Sometimes it’s easier to ramble on a podcast than to write and edit a couple thousand words on a topic. Actually it’s a lot easier. If you’re wondering how all the stadium business with the A’s and Raiders is going to work out, head over to today’s Swingin’ A’s Podcast at Hardly Serious. I talked for nearly an hour with host Tony Frye about the fallout from the SCOTUS decision, how the Raiders are holding everything up, and what I think is going to happen over the next few months. I even explain how a ballpark deal could get done. Take a listen, and try not to focus on how many times I pause while delivering an answer. It’s a podcast, I’m allowed.
Look, there’s little point to writing about San Jose. Other than the antitrust lawsuit, San Jose hasn’t been a player in the A’s stadium discussions for at least a year. I haven’t written about it much, yet I’m supposed to be San Jose’s greatest champion. Mayor Sam Liccardo appears ready to move on. The A’s may control some of the land into the future in case Oakland somehow screws the pooch. Absent that, all eyes should be focused on Oakland, the A’s, and unfortunately, the Raiders. We’ll know more about how the Raiders actions affect the A’s in due course.
No, I wanted to wait until I heard from the person who’s eventually going to drive this effort, if for no other reason than pent-up frustration. That man would be Commissioner Rob Manfred, courtesy of the LA Times’ Bill Shaikin. Shaikin got an A’s question in with the Commish today, and Manfred put it in no uncertain terms.
Shaikin: On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear San Jose’s appeal of its lawsuit against MLB. You had said you would not hold any discussions with San Jose about its interest in building a ballpark for the Athletics so long as the city was suing the league. Now that the suit is done, would you talk with San Jose, or do you want the A’s to stay in Oakland?
Manfred: I want the A’s to stay in Oakland. It’s a very fundamental policy of baseball. We favor franchise stability. I think it is possible to get a stadium done in Oakland, and that remains my preference.
That’s the most public support Oakland has gotten from a pro sports commissioner in 25 years. It’s meaningful. Most importantly, it’s a message to both the A’s and Oakland to git er done. Manfred has already mentioned pushing the A’s to do more on their own. This very visible support for Oakland is a way for Manfred to say to Oakland, I believe in you, now take this goodwill and do something with it.
Okay, but When? you ask. Well, if I’m going by how the A’s and the City of Oakland operate, I suspect things can start to go public in either November or December. The A’s have done past stadium presentations and info releases in November, clear of the World Series and around the busy fall/winter meetings timeframe. The City of Oakland seems to prefer dropping info in December, right before City Hall goes on recess.
The road to getting a stadium deal done is a long one. Thankfully, many of the process steps have already been done. There’s no need for a new EIR if, as Lew Wolff desires, a new A’s ballpark eventually replaces the Coliseum as the only stadium in the complex. The one tangible benefit from the Coliseum City debacle is a certified plan for the land in and around the Coliseum, which should streamline the process for a third venue. The only thing holding up matters, much to Manfred’s chagrin, is the Raiders.
Manfred would love for the A’s to be more proactive in making a deal. He’d also love for Oakland to kick the Raiders to the curb, but we all know the City is not going to do that first. Oakland would much rather let the NFL make a decision for them. Since that decision could come in only four months, there’s no real harm in waiting. The A’s have a lease for several more years, so they don’t have to rush.
And if I’m Lew Wolff, I want to have some idea what the future holds for the A’s via the collective bargaining agreement, the current version of which is set to expire after next season. It would behoove Wolff to show enough progress on the stadium front to convince Manfred and the Lodge to support some form of financial backstop for the team, whether via extended revenue sharing or a stadium loan. While there is no NFL-style G-4 stadium loan infrastructure for MLB teams, there is a league credit facility that can provide up to $100 million for various operating costs. As for a cap on revenue sharing, there is this entry I keep forgetting to cite from the current CBA:
(10) The “Base Plan” shall be a 34% straight pool plan… For purposes of the Base Plan in the 2012 Revenue Sharing Year only, the Miami Marlins’ Net Local Revenue will be $100 million.
Basically, local revenue above that $100 million mark would’ve been exempt from revenue sharing (paying 34% of it into the pool), though I’m not sure that the Marlins actually reached $100 million local revenue that year. In any case, the language and mechanism are there to support such a request. That’s important, though not so much for the initial years of the stadium and the expected honeymoon effect, but for later years when the effect wears off. Look at the two teams with the newest ballparks, the Marlins and Twins. Neither became huge successes when their parks opened, allowing revenue sharing to be a welcome safety net for both despite heavy public subsidies. The A’s should be given the same treatment from MLB, provided that it sunsets in a reasonably short period, say, for the length of the next CBA. After all, the A’s were given a sunset provision for revenue sharing in the current CBA, which would’ve kicked in if they opened a ballpark between 2011 and 2016.
People tend to remember stadium drives for groundbreaking ceremonies and impactful city council votes. But it’s all about the process, having a good working relationship, and the team and city presenting a united front. We know that Oakland is where the commish wants the ballpark to be. We know that the current atmosphere in City Hall is more hospitable to the A’s than it has been in previous administrations. It’s going to take a while to settle the land issues, to get the various details right. There is a recipe for a successful ballpark deal. It won’t happen overnight. If you have any hang-ups about Oakland or Lew Wolff and John Fisher, best to leave them at the door. They’re the dealmakers, like it or not.
Today was supposed to be doomsday for San Jose’s Supreme Court case against MLB. Now we know for sure:
The U.S. S.Ct. just granted a number of appeals considered during its conference on Monday. San Jose v. MLB was not on the list.
— Nathaniel Grow (@NathanielGrow) October 1, 2015
Here’s the list of which petitions were granted certiorari (PDF).
The Supreme Court started going through petitions Monday, with the expectation that we’d know the fate of the case sometime towards the end of the week. (SCOTUSblog details the process here.) While the case is still pending, it is being left to wither and die as there are no plans for the Court to take it up.
Now that this chapter is effectively over, MLB, the A’s, and San Jose can move on, which means watching Oakland try to get a ballpark deal in place for the A’s. That’s where the attention has been for the last 18 months, anyway. San Jose doesn’t re-enter the picture unless the A’s and Oakland aren’t able to work something out.
Reactions to be added to this post as they come.
Update 1:30 PM – Professor Nathaniel Grow chimed in further:
@newballpark The Court could be planning to ask the Solicitor General to weigh in, for instance, which it wouldn't have announced today.
— Nathaniel Grow (@NathanielGrow) October 1, 2015
Word came Friday that Floyd Kephart is out from the Coliseum City project, which, you might think, should lead to the demise of Coliseum City.
With Kephart’s negotiating rights set to expire on Thursday, the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors agreed in separate closed door meetings this week to cut ties and send him a letter outlining deficiencies in his latest proposal, said several officials who asked not to be named because the talks were private.
So that’s that. The deficiencies were largely financial, as we’ve discussed ad nauseum. Having three separate groups try and fail at making Coliseum City work is a clear indicator that there’s really nothing that will make it work, at least the way Oakland wants it to. Part of that is the Raiders’ and A’s insistence on maintaining surface parking instead of allowing for a bunch of development surrounding the stadia. Another factor is the extremely limited public resources on hand, especially in the face of outstanding debt on both the old stadium and arena. The stadium debt is not only an obstacle, it is a potential showstopper. Nine figures of debt doesn’t simply get written off if you’re a municipality.
Oakland and Alameda County continue to talk to the teams, while also exploring a buyout of the County. Alright, before any proposals are made or any substantive talks are to begin with either team, the buyout situation absolutely has to be sussed out. The uncertainty regarding the County’s involvement, which lingered in the background for over a year before becoming a front-and-center in January and remains an unresolved issue to this day, cannot be allowed to complicate any future stadium talks. Either the County is fully out or it will be a partner. There is no in-between. If it comes up again, it will show the NFL and MLB that the East Bay can’t get its act together and can’t be taken seriously. It’s that important.
The buyout is not going to be easy. Normally these types of deals are worked out through swaps of real estate, since municipalities tend to be cash-strapped. Whether that’s workable for the County is another matter, since there is actual cash to be paid out on an annual basis by both parties. If both parties decide to follow through on the County’s wishes, I would expect the deal to be wrapped up in the next six months.
Next, all of the important players are going to have to step it up to a degree that they haven’t displayed so far. That includes:
- Lew Wolff and/or Mark Davis
- Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
- Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Supervisor and President of the BoS (if County continues to be involved)
Wolff and Davis will have to provide detailed plans for whatever they want to build at and around the Coliseum. That’s not a problem for Wolff, since he already has HOK working on it. On the other hand, Davis has no such experience and will have to rely heavily on a third party to work out the details. That is, if the Raiders are still staying in Oakland past January. Davis is actively involved in the Carson stadium project. If the NFL puts off the LA decision for a year, or tells Davis to stay put for a while, Oakland will have no choice but to work with him on whatever stadium idea he’s thinking of. Schaaf will have to become a much more visible champion of the project, similar to what Quan did for Coliseum City. Haggerty, who was a leading public figure for the Fremont stadium project, would likely do the same here, with the possibility of fellow supe Nate Miley partnering or taking the lead. Basically, both the public and private sector will need champions, willing to bear the scrutiny and spend money/assign resources to get the project(s) through the planning process.
There’s no timetable for any of this to happen thus far. We may hear more towards the end of the year. I sort of expect the A’s to release renderings and initial plans sometime after the season ends, though I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t happen. Procedurally, everyone’s still at the mercy of the NFL, since it actually has its a timetable – one subject to delay – but a timetable nevertheless. Sure, the path towards a new stadium at the Coliseum is less complex with Coliseum City out of the way. Don’t mistake that as being close to a deal. There’s still an extremely long way to go, and many complications to resolve.
P.S. – I neglected to mention the status of the Coliseum land. Ten or twenty years ago, the notion of giving away or highly discounting public land in order to ink a stadium deal was considered a mere cost of doing business. It was the much more politically expedient concept to giving away both the land and a heavy construction subsidy, which most cities were and still are doing. Over the last year groups have protested giving away the 120+ acres at the Coliseum because it represents a giveaway to billionaires, while also not properly addressing the growing housing crunch and concerns about gentrification in East Oakland. What was once practically a given (as it was for the SF Giants in 1997) is now shaping up to be political land mine if not handled properly. As Schaaf and the City Council work out the land DDA (development and disposition agreement), they’ll have to be mindful of how the deal looks to the public. That’s sometimes what happens when parties (cities, teams) don’t act quickly enough. It only gets harder.
It’s that time of the year again, when I spend a few hours putting together a travel schedule (I call it the “grid”) for the next baseball season. We may be seven months from Opening Day, but it’s never too early to start planning for your weekend getaways or long road trips.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, the A’s will take six separate trips to Texas, so there’s no chance of seeing the A’s in both Arlington and Houston in one shot.
The Travel Grid is available in five formats:
My initial take on the full schedule is much similar to that of the A’s individual schedule in that it’s not great for those looking to build road trips. You can get a sense for this by looking at the color-coded regions and trying to find out how many game dates can be strung together diagonally. Having cities and stadiums bunched together helps in the Northeast or around Chicago. Elsewhere it can be quite tough. Nevertheless, there will be many opportunities to see three games in three ballparks in three nights, so if you need to quench your baseball jones you won’t have to work too hard.
If you have questions or need recommendations, drop them in the comments and I’ll field them as best as I can.
The A’s got a look at the 2016 schedule a while back, and they were concerned enough to lobby MLB in an attempt to make the travel a little easier. They being the A’s, of course, their concerns fell on deaf ears. Now you may be thinking, These guys fly chartered jets and stay in five star hotels, what are they complaining about? True, big time pro athletes travel quite well. The media and fans that follow them don’t. It’s still a grind, and in 2016 the grind is palpably worse than it has been in recent memory.
What stands out for 2016 compared to previous years is the number of lengthy road trips and homestands. In baseball, fans are used to the idea of the team being home for a week, then leaving for a week, cycle repeating for six months. For the A’s scheduling is a bit extreme, with three homestands of 9 games or longer and a separate stretch consisting of 13 of 16 dates at home.
On the road the A’s scheduling woes are marked by a particularly horrific final two weeks in August, in which they go on the road to Arlington and Chicago, come home for a short series with Seattle, then go back out to the Central time zone to face St. Louis and Houston. Worse, the Texas and Houston series aren’t coupled, which would allow for short trips between the cities (made popular by the NBA’s Texas Triangle of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio). Instead the team will have to go on six separate trips to the state of Texas, none earlier than June. All three trips to visit the Rangers will occur after the All Star break, when the ballpark will be at its least hospitable.
The AL West is slated to play the NL Central this year, with the A’s at home vs. the Cubs and Pirates, on the road vs. the Reds and Cardinals, plus a 2+2 home-and-home set against the Brewers. Another 2+2 is scheduled against the Giants, ending for now the separate 3-game sets against the cross-bay rivals.
Last time the A’s played the NL Central in 2013 the schedule makers were much kinder to the A’s. One of the road trips had the A’s knocking out series against the Rangers and Astros in one week. Another involving interleague play had the A’s in Milwaukee before busing it down to Chicago. I took in part of that trip, watching a four game A’s-White Sox series on the South Side while also catching a game at Wrigley, plus a game at Miller Park. Nothing like that is available for fans in 2016. Arguably the best trip features Toronto and Detroit early in the season, and only because the two cities are about five hours apart. The more doable, stress-free trip involves the A’s visiting Baltimore and Boston in the same week (May 6-11). That’s easily covered by Amtrak, with the option of stopping in Philadelphia and New York along the way. The O’s are going to make some changes to Camden Yards in the offseason, so even if you’ve been to OPaCY in the past, it may be worth another visit next spring.
Speaking of spring, the A’s also released their home schedule at Hohokam for 2016. It was a nice surprise. For Bay Area A’s fans the schedule is much more flexible than the regular season ordeal. There are home games scheduled at Hohokam every weekend. The second weekend looks especially good, as it includes a home date vs. the Cubs on Sunday with a road game on Saturday.
As usual, I’ll compile the complete MLB schedule and work out a full travel grid for the ballpark junkies out there. Look for that towards the end of the week.
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.
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.
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.
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.