit should be at the forefront.

The immediate change we can safely assume the A’s will make is to take control of the Raiders’ locker room, one floor above the A’s current leak and sewage-plagued clubhouse. The Raiders got control of the old, 50,000-square foot exhibit hall space when the came back, turning it into spacious locker rooms for themselves and visiting teams. The A’s will occasionally use the area for hosting groups, since the Coliseum lacks proper breakout spaces at any level except for the East Side Club. Once the A’s commandeer the exhibit hall, the old clubhouse problems should go away. The old clubhouses could themselves be remodeled into memorabilia-filled bunker suites or other premium accommodations that are currently lacking at the Coli. It might cost $10-20 million to renovate the space properly, which might include moving the workout room, trainer’s room, and offices at the clubhouse level. Since all of the benefits would go to the A’s, it would make sense for them to foot the bill for the remodel.

Beyond that, changing the Coliseum could go in any number of directions.

Option A: Return to the pre-Mt. Davis Coliseum (cost estimate: $35-50 million). The frequent refrain I’ve heard so far is a call to transform the Coliseum into the pre-1995 version, with the old bleachers in the outfield and the ice plant above it. Doing so would require the demolition of most if not all of the Mt. Davis structure, plus the construction of replacement seating and landscaping. While that would be perfectly acceptable to the A’s and A’s fans, the City and County are still on the hook for the Mt. Davis debt, so the idea of spending more money on demolition and additional seats that would not generate anywhere near the requisite revenue to pay for them doesn’t sound promising in the slightest. Besides, how many years would this configuration be used? Five? I would expect all parties to pass on this plan if it were ever proposed.

Want the hills back? It'll cost ya.

Want this again? It’ll cost ya.

Option B: Lop off the top part of Mt. Davis ($10 million). The best way to bring back the view of the Oakland hills, without incurring the cost of completely demolishing and rebuilding the Coliseum, is to take down the upper part. What’s the upper part, you ask? Well, that depends. It could be as little as the upper deck, which practically starts as high as the rim of the original upper deck. Or it could include removing the upper two suite levels, making the total struck roughly as tall as the original upper deck’s lower rim. The BART plaza, East Side Club and associated seats (Plaza Reserved) could be kept around, though with the large number of obstructed view seats they’d serve a better purpose as an outfield restaurant bar, much like the kind many ballparks are instituting these days. On the downside, there would be a lot of expense just to open up the views. Again, it’s a high-cost/low-benefit situation.

Top of the original bowl is as tall as the bottom of Mt. Davis

Top of the original bowl is as tall as the bottom of Mt. Davis upper deck

Option C:  Leave Mt. Davis as is, fill in foul territory with seats ($25 million). Given the $100 million lower deck renovation at Dodger Stadium, this seems like I’m undershooting things quite a bit. But most of the money at Dodger Stadium went towards extremely well outfitted clubhouses and a large, swanky club restaurant behind the plate. There are some structural things to address, such as dugout expansion and realignment. The bullpens might have to be moved. One way to go would be to scrap the existing lower bowl and make it more like one of the original cookie cutters, like Shea or Riverfront. Chief benefits would be more seating at improved angles, plus additional concourse space in theory. However, it would be expensive to implement and would eliminate most of the views from concourse, at least down the lines. Plus the way the concrete beams that support the Plaza level are only 4 feet above the lower concourse floor, so a concourse expansion would have to be another 4 feet lower than the existing lower concourse in order to allow for proper circulation.

An expanded concourse has its downsides and challenges

An expanded concourse has its downsides and challenges

Option D: Move home plate back eight feet, bringing every seat on average 6 feet closer to fair territory ($5-10 million). Also known as the Ken Arneson plan, this proposal would sacrifice views from the Value (upper) deck in order to bring everyone else several feet closer. I like the idea of the Monster-type seats in the outfield, though I would also like to see a wholesale rework of the bleachers with steeper pitched seats if they’re going to add a premium option. That way the first row could be as little as 8-10 feet above the field, instead of the 15-foot high scoreboard wall that exists in the power alleys. While they’re at it, the metal “notch” sections that fill in either down the lines for baseball (sideline for football) should be replaced. They have a nasty tendency to pool water when it rains, and they’re more weathered than the permanent concrete sections. Changes like these certainly won’t be eye popping or easy to spell out in an offseason ticket sales pitch, but they can certainly help the vast majority of fans without incurring great expense.

The Giants and Cardinals both made changes to their venues as they waited for their purpose-built ballparks to materialize. In both cases, they built fan goodwill that was cashed in when their ballparks opened. Just as the A’s built new training facilities and rebuilt a ballpark in Mesa, a similar investment could pay off in Oakland. It couldn’t come until everyone knew the Raiders were leaving, so we wait. And wait.

Wolff looks elsewhere at Coliseum, Alameda County looks to leave JPA

NFL franchise relocation point man Eric Grubman made a visit to Oakland to talk Raiders stadium. Not much emerged from the talks other than Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley once again expressing a desire for the County to sell its half of the JPA (land and debt) to Oakland. That’s both good and bad – good in that having Oakland as the sole public entity involved would simplify the deal greatly, bad in that Oakland would have to find the cash to buy the County’s half and figure out how to fund infrastructure for Coliseum City. It’s possible that proceeds from the land sale would take care of the debt, but what about everything else? Oakland would effectively be trading one set of hassles for another.

The big scene-stealing news came from Lew Wolff, who walked back the MLB subsidy idea while providing slightly more detail on his plans. Interestingly, Wolff is considering a site he looked at way back when he was not yet an owner, instead working as an executive for Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. No, it’s not the flea market all over again, nor does it appear to be the existing complex, either directly north or south of the Coliseum. Instead the site of choice may be what I like to call Coliseum South, better known as the Malibu/HomeBase parcels to the south adjacent to the Coliseum complex.


21 acres, though option leaves only 12 acres buildable

The City of Oakland bought the HomeBase site in 2010. That and the triangular Malibu lot total 21 acres, City owned, not JPA owned. Other lots in the vicinity (Denny’s and the EDD building) are privately owned and would have to be purchased separately for additional ancillary development. I suggested the possibility of building there in 2005, shortly after I started this blog. Back then the HomeBase site still had an empty shell of a warehouse, which frequently housed the homeless while the parking lot hosted sideshows.


My 2005 concept which would’ve included a small retail-entertainment district beyond the outfield

21 acres of City-owned land that’s only used as parking? Break ground tomorrow, right? Not so fast. The City had worked hard to bring the County in only recently because of the pre-existing partnership. Should the County exit stage left and the City work out the financials, that would be a major step forward. However, there is a major encumbrance on the Malibu lot that makes it extremely difficult to build there – utilities.

Current assessor's map

Current assessor’s map

The dotted lines running northwest-to-southeast through the Malibu lot represent EBMUD’s sewer interceptor easement, which cannot have anything built on it. Power transmission lines run north-south along the east parcel line, up against the edge of the HomeBase lot. Unless someone is willing to pay the freight for relocating those utilities, chances are that the Malibu lot will remain a parking lot. That leaves 12 acres for a ballpark. The HomeBase parcel is less than 600 feet wide, making for a tight fit for a ballpark. AT&T Park is about 600 feet wide if you extend the first base line out to the promenade and back to King Street. Those constraints obviously go away if the utilities on the Malibu lot can be relocated. Keep in mind that means working with the Public Utilities Commission, EBMUD and PG&E, and chances are that it would mean more than moving them around to simply avoid the Malibu lot. If both utilities are going to be involved, they’ll want projects that are much more long-term, which means much more comprehensive projects. Who knows, it may ultimate prove worth the investment.

Wolff suggests MLB will help subsidize Oakland ballpark

Tyler Clippard did better as A’s closer than I expected, possibly faint praise in light of the pitiful nature of the rest of the bullpen. After Clippard was traded to the Mets for potential back-of-the-rotation starter Casey Meisner, Billy Beane was asked about the team’s strategy and philosophy. Inevitably the discussion turned to his thoughts on a future ballpark (h/t BANG’s John Hickey), whenever the hell that’s gonna happen.

“It seems the environment maybe is right. It’s not my department… I don’t want to be Pollyannaish. I’m hopeful that something or some progress will be made. It will make it easier to plan from a baseball operations standpoint. If you had a ballpark (in the works), this would probably be the proper approach.”

Beane has echoed similar thoughts before, as the A’s were pushing for ballparks in both Fremont and San Jose. It would be completely acceptable for Billy to be gun-shy considering the failures of the past. Yet Beane seemed practically optimistic, despite there being no specific date to break ground, let alone open a new park.

Backing that optimism was Wolff, who took the notion of an Oakland ballpark further, admitting that he’s – get this – talking it over with Rob Manfred.

Wolff did say that new commissioner Rob Manfred was fully behind the A’s getting a new venue as soon as possible. And the A’s owner said Major League Baseball would likely kick in some money to help the A’s get a stadium done at the Oakland site, public money not being available.

That’s about as big of news as we’ve heard all year on the ballpark front. A private subsidy – that’s what we’re talking about here – is exactly what the A’s will need to make a ballpark in Oakland… wait for it… feasible. Oakland has a hearty albeit small fanbase, and it lacks San Francisco’s or San Jose’s corporate wealth. Money from MLB, which would really be paid by the richer clubs, is the stable revenue stream that the A’s need to stay in Oakland. And since it doesn’t come from Oakland or Alameda taxpayers, it’s politically above board.

The easiest path to that money is MLB to continue to keep the A’s on revenue sharing, which I suggested a week ago. While it doesn’t fulfill the goal of getting the A’s off the dole, it solves the Lodge’s problem of figuring out what to do with the A’s without fighting over territorial rights. Enshrined in the current CBA is language specific to the A’s:

Beginning with (but not before) their first full season of operation in a new stadium, the Oakland Athletics shall be subject to the same-percentage revenue sharing disqualification that applies to other market-disqualified Clubs in the given Revenue Sharing Year.

Those “market-disqualified Clubs” are the top 15 markets (teams) in MLB. The bottom 15 are fully eligible for revenue sharing. As long as the A’s stay in the Coliseum, they straddle that line between the two. The owners and Bud Selig probably thought that the A’s stadium mess would’ve been resolved by the end of the CBA, that’s why the language is in there. Instead, Selig’s successor, Manfred, and those same owners now have the choice of resolving the A’s problem by allowing the A’s to stay on revenue sharing. It’s a compromise plan to be sure, one the owners always had in their back pocket.

Revenue sharing is designed to help the have-nots with player development, not for stadium development. That’s an issue that would have to be worked out internally. I would expect that, as with the current CBA, the A’s place within the revenue sharing recipients pool will have another sunset clause, one that’s perhaps 10 years down the road.

There is an alternative to revenue sharing in the form of MLB’s credit facility, which allows up to $100 million per team for reasons outside of normal baseball operations. Eventually that may be the better way to handle the situation. Use of the credit facility would be more like the NFL’s G-3/G-4 program, in that a loan would be taken out against future TV revenues. It’s a smaller subsidy, but if the ballpark costs a reasonable amount ($600 million), it could be enough to cover those years when stadium revenues are running a little dry.

If you were looking for a sign that Wolff and John Fisher are serious about building in Oakland, this is it, short of a plan unveiling. It shows that ownership is serious, MLB is serious, and Oakland is the main focus. At the same time, there is still the saga of Coliseum City to deal with. Nate Miley suggested today that nothing was happening as far as alternative proposals until Coliseum City ends, so we can look forward to that at some point, maybe in the coming weeks. Until then, this is progress.

Coliseum renovation for baseball?

Lew Wolff was profiled in the current edition of Athletics magazine. It amounted to a short biography, with some time at the end devoted to how Wolff sees the A’s future. Much attention has been paid to the following passage:

We continue to respect the desire of the Raiders for a new football-only venue, while we of course would like to play in a new or vastly improved baseball-only venue.

New or vastly improved? Wolff referred to a renovated Coliseum recently, perhaps only in passing. This sounds like a renovated Coliseum is a real option. But is it?

When most A’s fans think about a rebuilt Coliseum, what they think about most is the old Coliseum, pre-Mount Davis. Knock down the concrete eyesore in the outfield, bring back the bleachers and ice plant, fix up some stuff in the old Coliseum and the A’s are set. Which would be true – if this was 25 years ago. We’re in 2015, and the bar has been raised. Removing the football seats isn’t going to bring in casual fans, the attendees that come to Oakland so inconsistently and infrequently. In California, renovation works on old theaters, where wood and accents connote charm and warmth. A hulking stadium once known as the Oakland Mausoleum has no warmth. It would still lack a purpose-built ballpark’s intimacy. And for Oakland and Alameda County, they’d be stuck with $100 million in remaining debt and nothing to show for it. There is a bright side, however. If the A’s took over the Coliseum after the Raiders left, the A’s could claim and repurpose the Raiders’ locker room, eliminating the legacy clubhouse’s plumbing and sewage issues for good. City and County would still be stuck with the debt, but at least they wouldn’t have to pay the Raiders’ ongoing operating subsidy at the Coliseum, worth $7 million a year.

Cost of return to early 90’s Coliseum: $150 million ($50 million in improvements, $100 million in outstanding debt)

Another option could be to repurpose Mt. Davis and replace much of the old stadium, since Mt. Davis is the newest part of the Coliseum. I posted such a concept six years ago to little fanfare, which is exactly what I expected. It’s exactly the compromise plan that you might think it is.


It’s sort of the Two-Face of ballparks. The top level of Mt. Davis would be removed, seats replaced on the lower and club levels, plus remodeling of the concourses and suites. New seating decks would be built behind a relocated home plate and first base line. The mezzanine and club levels of the old Coliseum would remain since they fill needs: a restaurant in the outfield and additional seats. The new scoreboards could be assembled into one extremely wide (36′ high x 290′ wide) or large (72′ x 145′) display. No additional major infrastructure other than a revamped field drainage system would be needed. Of course, some issues regarding the sight lines from Mt. Davis would have to be resolved, partly by rearranging the lower bowl and adding new seating options.

Cost of repurposed Mt. Davis-based baseball stadium: $350 million for the A’s, including $100 million Coliseum debt.


A new, bespoke ballpark on the Coliseum grounds is the preferred option for A’s fans and MLB. Is it for Wolff and Fisher? Sure, as long as it pencils out. The idea that Wolff pitched last year was that there was a way to privately finance a ballpark while also addressing the debt by taking it out of the public’s hands. Unfortunately that concept has been hit with two huge doses of reality.

Issue #1 is that it’ll be hard to service the debt of the new stadium and the old stadium using all private sources. Right now Mt. Davis costs low eight figures to service, but imagine if that debt wasn’t serviced by relatively stable sources like taxes, instead paid by stadium revenues. Financing costs would balloon, making an already expensive project even more expensive. That’s why I found it curious that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf seems resigned to having the public sector pay off the debt. To go that route would be significant reversal, as one of the goals of Coliseum City was to find ways to wipe away the albatross.

That leads to Issue #2. The sale of the (public) Coliseum land could turn into a political third rail thanks to protests by East Oakland and housing activists. Wolff, like many other developers, is finding that the economics aren’t quite right for a market value project at the Coliseum, where the higher prices are needed to subsidize other project components like the stadium. Even if the pricing worked out, the same aforementioned activists would raise hell over potential gentrification. When the Coliseum City process started, there was an acknowledgement that the various public and private partners would have bargaining chips to play. Slowly, each of those chips is being taken away. We’ll soon be down to the basics: building a stadium privately, with no help.

If a new A’s ballpark can stay reasonably priced, there are ways for it to be financed by Wolff. Like the Giants, there will be some annual set aside for debt service that impacts payroll. Lean years could become extremely lean thanks to the mortgage. The A’s could work a deal with MLB to ensure that they stay on the list of revenue sharing recipients in the next CBA. It would be a reasonable request given the A’s being pigeonholed into Oakland.

Regardless of the difficulty, a new ballpark has to be what MLB and Rob Manfred want for the A’s and Oakland. The old compromises don’t die. They evolve and transform. That’s the new reality.

Manfred status quo on A’s in Oakland, considers expansion

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred held the first All Star Game press conference of his tenure Tuesday, and he seemed prepared for most every question asked of him. On the recent push for baseball to extend netting near the plate to protect fans, Manfred said that MLB was still studying the issue and can’t formally make any changes until 2016, although individual teams can choose to extend the nets if they wanted.

Manfred referred to a forthcoming domestic violence policy, the difficulty of shortening the schedule to 154 games, even machine-judged balls and strikes. The discussion eventually moved to the subject of franchises and cities. Montreal remains impressive, though trying to project fan support based on a couple exhibition games each year is taking things a bit far. There was a question about the A’s, too.

No change there.

Things got interesting when Manfred was asked about the possibility of expansion. His response?

“Maybe one of the reasons I got this job is, I’m bullish on this game. I think we are a growth business, broadly defined. And over an extended period of time, growth businesses look to get bigger. So yeah, I’m open to the idea that there will be a point in time where expansion may be possible.”

Manfred was careful not to provide a timetable for expansion or put it at a high priority, similar to stadium efforts in St. Petersburg and Oakland. Regardless, this is a major revelation and a complete turnabout from predecessor Bud Selig’s consistent no-expansion stance since the tense 2002 CBA talks.

It’s important not to read too much into Manfred’s statement, but it’s likely that his favorable view on expansion is fueled by a handful of factors:

  1. The American economy (at least capital) is surging, with many cities emerging from the recession potentially ready to entertain new stadium deals.
  2. Montreal functions as both a relocation candidate and an expansion candidate, taking the place of DC, which filled the role for more than three decades.
  3. Manfred’s continued hopeful statements about Oakland may be a sign that a resolution for at least one team (probably not the Rays) is coming.
  4. Like Roger Goodell, Manfred probably has revenue growth goals for MLB. With 28 new ballparks built, national TV deals locked in, and most RSN carriage deals maxed out, few other growth avenues exist. MLB AM is its own juggernaut, one that may spin out and go public in time. The obvious way to achieve bigger growth is to enter new markets by expansion.

Of course, the problem for baseball is that unlike the other three major sports, MLB’s every day scheduling requires that expansion comes in pairs of teams, not single teams. I’ve long been an advocate of a 32-team MLB, with 16 teams per league. It would create smaller, more manageable divisions and eliminate the need for interleague play throughout the entire year, though that would remain an option if The Lodge decided it worked for them economically.

Realignment could work with two leagues of four divisions each with heavily unbalanced schedules, or two leagues of two divisions each – the pre-interleague arrangement – with more balanced schedules.


As usual, placement of teams is purely for discussion purposes and not based on any league reports or rumors

Amazingly, the landscape has changed for expansion city candidates. Assuming that Montreal is penciled in as the first expansion franchise, there would be a race to fill the other spot. Unlike the Expos’ barnstorming tour of a decade+ ago, there are far fewer candidates and many more questions to be answered by expansion candidate cities. Portland has given itself over to soccer and would have to build a new stadium in conjunction with landing a franchise, the same way the Dbacks and Chase Field were developed together. Las Vegas is no longer a player thanks to ongoing development, a loss of political will (Oscar Goodman), and a new arena being built on the Strip. Puerto Rico has become America’s own Greece. Monterrey, Mexico seems to have the market size and a ideal temporary stadium, but with some misgivings by the players’ union. Charlotte has a brand new AAA stadium and an overstretched market. Sacramento is now in the firm grasp of the Giants, who would fight any expansion franchise over TV rights (not stadium building rights).

Manfred’s statements are sure to get those dormant expand-to-my-home-city machines going again. And that’s just fine with him, since it will keep baseball in the news year-round. I have confidence that MLB will expand to 32 teams sometime in the next 10 years. If it doesn’t happen, it will be a sign that the owners’ collective greed goes completely unchecked despite an ever-expanding pie.