Rob Manfred elected next MLB commissioner by owners

After a full day of deliberation and several trays of cookies, MLB’s owners finally approved MLB executive Rob Manfred as baseball’s next commissioner (NY Times/USA Today/LA Times/MLB/ESPN Sweetspot. Throughout the day, there were frequent reports that the vote was deadlocked at 22-8 or 21-9, 1 or 2 votes shy of the three-quarters of owners needed to approve Manfred. A late afternoon break preceded the final vote, which in true Bud Selig fashion, was tabulated at 30-0. Perhaps the so-called Reinsdorf block saw the writing on the wall and gave in knowing Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner didn’t have a chance, or they knew that Manfred, who has worked in the league offices for 15 years, was the more qualified candidate. Either way, in February Manfred stands to inherit a full plate of for now unresolved issues from Selig, who is now officially a lame duck.

Who was the swing vote that got Selig’s man, Manfred, over the top? It appears to have been Brewers owner Mark Attanasio,

Among the issues that need resolution sometime in the future:

  • Nats-O’s (MASN) television rights negotiations/lawsuit
  • The future of the Tampa Bay Rays
  • Negotiating terms of an Oakland ballpark, if it can come to fruition
  • The next collective bargaining agreement (current one expires after 2016 season)
  • Blackout rules for local broadcasts

Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to go hardline against the players’ union, despite MLB having one of the most favorable, cost-controlled deals in sports. He considered Selig to be too conciliatory in his dealings with the union. It’s hard to say how much more Reinsdorf would’ve gained in the next labor talks, though the obvious goal would’ve been a salary cap of some sort. Reinsdorf was considered the power behind Selig’s throne, the senior whip who got the votes Selig needed. Here’s to hoping that sanity, not greed, wins out in the next labor talks.

During Selig’s tenure, he sought to consolidate power, getting rid of the league president roles and the deputy commissioner, opting instead for a more vertical org chart with subordinates’ autonomy reduced. One of the rumored challenges for the owners in the upcoming CBA/Constitution talks is how to curtail the powers of the commissioner’s office, which now includes disbursements of a discretionary fund that runs into eight figures (see Nats-O’s).

Going in, it was thought that the Larry Baer and the Giants supported Manfred, while Lew Wolff and the A’s supported Werner. Early voting seemed to bear this out. They even had some discussions early in the day.

The official approval of Manfred would appear to confirm the status quo going forward: Giants not budging on T-rights, A’s forced to make a deal in Oakland. The recently approved Coliseum lease extension further keeps the A’s in Oakland at least for the next several years. After that, well, who knows? MLB has seen enough of the stadium saga to know that neither city is a slam dunk, so contingency plans are needed. And it was Manfred who affirmed the threat to move “out of Oakland” last month, supposedly going so far as to mention San Jose in the same breath. So if anyone’s thinking that any city has an ally in the MLB commissioner moving forward, they shouldn’t. Manfred’s on baseball’s side, not yours.

Davis won’t seek lease extension for Raiders

The stadium-building playbook usually involves a team owner using leverage at various points to coax a compromise out of the public officials on the other side of the table. Raiders owner Mark Davis employed this tactic three months ago he openly complained about a lack of urgency on Oakland’s part, even though Davis has done little lifting on his own in the local effort.

At the conclusion of A’s lease extension talks, JPA Board President Nate Miley said that talks had started with the Raiders for a short-term extension, presumably to allow for more time to flesh out Coliseum City. Those talks appear to have gone sideways, as Davis said today that he has no plans to extend after the end of this season. I had earlier reported that there may be an option, but the lease is only for the NFL’s 2014 season, plus the playoffs stretching into 2015 if that occurs.

Meanwhile, Davis has been pallin’ around with Jerry Jones, Magic Johnson, and others in Oxnard this week as the Raiders and Cowboys have held joint practices. Magic waxed nostalgically about Michael Ovitz’s plan to re-do the LA Memorial Coliseum. Jones gave Davis his support, no doubt with the idea that a Raiders move to LA means that the team won’t encroach upon Texas (San Antonio to be specific). There’s no shortage of media willing to buy the LA move plan, from CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora to the BANG’s Tim Kawakami.

LA still remains a tough proposition, because of the lack of consensus on a site and the NFL’s own agenda, which may have roadblocks for Davis on the way south. It should be crystal clear, though, that most of the problems with LA can be solved with money, and when it comes time to decide, there are more than enough people there to write the checks.

For the Raiders it comes down to following the rules. The NFL’s guidelines dictate that all teams looking to leave have to give their current city at least a year of good faith negotiations before turning elsewhere. By having involvement in Coliseum City, Davis has done that. Then there’s the brief window that all NFL teams have to notify the league that they intend to move to another market. That doesn’t happen until after the season ends. Assuming that Coliseum City doesn’t get finalized in the next six months, Davis will probably provide notice.

Knowing how the JPA reacted to Lew Wolff’s and MLB’s threat to relocate the A’s, Oakland could easily go into another panic mode. That’s the plan, the playbook. For better or worse, Coliseum City is Oakland’s playbook.

The “new” architect and a great old Coliseum idea

Out of the formality that was the Coliseum extension news on Tuesday was a related item that got Oakland fans all excited and hopeful. Lew Wolff, in full photo op mode with the various assembled pols, mentioned that he was working with an architect on a ballpark design at the Coliseum. Wolff gave few specifics, other than saying that “several design ideas” were being considered. Wolff declined to say much else, or even identify the architecture firm he’s working with.

The general sense of astonishment I saw in articles and social media feedback, and in Damon Bruce’s lighthearted take on it on his radio show yesterday, confirmed yet again the fact that the average fan is not going to be bothered to keep up with much of the news. Not that they should be expected to, this is a fairly boring subject at the planning and political stage, and has niche value once shovels hit dirt. Still, fans called in and mused with great hope about one feature or another being integrated into a new ballpark at the Coliseum. But it seemed as if they weren’t going to believe in Wolff’s overtures until he uttered those magic words, I’m working with an architect. My goodness, an architect! Fiddle-dee-dee!

Of course, those who have been following this stadium saga for some time probably already know that Wolff has been working with a prominent architecture firm for nearly a decade. That firm is 360 Architecture, a company that had roots in HOK and created an offshoot, Heinlein Schrock Stearns, before merging with another to become 360 in 2004. They opened an office in San Francisco in the fall of 2005, as the Coliseum North plan transformed into Fremont’s Pacific Commons. Later they worked up plans for the Diridon site and the soccer stadium near San Jose Airport. And if you read SVBJ scribe Nate Donato-Weinstein’s interview with 360 principal Brad Schrock from Tuesday, you might’ve picked up a hint of what was happening next.

Donato-Weinstein: What’s your dream project?

Schrock: We’ve been working with the A’s for such a long time. I’d love to do a ballpark for the A’s. I’d love to do one in San Jose or Oakland. The A’s are just such an interesting franchise. Trying to craft a facility that meets their mojo is a lot of fun. The other one I would die to be involved in is if the city of LA ever gets an NFL team. That would be phenomenal to work on.

While there are no major league ballparks under Schrock’s new shingle, his firm is responsible for the lovely Huntington Park, which I visited a few weeks ago. During his Heinlein Schrock Stearns days he was responsible for Safeco Field, which to me is #1 or #2 in the bigs. 360 is more well known for arenas than stadia, having designed Sprint Center in KC, but with most arenas being early in their lifespans, the firm has done outdoor venues. They cut their NFL teeth on MetLife Stadium, whose soullessness is not 360’s fault but rather the design-by-committee, tug-of-war conducted by the Giants and Jets. Now they’re working an an incredibly ambitious project, the new Atlanta Falcons Stadium. They also have the upcoming Rogers Place in Edmonton under construction, and the Earthquakes Stadium, which is set to open next year.

Some of the plans under consideration in Fremont included a truly retro design featuring columns, similar to legacy ballparks Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Partly motivated by cost savings and a desire for better sightlines, the concept didn’t appear to go far thanks to the stigma held by obstructed view seats. Assuming that column-free, minimal-cantilever is the chosen path, I think there are some very important positive lessons than can be taken from being stuck at the Coliseum – not just the Coliseum of yesteryear, but the current tarped-off, Mt. Davis-eyesore version.

One of those lessons has to do with the noise level. Sure, the expansive foul territory makes the seats down the lines terribly far away from the action. The activity of the crowd, which is good even on 15k nights, makes up for the lack of line-hugging seats. Yet there’s one other thing that contributes to the noise factor, and it only really started when the tarps were installed in 2006.

Simply put, about 90% of the Coliseum’s seats (in current baseball configuration) are lower than 60 feet above the field. That’s about 32,000 seats. That vertical conservation concentrates crowd noise to a degree not known since old Comiskey and Tiger Stadium were still around. That’s why today’s MLB players are so taken aback when they come into the Coliseum, because despite the old girl’s decrepitude, it’s uncommonly loud.

Why? Just look at how ballparks are constructed these days. It’s easy to point to levels of suites, and yes they are largely responsible, but there are also regulatory standards that come into play. On the lower concourse, wheelchair rows need to be 30-36 inches above the row in front of them for proper compliance. That height grows the higher you go. Plus architects have their own guidelines to prevent people in the back rows from having their views clipped by an overhang, which happens in the back rows of both the Field and Plaza levels at the Coli.

In new ballparks, especially those that follow the familiar HOK blueprint, you have a lower deck of about 30-40 rows, then the elevated wheelchair row merged with the concourse, then decent height so standees can properly see the action. Then there are club and suite levels in different configurations. Finally there’s the upper deck, which these days is split into two decks. When you look at a cross section of a ballpark, it’s easy to identify 4 or 5 separate seating levels, all the better for the teams to separate those levels by price.

Coors Field, which is similar to AT&T Park. Top row is 105 feet above field.

Coors Field, which is similar to AT&T Park. Top row is 105 feet above field.

Take Coors Field, which is pretty much the standard bearer among the modern, HOK/Populous breed. Lower deck, Club level, Suite level, Upper deck. It’s a big building that was downsized before the start of the season. That’s good, but it won’t fix the sightline problem. The top row is 105 feet above the field, which makes the action truly look like it’s a Mile High. Add to that the limited cantilevering and it’s pretty far from the action, nearly 235 feet from home plate to that back row in the upper deck. Could be worse, though. Mt. Davis’s top row at the 50-yard line is 335 feet from the near sideline. That’s longer than a home run in the LF/RF corners.

pitch-low_two-med

A two-deck ballpark design with no suites in between

Now look at this cross-section, which somewhat mimics the first two decks at the Coliseum. It has 32-36 rows down low, 24 rows up above, then skyboxes over it. The last row is only 56 feet above the field. There is only one regular concourse, but it’s 65-83 feet wide. There are club seats and a separate club concourse up top, probably with no fancy lounge or restaurant. Above the suites is a rooftop deck, which can be used the same way the 49ers use theirs at Levi’s Stadium. Or it could simply provide expanded seating in the future. The roof is only 88 feet above the field, or almost 2 stories lower than the top row at Coors.

Overlay of Coors and two-deck concept

Overlay of Coors and two-deck concept

There are compromises. The suites and club seats are about 20-25 feet further away from their counterparts at Coors (AT&T). Does that matter? I doubt it.

To be clear, I have no idea if 360 and Wolff are pursuing anything like this. It would be a great way to go. It brings over that vertical conservation that no other ballpark in the majors save for PNC Park attempts to accomplish. If the goal is the best baseball viewing experience, I hope that this is something that the A’s-360 team is exploring. We’ll all be better off in the end if they did.

Mark Davis meets with San Antonio officials

In case the Mark Davis feels like moving the Raiders to San Antonio, there’s already branding in place. The NFL even owns it.

Card of future Cowboy backup QB and head coach Jason Garrett, whose career ended up far more successful than the WLAF

Card of future Cowboy backup QB and head coach Jason Garrett, whose career ended up far more successful than the late, not-so-lamented WLAF

The World League of American Football launched in the early 90’s, a half-hearted attempt to grow American football in Europe and shore up former USFL markets. Operating the league became a drain, and after shrinking to become a entirely European affair (NFL Europe), the league shut down after the 2007 season. Yet there are still reminders of the San Antonio RIDERS, only one letter removed from RAIDERS. The color scheme is 80’s-90’s awful, so it would be best if the Raiders stuck with the historical scheme, similar to the NBA Spurs.

Around the time Alameda County was approving the A’s lease, a report came out of the San Antonio Express News indicating that Mark Davis met with officials in SA over the weekend. Reached for comment, Davis said the following:

“Former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros is a friend and Henry suggested I take the opportunity to meet with some city officials while I was in town. I have nothing further to discuss on the topic.”

After his mayoral stint, Cisneros went to become HUD Secretary during the Clinton administration, then was taken down by a mistress scandal. Davis also met with current mayor Julian Castro, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, San Antonio Spurs owner Peter Holt, former Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs, and representatives from the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Together they toured the Alamodome and talked about San Antonio as a market.

The Houston Chronicle noted that Cisneros’s son-in-law is Brad Badger, a former Raiders and Stanford offensive lineman who now works in team’s corporate sales department. Sculley made her own statement:

“I was asked to meet two weeks ago with the owner of the Oakland Raiders, Mark Davis, and members of his staff. Mr. Davis has expressed interest in a possible relocation of his NFL team to San Antonio and we are engaged in preliminary due diligience. The agenda for this visit included a tour of the Alamodome and meetings with local business leaders.”

If Davis is going to use whatever leverage he has, the effort will have to involve making visits to San Antonio, Portland, and inevitably, Los Angeles. Heck, Minnesota leaders flinched big time just from a sighting of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf’s plane in LA. It doesn’t matter much that San Antonio is a small market. Football’s largely forgiving of that provided that there are enough regional corporate interests (Hello, Austin!) to bring in. San Antonio’s biggest problems are that the market is already a Cowboys stronghold (and Texans to a lesser extent), since the Cowboys have conducted training camp at the Alamodome on multiple occasions. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signaled the difficulty Davis and San Antonio might face:

I wonder what Jerruh and Mark will talk about during the joint practice sessions set for August 12-13 in Oxnard?

Beyond the pre-existing teams, San Antonio faces the same problem all other prospective Raiders host cities faces: they need a new stadium. The NFL has set the whole thing up so that a team really couldn’t move permanently unless a stadium deal is in place, since the NFL provides a large amount of financing. And that piece doesn’t come until the public/team portions are committed.

I’m more curious about the reactions from Oakland, Alameda County, and Raiders fans are than anything else regarding this trip. This is how the stadium game is played, nothing more.

Alameda County approves A’s lease unanimously 5-0

After a relatively brief, much less heated discussion over the A’s lease extension than was had by the City two weeks ago, Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the extension. The deal keeps the A’s in the Coliseum until at least 2018, and up to 2024 if the team chooses to stay there. Though the deal is characterized as a 10-year lease, the 2014 season runs concurrent with the new deal.

Supervisor Keith Carson asked the most pointed questions of JPA negotiator Jon Streeter, mostly about the debt and the characterization of the new lease as a better deal for the County (and City) than previous leases. Streeter noted that the more money comes in upfront, plus the A’s have to pay off the lease even if they leave the Coliseum early. Miley noted that the original A’s escape provision calls for no payoff if the team pursued a new ballpark elsewhere in Alameda County. The language was changed to Oakland only, meaning the A’s would pay full termination even if they made a stadium deal in Fremont or even San Leandro. Streeter also repeated the notion that the upcoming scoreboard project, which the A’s are paying for, means that the JPA no longer has a potentially big liability item to worry about, since the JPA has been to date responsible for the outdated, frequently failing scoreboard.

To recap the major deal points:

  • A’s stay until at least 2018, up to 2024. A’s must give at least 2 calendar years’ notice if they plan to leave early.
  • The JPA must also give the A’s 2 years’ notice if a Raiders stadium deal comes to fruition and forces the A’s to vacate.
  • Lease payments are $1.75 for this year, $1.5 MM in 2015, $1.5 MM in 2016-19, and $1.25 from 2020-24.
  • A’s will spend at least $10 million on new scoreboard system. A’s retain all revenue from A’s games, Raiders/JPA can split non-A’s game revenue as they see fit.
  • JPA sets aside $1 million per year (increasing 5% annually) to establish a stadium maintenance fund (presumably for fixing plumbing, leaks, etc.)
  • JPA will pay $200,000/year for the O.co signage caps above the scoreboards. A’s may end up replacing those caps as part of the scoreboard project.
  • A’s and JPA will continue stadium discussions on land at or adjacent to the Coliseum (nowhere else like Howard Terminal).
  • The parking arbitration matter is resolved, all claims dismissed.

The JPA and County clarified that there is $191.4 million in outstanding debt at the Coliseum complex: $106.5 million for the stadium, $84.9 for the Arena. Bonds will be retired in 2025 and 2026, respectively.

Next up is MLB’s expected approval of the lease, and the City of Oakland’s next steps in negotiating with the Raiders and BayIG over Coliseum City.

A’s approve City-revised lease, await County vote

No drama this week. The A’s approved the last-minute changes the City of Oakland made to the lease agreement. When Alameda County approves next week, everyone should be square. The A’s put out a press release, in short:

The Oakland A’s have come to an agreement with the JPA on all outstanding points regarding a new 10-year lease at the Coliseum. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, are scheduled to vote on the lease July 29.

We appreciate the cooperation and efforts of Oakland city officials in this process and are optimistic that our negotiations have led to a fair and mutually-beneficial relationship. Most of all, we are happy for our great fans who, pending the county’s vote, will know that the Oakland Athletics will continue to play its games at O.co Coliseum.

More coverage is available from SFGate and BANG.

With the lease issue very close to resolution, the NFL is once again talking about a football team in LA – at perhaps a league-owned stadium, no less. Curious timing to say the least.

Still, there will be those who keep saying to never trust Lew Wolff, don’t give in, etc. I’ll just leave this snippet from another East Bay legend here:

If I speak at one constant volume
At one constant pitch
At one constant rhythm
Right into your ear
You still won’t hear

Wake up, Oakland

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” – Confucius

There are any number of ways to rephrase the idiom above. Some might use “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” though the meaning is not the same. Voltaire coined the phrase a little more directly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

As I listened to Don Knauss make yet another sales pitch about the virtues of Howard Terminal (and Damon Bruce’s softball handling of it), I started to write a point-by-point rebuttal of everything he said. Then, thanks to BANG’s Matthew Artz, I read a 6-page letter from Lew Wolff to Oakland Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner. The letter outlined Wolff’s desire for a lease extension at the Coliseum before leading into the questions surrounding the future of the Coliseum.

Two pages of the letter are devoted to a section called “The Raiders”. Instead of pointing fingers at the Raiders or Mark Davis, Wolff mostly pans BayIG, the Coliseum City plan, and all of the work that has gone into it so far.

I contrasted words from both Knauss and Wolff. The Clorox CEO talked about a transformative project that could hugely benefit downtown Oakland, which it could. A similar description has been made about Coliseum City by its proponents, comparing it to LA Live among other developments. Then there was Wolff, going detail by detail about the process, the difficulty, tedium, and the obstacles. He even lashed back at “Negative Forces” agitating at every possible turn, which could be construed as a critique of Don Knauss or others allied with Knauss.

The argument, which has stretched as long as Wolff and John Fisher have owned the A’s, comes down to Voltaire’s quote. Wolff’s #1 job this entire time has been to get a ballpark. Let’s understand some of those efforts.

  • 2003 – Wolff was hired by Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann to be the VP of Venue Development. During that brief tenure, Wolff proposed building in the Coliseum’s A Lot and at the Malibu/HomeBase lots. The A Lot option went nowhere because Schott was only willing to put up $100 million for the ballpark. The Malibu option was not available because it was not JPA-owned land. Eventually the JPA bought the land in order to assemble a larger complex for what would be become Coliseum City.
  • 2005 – Wolff exercises an option to buy the team, phasing Schott & Hofmann out and bringing Fisher and numerous associates of Wolff in. Wolff soon proposes the Coliseum North (66th/High) plan, which would redevelop a large swath of industrial land north of the Coliseum complex into a ballpark and mixed-use (residential, retail, commercial) plan. The plan received great fanfare at first, but quickly died as numerous existing landowners showed no interest in selling.
  • 2006 – The Fremont Baseball Village plan is proposed in south Fremont near the Santa Clara County line. A compromise plan of sorts, the idea was to court Silicon Valley corporate interests without crossing into the Giants-held territory of Santa Clara County. Again, there is great immediate enthusiasm, this time from Fremont city leaders. This time, a combination of the Great Recession and big box stores vetoing any developments they didn’t approve of killed the plan. Another attempt in 2010 was made to put the ballpark near the NUMMI (now Tesla) factory across the Nimitz. That was met with hostility from well-heeled residents on the other side of I-680 and fell apart quickly.
  • 2009 – San Jose becomes the next plan, with a partially-acquired site downtown, major corporate and civic support, and a certified environmental impact report ready to go. Again the plan stalled as the Giants remained intransigent about their held territory. A lawsuit filed by people associated with the San Jose Giants (eventually a SF Giants-owned property) threatened the project and is still ongoing. The City of San Jose became frustrated and launched its own lawsuit in 2012 against MLB. That too is ongoing.
  • 2009 – Let’s Go Oakland launches with support of three sites in downtown Oakland: Victory Court, JLS West, and Howard Terminal. Victory Court becomes the preferred site in 2010. LGO promoted Victory Court as much as possible, backed by local developers. No significant activity occurs in 2011, and by the beginning of 2012 the site is dead due to the death of redevelopment and spiraling site acquisition costs.
  • 2012 – Not long after Victory Court goes away, murmurs about Howard Terminal becoming the new preferred (not by A’s ownership) Oakland site begin. In 2013, the Port of Oakland negotiates a settlement with SSA Terminals to vacate the site in order to consolidate facilities and kill a lawsuit against the Port. That allows the Port to look into non-maritime uses such as a ballpark, which it does in spring 2014. A new investor/support group, OWB (Oakland Waterfront Ballpark), emerges, led by Knauss and former Dreyer’s CEO T. Gary Rogers.
    While Wolff has been trying to deal with the on-the-ground demands of planning and building a ballpark, many in Oakland have been fixated on grand concepts like Coliseum City and the far-off promises of Howard Terminal and Victory Court. Even yesterday, Knauss couldn’t help but bring San Francisco into the discussion, talking up how a HT ballpark would have better weather and views than AT&T Park. Coliseum City would be a transformative project that could attract Super Bowls and give Oakland new cachet.

Oakland’s desires to become something bigger and better are completely understandable. But they’ve been so pie-in-the-sky, so big, that there’s always been huge doubts about what, if anything, the City could pull off. I’ve mentioned before that Oakland has never built anything by itself, and that it needed the County and the business community to come together to make the Coliseum work nearly 50 years ago. That need hasn’t changed, but the sense of teamwork has. In Oakland’s attempt to keep all three teams in place, it has gotten away from what got them the teams in the first place: strong partnerships and sensitivity to the teams’ needs. Nowhere is that more evident than in Coliseum City, where the County is playing the realist role in questioning the project and in looking to the A’s, while the City brings in big names with no commitments, entirely footing the bill along the way.

Oakland keeps searching for the perfect project, the ultimate solution, the one that will finally vault them past the City beyond its rival across the Bay. Some politician(s) would take credit when it gets done, a legacy-defining moment. So they keep dreaming, keep hoping, clearly not worried about the little details that need to be addressed or the problems that arise when undertaking big projects. At some point, someone in Oakland will recognize that the dreams need to be tempered with what can realistically be done, and understand the work that will be required to get it done – establishing partnerships with the teams and stakeholders for starters. If not, the teams will get frustrated and give up. Those dreams will die. The biggest pro sports Oakland will be able to get will be minor league (which for some is okay). And the Coliseum, home of six world championships, will end up unused, even more unloved, and ultimately, something generic like a shopping center. That’s what happens when the well-intended keep pursuing the ever-elusive perfect instead of understanding that good is actually pretty great.

Lew Wolff is getting ready to offer what could be a pretty good deal. If Oakland wakes up, they may be able to react in time to take it.

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P.S. – I’m removing comments from the site for the time being. It’s not because of the commenters or specific comments – although they can be especially inane at times – it’s because those comments and the constantly attacking spambots (which you don’t see) are causing heavy server load, for which I’ve been warned by my provider. I hope that by having no comments there will be less server load. Thanks for your patience.